WCOOP 2011: The young and the professional

wcoop2009-thumb.jpgOne doesn't have to look very far back to see how the face of poker used to look. It had wrinkles at its eyes, a mushy cigar in its mouth, and yellowed fingers propping up a weathered cheekbone. The orbits of the eyes were hollow, receptacles for whatever tells they could pick up on their opponents and little else. It was a different face for a different generation, one that lived in a world beset with boredom and the snail's pace of the daily cash game grind.

Online poker and PokerStars turned those faces into something for a museum wall, mere homages to a day gone by. Today the people who make their living on poker are more likely to be fresh-faced, hopped-up, multimedia grinders with as much energy as money. This year's crop of World Championship of Online Poker winners is no exception. They are men who have, by their early 20s, given up nearly every other pursuit to focus on getting rich and taking names.

Three years ago, Vincent van der Fluit was already a champion...of Mario Kart Double Dash. It was no small point of pride.

"I'm still 10th on the rankings, and one of my world records still stands," he said.

Known as "Vingtcent" on PokerStars, he gave up driving virtual go-carts full of cartoon characters to focus on crushing the online poker tables. Now 23 years old, the heavy-metal-loving, poker playing, university drop-out and gamer considers himself a geek in the best sense of the word.

"Although hopefully not as socially awkward as the stereotype," he said.

It's easy to be a geek when you use your young geek powers to win piles of cash. Last week, Vingtcent won more than $35,000 in the WCOOP 8-game contest, in which he faced off against Team Online's Adrienne "talonchick" Rowsome at the final table. Vingtcent came away with the bracelet. He's had several bigger wins and made a WCOOP final table before, but this is his first WCOOP title.

"Winning a prestigious tournament is one of the best feelings in poker," he said.

vingtcent_pokerstars_WCOOP.jpg

WCOOP Event #31 winner, Vingtcent

Like Vingtcent. WCOOP Event #35 winner iwonthurtyou has turned to poker as his first career. At 23 years old, he left his university studies to focus on poker. He's since become a professional.

"A friend of mine told me it was an easy way to make nice money," he said.

While that may not be the case for everybody, it certainly has proven true for the man from Russia. Event #35, a $215 NLHE rebuy event, was worth $127,432 to the winner.

"Making the final table itself wasn't much surprising, but winning the whole thing feels great!" he said. "The best thing in poker is getting the maximum value, which I did."

Fast forward just a few years in age and you have Alexander Debus, 27-year old pro known as "Schildy1984" on PokerStars. Just a few days ago, Debus won $206,280 in WCOOP Event #28 ($1,050 NLHE).

Perhaps it's the benefit of age, but this young pro takes a slightly different approach to his professional life. After growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, he earned a 2007 university marketing degree. It was only after his graduation and a few masters level courses that he finally set out on his pro poker career. Now living in Austria, he's won hundreds of thousands of dollars in online and live tournaments. Still, he seeks a certain life balance that age requires.

"Poker is not everything in the world," Debus said. "I always try to spend a lot of time with friends and family...which is sometimes really difficult because tournament poker really needs a lot of time."

Schildy1984_wcoop.jpg

Schildy1984

These three men are by no means representative of the poker world as a whole, but their young faces speak volumes about the new generation of poker. You'll continue to see them and their contemporaries as WCOOP wraps up its final week over the next six days.

For more information, visit the PokerStars WCOOP website.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in WCOOP