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Eastgate tops best European players of 2008
Analysts may spend lots of time trying to figure out when this poker boom will hit its peak, and it may already have in the United States, but the game is still growing all over the rest of the world.
Poker has made some big inroads into Europe in the past few years, especially with the advent of the PokerStars.com European Poker Tour bringing European players to the eyes of television viewers.
Some might say this was the year of the European player, as many of them topped tournaments all over the world.
Here's our list of the top players coming out of Europe this year.
Most names on this list were fairly easy to come up with, but that of the young Dane Peter Eastgate was easily the star at the top of the tree. With Eastgate ranking as the youngest-ever winner of the WSOP and the recipient of over $9 million dollars, the question now is what sort of champion will he be?
One of the first tournaments he played after his victory was the recent EPT in Prague, where he kept a quiet and incredibly grounded demeanor despite what he had achieved.
You can't refute his poker skills either: with the final table in its limbo period, he managed to make the last two tables of the EPT in London. Since Eastgate is more likely to be playing tournaments on this side of the Atlantic over the next year, it'll be interesting to see if he's perceived as being "good" for poker.
2. Jesper Hougaard
Any other year, and Jesper Hougaard would be "The Man" of Danish poker. His achievement of becoming the first player to win a World Series of Poker and WSOP Europe bracelet and also doing it in the same year is something that would normally be tough to top.
After getting heads-up against Cody Slaughbaugh in one of the $1,500 events of the WSOP, Hougaard was battered in a number of hands before there was a crucial dinner break. After this, Hougaard came back cool and focused to wrest the chip lead and eventually the bracelet away, admitting that the break had allowed him to rebuild his mental focus and had aided his victory.
He followed this up by winning the new WSOP Europe £1,500 No-Limit event in London which, if nothing else, will cement the former professional table tennis player in poker history.
3. Neil Channing
Few, if any, players write as well as Neil Channing. The erudite, self-deprecating Londoner has been a staple of the big cash games that run in London's Victoria Casino for many years now, to the point where he's considered part of the furniture.
Channing finally hit the big score when he won this year's Irish Open for €800,000, but what some people might not know is that he picked up an extra €50,000 from the bookmakers after they set his odds as fairly long on the third day.
Indeed, Channing's Facebook status said jokingly that they should be made to "pay for this injustice!"
Since his win, Channing has continued with good success in tournaments - nine cashes at the WSOP and WSOPE, including one fourth place in the £1,500 event in London. He also finished second in the PartyPoker World Open behind the next man on this list.
4. Marty Smyth
The Irishman might have thought it couldn't get any better when he managed to beat both Sorrel Mizzi and Roland De Wolfe to the 2007 Irish Open title, but somehow 2008 was even better.
First he took down the Party Poker World Open ahead of Neil Channing and Marc Goodwin before triumphing in the biggest Pot-Limit Omaha tournament of the year, the $10,000 Championship event at the World Series. That made him the first Irishman to take a bracelet since Ciaran O'Leary's triumph the year previously.
Now for most people, over a million dollars for the year would constitute a pretty good year (please no smirking at the back, Mr. Ivey!). But Smyth was not finished.
Just a couple of weeks ago he did it again, this time winning the Poker Million VII for $1 million to cap a remarkable year.
5. Sebastian Ruthenberg
Boris Becker may now arguably the most famous German playing poker after his PokerStars sponsorship, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another German who can match Ruthenberg's poker record.
After winning the WSOP $5,000 Stud Eight-or-Better bracelet against Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, the modest and shy German put it down to getting his fair share of luck. But perhaps even bigger than his win in the WSOP was when he won the first event of Season 5 of the EPT in Barcelona.
Ruthenberg has come close before, most notably a third place in Dortmund in Season 3, followed by 10th- and 13th-place finishes in Baden and Warsaw the next year.
In Barcelona the cards fell for him, allowing him to bag €1.3 million for his win. Compared to the WSOP, he had clearly grown in confidence, coming across a lot more relaxed and talkative, whereas he had previously always felt very uncomfortable talking to the media.
6. Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier
One of the oddest images of the year had to be the sight of Elky playing on the Asian Pacific Poker Tour dressed as the Joker from The Dark Knight, but he's certainly one of the players who have made a "killing" and had the "last laugh" (apologies).
A year or so ago, there was the haunting image of Grospellier losing to Magnus Petersson in the EPT Copenhagen, but this got put to bed when ElkY won the first big event of the year, taking down the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure (aka EPT Bahamas) for $2 million.
This was followed up by his winning the $15,000 WPT event at the Bellagio, which means ElkY is now two-thirds of the way to his "triple crown," with just a WSOP bracelet remaining.
7. Dario Minieri
Despite his size, it's hard not to spot the diminutive Italian at the tables, with his bling that rivals B.A. from the A-Team - and probably an equal amount of aggression. Minieri was spotted in Baden in 2006 as raw talent - no one was able to match his raw pre-flop game, which involved consistently three-betting players and then pounding on them postflop.
The title, however, didn't come on that occasion, and Minieri finished third to the eventual winner Thang Duc Nguyen. At the very first EPT in Italy, Minieri must have thought his time had come in San Remo, but again he went out third, this time to Jason Mercier.
Finally he picked up the win he was craving, taking the $2,500 No-Limit bracelet at the 2008 WSOP. This win was not without its ups and downs, as Mineri was at one point all-in with 4♠ 3♠ pre-flop for his tournament life against Seth Fischer's K♠ K♦ and managed to flop a flush draw before catching running fours to revitalize his comeback.
Minieri then headed back on the EPT making yet another final table, this time in Warsaw where he finished third ... again.
There's another year just beginning, though, giving Minieri a chance to take on more EPT tournaments and perhaps move closer to the top spot on the list of European poker players.