After covering poker tournaments all over the world, I noticed that Scandinavian players as a whole were among the toughest and most aggressive players in the world. They seem to fit the mold of the perfect poker player. They simply carry themselves differently in public situations and that spills over to the tables. It's a societal thing, which is why they always appear calm, cool, stoic and expressionless. But they also have an abundance of time to practice. The long, bleak, and dismal winter months give budding poker players the opportunity to work on their game during the depressing Scandinavian winter.
"The Scandis are overrated," mentioned one media rep from Texas.
"Have you seen any Scandis aside from Thor Hansen?" asked another media rep from the UK.
I have always considered that players who hailed from Scandinavia were among the best players in the world. However, through the first 31 events, the stats don't lie. The Scandis are off to a slow start. Even if you include Finland (and the powerhouse Finnish pros including Patrik Antonius, Thomas Wahlroos, and Juha Helppi) in the triumvirate of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, that grouping does not have impressive stats after the first three weeks of the World Series of Poker.
Through 31 events, Scandis won zero bracelets. Sweden made only two final tables and 11 cashes. Denmark has zero final tables and eight cashes. Norway had zero final tables and seven cashes. And Finland? Just one final table (Patrik Antonius) and one cash.
The main reason why the Scandis have done poorly is that there are only a handful who played during the first three weeks of the WSOP. Aside from Gus Hansen, Thor Hansen, and Patrik Antonius, the biggest names in Scandinavian poker circles are noticeably absent. I expected all of the Scandis who dominated the European Poker Tour this past season to make an appearance, including Trond Eidsvig, Bjorn-Erik Glenne, Andreas Hoivold, Kristian Kjondal, Soren Kongsgaard, and Sander Lyloff. And what about Theo Jorgensen, Ola Brandborn, Johnny Lodden, and William Thorson? Of course, Annette Oberstad is considered one of the best NL tournament players in the world, but the WSOP-Europe Main Event champion is not playing in the WSOP this year because she is ineligible, still being under age 21.
In addition to the less-than-stellar run from the Scandis, the Brits definitely have more players at the WSOP, but they have also put up lackluster numbers; zero bracelets and eight final tables despite 80 cashes.
Conversely, look at the stats that the Russians and the Italians are putting up, in addition to the Dutch and the Germans. I'm sort of surprised especially since I thought that the Scandis and Brits would be battling it out for European pride at the WSOP. However, the stats clearly indicate that the Italians and the Russians are the ones to beat.
Max Pescatori and Dario Minieri won WSOP events in the last week to give Italy two bracelets. The Italians made three final tables and have 13 cashes. Pescatori, Minieri, and Dario Alioto all made at least one final table so far this year and won over $1.2 million combined.
The Russians have made an impressive showing this year with one bracelet, four final tables, and 24 cashes. Alex Kravchenko is leading the charge along with young guns Alexander Kostritsyn and Kirill Gerasimov. In addition, Nikolay Evdakov from Moscow has the most cashes so far at the WSOP and he's closing in on the all-time record. And don't forget that Vitaly Lunkin has the only bracelet this year for the Russians at the WSOP. And although she is counted as an American, Ladies Champion Svetlana Gromenkova was born in Russia before her family moved to Brooklyn, NY.
The Dutch have one bracelet winner in Rob Hollink and their players have made five final tables and cashed 28 times. The Germans also have one bracelet with two final tables and an impressive 37 cashes so far. And aside from David Benyamine's final-table appearance, the French have not made much of an impact so far this year.
I expect the Russians to overtake the Italians at some point mostly because there are more Russians playing in the WSOP than the Italians. However, the Italians are tough to beat with Max Pescatori and the two Darios kicking ass and taking names.
A slew of Scandi are expected to arrive shortly before the Main Event, but it will be too late for them to make an impact. With below-average showings from both the Brits and the Scandis, the battle of Europe is coming down to Russia vs. Italy, unless the Germans and the Dutch can make another surge and pick up a couple of bracelets.
Note: Statistics used in this piece were provided by the World Series of Poker.)