Until a few years ago, one would see a bunch of extremely experienced players at every final table in Europe, with maybe two outsiders and one or two young players. In fact, not too long ago it was just one player (Marcel Lüske) who truly terrorized the tournament circuit, and won just about every event he played. Nowadays, it seems there more top players who have the ability to perform well on a consistent basis, and just as importantly, it seems that these quality players are getting younger and younger.
A while ago, I witnessed a young Swede, Alexander Stevic, win the inaugural European Poker Tour event. That was in Barcelona, where the final three players were all extremely young — at least by poker standards. (The other two players were David O’Callaghan from Ireland and the young Italian charmer Luca Pagano.) Another young Swede, Koray Saka, won two tournaments back-to-back at the 2003 Master Classics in Amsterdam, including the main event, and yet another young Swede, Daniel Larsson, has been performing well not only in the big European events, but also in the televised and highly popular World Poker Tour events in the States.
In the money games in my hometown of Amsterdam, Dennis de Ruiter, Arno Weber, and I are three of the most successful players, despite the fact that we have to compete against much older and much more experienced opponents than we are.
Young Englishman Julian Gardner has had some great tournament results and has competed in some of the biggest games at an incredibly young age. I know that years ago, when I was still working as a dealer in Vienna, he performed extremely well in a series of big tournaments, and if I’m not mistaken, he was only 19 or 20 years old back then.
“King of Ding” Erik Sagström had already made his first million online well before he was even allowed to enter (American) casinos, and another Scandinavian who regularly cracks the Internet game was on the cover of this magazine just recently: “Pokergirl” Morten Erlandsen. And at the latest World Heads-Up Championships, I saw one of the biggest stars in poker, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, get busted by a guy who looked so young that the chances of him ordering a beer in a pub and getting it would probably be no better than even money.
And this is just Europe. In America, players like David Williams, Scott Fischman, Thomas Keller, John Stolzmann, and J.C. Tran have recently shown that they are capable of winning large events, and Phil Ivey, Allen Cunningham, and Daniel Negreanu have been at the top for so long already that we tend to forget that even after all their years of success, they are still fairly young.
So, are all these things simply exceptions to the rule that the old-timers are still in charge, or is there more to it — are the young guns truly taking over? Well, it certainly looks like it. What’s more, I don’t think it should come as that much of a surprise. After all, with especially online poker being so popular, there is a bunch of young kids out there who are very competitive and very eager to test their skills at the highest possible level. They are almost without exception well-educated and highly knowledgeable about computers, and have access to the very best poker books and the most advanced computer software. And probably most importantly, they play more hands of poker in one year than some of the old-school players did in five or even 10 years. Because they play so many hands online and try to take advantage of all the learning material that is available to them, they have accelerated the leaning curve considerably. And in contrast to some of the old-time poker pros, they like to discuss and analyze plays in depth with their peers and colleagues, in order to raise their games to an even higher level. Thus, it should come as no surprise that so many players nowadays seem ready to take on the very best, to challenge the famous and established poker pros.
It needs to be said that lots of these young players, as talented as they may be, still are just not good or disciplined enough to make it in the long run, to be truly successful players over an extended period of time. Or, better, they have not proven yet that they are capable of staying at the top, rather than just getting there. Not all of these young guns are self-critical enough to acknowledge that there is still a lot to learn, and quite a few have the unfortunate habit of thinking that no one else knows how to play the game. Now, in the long run, this kind of self-delusional behavior is a definite recipe for disaster, of course. Also, if you compare the large number of young wannabes who want to make it in poker and the relatively small number who actually reach this goal, the conclusion may actually be that the old-timers deserve praise for the way they have held their own. After all, the two players who have dominated European poker in the past five or 10 years, Marcel Lüske and Dave Ulliott, are still considered the very best, and other experienced players like Surinder Sunar and Ben Roberts still prove their abilities time and again by competing in the biggest games and/or by beating the very best. Especially in the European brick-and-mortar cash games, it is still mainly the experienced players who are in charge, and who would actually welcome some of these young Internet stars to their live games.
But in poker online 2021 tournament play, these youngsters have definitely made their marks. Right now, as I am writing this, I get the message that yet another EPT tournament has been won by a young gun. In a field of 150 players, fellow countryman, 23-year-old Noah Boeken, took the Copenhagen event and almost €150,000 in prize money. I guess poker is not a game for just experienced older men anymore; it has become a game for anyone who is truly willing to give things their all — and this includes all these eager young men who seem to be threatening the experienced pros on a more and more structural basis. If current developments continue, some of the old-timers will probably find it increasingly difficult to keep their edge. They will have no other option but to adjust to the new pace and to the different standards set by these intelligent newcomers — and this should mean that we probably have some highly interesting times ahead of us. ´