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The Great Danes: More than just Gus Hansen
There's nothing rotten in Denmark these days, at least when it comes to poker.
The Danish scene was once all about Gus Hansen.
But now that this Scandinavian haven can boast a World Series of Poker Main Event champ and a series of top pros with wins and deep finishes in the world's biggest tournaments, it has become clear there is more than just one Great Dane.
"We have really done excellently in tournaments over the past year at least," World Series champion Peter Eastgate said. "And I think [Danes] are very dedicated to improving their game."
Eastgate's $9.1 million WSOP Main Event win this past November would be enough to put any country on the map, but the Danes didn't stop - or start - there.
Jesper Hougaard followed up a bracelet win in one of the many $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em events at the 2008 WSOP by becoming the first cross-Atlantic multiple bracelet winner, grabbing gold at the WSOPE's £1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event this past September.
Add to that Theo Jorgensen's £5k Pot-Limit Omaha WSOPE bracelet win, and it would seem the Danes dominated in both the Las Vegas and London legs of the World Series.
Mads Andersen kept the EPT2 Copenhagen title on Danish soil.
Peter Jepsen won EPT3 Warsaw, Sander Lylloff took the EPT4 Barcelona title, Soren Kongsgaard made third at the EPT3 Grand Final and Rasmus Nielsen's back-to-back EPT Copenhagen final tables the past two years just scratch the surface of top Danish finishes on the EPT.
In fact, when Card Player Magazine began compiling global statistics on top three results in the biggest tournaments around the planet, it concluded Denmark has the most successful tournament players in the world per capita.
According to CardPlayer's World Tracker, Danes finish first, second or third in major poker tournaments like the WPT, WSOP and EPT at a rate of 1.85 per million people, followed up by the United States at 1.3, Australia at 0.83, Canada at 0.66 and Norway at 0.65.
Now a Full Tilt pro, Kongsgaard says Danish poker players are a tight-knit community, and that's one reason why they've found so much success.
"I think we have a great poker community here in Denmark," he told PokerListings on the eve of the EPT Copenhagen final table last week. "We are a lot of young guys, we discuss hands, we travel together, we discuss a lot of strategy and work out how the best players play."
According to Eastgate, it's the analytical nature of those discussions, often held on Danish online poker forums, which set the Danes apart.
"[Danes] are so strong analytically," Eastgate said. "People in some other countries may discuss bad beats and things that are not focused on improving your game, but [Danes] are always thinking more about how they can improve their game, and that is one of the reasons why they are so good."
Jepsen, Betfair Poker's newest sponsored pro, said while a solid math background and the strong analytic nature of Danes has certainly played a role in the country's poker success, he thinks there are some other factors at play.
"I think people know that to be good at poker you must be good at math and a lot of Danish people are," he said. "But there are a lot of other things you need to be good at too. I think Danes are good at not tilting. We are generally a happy people. At least that's what I read in the newspaper. Maybe that's why."
Jepsen may not be far off.
Two of the largest studies ranking the happiness of countries around the world, the University of Leicester World Map of Happiness and the World Database of Happiness from Erasmus University Rotterdam, both rate the 5.5 million people who live in Denmark as the happiest people on earth.
But as happy as he was making back-to-back final tables in Copenhagen, Nielsen, who also made runner-up at a $1,500 No-Limit event at the 2008 WSOP, said Danish tournament success probably has more to do with experience than anything else.
"Well, I think in Europe at least, we were amongst the first to pick up online poker," he said. "I think some of the other countries are still catching up a little."
Regardless of the reason for Denmark's success on the felt, the original Great Dane said he expects it to continue.
"There are a lot of great young players from Denmark right now," Hansen said. "I think you can expect to keep seeing more and more of them."
- Hansen: "I'm no high-stakes fish"
- Eastgate winning awards, losing online
- Déjà vu: Rasmus Nielsen in Denmark EPT final