European poker has absolutely exploded over the last few years, with armies of young, hoodie-clad players set to invade the World Series of Poker this summer in their quest for a bracelet. In the course of covering the international tournament circuit here at PokerNews we've come across dozens of bright, extraordinarily talented young European players who may not be household names yet in America, but certainly have the skills and the fortitude to take down any tournament field. Here are just a few of the ones we think are set to make some major waves at this year's series—our top ten Europeans to watch.
10. Julian Thew (UK)
His chip stack known to rise and fall almost as frequently as he breathes, Julian Thew earned the cheeky nickname "Yo-yo" while playing on the European circuit. A rounder on the UK tournament scene since 2001, Thew has amassed over $2.3 million in career tournament earnings, his largest score coming from his victory at the EPT Baden Classic in 2007 for over $947,000. Thew is a master of UK festival events with too many final tables to count, and has found success in the US as well, winning the $4,850 No-Limit Hold'em event at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza in July 2008, good for $251,000. One of the most affable, genuine people on tour, Thew is a favorite among his fellow players and the poker media alike.
9. Johannes Strassmann (Germany)
Quiet, thoughtful, and easy on the eyes, Johannes Strassman has enjoyed incredible success in European tournaments over the last two years. Most recently, Strassmann notched a seventh-place finish at EPT London where he faced off against a stacked final-table lineup that included Michael Martin, Eric Liu, and Michael Tureniec. London was the third final table for him on the EPT in 2008, having finished ninth in San Remo and sixth in Dortmund. Strassmann has traveled to Las Vegas for the WSOP twice before, making two cashes in 2007 and two more in 2008, though he has yet to hit a final table there. Part of a virtual army of young, talented German players, Strassmann is hungry for more success at the WSOP. With fellow countrymen Jens Voertmann and Sebastian Ruthenberg earning their first bracelets last year and Katja Thater capturing hers in 2007, 2009 could very well be Strassmann's year.
8. Florian Langmann (Germany)
Florian Langmann turned pro in 2006 after winning his first major title in the German Poker Championships and has never looked back. The Dresden native has since logged three cash finishes on the European Poker Tour, including a ninth-place finish at the EPT Dortmund and a runner-up finish at the 2007 EPT London. Langmann came away from the 2008 WSOP with only one small cash but has been on a tear ever since, finishing second to Peter Eastgate in the $4,800 No-Limit Hold'em event at the 2009 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for over $184,000, winning the €1,000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the Poker EM in Baden, and most recently, winning a PLO side event at Vienna's Spring Poker Festival. Having already amassed $1.3 million in career tournament earnings in less than three years, Langmann may not be the most famous name in the Amazon Room this summer, but you definitely don't want to end up facing this aggressive, dangerous player.
7. Sandra Naujoks (Germany)
PokerStars scored quite the coup when they signed Sandra Naujoks to their all-German "Shooting Stars" team this past winter. At March's German Open in Dortmund, one of her first events under the Stars banner, she came away with her first EPT title and over $1.1 million in earnings. Naujoks also scored a victory at the Baden Open in October 2008, defeating Alex Kravchenko heads-up to come away with the title, and made the final table of the EPT Budapest only a few weeks later. Naujoks certainly has momentum on her side coming into the WSOP — look for this raven-haired beauty to make a splashy Stateside debut.
6. Trond Erik Eidsvig (Norway)
Outside of the European tournament circuit, the name Trond Erik Eidsvig isn't as well-known as some of his peers, but his success speaks for itself. Before he turned 21, the young Norwegian had already cashed five times on the European Poker Tour, making three final tables in Barcelona, Dublin, and Warsaw. A quiet presence but fiercely aggressive at the tables, Eidsvig's largest career score came at the 2007 Master Classics of Poker in Amsterdam, where he took home the $896,912 first-place prize. Eidsvig turned 21 last year and played in his first WSOP events, making one in-the-money finish in the $2,000 No Limit Hold'em event. A threat in any no-limit event he plays, we could very well see Eidsvig earn his first bracelet this summer… that is, if he can tear himself away from the cash games.
5. Johnny Lodden (Norway)
24-year-old Johnny Lodden has experienced some of the highest highs and the lowest lows imaginable in his six years as a professional poker player. Lodden was winning at the highest-stakes NLHE games online back in 2004 and 2005 — long before Full Tilt Poker and their plethora of star-studded $200/400 and above tables even existed. However, in 2007, Lodden very openly confessed that he'd mismanaged his money, and coupled with a horrid losing streak, had lost his entire bankroll and had to start from scratch with a stake from a friend. Ever since that downfall, however, Lodden has been on an upswing when it comes to live tournaments. He final-tabled EPT Budapest last October, finishing eighth, and went on to make a cash finish at EPT Prague. It was in London, though, at the WSOP-Europe, where he earned his largest tournament score to date, a nearly $100,000 haul from his 11th-place finish in the £10,000 Main Event. Hopefully Lodden's success in Europe can translate to a WSOP final table this year.
4. Joao Barbosa (Portugal)
No one had a year on the European Poker Tour quite like that of Joao Barbosa, who cashed an astounding six times. Considering only nine events have been played on the EPT so far this year, it's quite a feat. Barbosa's first major tournament triumph came in May 2008 when he won the Unibet Open in Madrid for a $179,000 score, and his second came only six months later in Warsaw, where he took down the EPT Polish Open and added over $460,000 to his bankroll. Currently the all-time tournament money winner from his home country of Portugal, you can always count on Barbosa to have a rail full of enthusiastic supporters, calling "Vamo!" for their man. Not bad for a guy who's only been on the circuit for less than a year.
3. Soren Kongsgaard (Denmark)
Soren Kongsgaard has been playing major tournaments for nearly three years but this is the first year he'll be old enough to test his skills on U.S. soil at the WSOP. Now sponsored by Full Tilt Poker, Kongsgaard made his first WSOP cash at the 2008 WSOP-Europe (where the gambling age is 18), finishing in 12th place in the £10,000 Main Event for nearly $100,000 in winnings. Kongsgaard already has seven major tournament victories on his resume, though his biggest cash came from his third-place finish at the 2007 EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, where he banked over $814,000. While his home country has produced a slew of poker greats including Gus Hansen, Jan Sorensen and current WSOP Main Event champion Peter Eastgate, Kongsgaard sits an impressive sixth on Denmark's all-time money list. Newly 21, he plans on playing as many WSOP events as he possibly can.
2. Alexander Kostritsyn (Russia)
His fondness for flashy sequined t-shirts and Ed Hardy hoodies may send some fashionistas into a tizzy, but Alexander Kostritsyn's prowess at the poker tables is undeniable. After bursting onto the world stage with his victory in the 2008 Aussie Millions Main Event, where he defeated Erik Seidel heads-up, Kostritsyn went on to cash six times at last year's WSOP, including a third-place finish in the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud World Championship and a deep run in the Main Event, where he ultimately finished 84th. Unlike so many of his 20-something peers, Kostritsyn isn't just a no-limit hold'em junkie. He excels at all the games, exemplified with his recent win in the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event at this year's Aussie Millions. Look for him to go deep in some of the larger-buy in events.
1. Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier (France)
"ElkY" is having a year for the ages in poker. After winning the 2008 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure for a cool $2 million, he headed out to Las Vegas in October and took down the WPT Festa al Lago at Bellagio, pocketing another $1.4 million. The Frenchman also notched an impressive third-place finish at the 2009 NBC National Heads-Up Championships and won the elite $25,000 buy-in high roller event at the 2009 PCA. With two parts of poker's "Triple Crown" (a WPT title and an EPT title) in hand, Grospellier is hungry for the WSOP bracelet that has eluded him over the last three years. Armed with a massive bankroll and a ton of confidence, don't be surprised if you see this 28-year-old sensation with a gold bracelet around his wrist by summer's end.
Nicole Gordon's "Poker Top 10" lists appear weekly here at PokerNews. Dreaming about joining the high-stakes online action? There's no better place to start than opening an account today at Full Tilt Poker.