In case you've somehow missed it, let us tell you that there's a big tournament this Sunday. Yes, it's the Sunday Million but it's not just any Sunday Million. It's the 7th Anniversary $7,000,000 guaranteed edition so we thought it was high time that we caught up with some of the Sunday Million legends of yesteryear and where better to start than the first ever two-time champion - one of only four, no less - Jesper Hougaard.
The Danish pro won his first Sunday Million, a special edition $500 buy-in, in April 2008 collecting around $150,000 after a deal. Little more than a year later, Hougaard banked a further $206,834.57 after taking down win his second Sunday Million in May 2009.
'My first Sunday Million was very special. My upstairs neighbour back in '08 was a poker enthusiast and one Saturday night we found ourselves watching a boxing match together. I was playing some online cash games at the time and in the spirit of bonding I agreed to split the winnings. I won around $1,500 and duly sent him his half,' said Hougaard.
Apart from proving himself as the dream neighbour Hougaard had started something that no one could possibly have expected: back-to-back block titles.
'He decided he was going to play the Sunday majors the following day with the money and, despite somewhat limited tournament experience, he went ahead and won the Sunday Warm-Up for more than $100,000. Naturally we celebrated, but once the initial euphoria had passed, it was time for some good-natured ribbing: 'How did it make me feel that he as a hobby player had a bigger tournament score than me, being a full-time pro and all?' The following Sunday he sent back the $750 and texted me that it was only fitting that he took his turn to pay for my tournaments.
'Lo and behold, I used that money to bink the Sunday Million. Needless to say, times were good in our block back then,' said Hougaard.
Whether you put it down to instant karmic payback or not, Hougaard has a tendency to achieve the incredible. He was the first player to hold World Series of Poker bracelets on both sides of the Atlantic; one WSOP and one WSOPE. Those two wins go some way to tallying his $1,129,125 in live tournaments cashes and took place in 2008 following his first Sunday Million win. The second was yet to come.
'The path to the final table was very different in my second win. In my first bink, I came into the money with a gigantic stack and was right at the top of the leader board all the way to the final table. I seem to remember that winning came sort of naturally. It was one of those times where all the cards just fell my way. The second time was different. I had aces cracked with 100 players left and from thereon in, I struggled with a short stack all the way until the final table. It was as if every hand I played could be my last therefore my expectations weren't that high. I started the final table with a somewhat decimated stack but caught a few lucky breaks early on and on we got six-handed I had comfortable stack. I felt like a big favourite to win at that point because, unlike the others, I had experience being in the situation."
Experience as well as generosity pays, it seems. Hougaard won and in doing so completed an incredible 13-month tournament tear. Since then he's also had a few very near misses which could have seen him become the first three-time winner. In back-to-back weekends last July he finished 14th and 16th in the Sunday Million (he also just missed out on a Sunday Warm-Up final table this January).
Despite all this he still doesn't class himself as a tournament player.
'These days I'm living in Copenhagen with my girlfriend and playing poker full time. I split my time between PokerStars PLO cash games and live cash games, travelling the EPT circuit, Aussie Millions and WSOP. It's quite rare that I play tournaments these days for two reasons; the fact that I've reached the conclusion that my hourly winrate is higher in cash games, and because the nature of tournaments forces me to be on a set schedule, whereas cash games allow me to start and stop sessions as I please,' he said.
Given his tournament successes that must be quite some hourly rate.
'The Sunday Million is awesome and certainly my favourite weekly online tournament, but I'm not sure I'll be playing this Sunday because I'm visiting a friend in the UK to celebrate his birthday. If we aren't doing anything else Sunday evening I might just give it a spin to enjoy a nostalgic Sunday Million moment. If I don't play, keep your eyes out for my poker-loving family in the form of my brother MiniKipDK and my father natpotten,' said Hougaard.
So what are the chances of Hougaard deciding to play the 7th Anniversary Sunday Million as a birthday present only to go on to win it? A lot higher than they should be. Keep your fingers crossed that they keep their celebrations away from the poker table.
Find our more about the 7th Anniversary Sunday Million and its $7,000,000 guarantee (as well as how to satellite in) by clicking here.
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.