Before the Game: Martin Jacobson the Chef (Part Two)

Martin Jacobson's rise in poker was fueled by online satellite tournaments.

We learned in Part One that Martin Jacobson was chopping carrots before he ever chopped pots, learning skills with a set of knives before he turned card sharp. A military chef to Main Event champion in seven years, Jacobson walked away with $10 million for his big win in 2014.

But how did he go from being a chef who played poker as a hobby to one of the world’s best poker players? Find out in Part Two of Jacobson’s story about who he was... Before the Game.

Disappointing First Main Event

We left off in Part One with Jacobson playing in his first Main Event after he won a package online in 2008. With high hopes going in, Jacobson lasted just three hands.

"It was a bit embarrassing," he told PokerNews. "I thought it would be a long day in a long tournament. I had pre-planned meals and had drinks in my backpack, I was mentally prepared to play a long day."

Jacobson admits now, a decade later, that he overplayed his hand, holding the third nuts on a paired board. In the reverse of the popular trope of mature players claiming, "The young Swedish guy got me," Jacobson lost the hand to an older man who called off his stack with the second nuts.

"I could have gotten discouraged after losing $10,000 in ten minutes, with no plan of where to go from there, but I got a sense of revenge instead."

"I could have gotten discouraged after losing $10,000 in ten minutes, with no plan of where to go from there, but I got a sense of revenge instead."

After spending a week playing cash games and being a tourist and enjoying the lifestyle of a poker player, Jacobson realized that the poker lifestyle was for him. When he returned home, he was told by a friend about a job opportunity as a chef in Barcelona at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. He quit his chef job in Stockholm and played online poker while he waited for the call.

While he tried earnestly to get a hold of the friend who mentioned the job opportunity, to no avail, he was gaining some momentum with poker.

"I kept playing poker and because I had more time on my hands, I played more and had some success."

From the Kitchen to the Poker Tables

Jacobson’s dedication to poker owed a lot to his discipline at the chef station. Even now, all these years later, Jacobson can see the benefit to what he learned in the heat of the kitchen.

"It gave me focus to perform in high-stress situations. You’ve got orders coming through and you have to perform. If you screw up, then you screw up for everyone and waste food."

"It gave me focus to perform in high-stress situations."

One night in August 2008, that ability to deal with extreme stress paid off. Jacobson got second in the PokerStars Sunday Million, playing it with the last $200 in his account. He cashed for $89,000. Then he parlayed that into another opportunity.

"A Canadian friend who I met in Vegas said that he won a package to EPT London. I bought into Step Six for $2,000 and I won a ticket."

Jacobson lasted a little longer in that Main Event, until the end of Day 1, and he was determined to keep taking shots. When he repeated the trick for the next PokerStars EPT stop, it sent him all the way to Budapest in Hungary. It would be a tournament that changed his life.

"I played the very last satellite for an $800 buy-in. There were 44 players and one package. The odds weren’t in my favor, but I got it. I went there alone again on the plane and came third for over €250,000 after doing a deal."

Riding the Wave

From that result, Jacobson’s poker life snowballed naturally. "In a sense that helped, because I never felt that pressure to 'go pro.' I told myself I could keep playing as long as I kept winning. If I ever struggled, I could always go back to cooking."

But Jacobson didn't struggle. In fact, given a little more final table fortune, he could easily have become the first double-EPT winner before Victoria Coren-Mitchell. He made three final tables in the 2010/11 EPT season, finishing second twice in Vilamoura and Deauville and coming fourth in Berlin. He has very different memories of his runner-up finishes.

"If I ever struggled, I could always go back to cooking."

"No-one ever remembers who came second! When I came second in the Sunday Million, it was amazing and felt like a win. When I came third in Budapest, it still felt like a huge win. When I got second in Vilamoura, it was... nice. But when I got second in Deauville, it felt awful. I wasn’t happy at all."

Part of Jacobson’s frustration in France centred around his opponent, Lucien Cohen.

"I felt an entitlement and I was playing an amateur in Lucien Cohen, not my favorite person. He had a plastic rat at the table. It was still a great score, but at that point, I really wanted the title. I didn’t care about the money."

Vilamoura was different. He was playing in what has since been christened "The English Final" due to a triumvirate of Sam Trickett, Teddy Sheringham and eventual winner Toby Lewis all making the final nine.

"I misplayed the final hand and there was a huge British rail, but Toby is a good guy. It was a really nice place, it was beautiful, right by the ocean."

Re-do in Las Vegas

In 2014, Jacobson completed his remarkable turnaround of fortunes in Sin City when he won the WSOP Main Event for $10 million, beating his fellow Scandinavian, Felix Stephensen, heads-up.

"You want to win the WSOP Main Event, but you don’t think it’s realistic. It’s such a massive tournament with 7,000 players."

"You want to win the WSOP Main Event, but you don’t think it’s realistic."

However impossible it had seemed, Jacobson did it. It was the crowning moment of his poker career, and although he found it tough to top, he stayed in the game. Today, poker has become something he is an ambassador in, not just for 888poker, but for his fellow players.

"We’ve formed a sort of player union, where there are about 300+ high stakes MTT regulars in a Skype Group. We come up with suggestions about how we can help players and put pressure on the individual poker sites to get better rakeback or tournament schedules and so on."

Martin Jacobson turned dealing with a high-pressure situation into an art form. From a battleship in the Gulf of Bothnia to the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event, Jacobson has carried with him all the skills he learned along the way, since Before the Game.

  • Martin Jacobson's come-up in poker was fueled by a chef job offer that fell through. Article sponsored by @888poker

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