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European Bracelet Winners at the 39th World Series of Poker

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Sep 02, 2008


Marty Smyth - Ireland - $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha World Championship

The final table of the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha World Championship event had the atmosphere of a World Cup soccer match, and Marty Smyth of Ireland gave his boisterous cheering section reason to celebrate well into the morning. Smyth won his first World Series of Poker bracelet as well as $859,549 in prize money. He emerged from a final table that included Michael Mizrachi, Peter Jetten, and six others from around the world.

Card Player: What did your family and friends say when you decided to take up poker for a living?

Marty Smyth: Well, to my friends, it was almost a natural progression. We all played poker together through university, and some of them played professionally or semiprofessionally. The family took a bit longer to come around to it. When I first told them, they weren't terribly impressed, and I can understand why. They thought I was just having a lucky streak for a few months, and sooner or later the bottom would fall out. But after a few years, when I was winning consistently and had made a few investments and put some money aside, they came around to the idea. And now, the last couple of years, I've had some tournament success.

CP: Irish poker players have a unique history at the World Series of Poker, dating back 20 years. Do you think that you may be following in their footsteps and are the next in line?

MS: I remember when I first started playing in the clubs in Dublin and read a couple of poker books. I was amazed there were these Irish poker professionals playing in the big tournaments in Vegas. Padraig Parkinson and Donnacha O'Dea are gods to Irish poker players. Only four have won bracelets, and to be with a group like that means a lot.

CP: How did it feel to have that kind of support behind you?

MS: I knew there would be a great atmosphere, and they didn't disappoint. Toward the start, there wasn't a lot of action, but as the day went on and we got closer to the finish, the support for everyone - not just me - was fantastic.

CP: It was like an international football match, wasn't it?

MS: There were a few football chants. That's always going to be the case when you get a lot of Irish guys together and get some drinks in them.

CP: You mentioned that Peter was the player you least wanted to face heads up. Why?

MS: He just seemed to be playing the best poker. I think some of the other players are primarily hold'em players. I don't mean to disparage Michael, because he's a very good tournament player, but he's primarily a hold'em player. I felt more comfortable playing against him heads up than against Peter.

CP: Why do Europeans have an advantage in pot-limit Omaha? Is it just the experience?

MS: That seems to be the general consensus. There probably are more good players in Europe because the game is played more often, and they've been playing it for 20 years and have so much experience. But the top players here are just as good as the top Europeans. There are guys here playing it all the time on the Internet, and the game is growing and growing. All the big games online seem to be pot-limit Omaha, and there's 100 or 200 railbirds. So, it can only increase in popularity. It might not be long before the Americans have caught up.

Jesper Hougaard - Denmark - $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em

Jesper Hougaard dominated at the final table of his $1,500 no-limit hold'em event. He took over the proceedings with an aggressive style, and not even Danny Wong could slow him down. It looked like he would coast to his first bracelet until he got heads up with Cody Slaubaugh, and then all of his momentum was crushed.

Hougaard was bluffed out of a large pot. He began to free-fall and lost multiple large pots in a row. The dinner break came to the rescue, though, and Hougaard was able to collect his thoughts and return to his dominant-aggressive self to win the bracelet and $610,304 in prize money.

Card Player: What did you do prior to becoming a professional player?

Jesper Hougaard: I played and coached professional table tennis in Denmark for the national team for quite a few years. When poker took over, I got really interested in it and it took up too much of my time, so I gave up table tennis and started focusing on poker instead.

CP: How did your competitive table-tennis background prepare you for tournament poker?

JH: Believe it or not, you can really reflect back on a couple of things. I've been in this situation before, where you have to regroup. You saw at the final table today; I was in bad, bad shape. Basically what I did is something we used to do for table tennis - regroup, prepare yourself, and think about it like it's a new match. That's a mental exercise for preparing yourself again that really helped me out.

CP: When did you start playing poker?

JH: I started when Gus Hansen started getting ahead on the World Poker Tour. Poker just exploded in Denmark; we saw this guy who became a household name from one day to the other. We started off in school playing just small live games. If you won $20, $30, $40 in a night, you were the king of the school the next day. That's where I started playing, and then I took to online pretty quickly, because there isn't too much opportunity to play live where I live, other than home games. So, I took to playing online, and I thought if I got really good at this game, I could make a living from it, and that's what I'm doing now.

CP: Was it really good having the scheduled dinner break after the horrible run in which you lost some crucial hands heads up?

JH: Absolutely, because I felt things were really changing and going so quickly against me. The dinner break came just in time for me. I don't know what else I would have done; maybe I would have stalled, left the table, maybe got anted off, because I really needed to take five or 10 minutes and regroup with my thoughts.

CP: What did you do on the dinner break to regroup? You came back after dinner a new player, and took back control.

JH: I thought I played such a good final table. All day through, I was in control. I pretty much dominated the table, and the only guy who had a lot of chips was Cody [Slaubaugh], and he kind of stayed out of my way. I pretty much cruised to heads up. Once I started losing the chip lead, I thought I started losing grip of the match. I went out to dinner with my friends, and I phoned my brother back at home, I phoned my dad, and I tried to phone my girlfriend, but I think she fell asleep. I spoke to some people back at home just to clear my mind and think about something other than poker. Then there were 15 minutes left in the break, so I put on my headphones and put on Eye of the Tiger and just kind of shadowboxed my way back down to the Rio.

CP: Earlier in the day, you were really the aggressive force at the table. Did you sense weakness in your opponents? What led you to play so aggressively?

JH: I hit the flops pretty well. I flopped a straight, I flopped a flush, and in general I hit the flops. I did make some bluffs. I made one pretty sick bluff on Danny [Wong], when he bet on all three streets and I raised him on the river. I had a missed straight draw, I had 8 high, and apparently he folded a rivered straight. That was my only really big bluff; apart from that, I pretty much had the hands. Obviously, I thought there were two, three, maybe four weak spots at the table that I could bully. And then, I just stayed out of the way of the other big stacks until about five-handed play. Then I had position on Danny, which was great for me, because he was the only guy who wanted to see flops, and he was out of position to me all the time, which gave me a huge advantage.

CP: We see a lot of the Scandinavian players use a hyperaggressive strategy. Is that true of your personal game and that of your countrymen?

JH: Absolutely, absolutely. We don't play that many live tournaments in Denmark because there aren't that many big tournaments to play, but when we travel, people are commenting on it everywhere we go because we have a different style, which is much more aggressive and puts pressure on people, and I think it's the way to play. All of the top players play like that, and all of the Scandinavians play like that.

David Benyamine - France - $10,000 Omaha Eight-or-Better World Championship

Widely regarded as one of the game's premier cash players, David Benyamine nixed the naysayers and put all of the rumors to rest as he outlasted a tough final table, claiming his first gold bracelet and $535,687.

Benyamine is no stranger to the tournament trail, with two World Poker Tour titles and now more than $2 million in live-tournament winnings. A man of pride and determination, Benyamine had set a new goal for himself at this year's WSOP, and with four cashes, three final tables, and one gold bracelet under his belt, perhaps now he can get the much deserved respect that he has been looking for.

Card Player: David, you spend a lot of time playing a lot of cards with a lot of people who have a lot of bracelets. Do they ever make fun of you for not having one? And how does it feel to shut them up?

David Benyamine: Umm … they normally don't. They have a lot of respect for the way I play, and I proved it by winning. You don't especially need a bracelet for people to have respect for you. First of all, if you respect them, they should definitely have respect for you as a person. But after that, I think they have seen me win too many times not to have any respect for my game because I didn't have any bracelets. They have played how many hundreds of tournaments? And I don't even think I've reached 100.

Obviously, they have to consider that, and if they don't, that's their problem. I've never really thought that I've had anything to prove. I play poker because I like it, and I will keep on doing it the same way.

CP: Everybody else around you has won a bracelet. How big of an issue was this for you?

DB: So far, it hasn't been an issue at all. I believe that I never really tried hard to come and play the tournaments. I was more about playing cash games, and playing tournaments sometimes. I wasn't playing the tournaments all of the time like everyone else did. For many of them, that has been their first job. A couple of people came up to me at the beginning of the year and told me that I was not doing anything in tournaments and probably couldn't do anything. I thought, OK, I'm just going to give it a year and try to show them. I'm going to try for one year.

CP: Did that encourage you to play more tournaments?

DB: I like playing tournaments, but it's very hard when I can win in one night in a cash game what I could win in a tournament after three days. There is so much effort, and so many times you finish second, third, or don't even make the money. The money is sometimes frustrating, but now I've found another goal.
CP: Do you still consider your hometown to be Paris, France, or Las Vegas now?

DB: That's a tricky question. I don't even know anymore. I have been living here for the last few years and haven't been back to Paris much. I'm from Paris, and of course I'm from France, but I now live here, so I'm from both.

CP: With Mike Matusow at the table, keeping a steady chatter going, does that put you off at all?

DB: It doesn't bother me, whatever he does. It really doesn't bother me. I love Mike. He is a great guy and he has a very big heart, and he gives a lot to poker, so you've got to respect him, and the character that he is.

CP: When you were heads up, you had quite a big chip advantage over Greg Jamison. Did you think you were definitely going to take it home at that point?

DB: Yeah, I didn't think I was going to lose. Sometimes you can have doubts when the guy is making a big comeback, but … he's a good player … but I think his game is the ring game. In a ring game, he is going to do much better than when it gets shorthanded. Shorthanded, I was getting too many cards; they had no chance. Even on the days when the cards are ugly, I will have a better chance than them shorthanded.

When I play heads up with one of these guys, in a ring game he might do better than me because he's more patient than me. But I've been pretty patient in this tournament. As I said, I was really motivated, and I really tried hard.

CP: You play a lot of Omaha eight-or-better online. Is it your favorite game?

DB: I don't have a favorite game. I like every game. People think that Omaha eight-or-better is my favorite game because I have the best results, but I also play all sorts of games live. Omaha is not my favorite. I don't have a favorite. I like poker, and I like every game in poker.

CP: Who was your toughest opponent at the final table?

DB: I think it is very often myself and the deck. That's what it has been showing the past couple of years, and I think it was the same this year. Last week, I finished third and I was extremely happy to finish third.
When it got three-handed, even though I had a lot of chips, I believed that I didn't have a shot to win at all. Look what I did to them today shorthanded. When I went on a rush, I showed aces too many times, I showed the nuts too many times. There was nothing they could have possibly done today. And the other day, when I finished third, it was the exact same thing. I was not even disappointed then. When you are trying to win, you should always be grateful to make third place, or even the final table.

CP: When it got down to four-handed, you started to bully the table and were responsible for eliminating the last three players. Did you feel the need to be the hero with the chip lead, or did the cards dictate that?

DB: I had a plan, as I usually do when it gets down to three, four, or five players. I play a little aggressively, but not too much. I normally can read people for whatever they have pretty well, and that's my strength in poker. So, I usually put a little more aggression in the game when shorthanded. So that was my plan, but I didn't even have time to think about or consider my plan, because the deck was giving me too many cards. I had aces and very, very strong hands to play with all of the time. There was nothing that they could have possibly done here today.

CP: So far, you've made three final tables, all in different games. Do you have high expectations going into the H.O.R.S.E. event?

DB: I always do, and I never do. That's the thing about tournaments - they are very streaky. For a long time, I haven't done anything and I didn't try as hard as I am trying now. And sometimes I did, without any good results. I have been very streaky in tournaments. I have lost so many times in the first round, when nobody would even remember sitting next to me at the table. I don't have especially high expectations. There is just a chance that I will do well. I think that I am running very well this year, and I am also playing well, but it doesn't mean it will last. I might not cash in any more tournaments, and who knows, maybe I'll win another one. I'll do my best anyway, and that's what counts.

CP: You reportedly have had a very good month [online]. Do you want to comment on that?

DB: I have had a very good month because I have a nice girlfriend, a nice family, and a lot of friends who support me. That's my good month, not because I win or lose. You have to put those things aside, otherwise there would be a lot of unhappy times.

CP: What would you be doing if it weren't for poker?

DB: I would be an archaeologist. That's what I really wanted to be, but I was just way, way too lazy. I really think I would have found poker somehow, because I have a lot of gamble in me. I'm sure it's just not a coincidence that I play poker.

Dario Minieri - Italy - $2,500 No-Limit Hold'em Six-Handed

Dario Minieri has been crushing the online poker world for some time now, but a first live win in a major tournament kept eluding him. He came close on the European Poker Tour twice, but in both cases he finished in third place. One of these finishes came during season three, when he came close in the EPT Baden championship event, while the other hit much closer to home. At Italy's first major poker championship, Minieri finished third once again in the EPT San Remo championship event with all of his countrymen cheering him on.

Minieri was steamrolling the competition in the $2,500 no-limit hold'em six-handed event at the World Series of Poker, and it looked like he would put his third-place ghosts to rest. But then fate dealt him into a three-way dogfight, and Minieri emerged victorious with his first gold bracelet and $528,418 in prize money.

Card Player: How does this make up for your disappointment of coming so close in San Remo?

Dario Minieri: I'm really happy. Winning a bracelet is one of my dreams, and I realised it, and I'm very happy. It's so beautiful.

CP: Does it seem like a bit of justice to win this tournament after what happened in San Remo?

DM: I think that in San Remo, I deserved it more than I deserved it here. In San Remo, I played very good poker and I think I got unlucky. Here, I got lucky, actually.

CP: This continues a surge of Italian players winning bracelets this week, with Max Pescatori also just winning one. Why do you think you and your countrymen are finding so much success as of late?

DM: We are speaking about the game with each other, and we become better together. Talking with Max about this game has been good for me. There are four Italian players with bracelets - Dario Alioto, Valter Farina, Max, and me - so I'm very happy that poker in Italy is growing, and I'm very happy that I can speak about poker with people like Max and other Italian players.

CP: Who is the best player out of you four?

DM: In Italy … [laughing] Max Pescatori is the best player.

CP: Contrast the highs and lows of your emotions when Justin Filtz hit a jack on the river against you to survive, and then when you hit a 4 to beat Seth Fischer in a crucial pot and survive. What were you feeling at those two different moments?

DM: I would have liked to win with no suck-out. I wanted a clean victory. That would be much better. Anyway, I'm very happy, though, and tomorrow I will forget it.

CP: You were really dominating for the first stretch of the final table, and then your opponents doubled up through you a couple of times to even things out. How did you shift your game after you hit that unfortunate run?

DM: I had a nightmare about third place, because I've come in third two times on the European Poker Tour, so when we were down to three, I played a little tighter. There were many all ins and nobody went out, and I was getting nervous, but I got a text message from my friends who are Italians, and they said, "Dario, don't worry. You're going to do well."

CP: Did you really enjoy the final-table atmosphere here tonight? The crowd was one of the best we've seen at a final table this summer. Did you enjoy that excitement?

DM: I'm very happy about that; it shows Italy has good people and fans. They cheer good for everyone, and I'm very happy about that.

CP: You have a very aggressive style. Is six-handed your best game? It seems to suit you well.

DM: I was thinking heads up was my best game, but after drawing with 4-3, maybe I need to review that. I really like no-limit six-handed and heads up. I would say heads up is my best game.

Rob Hollink - Netherlands - $10,000 Limit Hold'em World Championship

Rob Hollink had accumulated more than $2 million in career tournament winnings heading to the final table of the $10,000 limit hold'em World Championship, but he had never won a bracelet. That all changed when he beat out tough opponents J.C. Tran, Andy Bloch, and Jerrod Ankenman heads up to win his first piece of World Series of Poker history.

He also made history by becoming the first player from the Netherlands to win a gold bracelet. Hollink can now add his WSOP victory to his impressive career, which also boasts the first-ever European Poker Tour Grand Final title.

Card Player: How does your first bracelet compare to winning the EPT Grand Final?

Rob Hollink: I think this is better. What else do you want to win besides a World Series of Poker gold bracelet? This feels better than winning an EPT, although that was a big accomplishment. I have been coming here since 2001, and I have played 80-90 events and have done pretty badly, and I never knew why. I always thought I was unlucky here. I have won 15 tournaments in Europe; here, I never could find the solution to why I didn't do well. I thought that one day I was going to win. That day is here, and it feels very good. The longer you wait, the better it feels, I guess.

CP: How does it feel to win a limit event? European players are more widely known for their pot-limit Omaha play and their no-limit hold'em play. Limit hold'em is more of an American game that is played predominantly by Americans. Is this one of your stronger games?

RH: I like to play limit hold'em; it's probably my second-best game. Originally, I played a lot of pot-limit Omaha, and besides that I played a lot of limit hold'em. I've always liked to play limit hold'em tournaments; it's the kind of game I really like to play. You can be aggressive without being reraised out of the pot if you are too aggressive too often.

CP: When the table got down to three-handed, you really hit another gear in your aggression. Was that your plan, or was it a matter of picking up some strong hands?

RH: I think, at that point, I played really well. From that moment on, I made a couple of great calls with king high, with a straight draw [and so on]. In that moment, I really played well. From the moment Tommy [Hang] was out and it was heads up, I probably got the best of it, I guess.

CP: What did you think of your heads-up opponent, Jerrod Ankenman?

RH: He wasn't that lucky, I guess. From the moment I played really aggressively, it looked like he was waiting all of the time for me, so I changed it up a little bit and decided to check a couple of hands when I wasn't ahead, and I was lucky to hit on the river. He gave me free cards.

CP: Does it give you a large amount of pride to take this bracelet back to the Netherlands? I see the Dutch really rally around their countrymen, whether it is poker, the Olympics, and so on. Does it give you that much more pride to win in front of all of the Dutch supporters and friends who stuck around with you here tonight?

RH: Yeah, it feels very good. I'm very thankful that they all supported me that much. It really feels very good.

CP: You are the world champion of limit hold'em, making you the first Dutchman to hold that title, as well as the first Dutch bracelet winner. How does that feel?

RH: That sounds very good [laughing].

Max Pescatori - Italy - $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold'em/Omaha

The popularity of poker is booming in Italy. Nevermind the recent success of Italian superstars Dario Minieri, Luca Pagano, Cristiano Blanco, Dario Alioto, and Marco Traniello, as the one who started it all, Max "The Italian Pirate" Pescatori, recently took home his second bracelet in the $2,500 pot-limit hold'em/Omaha event.

Card Player: The first time you won a bracelet, the stars aligned and Italy won the World Cup. How does this victory compare?

Max Pescatori: It's different. That joy I felt will never be the same, because of the brotherhood there was with Italy during the World Cup. Of course, the first bracelet is always the best one. This one is more of a confirmation of my skills and the work that I really put into poker. I really love the game, and this helps me reaffirm to myself that I'm actually pretty good [laughing].

CP: On the final hand against Kyle Kloeckner, he thought for a while before deciding to push on you. What was going through your mind as he went into the tank?

MP: Once he thought about it for more than five seconds, I realized that he had two pair, like kings and threes, and I was just praying for a call with my top two pair. I also had a flush draw, which had him drawing to only one out. Even if he happened to push on me with a wrap draw, I would've been fine with it.
I had been pounding him during heads-up play, so I knew he was starting to get frustrated. To be honest, it was probably right for him to gamble against someone like me who was dominating.

CP: Who were the toughest opponents for you at the final table?

MP: It's always hard to say, but I think that Kyle Kloeckner and Jonathan Depa played very well. Kyle was very deserving to get heads up, and Jonathan took a bad beat.

CP: How good does it feel to win a bracelet after a somewhat quiet 2007?

MP: Well, 2007 was problematic for several reasons. My mind was not completely there, for one. I really wanted to focus this year. One of my friends called it a sophomore slump, and I think that's fairly accurate. I wasn't playing my best in 2007 because of certain personal problems, but I knew I wanted to do well this year.

Jens Voertmann - Germany - $3,000 H.O.R.S.E.

German poker professional Jens Voertmann is no stranger to the world of H.O.R.S.E. Voertmann, a Full Tilt pro, has been frequenting the mixed games both live and online for years. While he considers his best game to be stud, Voertmann showed the world that he was a master of all the games as he took down this year's first World Series of Poker H.O.R.S.E. tournament.

Card Player: This was the first H.O.R.S.E. event of the Series. What did you think about the overall skill level in the field?

Jens Voertmann:
I think the average strength was pretty high. We had a couple of weaker players at the beginning who made a lot of mistakes, which you usually have in WSOP tournaments. But on average, the field was pretty tough, and most of the superstars were playing in this event, so it was a great event.

CP: You came back to play down from 16 players to a champion. Did the long day affect your play at all?

JV: At the beginning, we went pretty fast. We went quickly from 16 down to eight, and I felt pretty comfortable. I thought it might be a quick tournament, but once we got to three-handed with Marcel still in there, it took forever. I think we played four-and-a-half hours three-handed, and it was pretty intense.

Everybody was at one point the short stack, and then the chip leader again. It changed so often. So, it was really an exhausting tournament.

CP: Do you consider yourself to be proficient in all of the games, or do you excel in one over the others?

JV: My favorite game is stud. That's what I started with and what I'm most experienced with. But I play a lot of H.O.R.S.E. on the Internet at Full Tilt, and it's my favorite game. So, I liked my chances today.

CP: Did your stud expertise pay off during that long stretch of three-handed play?

JV: I thought so. Of course, Marcel Luske is a famous player and a great player. He's a great no-limit and pot-limit player, but I thought that in H.O.R.S.E. I might have an advantage over him, albeit a slight one. He's a great player, and he played well and aggressively and got very unlucky to be busted out.

CP: What does this win mean for poker in Germany?

JV: Poker is growing and growing and growing in Germany. It's becoming very popular. Full Tilt has just hired 10 pros, so you can see how popular it is. We now have five German players who have won bracelets; that's something special.