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by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Jul 01, 2008


Kveen King at the Norwegian Poker Championships

Dusk Till Dawn (DTD), Nottingham's long beleaguered but finally fully operational poker club, has faced endless court proceedings and overcome objections, licensing issues, and costs of building a large-scale card room from scratch. But in May it faced its first invasion -- 514 players at this year's Norwegian Championship (or Norgesmesterskap i Poker 2008), most of them flying from Norway to challenge their country's brightest and best, as well as a couple of ours.

The Norwegian Championship is not traditionally held in Norway. This may come as a surprise to those who are unaware of the legal standing of poker there. While the Internet abounds with top-level players from Johnny Lodden to Annette_15, underground clubs and forays to Sweden are all the Norwegians really get in the way of local live games.

It is not surprising that there was a steep learning curve at DTD, including to how to cater for such a large number of guests and whose cash game demands and behaviour under the influence of what (even by UK standards) was a phenomenal amount of alcohol couldn't be predicted. The latter needn't have worried the staff, and the visitors, despite cleaning the bar out of vodka and Red Bull on at least one occasion, were some of the most good-natured, if rambunctious, to have graced the cardroom.

The entire tournament was, incidentally, covered live on the web, with a makeshift studio set up on one of the poker tables with monitors and mikes for the commentators (usually a combination of Sverre Sundbo, Rolf Woods, and BA Kildalen -- the latter also making it pretty far through the tournament himself). The final was also filmed for television, which, judging from the popularity of the streaming video, will be something tuned into by much of Norway. This was the first time anything like this had been attempted at DTD, and the club pulled it off without any serious hitches, the staff working tirelessly to accommodate the demands of film crew, players, and regulars. As for the live feed, at least a handful of UK players and watchers tuned in, struggling bravely to understand Norwegian between universal terminology such as "push," "three-bet," and "sick."

The logistics were made more complicated by the fact that the bank holiday weekend over which the Norwegian Championships were held also saw the regular DTD tournaments running -- the £300 deepstack (won by Kristian Aksnes), the regular Omaha (won by Torstein Iversen), and the £100 rebuy no-limit hold'em (won by Dave Smith). That's home side 1, visitors, 2, by the way.

Players were in no hurry to get back on a plane to Norway as soon as they busted out of the main event. This meant that an excellent atmosphere was retained all the way through the final table, with cash tables set up in the bar, restaurant, and on every spare inch of space in the main cardroom to cater to the insatiable Nordic demands for poker. Any games genuinely requested seemed to be accommodated, with announcements filling short-handed no-limit tables, Norwegian-speaking tables (with suitably bilingual dealer), and even the occasional personal request: "Thor is sitting at table 62. He challenges anyone to come take him on at £5/£10 no-limit heads up. This is an open invitation! Do you think you can take on Thor? I've seen him play and he's rubbish."

The stereotypes English players had about the Norwegians and vice-versa were amusing to head. I asked a handful of each nationality what they thought about their opponents' play and how they thought they themselves were viewed. Sverre Sundbo said, "English players look at this field, don't recognise anyone, see a lot of raising going on, and think there's nothing to their game but loose aggression. But they're likely to underestimate some of these players, as they tend to play mainly online and have more to their game than that. They might not be well-known, but this is probably one of the toughest fields outside of the European Poker Tour. The English players who've done well here are those with experience against international fields, like Julian Thew."

I then asked Simon Nowab his opinion on how to tackle his Norwegian opponents (many of whom seemed to be his friends too), and he was less diplomatic. "Let them do all the betting," he advised. "Give them position, trap them, and then slow-roll their asses into next week!" This was partly for the benefit of Oyvind Riisem, standing next to us, who then got to have his say. "Don't let them trap you," and then, seemingly unable to stop himself, "Or…just…bet until they fold, I guess."

Despite the mutual winding up, everyone got on well after the initial shock of the unpredicatability of the cash games. Simon Trumper told me, "There was about £12,000 in the pot, all in preflop. 8-4 was the winning hand." The only marginal tension was between the excitable crowd watching the latter stages and a lone Swedish player who'd managed to sneak in to the tournament at the eleventh hour, despite there being a rule in place to stop the Swedes from taking a bite at the Norwegian Championships.

Henning Granstad filled me in on the background: "We have a history of vying with Sweden. One year, Johnny Lodden came second in the Swedish Championships, and the next year, they excluded Norwegians from competing in that event. So, we reciprocated by disallowing Swedish entries to our Championship. It's a competitive love/hate thing."

The Swede in question was Marcus Pettersson, who ended up placing second. The final table he nearly made it through was very tough to predict -- side bets were flying around as to who would make the final nine, but with early leaders like Julian Thew failing to even make the money, and later leaders like Jan Sjavik, Geir Lian, and Kristoffer Ustad falling short of the final, it was anybody's game right up until the last. The rapidity of the field's destruction belied the excellent structure of the comp, which left the last few players able to play "properly" for the big prizes.

The final table line-up was as follows:

After so much action through every stage, we figured that now there might be a little more caginess displayed, and despite the quick all-in confrontation between the aces of Svein Arnesen and the queens of Sondre Barlien, we were proven right. The queens turned a straight, leaving the A-A drawing to two outs for a split; it didn't happen and there were quickly eight. Tage Almark was finished off next A-J vs. A-Q, while Oyvind Efraimsen proved better at drawing out against dominating hands, doubling up (to enthusiastic applause) three times to turn his short stack into a more threatening one.

Erik Borkvik finished in seventh place, after the chip lead had swung around three times already, including in his direction at one point, but he lost a race to Kjetil Skau, and his rakish hat and sunglasses disappeared from the screens of hundreds of eagerly-watching onliners. Ian Frazer, the highest placing British player, took the sixth spot, after getting his considerable stack in with a dominated ace against Stig Rune Kveen. This in turn gave the hitherto fairly quiet Kveen a sudden lead and the option to open up a bit. He knocked out another player on the next hand, in fact, hitting top pair on a 10-high flop and finding Sondre Barlien moving in with his pocket eights.

The blinds had finally grown to a size that mattered to them all, and it looked as if Efraimsen was on the path to recovery, especially after he won a race against Kjetil Skau to double up. But his luck wasn't to hold, and he finished fourth, leaving Skau the new short stack.

Skau eventually took a shot moving in preflop with Q-5, but Marcus Pettersson held A-K and knocked him out in third, leaving it a Sweden vs. Norway heads-up battle. It was announced, however, that officially the winner of the Norwegian Championship was the highest finishing Norwegian, therefore Stig Rune Kveen was declared the champion, even though there was still £30k to play for. With over a 3-1 chip lead, Kveen looked comfortable, but took a cautious approach to the heads-up stage, with at least 20 minutes of playing pass-the-blinds before the crucial final hand.

This involved Kveen raising preflop and calling Pettersson's all-in move with a suited A-9 -- comfortably in front of his opponent's A-3. A flush on the river (which also, cruelly, brought the Swede's two pair) handed the trophy legitimately to Kveen, and some relieved railers cheered him on as the sound of champagne corks popping began to echo through the room.

Jen Mason is a part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.