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Rob Hollink: Professional Gambler, Family Man-and European Poker Champion

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Aug 01, 2005


Early in my poker-playing career, when I had finally worked my way up to the higher-limit games, a new player suddenly entered the fray. He was a smart man, that was clear, and a winning player – but he also was someone who was willing to give quite a bit of action. This player could not always come to our game, as he lived about a 90-minute drive from our casino, and could come only when he didn't have his children – the days or weeks they were staying with his ex-wife. But when he did come, the table would almost always be full, sometimes with a long waiting list. Everybody liked playing with Rob Hollink, despite the fact that he was recognized as a good player. And to this day, things have not changed.

Dutch master Rob Hollink

Professional Gambler

Rob's history is a rather funny one. Despite his good education – he graduated from college, where he studied econometrics – he soon became active in a field that is not very college-like: gambling. For years, Rob and some of his partners, like Mark Boudewijn (who just won a big tournament at Bellagio's Five-Star World Poker Classic) and Arnoud Roor, used to travel from casino to casino to do what most people consider gambling. They specialized in games like Golden Ten, a roulette type of game that with a special technique could easily be beaten, blackjack, and slot machines with a positive expectation, usually because of a jackpot. The problem with these games was that they're all played against the house. If you find a winning system to negate the house's edge, casinos will usually take the measure that they deem appropriate: They will bar you. This happened to Rob and his friends on many occasions, to such an extent that there was hardly a casino left they could still enter. That, and the fact that because of changed circumstances, it had become much tougher to find beatable gambling games, led to Rob and his partners focusing on another endeavor: poker.

When Rob and I got together for our interview in the Gran Casino Barcelona, he explained his progress in poker. Even though people around him always put a lot of weight on table selection, to play against opposition that is as weak as possible, Rob has a slightly different view. He said, "You know, Rolf, of course it is best to be playing against a bunch of wealthy people who can't play a lick – we all would love that. But I am not afraid of battling it out in tough spots. If I know there are a couple of extremely strong players in a game, that doesn't stop me from taking a seat at that table.

A while ago, I used to play regularly in the big no-limit hold'em game at UltimateBet, where I was always at the same table with Prahlad Friedman, who I consider to be one of the best no-limit hold'em cash game players in the world. Recently, I have also played in threehanded high-stakes pot-limit Omaha games with Markus Golser and Gus Hansen, and I am fairly positive that in this field, I am probably the worst player. But that doesn't stop me from playing in it! I believe that in order to improve, you have to be willing to move up in stakes significantly, and play against significantly tougher opposition. If you are afraid to make these steps because you want to play against the suckers only, in time you will be the sucker."

It should be clear that Rob's progress did not go unnoticed in the poker world. In the 2001 Master Classics, he booked a great win by beating Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott heads up in a big pot-limit Omaha event, when his opponent had started with a clear chip lead. He did well in Paris, performed well in the big pot-limit Omaha cash games in Amsterdam, and held his own on the Internet, as well, in both cash games and tournaments. But it was only after his win at the EPT Grand Final in Monaco that he really got the recognition he deserved, largely because the €635,000 first prize made it the biggest ever event in the history of European poker.

Rob on his way to victory at the EPT Championship in Monte Carlo

European Poker Champion
With regard to this amazing win, Rob said: "Well, as I told you on the first day of that event, I didn't really feel that confident. I had not been getting any good tournament results beforehand, and I felt that I had been unlucky every time that it mattered most. On the first day, I didn't play too well, so I was very pleased when, on the second day, I managed to increase my stack from the initial amount of 10,000 to no less than 140,000. Then, on the third day, I went up to 400,000, more than twice the number of chips second place had, for about 18 percent of the total chips in play. I decided to lay low for a while and not take any chances, because it is clear that you cannot win a tournament before the final day. I even folded hands as good as A-Q and 8-8, hands I would normally have played, because I did not want to give the short stacks the chance to double up off me.

"In retrospect, I don't know if this was, in fact, the correct strategy, because when the action got down to 13 or 14 players, it was Brandon Schaefer who started taking advantage of the fact that, not just me, but most of the other players were playing very tight and hoping to make it to the final table. In no time, Brandon stole his way into the chip lead, and when indeed we were at the final table the next day, I was pretty sure that he would maintain this aggressive posture. So, I said to myself: 'The first hand that he raises, I will reraise without even looking at my cards.' And, indeed, this happened. Knowing both of our playing styles, we were bound to get involved in a massive pot together.

"I was actually the shortest stack when we had gotten down to fourhanded. I had lost one or two pots against the unpredictable Romain Feriolo, but then, fortunately, I busted out Ben Grundy when I slow-played my top set. From there onward, I was able to get back into the driving seat. The key hand was the one that everybody has seen on television. On a flop of 10-10-3, I had 10-8, and when I checked, Brandon bet 80,000. With 100,000 in the middle, I check-raised the minimum to 160,000, to give him the chance to go for the big bluff or make some other kind of mistake. He fell for it and raised me for everything I had, about 700,000. As he had nothing more than just a 3, he was basically drawing dead and I won a massive pot. What wasn't shown on TV is that while I was contemplating calling Brandon's initial 80,000 bet, I actually gave him a false tell to lure him into making the wrong decision. I tried to mimic the exact same things that players do when they are about to fold, when they know their hand just cannot be good. By still raising after this seemingly genuine disappointment I had portrayed, I tried to let my body language say: 'Hey, I was actually about to fold, but I have convinced myself to give things one final shot this hand.' It may or may not have had anything to do with Brandon's decision to shove it all in, but it was a pity that they edited this important piece of information out of the final TV broadcast.

"I am a bit ambivalent about TV's involvement with poker, anyway. While I agree that it is good for the game, it is also clear that TV producers don't always have the interest of the players at heart. For instance, at Bellagio, they had the best structures I had ever seen – yet because of the TV broadcast, they suddenly changed the structure of the final table in order to suit the TV show rather than the players. I think the top priority should always be a sound structure, regardless of whether it suits the TV show or the production process. But it seems that poker players don't always think things like this through; they simply want to be on television, no matter what. The same is true of sponsorship. Everybody is very excited about the money coming from sponsors, but for a winning player, I don't understand the logic of getting your buy-ins paid and then having to pay back, say, 60 percent of your winnings. If you are a really good player, you should be able to do much better than that, and paying back a large percentage of my winnings just doesn't seem fair to me; yet, lots of players seem to be thrilled about these kinds of deals."

Family Man

Despite all the big games that Rob is playing in nowadays, and despite his impressive results in recent tournaments, his top priority is his family. He has two sons and a daughter, and Rob and his ex-wife always make the arrangements long in advance. Rob will try to take into account his playing schedule, so that his wife will have the children during some of the big events he would like to playy. But if, for whatever reason, this is not possible, Rob will simply not play in these events. It's a funny thing to see one of the biggest stars in poker not enter a large tournament or say no to an incredibly juicy live game, simply because he has to look after the kids. Rob said, "For me, it is simple. Just because I have chosen a profession in which I often have to travel and there's a lot of money, pride, and luck involved, does not mean my children have to suffer. They've actually now reached an age where they have started playing a bit of poker themselves, but I am certainly not pushing it. If in time they decide they too want to be professional players, so be it, but I will not encourage them."

The Future
I have known Rob for years, and I have come to known him as a person who doesn't let either good or bad fortune change his views or his beliefs. But will his recent successes and the money that goes with it perhaps change his plans for the future with regard to games and limits – or will he decide to buy a big house somewhere? "Well," Rob laughed, "the only things I have bought so far are a couple of big-screen laptops for my children, and a €600 bike. With the rest, you know me … my bank account may have changed a bit, but that doesn't mean I should change. I might start playing in slightly bigger games from time to time, and maybe I will start to play in the U.S. a bit more often, but in the main, I am not planning to change anything. Right now, I play a lot of shorthanded $100-$200 limit hold'em games on PokerStars, and I am doing very well, despite being relatively inexperienced at it. I will simply continue to play in those and other games to the best of my abilities. So far, I've no complaints, and I just hope that the future has some more good things in store for me."

Rob Hollink is a professional poker player from the Netherlands. His impressive resume contains excellent long-term results in brick-and- mortar play and on the Internet, in both cash games and tournaments. He is the current European poker champion after winning the 2005 EPT Grand Final. Right after that, he finished fifth in the most expensive tournament in the world, the $25,000 main event at Bellagio's Five-Star World Poker Classic.