Martin Jacobson’s run at the final table of the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event was at the same time stunningly unlikely and not at all surprising. The Swedish poker pro overcame long odds to even make it to the second day of the November Nine, but after treating viewers and (to their disappointment) his opponents to a master class in tournament play, Jacobson emerged as the 2014 WSOP Main Event Champion, $10 million richer.
Going into the final table on Monday, Jacobson was sitting behind the second-shortest stack of chips, more than 23.5 million behind the chip leader, Jorryt van Hoof. Jacobson, though, was easily the most accomplished live tournament player of the group with nearly $5 million lifetime earnings and was regarded by many as the strongest player at the table. With so few chips, however, many figured he would have to lean more on luck than skill to make a run.
Rather than panicking and shoving early, though, Jacobson remained cool, waiting for his spots. He even got down to just seven big blinds at one point, but he still made sure he picked the right times to commit his chips. By the end of Monday’s action, the number of times all of his chips were at risk measured in the double-digits, but he had chosen the right moments to make his moves and went into Tuesday’s play second in chips. Here is what the final three looked like:
1. Jorryt van Hoof – 89,625,000
2. Martin Jacobson – 64,750,000
3. Felix Stephensen – 46,100,000
On the first day of the November Nine, despite Jacobson’s impressive run from second last to second best, the story was Jorryt van Hoof. He went into the final table as the chip leader and relinquished that lead for just a short time. He played fantastically, reading his opponents masterfully, using his stack as a bludgeoning weapon, and knowing all the right times to either push forward or pull back. He did hit cards, but his skillful play setup the opportunities to accumulate chips. It appeared for a while that he would run away with the tournament, but even though Jacobson and Felix Stephensen made up some ground near the end of the first night, van Hoof was still the favorite to win it all. If he could just continue what he was doing, he would be the champ.
But he couldn’t keep it up. Everything that worked on Monday failed on Tuesday. It is not that he played poorly, it was just that he stopped getting the cards he needed and his reads, which were normally spot on, were often wrong. Early on, he bled chips to his two competitors; he would get caught up in hands trying to make moves, only to have to concede small pot after small pot. And if it wasn’t small pots, it was Jacobson and Stephensen taking turns taking large chunks out of van Hoof’s stack. Van Hoof began to look helpless; no matter what he tried, he could not get any momentum back.
Van Hoof’s final hand was a microcosm of how Tuesday went for him. On the button, he raised pre-flop to 3.6 million and Jacobson followed with a re-raise to 9.2 million. After some thought, van Hoof moved all-in for 46.2 million chips and Jacobson instantly called. Van Hoof flopped over A♥-5♥, not an awful hand at all three-handed, but Jacobson showed A♠-T♣. As had been the story of Tuesday night’s action, Van Hoof’s reads were totally off. Both men flopped their kickers, but van Hoof couldn’t hit his two-outer on the turn or river and he was eliminated in third place.
In the meantime, Martin Jacobson was playing just about perfect poker. Even going back to Monday when many of his moves had to be all-in or fold, his reads were spot-on, his bet sizing was great, and his timing was impeccable. There are times at the Main Event final table that players just get lucky – they make bold moves that pay off, but those moves didn’t really have a whole lot of strategy behind them. With Jacobson, it was readily apparent that he was in total control of what he was doing the whole time. He needed some luck to survive on Monday, but he didn’t panic and stayed the course.
On Tuesday, as soon as it was apparent that van Hoof was off, it almost seemed like a given that Jacobson would win, barring a stunning cooler. Poker pros Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Hellmuth, and Daniel Negreanu, all of whom provided analysis for the ESPN broadcast, couldn’t say enough about Jacobson’s play. It was perfect. At no time during three-handed or heads-up play did it look like he would need luck to pull it out. He was in total control of the match, even when he wasn’t the big stack. It was awesome to watch.
Going into heads-up play, he had a gigantic lead on Felix Stephensen, 142 million chips to 58.5 million. It was just a matter of time. Jacobson gradually whittled down Stephensen’s stack while Stephensen looked for an opportunity to double-up. It was academic. Eventually, Stephensen raised to 3.5 million pre-flop and Jacobson shoved for over 170 million, putting Stephensen all-in. Stephensen made the call for his last 28.3 million. Like van Hoof earlier, Stephensen had a good heads-up hand, A♥-9♥, but he was in big trouble against Jacobson’s red Tens. The flop went 3♠-9♣-T♣ and it was all but over, as Jacobson flopped a set. The K♦ on the turn clinched it for Jacobson, rendering the river card meaningless.
Martin Jacobson is the No-Limit Hold’em World Champion.
Afterwards, he explained to ESPN’s Kara Scott why he had said that the title was more important to him than the $10 million. “It just means a lot to me,” he said. “I’ve been dedicating so many years to poker…I’ve been close a lot of times, but I felt all those close shots [were] leading up to this moment. I had a really good feeling coming in.”
As to how he felt now that he had won, Jacobson said, “I think I’m in shock. I’m not really feeling anything right now. I just feel super weird.”
If only we could all feel that weird.
2014 World Series of Poker Main Event – Final Table Results
1. Martin Jacobson – $10,000,000
2. Felix Stephensen – $5,145,968
3. Jorryt van Hoof – $3,806,402
4. William Tonking – $2,849,763
5. Billy Pappas – $2,143,794
6. Andoni Larrabe – $1,622,471
7. Dan Sindelar – $1,236,084
8. Bruno Politano – $947,172
9. Mark Newhouse – $730,725
* Cover photo courtesy WSOP.com