EPT10 Sanremo: The extraordinary existence of Lukas Berglund
If you've been looking at any leader boards recently, you'll have been reading the name Lukas Berglund time and time again. The Swedish professional led the EPT Sanremo counts at the end of Day 3, is still in the top five as Day 4 begins and, perhaps even more importantly, is currently ranked second in the world on the Pocket Fives list of online poker players, behind only his countryman and friend Anton Herrmann.
Berglund, who goes by the name "superkid-bam" on PokerStars and "lukethafluke" on Full Tilt, has more than $3m in documented online tournament cashes and a string of recent results so long that I genuinely gave up counting them. (I was up to 64 and hadn't yet left April.)
Swedish players are utterly dominant on the online tournament scene at the moment. In addition to Berglund and Herrmann in the top two spots in the rankings, "gnetaren" is fifth, "robinho" is eighth and "mrAndreeew" is tenth. All are Swedish.
"Cold winters, you know," Berglund told PokerStars Blog, by way of explanation for his nation's sensational recent form. "On Pocket Fives, you have to really play a lot to be a high ranker there, and I think a lot of the Swedes do play a lot. There's a big online tournament community. A lot of players play a lot of tourneys and that increases everyone's skill, I think."
He added: "The thing is, there are not that many Swedes who go around the world like the Germans do or the Brits do because we have to pay taxes outside the EU. That makes it not as profitable to play. So we Swedes, we play the tournaments inside the EU, but in Monte Carlo, say, there will be only one or two. And then I guess we have time to play online."
Scandinavian players have been well known from the early days of online poker as the most aggressive bunch, taking unusual lines and enduring/enjoying wild swings. But Berglund -- who in person is as neatly presented as the captain of a transatlantic airline, a Harley Street consultant, or a high-ranking finance executive -- says that the days of the archetypal aggro Scandi is long gone; the game has moved on.
"It's matured a lot, especially live poker," Berglund said. "We're so much more used to playing now and you don't have to be six-betting all the time, people have realised that. It's all right to not be doing that. We're less aggro these days."
Although this event in Sanremo is well known among the online grinders as a great place to exploit the perceived weaknesses of the local players, by the time it gets into these deep stages most of the value is gone. Indeed, many of the world's top online tournament sharks are turning this into something of a home game for them.
Stephen "stevie444" Chidwick was alongside Berglund for long periods yesterday, Mike "MunchenHB" Telker went deep, Olivier "livb112" Busquet has a huge stack and Jordan "JWPRODIGY" Westmorland assumed the chip lead early on Day 4. Then there's Jeff "YoungSupremacy" Hakim and Shyam Srinivasan, of course, who have more than $10m online cashes between them. Berglund has, of course, played them all and said yesterday that he did his research on Chidwick in particular.
"I looked him up on my HUD and I have six or seven thousand hands on him," Berglund said. "Yeah, that can be an advantage. Some players play quite differently live and online, but Stevie plays pretty much the same. He plays good; he's really good. I know he's raising a lot, playing a lot of pots. The same as he does online."
Berglund is 21 -- remarkable when you look at what he's achieved and the confidence with which he carries himself -- and was only 18 when he took a WPT title in Barcelona in 2011 for his first (and still biggest) live cash. With so much of the world to see, he still enjoys the travel associated with playing live and seemed unconcerned that he's essentially giving up six days online play to head to the French and Italian Riviera.
"I think it's nice coming here," Berglund said. "I love Sanremo, Nice and this part of Europe. I think it's beautiful. It's not that cold, so I think it's great."
More significantly, perhaps, his travels to the European Poker Tour are beginning to get in the way of another hobby back in Stockholm. Berglund is a founder member of the FC 3 Laxar football side, which is perhaps the only sport team playing in the sixth division whose players earn as much as your average Premier League star.
The reason: the line-up comprises Swedish poker players, including Per Linde, Anton Wigg, Ramzi Jelassi and Berglund. "At the beginning it was only poker players," Berglund said. "Our schedule isn't the same as everyone else, so we could have football training during the day, which is nice, and then grind online during the nighttime."
Laxar won promotion during their first season ("They crushed it," according to Erik Rosenberg, a reporter for the Swedish poker portal poker.se, whose name is on the team's shirts) and there are now some non-poker-playing ringers involved. The only problem is that games are often scheduled for the same time as EPT events, draining the team of its brightest talents.
"We end up talking about poker a bit, but not that much," Berglund said. "When you play poker all day, you want to talk about something else."
I guess you could look at it as just another league table for Berglund to lead.
Full coverage of EPT Sanremo is on the main EPT Sanremo page. There's hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top and feature pieces below. The €10,000 High Roller is also under way. Coverage of that is on the High Roller page.