Carlos Mortensen moved to the United States from Spain in the late 1990s to pursue a career as a professional poker player. By 1999, he had made his way to the the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas for the first time, but it wasn't until a year later that he recorded his first cash, earning $22,575 for a seventh-place finish in a $3,000 + $80 No-Limit Hold'em event, which was eventually won by Swedish legend Chris Bjorin.
A year later, using the ultra-aggressive style that would become his trademark, the man the poker world would come to call "El Matador" took down the WSOP Main Event, becoming poker's World Champion and forever etching his name into the annals of poker history. He booked the $1.5 million win by beating a field of 613 players and a stacked final table that included familiar names like Mike Matusow, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Gordon, and Dewey Tomko. In fact, Mortensen, cracked Tomko's aces, turning king-queen into a straight in the tournament's final hand.
The location may be different these days, but Mortensen says the job at hand, and a lot of the top professionals trying to get it done, haven't changed much at all.
"The assignment was the same for the ones who were in the circle," he told PokerNews. "Now we have a huge number of players, but the assignment was exactly the same: Trying to big the win one."
Mortensen won a second bracelet, taking down a $5,000 Limit Hold'em event in 2003, the same year Chris Moneymaker's historic Main Event win ignited the modern poker boom. Soon after, Mortensen cemented his status as one of the boom's biggest names, winning the World Poker Tour's 2004 Doyle Brunson North American No-Limit Hold'em Poker Championship for $1 million.
Just three years later, he took down the $25,000 WPT Championship event for $3,970,415, becoming the first player to win both the WSOP and WPT championship events and vaulting him into legendary status within the poker world. Both poker and Mortensen appeared to peak that year, as his win remains the largest in WPT history, but he still remembers back to his first WSOP and a time when the World Series was the only place a player could even hope to even get a sniff of a six-figure score.
"Now the cash is huge, but at that time, that was still the big one," he said. "There was nothing that could compare. At that time it was the only tournament you could win a million dollars. It was the only really big tournament."
Back in those days, Mortensen would often find himself the most aggressive player on the felt and admits today at least that has changed.
"Let's just say now everybody is playing super aggressive," he said. "At that time: No."
In fact, Mortensen says the skill level of the average player and field sizes have certainly grown, but at least one thing remains the same.
"Now everybody knows how to play really good and there are bigger numbers in the fields," he said. "But you know, the cards don't change, it's still the same thing, people are people and you just have to figure out if they got it or not - that's the key in poker."
For more on the historic 2001 WSOP Main Event final table, check out PokerNews' Where Are They Now? with third-place finisher Stan Schrier.
Mortensen has continued his winning ways at the WSOP over the years, now more than doubling the $1.5 million he collected in 2001 with career WSOP earnings of $3,080,524. He even made a deep run at a second Main Event title just two years ago, bubbling the 2013 WSOP Main Event final table with a 10th-place finish for $573,204.
For Mortensen, who kicked off his 17th WSOP campaign with his 29th WSOP cash, taking 13th in the $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout Event #4 Friday, the job remains same.
"I'm going to play a few events hopefully," he said, getting down to business by taking his late-wave seat in Day 1b of Event #5: The Colossus $565 No-Limit Hold'em just minutes after narrowly missing a spot at the final table of the shootout.