Martin Jacobson and the Rise of Sweden as a Poker Powerhouse

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Martin Jacobson’s 2014 WSOP Main Event win was a watershed moment for poker in Sweden

In 2014, Martin Jacobson‘s life was changed forever after he won the World Series of Poker Main Event. The Swedish poker player received the second largest cash prize ever given out in the WSOP’s marquee tournament, $10 million, and was the first player from his home country to win it all.

Not even two years later, Swedes rule the roost on PocketFives. Players from Sweden make up half of the top 10 worldwide in the PocketFives Rankings and Sweden has entrenched itself at #1 in the Country Poker Rankings, a perch it won’t be flung from anytime soon. Jacobson’s win propelled him into the poker spotlight and gave the world a glimpse at the brilliance of the Swedish poker community.

“I’m sure his win must have boosted the popularity of poker at least a little bit, even though it wasn’t that well-covered in the mainstream media,” Sweden’s ‘Ariados‘ said. “I think what it did was motivate players like me who were taking the game seriously already to get better when we realized how professional Martin’s approach was. A lot of us were quite stoked when he won and a little bit jealous. It was like rooting for your country in a big sporting event.”

Eleven years before Jacobson, Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event, defeating Sammy Farha. Moneymaker, holding 5-4 for a flopped two pair against Farha’s top pair of jacks, famously paced around the room during the final hand, his hands clasped behind his head and his beige hat turned backwards. Moneymaker, an “every man” by every standard, hit another five on the river and officially changed poker forever.

“This is beyond fairy tale, it’s inconceivable,” said announcer Norman Chad at the time. Moneymaker, then a 27-year-old accountant from the Bible Belt, won his seat in a satellite on PokerStars. As a result, attendance at the WSOP soared, growing from 839 in the Main Event in 2003 to 10 times that just three years later.

There was no fairy tale when Jacobson won. There weren’t any glass slippers. Swedes didn’t sign up for online poker rooms in droves. The pro’s win was the exact opposite of “inconceivable.” For Jacobson, it was business as usual.

“I don’t think any WSOP champion has had the effect Moneymaker had on the global poker market,” Jacobson said.

Prior to Jacobson’s Main Event win, he had a baker’s dozen of six-figure live scores, according to the Hendon Mob. He wasn’t a spring chicken like his Tennessee counterpart. Now, with more than $15 million in live winnings, Jacobson tops Sweden’s all-time money list and is #13 worldwide, ahead of greats like Carlos Mortensen and Vanessa Selbst.

“Unfortunately, the interest for poker seems to be really low in Sweden at the moment,” Jacobson said. “I feel like it would be tough for one single person like me to change that. It would almost have to be backed by big corporations like PokerStars that have the resources to create advertisements, campaigns, and promotions.”

While Jacobson’s monumental win didn’t ignite the masses’ desire to play poker, it had a profound effect on poker pros from Sweden. ‘Ariados’ already alluded to what happened, and he’s about to pass $5.5 million in career online tournament winnings because of it. ‘Ariados’ also just finished third in a partypoker Powerfest event for well over $100,000 and continues to pile on earnings for himself and for his Swedish brethren.

‘Ariados’ is one of the top-ranked players in Sweden

Pot4teUS‘, ranked #19 in the world and #6 in Sweden, echoed what ‘Ariados’ said.

“Martin is a true legend of the game,” ‘Pot4teUS’ said. “Chris Moneymaker made the Average Joe realize that anyone can make it, while Martin really won it for the pros. He showed the world how much it means to be well-prepared and 100% focused on a goal, from the time he bagged his chips in July until his winning hand. A well-respected pro like Martin winning the title by basically playing a perfect final table isn’t going to create any sort of boom in Sweden, but he showed the pros how to be a pro.”

“I’m not sure we saw any new boom in Sweden after Martin won,” #9 ranked Christian ‘eisenhower1’ Jeppsson said. “Martin is a really nice guy and a good ambassador in general in the poker world, but a Swedish poker pro winning the WSOP Main Event isn’t fairy tale enough to trigger Swedish people to try their luck at the tables. They might need an Average Joe, or ‘Svensson’ as we say in Sweden, or someone who would create a lot of headlines.”

‘lena900’, who passed $4 million in career winnings this month, added, “I don’t think Martin’s win influenced poker in Sweden. All of the top players from Sweden had been playing too long by that point.”

Jeppsson, ‘lena900’, ‘Pot4teUS’, and ‘Ariados’ were all members of the PocketFives community long before Jacobson slipped on his gold bracelet in Las Vegas with Swedish flags draped around him. They had all piled on hundreds of thousands of dollars in cashes long before Jacobson wrote his name into poker history.

Then there’s Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom, one of the most well-known cash game players in the world and a product of the Swedish poker mill. According to HighStakesDB, Blom has $2 million in career profit on PokerStars, while he’s down almost $5 million on Full Tilt after run-ins with guys like Brian Hastings and Brian Townsend. Nevertheless, Blom continues to be a mainstay of the high-stakes cash game world. He was unmasked in 2011.

Sweden’s Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom is one of the poker world’s most well-known players

How did Swedes grow to be such a force in the online poker world, then? Outside of a little inspiration from Jacobson and some hoopla surrounding Blom, it was a combination of peer pressure and group think.

“Poker has always been popular in Sweden,” ‘Ariados’ said. “Ever since the poker boom, we’ve had successful players in both MTTs and cash games. We’re a pretty big group of high-stakes MTT players now and most of us know each other. I think we keep motivating each other to perform our very best. When people close to you are successful, you want to achieve that yourself and you realize it’s possible. It also helps a lot that you can discuss hands and strategy and keep improving with each other’s help.”

According to ‘Ariados’, the brand names of the Swedish poker community hang out together outside of the game. So, when they’re not grinding online, they’re putting back Crocodile beer from Kr√∂nleins in the local pubs.

“Many of these guys are good friends and hang out a lot outside of poker,” ‘Ariados’ said. “But, I’m not really part of that core group, so for me it’s mostly poker-related when we chat. I’ve met all of them at local clubs or on the live circuit and we keep in contact online and occasionally grind together.”

It also helps that Sweden isn’t known for its incredibly balmy climate. It’s never “beach day,” so being confined indoors can mean a boon to the local poker population.

“I can’t say for sure why we’ve been more successful, but as I said I think we’re very good at helping and motivating each other to improve and perform our very best,” ‘Ariados’ said. “I think a lot of us really enjoy the game of poker, not just the success and money that could come with it.”

The results are striking. The 1,270 registered PocketFives members from Sweden have combined for $123 million in winnings over the years, an average of almost $100,000 each. In the past three months, Swedes have amassed $8.5 million in winnings. The Swedish poker community is the only one that has three players with more than 7,000 PLB Points each. The European nation paces the PocketFives Country Poker Rankings with a combined PLB score of its top 20 players of 110,987 points, 6,000 more than the next closest locale.

Key stats for the Sweden poker community

“‘C Darwin2‘ and ‘lena900’ are particularly hot right now,” ‘Ariados’ said. “A month from now it could be someone else. We have some pretty talented up-and-comers as well like Dennis ‘DBerglin’ Berglin, who has also had a lot of success this month.”

While ‘Ariados’ said that the general public in Sweden, for the most part, does not understand what poker is and what it takes to be successful at it, his parents have come to accept and appreciate the game he loves.

“That, however, has taken time,” he said. “They’d always support me no matter what I chose to do. They just didn’t like the ups and downs that came with poker. I’m in a steadier place right now financially and emotionally, which I think is a relief for them.”

“My non-poker friends think it’s cool and are very happy for me,” he added. “Most of them are interested in poker as well and understand the principles of the game.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. Jacobsons win failed to ignite a poker boom in Sweden, probably a victory for an average joe or as the Swedes would say a ‘svensson’ would have caused a boom but Jacobson winning it didnt have the effect of causing Swedes to flock to casinos or online poker rooms in the way they would have done had the main event been won by a bin man from Malmo or something like this as opposed to well known Swedish pro Martin Jacobson winning the WSOP main event as he did do in 2014, which is not even two years ago.