WSOP 2016: Kenny Hallaert riding, and boosting, the Belgian boom
You could have forgiven Kenny Hallaert if he had decided to skip the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas this year. Hallaert is a busy man. Back in his native Belgium, he manages the Belgian Poker Challenge (BPC), a two-stop tour that visits the PokerStars card room at the Grand Casino de Namur as well as a second tournament in Spa. It is sponsored by the biggest online cardroom on the planet.
The latest BPC event wrapped in Spa at the beginning of June, just as the World Series was getting started. The next is due for just after the November Nine plays out--assuming Hallaert ever returns to his day job.
Sitting today at the table behind a 1.6 million stack of chips, Hallaert admitted that he hasn't yet finalised the schedule for the latest event, due to start in Namur on November 25. He is forgoing his office work for a tilt at the $8 million first prize here--and who could blame him. Returning to the Amazon Room today, Hallaert was the tournament chip leader of 800 left.
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He is now no longer at the top of the pack, although remains close to it in more ways than one. His stack is still top 20, but his neighbour Maria Ho became the first in the room to break the 2 million chip mark. She still has the second-largest pile of anyone.
Even before he started managing the BPC, Hallaert was well known in European poker rooms. He has final table appearances on the European Poker Tour, the Master Classics of Poker and the UKIPT under his belt. And he has made a huge success of the BPC. In 2014 in Namur, Hallaert's home casino, 683 runners created a €654,309 prize pool; in 2015, 680 contested €652,800. They are the biggest tournaments ever held in the country.
Remarkably enough, both tournaments were won by the same man: Arne Coulier, who added €101,075 to €113,820 in consecutive years. "Satellites on PokerStars!" Hallaert said as he filled us in on the details of the event, encouraging everyone to join the charge to Belgium.
Online poker is regulated in the country and has gone from strength to strength since legislation, boosted by Pierre Neuville becoming the first Belgian to make the WSOP Main Event final table this time last year. Triple Crown winner Davidi Kitai leads the country's money list, but Hallaert would leapfrog him if he finishes in the top three in this tournament.
If that was the case, and Hallaert was returning to Namur after playing the November Nine, it would surely be the place to be in the run-up to EPT Prague. As the man says, "Satellites on PokerStars!"
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.