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Denmark: Where Pokergirl is a Guy

by Jesse May |  Published: Jan 06, 2005


It was the night before the main event of the 2004 World Series of Poker, and 50 or so European poker players had gathered in a Downtown Las Vegas bar. Most of the players had never met, but the chatter soon became brisk. Although they had never met in person, this crew had logged many hours against each other over the Internet, and putting faces to screen names was like fitting pieces into a puzzle. There seemed to be one player in particular whom everybody was eager to meet. "Which one's Pokergirl?" shouted someone from a corner of the room. "Is it true she's a man?" asked another. "Have you seen Pokergirl yet?" wondered someone else. Everybody, it seemed, was curious about Pokergirl. No one had ever seen this player – yet.

Morten Erlandsen with his wife, Rebecca

I was as excited as anyone. Although I hadn't played much poker on Ladbrokes at the time, I'd done a lot of watching, and I'd watched when Ladbrokes casino opened up its online poker room and immediately carved out a niche for itself by offering the highest-stakes games on the Internet. No-limit hold'em was where the money really moved, and by 2004, the big game was $25-$50 blinds with a $5,000 buy-in. In this game, it would be not uncommon to win $100,000 in a week, and not impossible to win that much in one night. The biggest games on the Internet are not the biggest poker games in the world – yet. But they are big, all right, and those who stake their claims to those dollars are the cream of the crop. And on Ladbrokes, every time a big no-limit hold'em game was going on, Pokergirl was in the middle of it – with all the money.

Morten Erlandsen

I imagined a tiger. I imagined Doyle Brunson with fangs for teeth sitting in a Star Trek commander's chair in front of a big-screen TV with a remote control mouse strapped on his wrist. I imagined a 700-pound gorilla chained to the floor, being fed scraps of metal while banging on a keyboard. I imagined all of those things, so in the end, I was a bit surprised to shake the hand of an easy-going Dane with blonde hair, a bright smile, and a hearty laugh. I was shaking the hand of 33-year-old Morten Erlandsen, one of the most feared and successful gamblers in all of cyberspace, the man known as Pokergirl.

There's a simple explanation for Erlandsen's screen name, actually. Originally, it was his mother's account. Both of Erlandsen's parents are proficient games players. Morten's father is a billiards player, one of the best in Denmark when he was young, and his mother is an expert bridge player. "In the beginning, she was worried about me," Morten said of his mom, "but now she thinks it's great, as she can see how much money I have made. But she is still like a mother."

The first time Morten Erlandsen ever played a hand of poker was in the year 2000, when he was 29 years old. It was at the Casino Copenhagen in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he had come to play blackjack. Morten was no mug at blackjack; he had picked up some books when passing through Las Vegas on a family trip to the Western United States some years before, and had taught himself how to count cards. On a break from blackjack one night, Morten impulsively sat down in a seven-card stud game. He was hooked.

Soon thereafter, Morten heard about Internet poker. "I started playing $2-$4 stud at ParadisePoker," he said, "and slowly moved my way up. I played stud for about one year there, only seven-card stud, and then I switched to Ladbrokes." Morten was at Ladbrokes poker when it launched in 2002, and continued his stud game. "I still played stud at Ladbrokes. I moved from $5-$10 to $50-$100, and then I switched to no-limit hold'em. It was because the stud games died that I had to switch." Morten went back to the beginning, starting at $2-$4 no-limit hold'em and working his way up. "I lost the first week or so, and then I moved up fast – $4-$8, $5-$10, and then higher." It's been two years now that Morten has been playing no-limit hold'em, and his rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

From left to right, three of the most successful Scandinavian players – Per Werner Svensson, Johnnie Backman, and Morten Erlandsen

As for why he has been so successful, Morten puts a lot of it down to hard work. "I think I was very serious about the game," he said, "and always noticed the other players." Mostly, he just sat in his house and learned by himself. "In the beginning, I was lying on a little mattress in my office, and I didn't come out very often," he laughed. "I spent almost six months just living in my little room by myself!" During that period of almost constant play, Morten logged some marathon sessions, once playing for 46 hours straight. "I almost won all of my money back!" He giggled at the memory.

Erlandsen is one of the growing group of young Scandinavian players who are ruling the Internet, and he believes it's no coincidence. "I think it's the nature of the Scandinavians that they want to learn the game," he offered. "They are more serious. They don't want to gamble, they want to make money. So, they really study the game, and as a result, they've learned faster."

Asked about the differences between live play and the Internet, Morten commented, "It is different, but I think it's overrated. It's not a lot different. You can still use all the stuff you know about odds and probabilities, but of course there are some elements to live play that you need to practice." Erlandsen believes the Internet is the best place to learn poker, because there you first acquire all of the theoretical knowledge. "The live players think they have a big edge, but maybe it's not so much." It's not when they're up against Pokergirl.

"Pokergirl" playing in his first World Series of Poker

The big jump for Morten was this past May, when he journeyed to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker. He didn't fare too well in his first chance at the big dance, being knocked out on the first day, but he managed to make it a successful trip by virtue of his bread and butter, the cash games. He got so involved, in fact, that he missed his flight home! "I missed my plane because I was drunk," he said, "but the day after I missed my plane, I went to Bellagio and won a $20,000 pot!" Playing in the WSOP was a very big experience for Erlandsen, and it fits in with his goal to play more tournaments from now on. "My game is still cash games, but my tournament play has improved a lot." Morten has recently won several tournaments online, including one that qualified him for the upcoming Ladbrokes Poker Million, although he confesses to being the underdog there. "I think I will be nervous. I've never played with all of those cameras. The people who have tried that before may have an advantage."

It's tough getting the smile off Morten Erlandsen's face these days, but that's not just because of poker. Morten recently married his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca, and the couple is expecting a baby in June. He had to cut our conversation short, as obligations were pressing. "We're going to see a movie," he said, "a Danish movie. So, I will pass up the chance to make $10,000," he laughed. "Now, I play poker only when I have time. There's no schedule here!" Isn't that the dream? For a man who never used to leave the house, life is looking up. And from the top of the poker world, it's a pretty nice view.