EPT10 London: Unmasking Yngve 'Sykoen' Steen, poster boy of Norwegian poker

There are numerous reasons why an online poker player might want to keep live and online identities separate, and it is every player's right to discard their screen-name when they sit down on the European Poker Tour. But after a PokerStars player from Norway named "Sykoen" won the WCOOP Leader Board last month, a national newspaper not only tracked him down but also put his name, photograph and story on its front page.

Norway has recently elected a new government, which seems intent on changing laws regarding online poker that had been among the most stringent in the world. When a Norwegian therefore became "world champion" in the very "online poker" world that was dominating the political landscape, this fellow Sykoen was front-page news.

Yngve Steen therefore said this afternoon at EPT London that he was happy to go public as the man behind the all-conquering Sykoen avatar. And why not? His hard work has earned him his time in the sun and he is nothing short than the new poster boy of online poker in Norway.

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Yngve Steen, aka Sykoen

Sykoen managed to amass 440 points in the WCOOP leader board race, pipping his closest challenger -Rebus1980- by five points on a dramatic final weekend. And in order for Sykoen to reach the summit, it was Steen who needed to play every day for more than two weeks, cramming in sleep only when he could and allowing WCOOP to dominate his life.

"I wouldn't have played every day if not (for the leader board)," Steen said. "It's pretty hard to play twelve or fourteen hours online every day for two weeks. Your life is on hold, you can't do anything else. You sleep and play and eat."

He tweeted a screenshot of his iPhone alarm settings as if to prove the point.

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But let's not get carried away with sympathy for this peculiar sleep pattern. The WCOOP Leader Board offers rich rewards for its champion. In addition to a glittering trophy, the player who ends the online jamboree with the most points gets a 2014 PCA package, a 2014 TCOOP Main Event ticket, a 2014 SCOOP Main Event ticket and a 2014 WCOOP Main Event ticket. Even before we factor in the "package" part of the PCA prize, that's tournament buy-ins of more than $25,000.

Steen got caught up in the race almost accidentally. "The first week, I didn't play at all except for Sunday," he said. "And then I made two final tables in two days and I was top ten in the leader board. I was thinking, 'Maybe I have to go for it.' So I played every day for the last two weeks and, yeah, I managed to win."

He also explained how the final weekend provided one of the great come-from-behind victories in WCOOP history. "When there were two days left, the Saturday and the Sunday, I was probably 100 points behind. I had to make at least one final table and one really deep run," Steen said.

Having battled to fifth place in the $2,100 HORSE event, picking up 55 leader board points in addition to a $16,000 prize, Steen was also going strong in the last $215 no limit hold'em tournament, which paused at its midpoint for a night's rest.

"There were 115 left and when I went to sleep I looked at the leader board and I thought, 'I have to reach the final table, I have to be top eight to win,'" Steen said. "But when I woke up I had got some extra points and now I had to be top 60 or something. I wasn't sure because the points system was not easy to understand. It was a little bit stressful when we were 80 left and I didn't know if I had to be top 60 or if I already had enough points."

He finished 36th in that event, from a starting field of 9,678 and although he wasn't going to turn down the $5,322 prize, it was the 25 TLB points that were more crucial. They represented the final heave to the top of the charts.

In "real life", Steen is 23, from Bergen, and has been travelling the EPT circuit for about five years, playing on almost every stop. He has had some moderate success on the tour, cashing in Berlin, Copenhagen, Prague, Deauville and at the PCA and the Grand Final. The latter was his biggest European score: second in the Monaco Cup was worth €64,700. He made a final table at the World Series in Las Vegas in the summer, picking up close to $200,000 for fourth place. But despite his WCOOP exploits, his net profit was "only" about $40,000 for the series; he didn't actually outright win any event.

Nevertheless, he has earned himself the enviable freedom of any young poker player who has found something they are very good at. "My goal is to just win a lot of money in a few years and then maybe do something else," Steen said. "I just bought a house with some of it, and I'm going to try to travel a little bit less and do something normal, probably study something or get a job. I don't know what it's going to be."

Here in London, he is sitting with more than 150,000 chips and is well-placed to make a charge into the money. I asked him if he considered himself to be a professional poker player these days and he said, "I guess so. It's been going so well that I can't do anything else."

What it takes to be a leader board champion
These are Sykoen's results from 2013 WCOOP:

(Tournament, finishing position, TLB points)
WCOOP-05: $320 NL Hold'em [6-Max, Shootout], 170, 20
WCOOP-13: $215 NL Hold'em [Progressive KO], 178, 10
WCOOP-22: $215 NL Hold'em, 935, 5
WCOOP-27: $215 PL Omaha [Turbo,1R1A], 3, 70
WCOOP-30: $1,050 NL Hold'em, 78 15
WCOOP-33: $320 8-Game, 3, 70
WCOOP-34: $320 NL Hold'em [6-Max], 90, 10
WCOOP-37: $215+R NL Hold'em, 32, 25
WCOOP-39: $215 NL Hold'em [6-Max,10-Min Levels], 49, 25
WCOOP-43: $215 NL Hold'em, 406, 15
WCOOP-46: $320 PL 5-Card Omaha [6-Max,1R1A], 15, 30
WCOOP-51: $1,050 NL Hold'em, 47, 20
WCOOP-52: $215 NL Hold'em, 27, 25
WCOOP-62: $700 NL Hold'em [Super-Knockout], 70, 20
WCOOP-63: $2,100 HORSE, 5, 55
WCOOP-64: $215 NL Hold'em [8-Max], 36, 25

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Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour