Spotlight on Up-And-Coming Europeans
In my experience from live poker tournaments, many of the best players in the world are little-known, young Europeans whose style of play can be characterized as fearlessly aggressive. Some of the players mentioned in this article may be familiar names while others are not. One thing though is for sure, they're all phenomenal players who will be forces to reckon with for years to come. Get acquainted with these players through this article, because trust me, you don't want to get to know them at a poker table.
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Søren Kongsgaard - Denmark
Søren Kongsgaard might be the "best player you've never heard of". At just 20 years of age, Søren has already accomplished far more than most players dream of. In last year's EPT Grand Final, he didn't attract too much attention amidst the likes of Carlos Mortensen, Andy Black, Ram Vaswami, and eventual winner Gavin Griffin. But while no one was paying attention, Søren quietly finished 3rd for a cool $814,000.
Since that time, Søren has racked up more than $1,000,000 in winnings from other tournaments, including victories in the Danish Poker Championships, and EPT Barcelona preliminary event, and the PokerStars Sunday Million. Last fall, he won a combined $382,000 for two second place finishes in other major online tournaments.
It's only a matter of time before Søren is mentioned ahead of fellow countryman Gus Hansen as the best Danish poker player. That title understates reality; Søren might already be the best European poker player.
Johannes Strassmann - Germany
I met Johannes Strassmann during this year's Party Poker Million cruise. Having not been previously aware of him, my ears perked up when I heard him talking about making EPT final tables. (Note the plural!) Come to find out, Johannes's presence at the Party Poker Million final table wasn't an anomaly. In just the previous five months, he had been at three EPT final tables! Those final table appearances might not have panned out as Johannes was hoping; he finished ninth, sixth, and ninth to tally a somewhat bittersweet $350,000 in winnings, but the feat is still quite impressive.
Johannes's popularity is rapidly growing amongst Germans. All eyes will be on him heading into Season 5 of the European Poker Tour to see if he can continue his mastery of these events.
Dario Minieri - Italy
Anyone taking a seat at Dario Minieri's table might think a petite, boyish-looking Italian who likes to wear a scarf around his neck seems pretty harmless. However, once the cards start being dealt, the seemingly-benign Minieri shows his true colors as a relentlessly aggressive nightmare. Upon awakening on the morning of day 2 of this year's $2,500 shorthanded WSOP event, I felt a lump in my throat when I saw Minieri drew the seat two to my left. Each of us possessing a formidable chip stack with about 90 players remaining, I knew he represented a major hurdle towards reaching the final table. It was wonderfully relieving when our table broke after only an hour or so of Minieri's relentless re-raises. I struggled onward before flaming out in 18th. As for Dario? He won the bracelet along with a cool $528,000.
Earlier this year, Minieri cruised to a 3rd place finish on his home turf in EPT San Remo for $454,000. Unfortunately for the poker world, we haven't heard the last from this young phenom.
Alexander Kostritsyn - Russia
Ignore for a moment that Russia is not part of Europe, because this article would not be complete without mentioning Alexander Kostritsyn. In a $1,000 rebuy event at this year's WSOP, I sat down to find (starting from my immediate left moving leftward) Nam Le, Bill Edler, John Phan, Erick Lindgren, and Cory Carroll at my table. "What an awful table draw," I thought. It took a little while for me to realize that it was much worse than I first thought. After watching a young, unfamiliar player wreak havoc on the table by endlessly re-raising the likes of Lindgren and Carroll, I stopped a reporter to ask, "hey... who's the kid in seat 8?" "Oh that's Alexander Kostritsyn... he won a bunch of money in something earlier this year."
It turns out that "something" was the Aussie Millions where 21 year old Kostritsyn mowed over 779 of the world's best players en route to a $1,450,000 payday. He stayed busy in Las Vegas this summer cashing in six WSOP events, including a 3rd place finish in the 7-Card Stud World Championship for $163,000. After seeing his name on the leaderboard in what seemed like every WSOP event all summer long, it did not surprise me to spot Alexander nursing a healthy chip stack in the Main Event as I exited with 159 players remaining. He was no doubt disappointed with his 84th place finish in that event, but I'd bet good money his days of wrecking major poker tournaments are far from over.
Trond Erik Eidsvig - Norway
If you blinked any time last fall, you might have missed one of the most stunning runs in tournament poker history. Norwegian Trond Erik Eidsvig finished fifth in last September's EPT Barcelona event for $333,000. The 22 year old wasted no time making another EPT final table appearance; two months later he finished 4th in EPT Dublin for $178,000. What do you do for an encore after that? How about win the Master Classics of Poker in Holland for $896,000? That's what Trond Erik Eidsvig did to cap off an astounding eight weeks of poker.
Trond hasn't exactly laid low since last fall. He already cashed in three EPT events this year including a final table appearance at EPT Poland where he finished 8th for $88,000. It's disturbing to think that it hasn't even been a year since Trond burst onto the scene with his first cash in a major poker tournament. At the rate he's going, he'll have all the money in the world by like 2010.