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Marcel Lüske - Over the Years: The Fox Just Keeps on Flying Higher and Higher

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Jul 06, 2005


When I started my professional poker career about eight years ago, I could regularly be found playing limit hold'em games as small as $5-$10, trying to grind out one to two big bets per hour. I usually played in the Holland Casinos in my hometown, Amsterdam. Every once in a while, a tall and charismatic person would walk into our poker room, always looking fresh and shiny, nine times out of 10 wearing a tailor-made suit with the inevitable tie. Everyone in the room knew who he was: Marcel Lüske, the man who had his own club just around the corner where people could play poker every now and then, and someone who generally wanted to play for much higher stakes than most of us felt comfortable with back then.

While Marcel would continue to pop in occasionally to play in the big game, I slowly but surely continued to move my way up the ranks, and after a couple of years I was finally ready to make the transition to what I'll refer to as "Marcel's game." The big game at that time had become pot-limit Omaha, a fast and high-stakes gambling game, and also one that featured quite a few big gunners: In addition to Marcel, we had people like Ed de Haas, Rolf Schreuder, and Kosta Anastasyadis, who would come in at least three or four days a week.

I was very pleased that I managed to hold my own in this game, because for years I had looked up to these high rollers, and now it was me, the little guy, battling wits with them on a regular basis. My strategy, which was not much more than just a waiting-for-the-nuts/sandbagging/move-in-early approach, was quite different from the open and attacking style of play that Marcel was known for, a style that more than anything was based on quality reads rather than just playing quality cards.

Because of our different approaches to the game, we got involved in huge pots on quite a few occasions and we had big clashes more than once.

Of course, I didn't always get the best of it (in fact, most of the time I probably got the worst of it), but there was no question that everyone in the game, myself included, enjoyed the company and the colorful personality of Marcel.

Flying Fox Spreads His Wings
Then, suddenly, just when I thought that we had found a game that would last, Marcel decided it was time to broaden his horizons. In 2001, he made his debut on the European tournament trail, and totally crushed the opposition. In fact, for some time it looked like he would win just about every tournament that he played. That year, he was voted Europe's Player of the Year, despite, as he pointed out to me at the time, not receiving a single vote from his home country, The Netherlands. Alongside the accolades came the nicknames, and Marcel Lüske became the "Dutch Flying Fox" and the "Flying Dutchman."

A mutual friend of ours coined the term "Poker Criminal," because of Marcel's constant focus on stealing pots away from his opponents. It became clear that Marcel had left aside both this game of ours as well as his own club in favor of what he really wanted: trying to challenge the best in order to reach his ultimate goal of becoming the best player in the world.

A Few Recent Changes
I got the chance to catch up with Marcel at the EPT Grand Final in Monaco in the spring of this year. It was the most prestigious European event I had ever witnessed, with a buy-in of no less than €10,000. Marcel said: "You know, Rolf, all the recent changes in poker are just great for everyone. When I started traveling the circuit, there would be one magazine to take your picture if you happened to win an event.

"Nowadays, there's a whole bunch of them. And then there's the Internet, the Eurosport broadcasts, the sponsorship deals, and in addition to that, both the fields as well as the buy-ins are much larger now. All of this means that just one single win has become quite significant, because there's a lot of fortune and fame at stake – much more than just a few years ago.

"But as a consequence, it has also become much harder to win events nowadays. If I go somewhere to play in a tournament week that has six or seven events and I make two final tables, finishing fifth and ninth, people will view this as disappointing because they are used to seeing me win events. But they forget that with today's large fields, results like this would be much better than average, even for good players like me! "So, even though in recent months I have not been doing too well (this was just before Marcel's big win at Bellagio's Five-Star World Poker Classic), I am convinced that I will start winning big events again soon – even though I know it is simply much harder than before.

"It's not just that the fields are larger; the overall level of play has gone up, as well, and there can be no doubt that lots of players are actively trying to find the necessary adjustments to counter my game. Now, even though they may not always make the proper adjustments, it does affect my edge. And everyone knows that it is hard to stay at the top when so many others are trying to take your place. But despite all these problems, I just love this sudden interest in poker and the growth that the game is experiencing. Because of this, I will continue to do my share and help poker grow even bigger than it already is."

Business Opportunities
Now, for the man who has truly terrorized the tournament circuit in recent years and who is one of the scene's most colorful characters, there are lots of opportunities to profit from his popularity. Doing business is something that is simply second nature to him.

Two years ago, Marcel set up Holland's national poker team, "The Dutch Poker Police" (including Ed de Haas, Rolf Schreuder, Kosta Anastasyadis, Rob Hollink, and me), and managed to bring the Dutch state casino on board to back the project. From there, he got involved in setting up the International Poker Federation, which has already hosted major tournaments in St. Maarten and Australia.

More recently, he's joined with Poker Royalty, an agency that carries the biggest stars in poker. There are also plans afoot for a truly unique poker project in the world, but I'm sworn to secrecy on that one. All in all, as one of the first-ever sponsored players, and with a brand-new DVD on the way, the Flying Fox has proven that he's got the know-how to cash in the game, both off the table and on it.

Young Players Under His Wing
Even though Marcel is usually the center of attention and the person people always want to talk to, he doesn't mind sharing his knowledge and his experience with others to help them get better. In the United States, David Williams, runner-up to Greg Raymer at the 2004 World Series, has obviously profited from the fact that he and Marcel get along quite well. And in Europe, young rising star Noah Boeken may be even more thankful for the fact that Marcel has taken him under his wing. Not only does Noah live at Marcel's place, Marcel has also helped him lift his game to the level he has now reached: a serious threat to anyone.

The Flying Fox doesn't try to take full credit for these young people's successes, but instead compliments them for their ability to learn and develop. "These young guns would probably have made it to the top anyway, but now they may just have gotten there a bit faster. What's more, the interaction with these youngsters also keeps my own mind fresh and leaves me open to new insights. It's by no means one-way traffic."

Making the Transition to the United States
As big as Marcel had become in Europe, in the United States, quite a few people were still fairly skeptical in the beginning. Despite his impressive resume, lots of Americans didn't automatically give Marcel credit for being the top player that he had proven himself to be.

At one of his first final tables in the United States, an event that I was able to follow through a live broadcast on the Internet, the introduction of the final table to the public went something like this: All other finalists at the final table received warm applause and got extensive descriptions of their accomplishments, their wins, and their successes. When it was Marcel's turn, the only comment was: "And finally, we've got Marcel Lüske from Europe." Yet, this was the man who had truly crushed the European tournament circuit for more than two years, and who probably had more wins to his credit than all other finalists at that table combined!

Of course, once Marcel's face had become a bit more familiar to the people, and especially when he reached the final two tables at the WSOP on two consecutive years (events with 839 and 2,576 entrants, respectively), there was no way of getting around him anymore, as he had shown the entire world that he hadn't gotten his reputation for nothing. A quick check of the forum on or the newsgroup Rec.Gambling.Poker (RGP) proves that Marcel has quickly become one of the most popular players around.

This popularity of his is caused in large part by an appearance on one of the nationwide American poker TV shows. In the final of an important event, Marcel made a quality laydown. Right after he had folded his cards, his opponent started yapping at him, "You had kings?" Marcel immediately responded, "No, I did not have kings. You did." When the show was aired, millions of Americans could see that Marcel's read was spot on – his opponent indeed was sitting there with cowboys – and that despite all of the chatter, the singing, and the friendly banter, this Flying Dutchman does know how to play.

Success Overseas
But it is not just his charismatic character or his good reads that have made him so popular in the States; most importantly, it has been his good results. Knowing how many top players there are at every major event in the United States nowadays, Marcel's results are simply quite impressive.

In 2003, he booked his first-ever large win in America, taking the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event at the Five-Star World Poker Classic. First prize was a mere $67,000, rather disappointing for a tournament of this stature. A year later, he showed he was not just capable of winning an event, but also of collecting big money, when his 10th place at the 2004 World Series earned him no less than $373,000. And yet another year later, he showed how to combine the two, beating a huge field in the $2,000 no-limit hold'em event (again at Bellagio's Five-Star World Poker Classic), and collecting more than $200,000 in one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.

At this final table, Marcel was never in any kind of serious trouble, and when threehanded, he had acquired so many chips that he could simply bully his way to the title almost free of risk. And if he hadn't lost a crucial pot with aces against kings on the first day of the $25,000 championship event, all the money going in before the flop, who knows what might have happened. Then, it was another Dutch star who managed to do well in this event – EPT Grand Final winner Rob Hollink, who finished fifth to win $377,420.

It's been four years since Marcel turned his back on our Omaha game to try to make a name for himself among the world's best. He's more than met his goal. Marcel has established his reputation on both sides of the pond, and is now without a doubt the person who could help European poker grow along the same lines as in the States. The Fox just keeps flying higher and higher, while most of us are simply standing on the sidelines – watching him fly.

Marcel Lüske is the biggest winner in European tournament poker over the past five years, and has been voted Europe's Player of the Year in 2001 and 2004. He has recently joined Poker Royalty and is also part of the International Poker Federation. He is using his popularity and his contacts to move poker into the direction that he views is best: as an exciting and glamorous sports event, where the top players are treated as stars. His most recent win was on April 6 in Las Vegas at Bellagio, where he took the $2,000 no-limit hold'em tournament for a $212,070 first prize.