What if Euro 2020 was a poker event? A look at the superstar players left

June 30, 2021inPoker

The European football championships, Euro 2020, reached its quarter-finals stage on Tuesday night, meaning only eight teams are still in with a chance of becoming continental champions.

The winners last time, Portugal, are out, as are the much-fancied Netherlands team, which lost to the Czech Republic. And then the World Champions, France, were toppled on Monday night, before Germany hit the skids on Tuesday. The best thing about these tournaments is that even after losing that clutch of top-ranked sides, the last-eight line-up is still intriguing: Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, England and Ukraine.

Poker fans might also notice that some of the world’s very best card players come from these countries. And it’s no surprise. Major poker series such as the European Poker Tour (EPT) have spent more than a decade snaking through Europe, and there are now top-ranking players from many nations.

But what if you had to pick a poker team to represent these countries?

By way of hopping on the Euro 2020 bandwagon, we’ve decided to look at the top poker talents from the nations still left in the soccer tournament, and attempted to choose just such a poker team from each. Just as football managers are burdened with dreadful selection headaches when they need to pick their squads for major tournaments, we’ve imposed an arbitrary five-player limit, which presented some very difficult issues.

Who do you include? Who do you leave out? Do you base the decisions on cash-game play? Tournaments? Hold’em? Or mixed-game variants?

In informing our decisions, we’ve looked at players’ live tournament results as well as their performances in online series such as WCOOP and SCOOP. We’ve tried to factor in what we’ve heard about cash-game play, as well as thinking about what we’ve seen or heard about many of these players while reporting on live events across the world.

There’s no precise science to these selections, and we’re sure you’ll disagree with many. But we hope you’ll enjoy a brief overview of the Euro 2020 quarter-finalists, poker edition.


DENMARK

Denmark poker team selection: Gus Hansen, Frederik Jensen, Henrik Hecklen, Theo Jorgensen, Simon Ronnow Pedersen.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 10/1

The Denmark poker team

After an emphatic dismantling of Wales in the Round of 16 on Saturday night, Denmark raised hopes that their shock championship victory of 1992 might no longer be regarded as such a freak. Back then, Denmark were last-minute additions to the finals, not expected to progress much further than the group stages, and the same could be said this year after their harrowing first match. However, the team has only grown stronger after the loss of their talismanic midfielder Christian Eriksen, and Denmark look like a team with real cohesion and purpose.

Danes have long exhibited similar tenacity at the poker tables, where their best-known player, Gus Hansen, has always refused to play by the rule book. Hansen may not appear too often at the mainstream tables anymore, but poker players of a certain generation still credit him with revolutionising the game during the televised boom of the mid 2000s. He needs to play in any Denmark five-a-side team just because there would be a public outcry if he was left out. (He also still sits second on the Denmark all-time tournament money list, with $10.3 million in earnings.)

While we can probably be confident that Hansen can be persuaded out of semi-retirement to play, the same cannot be said of the man who tops the Denmark standings: Peter Eastgate, the first winner of a November Nine-style WSOP Main Event, has no intention of returning to poker. However, we can certainly pick the other three of the top five in the Denmark money list: Frederik Brink Jensen, an EPT champion, Henrik Hecklen, a super high roller tournament player and nosebleed cashgame reg, and Theo Jorgensen, who simply does as he pleases, and does it very well.

That leaves us one spot, with some supremely powerful online players battling it out. There are strong claims for all of Jonas “Tulkaz” Klausen, Christian “CMoosepower” Elgstrøm, Simon “ministerborg” Ravnsbæk and Thomas “kallllle” Pedersen, all of whom have numerous online accolades. However Simon “Igorkarkarof” Rønnow Pedersen gets the nod. Barely an online tournament passes without his involvement, and he has close to $6 million in documented online earnings.

Hendon Mob Top 5:
1st – Peter Eastgate – $11,131,450
2nd – Gus Hansen – $10,278,252
3rd – Frederik Jensen – $4,753,147
4th – Henrik Hecklen – $3,963,150
5th – Theo Jorgensen – $3,804,629


ITALY

Italy poker team selection: Dario Sammartino, Mustapha Kanit, Gianluca Speranza, Rocco Palumbo, Raffaele Sorrentino.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 4/1

The Italian poker team

The Italians raced out of the blocks in Euro 2020 and were the first (of three) teams to qualify from their group having won all their matches. They were, however, the only team to do that without conceding a goal. That was uncharacteristic for these notorious slow starters, but who have nevertheless won the World Cup four times and the European Championships once. (They were significantly less convincing in their Round of 16 victory over Austria.)

Italian poker got a similarly slow start on the European scene, with only two main event victories for on the European Poker Tour, and few standout scores in the United States. But then the country discovered two undisputed titans — Dario Sammartino and Mustapha Kanit — to quickly mop up what their countrymen had previously struggled to do. Sammartino was runner up at the WSOP Main Event last time it was played in full in Las Vegas, while Kanit has numerous high roller titles in Europe. Their online aliases “Secret_M0d3” and “lasagnaaammm” have been similarly well rewarded.

Those two are locks for any Italian poker team, and the other certainty is Gianluca “Tankanza” Speranza, who is an online beast. He won back-to-back SCOOP Main Events in 2018 and 19, a feat that might never be matched. It’s not obvious to know who fits the final two spots, with Max Pescatori and Filippo Candio, who sit third and fourth on the Italy money list, having earned most of their money quite a long time ago, in Pescatori’s case, and during one WSOP run, for Candio. That’s why it might be smart to draft in Rocco Palumbo, who has played at the highest level for a long time, and Raffaele Sorrentino, who made two final tables during the one-year existence of the PokerStars Championship, finishing first and third.

Hendon Mob Top 5:
1st – Dario Sammartino – $14,573,847
2nd – Mustapha Kanit – $11,566,695
3rd – Max Pescatori – $4,620,849
4th – Filippo Candio – $3,498,970
5th – Salvatore Bonavena – $3,134,527


CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Republic poker team selection: Martin Kabrhel, Martin Staszko, Vojtech Ruzicka, Michal Mrakeš, Michael Sklenička.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 25/1

The Czech poker team (Michael Sklenička not pictured)

The Czech Republic pulled off the first legitimate shock of the Euro 2020 finals when they dumped out the Netherlands in the round of 16. That at least saved someone the torture of having to narrow this list of superlative Dutch poker talent down to just five: Noah Boeken, Teum Mulder, Jans Arends, Joris Ruijs, Luuk Gieles, Jorryt van Hoof, Steve van Zadelhoff, Joep van den Bijgaart and Lex Veldhuis. Whichever five would have made the cut, the Netherlands would have looked strong.

But instead we turn our attention to the poker players of the Czech Republic, where it’s a comparatively straightforward business to choose a five-handed team. Martin Kabrhel is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, he has made rubbing people the wrong way into something of an art form. But he’s a frustratingly excellent player with $8.25 million in live tournament cashes, and three WSOP bracelets. He has to play. Kabrhel’s closest money-list challenger is Martin Staszko, a former WSOP Main Event runner up, who has won two SCOOP titles too. (His online name is “filfedra”.) Staszko gets the job done in an understated way, and is the second obvious choice to represent his country.

The same applies to Vojtech Ruzicka, another player who has been within striking distance of poker’s most prestigious prize. Ruzicka was relatively unknown when he made the November Nine in 2016 — except to poker watchers in Europe, who saw him win an EPT High Roller title in Deauville three years earlier. Ruzicka is steady and unflustered. He’s the third lock for this team.

The final two slots in the team go to Michal Mrakeš and Michael Sklenička. Neither is a household name, even in his own country, but Mrakeš has a fine live resume, with an EPT final table to his name, while Sklenička is comfortable with tournaments both online and off. He in ninth on the Czech money list in live events, but his “SmallKindB” online alter ego has more than $4 million in online earnings, including an EPT Online event.

Hendon Mob Top 5:
1st – Martin Kabrhel – $8,259,825
2nd – Martin Staszko – $6,345,283
3rd – Leon Tsoukernik – $4,935,641
4th – Vojtech Ruzicka – $4,086,255
5th – Michal Mrakeš – $2,247,962


BELGIUM

Belgium poker team selection: Davidi Kitai, Bert Stevens, Michael Gathy, Kenny Hallaert, Thomas Boivin.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 13/2

The Belgium poker team

Despite a bare trophy cabinet, the Belgian football team is ranked #1 in the world, having demonstrated on numerous occasions just what a fine clutch of players coach Roberto Martinez has at his disposal. Though they are now well and truly out of the shadows, Belgium were always dark horses at previous events (i.e., broadly overlooked but fancied by people in the know), and their clutch of poker talent would fit this role perfectly.

Triple Crown winner Davidi Kitai tops the Belgium all-time money list, with more than $10 million in documented earnings, and would be a clear lock for any Belgium poker team. But two other players who don’t appear in the top five on the Hendon Mob should also find a place in the team: Bert “girafganger” Stevens and Michael “merla888” Gathy, who are titans of the online felt. Stevens is a former online No1 and has three WCOOP titles among hundreds of major online scores. Gathy, meanwhile, has three WCOOP and three SCOOP as “merla888” and a further WCOOP title under the name “bolivianSWAG”. He has three WSOP bracelets earned in live events, and another WSOP Online title. The fact that he’s only sixth in the Belgian money lists shows what a super strong team Belgium has.

Throw in Kenny “SpaceyFCB” Hallaert (a fine performer both live and online) and the team is full of experience. That allows us to leave out (with some regret) the obdurate and ageless Pierre “Zoutechamp” Neuville, but bring in one of either Bart Lybaert or Thomas “martomchat” Boivin. We’ve opted for Boivin, who is only at the start of what seems certain to be an incredible career. Boivin has already won a $25K Single Day event at EPT Prague, as well as huge scores in Las Vegas, and his online results (beyond $3 million already) include a WCOOP Super Tuesday. Belgium has an incredibly strong line-up.

Hendon Mob Top 5:
1st – Davidi Kitai – $10,150,187
2nd – Pierre Neuville – $4,796,299
3rd – Kenny Hallaert – $4,325,902
4th – Bart Lybaert – $3,232,280
5th – Thomas Boivin – $2,855,916


SPAIN

Spain poker team selection: Adrian Mateos, Sergio Aido, Sergi Reixach, Jesus Cortes, Juan Pardo.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 16/5

The Spain poker team

For the first 11 years of the EPT, a strange hoodoo haunted Spanish poker. Despite the country hosting the most popular, and only ever-present annual tournament, in Barcelona, no Spanish player had ever won a title. And then Adrian Mateos made a final table, and all that ended. It’s really very simple: Mateos is one of the best tournament poker players in the world, both online, where he plays as “Amadi_017”, and off, where he has now won more than $21 million. He has three WSOP bracelets in addition to his EPT Grand Final crown, and earlier this year won three SCOOP titles, to bring his career total to five. He’s the first name on the Spanish team sheet.

Filling the other four slots is incredibly tough, mainly because of Spain’s extraordinary strength in depth. Mateos’s friend and former house-mate Sergio “petgaming” Aido sits second on the all-time Spanish money list, and almost certainly slots into the team too based on a few years playing the Super High Roller circuit, which is unforgiving to anyone but the best. Sergi “srxakgirona” Reixach is now a fixture there too, along with Jesus Cortes, and if we give those four places on the team, it leaves the phenomenal online players Vicent “gordon0410” Bosca, Juan “Malaka$tyle” Pardo, David “MonkeyBausss” Laka and Ka Kwan “kaju85” Lau challenging for a single spot. It’s the kind of selection dilemma a succession of Spanish football managers faced during a brilliant period between 2008 and 2012 when Spain won two European Championships and a World Cup.

We’re choosing Pardo, just because his recent results in major online series have slightly outstripped his countrymen’s. But there would be nothing to worry about for Spain if illness or injury hampered one of their first five. There is talent to burn in reserve.

Hendon Mob Top 5:
1st – Adrian Mateos – $21,384,435
2nd – Sergio Aido – $12,305,802
3rd – Carlos Mortensen – $12,106,336
4th – Sergi Reixach – $6,210,357
5th – Ramón Colillas – $5,226,491


SWITZERLAND

Switzerland poker team: Linus Loeliger, Ronny Kaiser, Dinesh Alt, Besim Hot, Diego Zeiter.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 25/1

The Swiss poker team

Switzerland beating France on penalties in the round of 16 was the biggest shock of the Euro 2020 tournament so far: the World Champions downed by a team that had never before reached the quarter finals. Switzerland’s poker players would need a similar shock result to progress through this (hypothetical) tournament too, but at least the poker team has one genuine world-class talent who can beat absolutely anyone.

Linus “LLinusLlove” Loeliger is considered by many to be in the top five poker players in the world, having emerged as an online cash-game wizard and progressing quickly to the highest stakes. His transition to tournaments — leaping into the Super High Roller circuit almost immediately — has been similarly awe-inspiring. He has quickly racked up close to $2 million in live earnings, to complement the chunks he is winning in cash games. Loeliger would fear nobody in any match-up.

A few years before Loeliger’s emergence, Swiss poker’s superstar was Ronny Kaiser, who won an EPT Main Event on one of his first attempts, and was known as another fearsome cash game competitor. Playing online as “1-ronnyr3”, Kaiser has also won a SCOOP PLO event in 2015, even though he continued to focus on cash games. More recently, Kaiser continues to play away from the public eye, reportedly still mixing it at the high stakes cash tables. We’re naming him in this team based on what we’ve seen a few years ago, and only hear about in hushed tones now.

Our third seat goes to Dinesh Alt, who is a tournament specialist, but who plays regularly both online and off. Online, he is known as “nastyminder” and won the TCOOP Main Event in 2016 for close to $400K, and he also has a WCOOP title to his name, from 2020. (He also won a Platinum Pass for the delayed PSPC.) As for live play, Alt has titles from the ANZPT (in 2013) and the Eureka Poker Tour (from 2016), among other accolades. He’ll travel the world and win, or do the same from behind his computer screen.

The man at the top of the Switzerland money list, Besim Hot, deserves a place in this team too. Firstly, how can anyone leave out a man named “Hot”? (Just think of the headlines.) But secondly, here’s a player who is comfortable under the most intense pressure. He is most at home in the high stakes cash games hosted by Leon Tsoukernik at King’s Casino, Rozvadov, and it’s also there that he has enjoyed the biggest successes of his tournament career: victories in a €25K Mixed Game WSOP event, for one of Switzerland’s two World Series bracelets, and a €10K High Roller back in 2013.

The final seat goes to Diego Zeiter, who has knocked on the door often enough in major PokerStars live tournaments to suggest a breakthrough is very close. Zeiter finished sixth in the PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo, in 2017, eighth at EPT Prague in 2018, and had a 16th-place finish at the Prague Championship too. And that’s good enough for an appearance in this event.

Hendon Mob Top 5
1st – Besim Hot – $2,252,427
2nd – Linus Loeliger – $1,864,992
3rd – Claudio Rinaldi – $1,705,930
4th – Chris Bigler – $1,430,068
5th – Sam El Sayed – $1,245,388


ENGLAND

England poker team selection: Stephen Chidwick, Patrick Leonard, Conor Beresford, Talal Shakerchi, Benny Glaser.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 9/5

The England poker team

The final day of matches in the round of 16 removed Germany and Sweden from the competition, who lost to England and Ukraine, respectively. The absence of those two teams in the football competition is considerable, but it’s not even half as meaningful as their absence in the poker. Germany and Sweden would likely have been placed first and second in the rankings, had they qualified, such is the exceptional poker talents in both countries. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

So what of England? Well, this is a pretty excellent poker team too. Stephen Chidwick is many commentator’s nomination as the best player in the world. He is a completely unflappable character, laser focused on improving his game, and who has spent his entire adult life playing the biggest games around. He is not only the first name on the England team sheet, he would probably be the favourite for tournament MVP too.

We probably need to look outside the Hendon Mob top five for our next English selection, but there’s simply no way any poker team could leave out Patrick “pads1161” Leonard. His online tournament game is exceptional, particularly during the major series. Leonard narrowly missed out on SCOOP Player of the Series accolades this year, but still won his fourth and fifth career titles (he has two WCOOP titles too). But here’s another thing: should everyone decide to stop playing poker and play football instead, that would suit Leonard. He very nearly became a professional footballer before poker came knocking.

On the subject of online brilliance, Conor “1_conor_b_1” Beresford books his place in this team after a few years sniffing around the top of the Pocket Fives online rankings. Beresford is just a brilliant online MTT grinder, with more than $15 million in online tournament winnings. He goes in.

There are numerous candidates for the final two seats: the zen hold’em mastery of Charlie Carrel? The mixed game brilliance of Matt “MUSTAFABET” Ashton? The high rolling Sam Trickett, Ben Heath or Jack Salter? Or PokerStars’ own vociferous expert Sam Grafton? All have very strong claims, but we’re selecting Talal “raidalot” Shakerchi and Benny “RunGodlike” Glaser: two players who have talent to burn across the poker variants.

Shakerchi will be the oldest player in any of these teams, but he plays like an absolute demon and has results in both live and online arenas that show this former hedge fund manager is the best “businessman” ever to sit around a poker table. Meanwhile Glaser, with three WSOP bracelets, six SCOOP titles and three from WCOOP, is among the best mixed game players in the world, if not the outright best. We couldn’t leave him out.

As strange as it sounds, the England poker team probably would have ranked lower than Germany’s, had the Germans gone through. But as it is, England now take the top spot for this tournament.

Hendon Mob Top 5:
1st – Stephen Chidwick – $35,623,413
2nd – Sam Trickett – $21,772,841
3rd – Charlie Carrel – $9,571,776
4th – Ben Heath – $8,684,921
5th – Jack Salter – $8,419,427


UKRAINE

Ukraine poker team selection: Yevgeniy Timoshenko, Igor Yaroshevskyy, Andriy Lyubovetskiy, Roman Romanovsky, Oleksii Khoroshenin.

Paddy Power Euro 2020 odds: 30/1

The Ukraine poker team (Andriy Lyubovetskiy and Roman Romanovsky not pictured)

A last-minute goal in extra time put Ukraine into the Euro 2020 quarter finals at the expense of Sweden, denying poker fans the chance to see the likes of Niklas “Lena900” Astedt and Simon “C.Darwin2” in poker’s equivalent. Instead, we have a team of far lesser known players, but one that is scarcely lacking in quality — even if the country’s money-list leader, Eugene Katchalov, no longer plays poker and cannot be included, and the only Ukrainian to win two WSOP bracelets, Oleksii Kovalchuk, has similarly not been seen for a while.

The same also actually applies to Yevgeniy Timoshenko, second on the Ukraine all-time money list, who doesn’t play as much poker as he used to. However, he still earns his place in this team by virtue of an incredible resume — and solid performances whenever he has come out of semi-retirement. Playing as “Jovial Gent” on PokerStars, Timoshenko won the WCOOP Main Event in 2009, and has also picked up several huge live cashes in Super High Roller events. He bookended 2019, the last full year of live poker in the pandemic-hit arena, with deep runs in $10K WPT tournaments.

He’s joined by Igor Yaroshevskyy, who has been an ever-present on the EPT, and other tournament circuits in recent years and who has made the step up to the higher buy-in events with some ease. His best results have come in tournaments with buy-ins of $10K and higher, and he is also the player behind the “Garrin4e” online handle, which has won a SCOOP title.

On the subject of SCOOP, Andriy Lyubovetskiy is probably best known as his online name, “Andre_Hansen”, the winner of three SCOOP events. Two of those came this year, both in “high” designation tournaments, and though Lyubovetskiy’s live results are modest, the fear factor “Andre_Hansen” presents at the online tables earns him a place in this team. The same goes for Roman “RomeOpro” Romanovsky, whose most recent documented live score comes from 2013, i.e. eight years ago, but who has much more recently topped the Pocket Fives rankings for online tournament players. Romanovsky is a true enigma: he has subsequently also removed himself from the online rankings databases and apparently plays far less than ever before. But perhaps he is playing his best poker in secret elsewhere. We’ll persuade him back into the limelight to play our event.

That leaves us with one seat in the Ukraine team, and there’s a strong argument for the online player known only as “Remi Lebo_10”. He or she has two SCOOP titles and one from WCOOP and is very often high on the leader boards in online tournament series. However, we’re giving the final berth to Oleksii Khoroshenin, who became the first (and only) Ukrainian EPT champion in 2014 and consistently makes deep runs in the biggest events. That’s a good skill to have.

Hendon Mob Top 5
1st – Eugene Katchalov – $9,235,293
2nd – Yevgeniy Timoshenko – $7,769,407
3rd – Igor Yaroshevskyy – $4,022,401
4th – Oleksii Khoroshenin – $3,589,732
5th – Alexander Dovzhenko – $2,687,077

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