EPT10 Deauville: How to play the heater, with Niels van Leeuwen

Niels van Leeuwen is not a very good party pooper. He's too damn nice, for one thing, and loves a to raise a glass, for another. However, the 24-year-old from the Netherlands broke the hearts of an entire nation this week when he emerged victorious from the main event of France Poker Series, winning himself €175,000.

From a starting field of 1,095 players, 712 were French. And from a final table of eight, seven were locals; Van Leeuwen was the only man from overseas. Yet despite up to 50 supporters cheering on the home-town heroes, Van Leeuwen out-played and out-lasted them all.

"It was awesome, it was awesome," he told PokerStars Blog this afternoon, chuckling at the suggestion he is now some kind of villain in the French poker world. "I like the underdog role...The problem is that I'm from Hollande and they don't like their president, who has the same name. That's what everybody says to me."


Niels van Leeuwen: A trophy fashioned from French tears

Even when they cast aside their political anxieties, Van Leeuwen's French adversaries could be forgiven for not recognising their new nemesis. He is a long way from home. However even seasoned EPT reporters couldn't place the face when they saw it beaming out from behind his trophy, and some of them are from the same flat land to the north east.

The reason is that this is Van Leeuwen's first proper visit to the EPT, having only previously played a couple of side events in Berlin last year. But having grown tired of playing online, he decided to bring €14,000 in cash to the north of France this week and take the plunge in dramatic fashion.

"I was always going to play the EPT, but then I saw on the internet that the FPS was before the EPT so I thought I'm going to play that," he said. "I got really lucky and was very happy to win it...I used to play online a little bit, but I got bored. So I took a shot and now I'm going to play the high stakes tournaments."

Van Leeuwen is a former student of both hospitality management and then communication studies, but both fell by the wayside when his profitable sideline in poker starting rendering the other two redundant. He learnt the game when he was 16 and has steadily progressed through the ranks, with this emergence on the EPT (via the FPS) just the next step.

"I prefer live," he said. "It's way more exciting. It's pretty slow--one hand in two minutes--but I'm not an online whizz kid. I don't like sitting behind the computer. Sometimes it can be fun to play the Sunday Million or something, but not every day. I used to play for ten hours a day, but I don't like it anymore."


Van Leewen: Back at the tables

Van Leeuwen has kept his promise to play the EPT Main Event and rode his heater to a big stack by the end of Day 1B. Despite battling a hangover--"I was throwing up a few times in the bathroom during the tournament," he confessed--he clung on to more than just the side of the toilet bowl and was rewarded for his patience.

"I had no hands until 10 in the evening, and I got down to 22K," he said. "But then I had kings, I had aces, a few bluffs and I got a big stack."

In Prague just before Christmas, Dmitri Holdeew won the Eureka Poker Tour main event before hopping straight into the EPT and going deep. Stephen Chidwick did something very similar. Van Leeuwen is following in their footsteps, allowing the momentum to carry him along.

"I think that's how it works," he said. "Of course I like my game, I decide how I play, so I like my game of course. But I had a few nice set-ups...Yesterday I was really sick, but it ended well and now I'm really fresh. I hope I can play poker for a few days more and I can make it into the money. That's my goal."

He has now found himself on arguably the toughest table in the room, with the ultra-aggressive Antony Lellouche, the former EPT Grand Final champion Nicolas Chouity, the online beast Luca Moschitta and the Friend of PokerStars Pierre Neuville. It may end up soon as the EPT Live feature table.


Nicolas Chouity, Pierre Neuville and Niels van Leeuwen: tough table

However, the power of positive thinking is strong with this one. "It's a brilliant week already, so I cannot lose," Van Leeuwen said.

Follow our coverage from EPT Deauville by heading to the main EPT Deauville page. There's hand-by-hand coverage in the top panel, plus chip counts, and feature pieces below.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour