English sports bettor and poker pro James Bord recently stirred up a bogus controversy when he said that European poker players are “now far superior” to their American counterparts. Bord is most certainly wrong, but if he just keeps saying the same thing for a few more years he’ll probably end up being right.
Never mind, for a moment, the fact that James Bord was drumming up business for online bookmaker Matchbook.com and his own poker training site with his pro-Euro boasting and promise to cover bets on Americans up to $500. It’s still easy to see why last year’s WSOP Europe Main Event champ would say such a thing. His big win last year was just one of many high-profile triumphs for Europeans over the last few years. Chris Moorman has racked up three final tables and 12 cashes at the WSOP since 2008, adding more than $1.3 million in live winnings to an already stellar $7.5 million online poker resume. Former pro footballer Sam Trickett has racked up nearly $4.4 million in tournament earnings since January 2010 thanks to final tables on the EPT and WPT and at the WSOP, as well as two scores worth almost $2.9 million against top competition in two high-roller tournaments at this year’s Aussie Millions. Jake Cody has amassed $2.67 million in winnings in just the last two years and became just the third player ever to win poker’s Triple Crown (one WSOP win, one WPT, one EPT) this summer when he took down the WSOP’s $25,000 Heads-Up Championship.
Other Europeans have acquitted themselves particularly well in the last few years as well. France’s Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier seems to add another title to his $8.5-million resume every other week, including his first WSOP bracelet this summer in the $10K Seven Card Stud championship. Germans like EPT London champ Benny Spindler and back-to-back event runner-up Max Heinzelmann (EPT Berlin and EPT San Remo) have made their marks. So has Russia’s Max Lykov with one WSOP bracelet, one EPT win and a string of final tables worldwide in the last two years. Add to their names a host of tournament winners from France, Germany and England, as well as previously unheralded poker nations like Hungary, Italy and Portugal, and things have looked good for Europe.
A Boot In Your Ass: It’s The American Way
It’s worth remembering, though, that the reason these European players’ victories stand out so much is that Americans have thoroughly dominated poker ever since they first invented it. From its frontier origins to the beginnings of tournament poker through the early 21st Century online poker boom, plenty of countries carved out niches in the game but nobody was able to truly compete with Americans at the poker table.
Consider that in the history of the WSOP, the birthplace of tournament poker, 935 gold bracelets have been awarded. Just 142 of those went to someone who doesn’t live in the United States. Americans have won more World Poker Tour (109) and European Poker Tour events (12) than players from any country. They occupy 80 percent of the top 10, 74 percent of the top 50, and 72 percent of the top 100 spots on the all-time tournament winnings leaderboard. And 28 of the 35 players who have won the WSOP Main Event have been Americans. Whether you cringe or swell with pride at the sound of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” there’s no denying that America has always run the tables.
Even today, Americans still dominate the game in any category that can be measured. Among the old guard, seven-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel has won twice as much money ($6.45 million) as anybody in the world this year. All-time great Phil Hellmuth Jr. cashed six times at this year’s WSOP, including an amazing three runner-up finishes. Michael Mizrachi continues to get better with age, grabbing a bracelet and final-tabling the WSOP Main Event last year before winning a second bracelet just this past week at WSOP Europe.
Then there’s the newer generation of American poker excellence. Even a young age, Jason Mercier has become a model of consistency, winning at least seven figures each of the last four years running, including a career-defining win at EPT San Remo in 2008. Both Vanessa Selbst and Scott Seiver have both won WSOP bracelets and topped the $4 million mark over six-year careers, while former college baseball star Eric Baldwin collected a bracelet and $3 million between 2009 and 2010. Then there are the success stories Sam Stein and Tom Marchese, who respectively have won $2.9 and $2.4 million over the last two years, and Galen Hall, who has taken down more than $3 million this year between a WPT Championship final table and a win at the online-player-heavy PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. And of course we can’t about forget Ben Lamb, who earned one bracelet and made three more final tables at this summer’s WSOP, including a coveted spot among the Main Event’s November Nine. If he can win he’ll earn the WSOP Player of the Year award and become poker’s seventh American world champion in the last decade.
“You’ll be stone dead in a moment”
All this isn’t to say that Bord is wrong in suggesting that Europeans are superior to American poker players today. It’s to say that he’s dead wrong. No other country or region comes close to producing as many major poker accomplishments as the United States. Even the second-most-accomplished poker nation of all time (Canada) isn’t European! But what can be conceded is that the game has become far more international in scope over the last 10 years than it was over the preceding decades. There are numerous worldwide poker tours these days that didn’t exist just a few years ago, giving players everywhere a chance to compete for serious money regardless of how traditional their home poker market might be. The WSOP has seen also lot more bracelet winners from overseas in recent years, and this year’s Main Event is the first in the tournament’s history not to feature an American majority among the final nine players. So if the reigning WSOP Europe champ isn’t necessarily right today, he’s at least got momentum on his side.
Even better for Bord, if he continues to run his mouth for the next few years – and it’s highly likely he will – he’ll eventually end up being right. And it all comes down to online poker. As U.S. poker players watch their favorite game repeatedly attacked by their own government, the ranks of recreational players in markets outside of those with traditional casinos have dwindled dramatically. Meanwhile, aspiring players around the world continue to get better every day by playing online. Just as importantly they have the ability to qualify, on the cheap and en masse, for major land-based tournaments; that’s no longer the case for most Americans. As the American market contracts in the wake of the U.S. government’s war on online poker companies, worldwide markets continue to open up more every year. And Europe has a head start on most of the rest of the world, so betting on the Old World finally catching all the way up isn’t too crazy an idea.
There’s a reason that the world has historically flocked to the Land of Opportunity for tournaments and high-stakes cash games alike: poker is and has always been an American game. But now that the rest of the world has a taste for poker, Americans themselves are being shut out of the game. The longer they’re on the outside looking in, the smaller their edge over the rest of the world will become until the playing field has become something resembling level. With the current crop of excellent American players still riding high, though, there’s plenty of reason to bet American at WSOP Europe – especially when it’s a European telling you that you should do otherwise.