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De Meulder Twins: Child Stars to 'Almost Famous' Poker Pros
Ever think it would be nice to have a replica of yourself to go over hands with, commiserate over bad beats and keep playing in a tournament after you bust?
Welcome to the world of the De Meulder twins, Christophe and Matthias.
The two Belgian poker pros, both members of Team PokerStars, are living the dream of "only" children everywhere with a burgeoning side-by-side career in poker.
Child stars in Belgium the two are used to seeing their face(s) on TV and hit the spotlight again this year with a much-talked about appearance on Dutch/Belgian reality show Expeditie Robinson.
With just under $1m in combined earnings on the live tournament circuit they're still moving up the poker ladder but with two brains usually better than one in poker the sky might be the limit.
PokerListings France's Fred Guillemot caught up with the pair at EPT Barcelona to find out more.
PokerListings: You're twins and you both play poker. Does it run in your blood?
Matthias de Meulder: It probably comes a bit from our father. He's a bit of a sore loser but he likes competition.
On the contrary, our mother doesn't like taking risks at all – which is the opposite of what poker is about, to an extent. So I definitely think we get it from our dad. He even used to play cards – not for money, just for fun.
Christophe de Meulder: He's definitely not the best poker player in the world though! (laughs)
PL: Is there some sort of competition between you two?
Matthias: Well, in some ways, because there's always some kind of competition going on between brothers or between friends. But when you're in a room this big with so many players, you'd rather see your brother win than bust out just so you can say: “Yeah! I did better than him!”.
Basically, we're supporting each other and if one loses then he roots for the other.
Christophe: I mean, best-case scenario it's me and Matti heads-up at the end of every tournament.
M: Actually it's weird because sometimes I feel even more nervous when my brother is playing than when I'm playing myself. When you're playing, you have everything under control, you're in charge.
But when you're cheering for someone, you don't really know what's going on in their head. You want them to do well... it's nerve-wrecking!
PL: We always hear that twins have a special connection. Do you think it's true and do you feel it?
Christophe: I think it's probably true. I remember two years ago when Matti came 10th at EPT Barcelona. I was away for like 10 minutes because I had to talk with someone from our Marketing Department, and I hear the crowd shouting.
We were in Spain, and Spanish crowds yelling doesn't mean the Belgian guy did something special. But for some reason I just knew that Matti was out.
Matthias: I do think we're often “on the same page” - we think the same things, we want to say the same things.
I remember once, when we were about 10, I was playing in the courtyard at school and all of a sudden I got this feeling and thought: “Shit! Chris is in trouble!”
Then I turned around and saw that he actually was in trouble. So I don't know. Maybe it was just a coincidence.
Christophe: One thing I do know: when my girlfriend is driving, Matti and I are both terrified even though we try to avoid looking at each other.
Matthias: Yeah, we have some sort of connection. (laughs)
PL: Do you think you play the same way?
Matthias: Well, I started playing before Chris and it was mostly me who taught him poker, so I think we do play quite similarly.
PL: But then your games should have developped in different directions.
Christophe: I think that fundamentally, we play the same way. I think that sometimes Matti is more aggressive than I am, but there's not much of a difference.
Matti used to be super splashy for about six months, then it was my turn - I was bluffing all the time and acting all crazy. But now we're playing more solidly, trying to take advantage of our opponents' mistakes.
Matthias: Playing “safer."
PL: Belgian poker players have been doing excellent things lately, even though Belgium is a relatively small country. How do you explain it?
Christophe: I think it is quite unbelievable how many good players there are in Belgium right now, like Mikael Gathy who won two bracelets in two years, Kevin Vandersmissen, Davidi Kitai, and the list goes on.
I think it has to do with the fact that the Belgian poker community is amazing. We're always travelling together, we talk a lot about our hands and we're all eager to learn and improve.
I mean, of course the guys who get really good results are intelligent and talented, and talent isn't something you can create – it's there or it's not, but they have great work ethics too.
Poker also became way more mainstream these last few years, it's been on TV and everything, which means that people discovered it and realized you could actually become very good at it.
PL: Do you think there's a “Belgian” way of playing?
Christophe: I don't think we have a specific style: some of us play very loose and aggressive like Kevin, others play tighter like Kenny Hallaert... Everyone has their own game but we talk a lot and try to reflect as much as possible, exchange ideas and I think it's been helping everyone.
We're pretty much a bunch of friends who like to hang out together, everyone is sharing their information with everyone. That way we're all helping each other out and getting better and better.
Plus the fact that some of us are getting really good results – like Davidi Kitai winning, Vandersmissen coming second – it pushes you to do better too. We all want that, and we're all working very hard.
PL: You used to host a television show when you were kids. Have you always wanted to become stars?
Matthias: The TV show we were doing when we were 10 was about interviewing famous Belgian people and asking them all kinds of questions that no one usually dares to ask.
We were only 10, and all of a sudden we were the most famous kids in Belgium. It was actually quite weird, because when you're that age all you want to do is be normal and do things normal kids do.
We're definitely not desperate to be famous, but we're used to it.
Christophe: I really don't mean to sound arrogant, but we're used to cameras, we're used to being recognized. It's almost part of our comfort zone, you know.
Matthias: The TV thing we did when we were young lasted for two or three years and honestly I was looking forward to quitting because it got to a point where I was jealous of my friends who were just living regular 12-year-old kids' lives.
As a kid, it's not that great to feel that everyone is always looking at you and everything. So I was definitely quite happy when that stopped. But then poker happened and we started getting better and better and now we're sort of famous again.
I think it's definitely easier to handle now that we're adults though. We've grown up, we don't really care what people think anymore, we've learned to put things into perspective.
Christophe: Yeah, it's more difficult when you're a kid because you're still growing up.
PL: You travel a lot, what are your three favorite poker destinations?
Matthias: Barcelona, Brazil/South America, because we went there and I loved it and I can't wait to visit again. And my third would be Vegas.
I'm not a huge fan of the place itself, but as a poker destination I have to put it in my top three. It's the Mecca of poker.
Christophe: I guess it used to be EPT Vilamoura when it still existed, definitely one of the best trips of my life. I also loved Croatia and Dubrovnik – but that was also because I just had a new girlfriend and we were there with some friends and had a great time.
Honestly it was probably more of a vacation than a poker trip. And then Barcelona.
Matthias: Actually, remove Vegas and put the Snowfest instead. I always had a great time there. I think Vegas would be fourth.
PL: One question about the reality show you did with Fatima Moreira de Melo. In a video, she said that you two had taken charge of things and that you handled the game just like a poker game.
Matthias: Well, it was a Survivor show, so everyone's hungry and everything. But we weren't the biggest adventurers of the game, we weren't the best climbers, we weren't the best builders... So we went there and we tried to figure out what was out best asset.
We thought that we may be better than others strategically, which is essential when you're stuck on an island with 15 other people and only one can win. There's a social dimension to it – you have to create bands, team up against others, because otherwise you're going to be isolated and you'll be out.
It worked pretty well because Chris and Fatima both made it to the final, but it didn't make us very popular. (laughs) I mean, some people liked our approach and thought it was cool, but others just want the best "survivor" to win. But I don't agree, everyone's there to win.
Everyone was focused on doing actual things, while we were thinking about how to actually win the game – just like in a poker tournaments where you have to find the right spot to get as far as you can.
PL: Did you trap your opponents ?
Matthias: There were some nasty things... (laughs) See, at first, we're split in teams – me, my brother and Fatima were in the same one, and then everyone plays individually.
Once everyone is fighting for themselves, you want the strongest ones out. So once we actually kicked out one of our friends who was one of the strongest in the team. People didn't really like that. (laughs)
But it was the smart thing to do, because he probably could have won.
PL: How come there were three poker players in the game? Was it just a coincidence?
Matthias: I think so, but it's because poker is getting more and more popular.
I know that they'd been asking Fatima to do it for a couple of years already but she couldn't until this year. Maybe they wanted players who play more strategically.
We're not super famous, but to be honest, people who take part in these shows are never the most famous ones.