While passing through the halls of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino this summer, one would frequently overhear players relating to one another stories of hands played. Such narratives often included thumbnail profiles of opponent types. “I loved my table.” “A bunch of nits and by-the-book types. Would have been perfect if it weren’t for the crazy Scandi opening every pot on my left.”
Those “crazy Scandis” — that is, the group of players hailing from that group of northern European countries collectively known as Scandinavia — earned the adjective thanks to an especially aggressive style of play most often traced back to their best known representative, Denmark’s Gus Hansen. On the heels of fellow Dane Peter Eastgate’s WSOP Main Event victory in 2008, this year’s Series saw a host of Scandinavian players find success at the Rio, with many cashes, several final tables, and a couple of bracelets.
Norway’s Thor Hansen had five cashes at this summer’s WSOP, as did Ken Lennaárd of Sweden, who just missed a bracelet by finishing second in a $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em event (No. 36). Denmark’s Jonas Klausen also took a runner-up in a $1,500 NLHE event (No. 34), and Tomas Alenius of Sweden won the $1,500 Limit Hold’em event (No. 26). And if we consider Finland, Mika Passonen’s runner-up finish in a $2,000 NLHE event (No. 32) must be mentioned, as must the remarkable run of Ville Wahlbeck, who cashed six times, made four final tables, and won the $10,000 Mixed Event (No. 12) on his way to earning over $1 million this summer alone — a nice finish for the Finnish!
What follows is a list of the current top ten Scandinavian poker players based on various criteria, including live tournament earnings, recent success, and overall influence. For the sake of the list, nearby Nordic countries Finland and Iceland were additionally considered, even though neither is specifically part of the Scandinavian peninsula. No Icelanders made it, with the country’s top earner Runnar Runarsson being its closest challenger. Also landing just outside the list were Lars Bonding (Denmark), Erik Friberg (Sweden), Jesper Hougaard (Denmark), Dag Mikkelsen (Norway), Rene Mouritsen (Denmark), William Thorson (Sweden), and Thomas Wahlroos (Finland).
10. Ville Wahlbeck (Finland)
Not only did all six of Wahlbeck’s cashes at this year’s WSOP result from deep runs (four final tables, lowest finish 13th), but five of the six came in events with $10,000 buy-ins or higher — that is, in events classified as “World Championships.” The series was barely two weeks old when Wahlbeck had already won the $10K Mixed Event, finished second in the $10K 2-7 Lowball, and third in the $10K Seven-Card Stud. To that he later added a sixth-place finish in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, pushing his career earnings past $1.2 million.
9. Juha Helppi (Finland)
Helppi’s biggest career cashes have both been runner-ups, one to Roland de Wolfe in the 2005 WPT Grand Prix de Paris Main Event, the other to Phil Hellmuth, Jr. in 2006 in a $1,000 no-limit hold’em with rebuys event. Both finishes earned Helppi over $300,000, helping boost his career total over $2.4 million. Helppi would get his revenge against Hellmuth in 2007 — as well as some added exposure — when he defeated the Poker Brat, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott and others in the PartyPoker.com Premier League that year.
8. Martin De Knijff (Sweden)
De Knijff’s victory in the 2004 World Poker Tour Championship, the Five Star World Poker Classic at the Bellagio, landed him over $2.7 million in prize money and instant notice as a player to watch — that is, if his 13th-place finish in the 2002 WSOP Main Event hadn’t already achieved as much.
7. Johan Storakers (Sweden)
Storakers’ $2.8 million-plus in tournament winnings, earned over the last dozen years in practically every European country and the United States, earn him his place as one of Scandinavia’s most consistent performers. His biggest live tourney score came at last fall’s UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic, where he earned nearly half a million dollars for a second-place finish.
6. Patrik Antonius (Finland)
A former model, Antonius has successfully parlayed both handsome looks and an intimidating playing style into celebrity and success. A frequent face on shows such as “Poker After Dark” and “High Stakes Poker,” Antonius has gathered over $2.8 million in tournament earnings, demonstrating a prowess in a variety of games in the process. The Full Tilt pro has also made his mark online, routinely playing in the highest stakes games and sparring with Tom “Durrrr” Dwan in the ongoing “Durrrr Challenge.”
5. Annette Obrestad (Norway)
Easily the most famous and accomplished female player from Scandinavia, Obrestad has amassed over $2.7 million in live tournament earnings without ever having entered a tournament in the United States. That will change soon, however, when Obrestad finally turns 21 this September. Her triumph in the inaugural WSOPE Main Event in 2007 for which she won £1,000,000 is, of course, Obrestad’s largest live score, though by the time of that victory Obrestad had already reportedly earned over a million dollars playing online without ever having deposited a cent.
4. Thor Hansen (Norway)
Hansen’s five cashes at this summer’s Series pushed his career total to 46, placing him just outside the top ten in that category. Hansen owns two WSOP bracelets and was named the Norwegian Poker Player of the Year in 2005. His career tournament earnings of over $2.6 million date back over two decades.
3. Chris Björin (Sweden)
Björin’s poker career most resembles Thor Hansen’s on this list, also extending back twenty years and including two WSOP bracelets and 47 WSOP cashes, putting him in a tie for tenth on the all-time cashes list. Björin cashed three times this summer, including a 156th-place finish in the Main Event. He’s earned over $4 million lifetime in tournaments.
2. Peter Eastgate (Denmark)
Eastgate’s victory in last year’s WSOP Main Event easily puts him at the top of the all-time money list for Scandinavian players. And while the $68,789 he earned for his 78th-place finish at this year’s Main Event pales in comparison to the $9.1 million-plus he claimed for last year’s victory, his deep run in this summer’s Main Event perhaps earned the 23-year-old even more respect for his skills at the table.
1. Gus Hansen (Denmark)
Gus Hansen’s triumph in the first-ever World Poker Tour event, the 2002 Five Diamond Classic, followed by a second victory later that first season in the 2003 L.A. Poker Classic, not only quickly established him as a formidable player but as a television star as well, his daring playing style marking him as a player to watch just as the poker “boom” had ignited. Though still looking for his first WSOP bracelet, Hansen has nevertheless earned a heady $7.4 million-plus overall in tournaments thus far, including relatively deep runs in the 2004 (150th), 2007 (61st), and 2008 (160th) WSOP Main Events.