WSOP 2014: A big week for the Dutch
Take a close look at the main event field today and you may notice certain corners of it glowing Dutch. Well sort of. Anyway, there's a good reason for this.
It's simple really. Those who make it through the five levels today will return on Tuesday to play Day 2B. Play tomorrow and you're tied up on Wednesday and if you're Dutch that means playing during the World Cup semi-final between Holland and Argentina. Hence the sudden rush to play today. If you're Dutch, a World Cup semi-final is not something you really want to miss.
When it comes to football the Dutch have been textbook overachievers since the 1970s. Despite a modest population of 16 million, they have outperformed their bigger neighbours, starting with back-to-back World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978.
More recently they reached the semi-finals of the European Championship in 2000 and 2004, and were runners-up again in the World Cup in 2010. Now they're on the brink of another final, provided they can win on Wednesday. Whatever the result, it will be watched by at least one house full of fanatic Dutch poker players in Las Vegas.
Funnily enough this national overachievement is not reserved purely for football. The same could be said for Dutch poker players too.
For the past decade Dutch players have thrived. There have been five EPT winners from the Netherlands, and also a history of Dutch players going deep at the World Series.
Just last year Michiel Brummelhuis reached the November Nine, finishing seventh, while his friend Ruben Visser, who has since won an EPT London title, finished 44th in 2011.
There's something to be said for a small band of players finding massive success around the world despite what, in a legal sense, would be considered overwhelming odds.
Indeed, it's not easy being a Dutch poker player. For a start there's a hefty tax bill on winnings (which cannot be traded off against losses) and an online situation which is grey at best. As Dutch reporter Remko Rinkema put it, it has had an effect on the Dutch contingent here, which is smaller than it has been in recent years, but which remains a close group.
"The thing that makes the contingent strong is the fact they all talk to each other," said Rinkema, who reports on the Main Event for PokerNews. "They all get advice from each other. They're all staying in a house together. They may not be too well known on the live scene, but they talk to each other a lot. They know how this tournament works.
"The only problem is we don't see a lot of new guys coming onto the scene because of the taxes."
The tax issue is enough to put off even the most ardent poker playing tax accountant, with a rate of 29 per cent taken from live winnings. It keeps online players away from live tournaments, and with these additional overheads, the ones that do travel have to be among the best.
The best are in action today, starting what could prove an eventful week. For Rinkema it's an exciting time, as his home players take on the world in the main event, and his home team take on Argentina. Watching him endure the Costa Rica game (in which the Dutch won on penalties) was to see a man re-living the same disappointment every football fan goes through when their team is on the brink. The Argentina game will be a new agony, but then, speaking with a flash of pragmatism, Rinkema admitted that none of this was predicted beforehand.
"Before the World Cup started this year we had our lowest expectations ever," said Rinkema. "This was the first time in my memory that the expectation was not to make the final. Not even get out of the group. All the people who are here were watching the games and going absolutely crazy. Every single Dutch player is playing here."
For the record, Rinkema will be providing exclusive coverage of whichever Amazon Room table is nearest the television screen from noon on Wednesday.
Back on the tournament floor though, Rinkema has his own thoughts on which of his countrymen could go deep this year, starting with Lex Veldhuis, who just moved up to 50,000 chips after an exquisite play with a flopped nut flush.
"His mind-set is different this year. Lex doesn't have the pressure of playing all these live events. He only came out for the main event this year, even though in previous years he'd play a whole slate of tournaments.
"Of course there are the guys like Brummelhuis. You always see the guys who make the final one year go deep again the next. They know what it takes to survive."
Pim van Wieringen
"My dark horse would be Pim van Wieringen. He always seems to make day three. He doesn't do anything crazy, always avoids crazy spots."
Steven van Zeldelhoff
"He's rocking a big beard this year. He played only two World Series events this summer. Two events, cashed both. He's one of those guys, like Van Wieringen, who doesn't look for big spots. He grinds it out, the way this tournament should be played."
Then again if Holland wins the World Cup they might not care.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.