When you're the chip leader entering the final table of the biggest poker tournament in the world, you can by no stretch of the imagination be considered unlucky. However, the situation Jorryt van Hoof found himself in during this year's November Nine hiatus was unlike any we've seen in the six years since the inception of the delayed final table format.
Van Hoof would've been the perfect player to represent an online poker website. The accomplished pro, based in London, has been playing some of the highest stakes online for many years and is a very well respected, and feared, player.
In 2009, the man known as "TheCleaner11" made one of the most famous calls in online poker history when he pulled the trigger holding just eight-high on a double-paired board. Van Hoof's opponent, poker pro Kevin MacPhee, had a pair of deuces, lost the hand and immediately posted it on poker message boards. Van Hoof's call went viral and he later meticulously explained his thought process, which garnered him even more respect.
As the owner of the only Dutch video strategy website, NederPoker.com, Van Hoof, with his very articulate and intelligent mind, would've been a great brand ambassador. Unfortunately, that isn't happening prior to the biggest night of his professional life.
Up until Black Friday in 2011, any sort of exposure on national television in the United States would lead to receiving a nice monetary bonus. Being seated at one of ESPN's featured tables during the WSOP main event could get you as little as $2,000 for just wearing a simple patch or hat.
These days, even the most media-friendly pros have limited options when attempting to earn some extra money for their enormous amount of exposure, but in Van Hoof's case, in a very bizarre way, it was the Dutch government that actually limited his off-the-felt earnings. After years of online poker being a major headache for legislators and the Dutch gambling authority, a step forward had been made this year; it was agreed that online gaming would be legalized in 2015. As part of the process, until online gaming sites receive government licenses, they are not supposed to do any promotions focused on the Netherlands.
The Dutch market is small and, honestly, not very attractive for operators looking to offer online poker. The Netherlands has a population of 16.8 million, and while it's the seventh-biggest grossing online gaming market in the EU, that's a number that mostly reflects sports betting action. Although the tax situation for players will drastically improve, going from 29 percent down to 0 percent on regulated poker sites, it's still up in the air to see which operators will actually invest in getting into the market.
Former professional poker player Rolf Slotboom is currently the spokesperson for the Nederlandse PokerBond (The Dutch Poker Association) and explained the new system:
"In the new licensed system online operators will pay 20 percent plus 2 percent tax on gross revenue, this to further motivate players to move from unregulated poker operators to the licensed sites," he said. "We also have to keep in mind that this bill still needs to be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, so things could still turn out to be different."
Many things factored into Van Hoof's current predicament, and the contrast with last year's Dutch November Niner, Michiel Brummelhuis, is big. Brummelhuis, who finished in seventh in 2013, was offered a deal by 888 Poker, the same site that now sponsors 2014 November Niners Brazilian Bruno Politano, Mark Newhouse and William Pappaconstantinou. Besides a nice cash bonus, Brummelhuis also was afforded the opportunity to play in a number of other big poker events around the world. A deal like Brummelhuis' had been the industry standard for many years and always was essentially expected by players who ran deep in the WSOP main event.
If one unique event could further motivate and encourage poker operators to invest in the Dutch market it would be Van Hoof doing well at the main event final table. After "The Flying Dutchman," Marcel Luske, and his protégé Noah Boeken were at the forefront of the poker boom in the Netherlands in 2006, when their TV show "PokerKings NL," aired on national television, it felt like poker was ready for another big push this year.
Everyone thought that Van Hoof's accomplishment could mean only good things, but as the weeks passed, it became clear that his timing was about as bad as it could be. Van Hoof, who's the mathematical favorite to win the $10 million first-place prize in the Penn & Teller Theater next week, will have no major poker-related sponsor in November, and because of that his exposure going forward will be far less than it could've been.
"For now the REG Charity patch is the only one that I will wear," Van Hoof said just days before the event, as he's supporting Raising for Effective Giving, a charity started by German high-stakes poker players Igor Kurganov and Philipp Gruissem.
Even though it's understandable from the Dutch gambling authority's point of view to require all aspiring operators to wait until they've obtained a license, blocking those sites from signing a possible Daniel Negreanu-level player for the Dutch market during the most pivotal time may create some bad blood.
"My sponsor, 888 Poker, did receive a letter from the Dutch gambling authority," Brummelhuis said, "and it stated that they're not allowed to make any sort of promotional efforts until they've obtained a license.
"888 Poker wanted Jorryt really bad, they even contacted me about it right after he made the final table. After they received that letter they halted their negotiations immediately and I think this put off other sites as well that considered offering Jorryt a deal."
On the Dutch gambling authority's own website it even states, (translated) "The gaming authority will continue to monitor commercials with regards to national and international sporting events. In case of a violation the individual operator will be addressed. Until the end of 2014 we will pay special attention to commercial outings with regards to poker, e.g. the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the biggest poker tournament in the world."
"It's hurting me too, the stance the Dutch gambling authority is taking on poker," Brummelhuis said. "My contract with 888 Poker ended after this year's World Series of Poker Asia Pacific, but up until that letter there was a chance I would get another deal."
The first Dutchman to ever make the November Nine also added that he was told finalists in 2008 and 2009 received up to six times more money for making the main event final table.
"It's insane to think that the November Nine chip leader will play without a patch of a big poker site for the first time," Brummelhuis said. "I just can't believe it."
So while the Dutch government hopes to attract investors into its online gaming space in 2015, it hasn't taken into account that these websites need an outlet, a platform and a personality to carry their promotional efforts. By actively taking away the biggest trending person in poker from them, it might make them reconsider how profitable the Dutch market can really be.
Online poker in the Netherlands will be regulated in 2015, but if even back-to-back November Niners cannot provide a significant boost in player traffic, the industry should remain somewhat unenthusiastic about its growth potential.
Brummelhuis has a different outlook.
"Jorryt was just extremely unlucky with his timing, but as soon as the licensing system is in place I think that poker in the Netherlands will pick up again," he said. "There's not a single TV channel or magazine that's taking poker ads right now, and that could change immediately if certain sites obtain licenses, and I'm positive they will. Under the new system poker operators will pay 20 percent of every raked dollar to the Dutch government and players will no longer have to pay taxes if they play on regulated sites.
"I'm not sure if the Netherlands will ever have another poker boom, but the licensing system allowing for poker sites to advertise again will perhaps help its growth."
While Van Hoof, and a possible sponsor, won't benefit from his current position in the world of poker, it's crystal clear that the Dutch government will reap the benefits from implementing its new system in the years to come. Watching Van Hoof play in a slick-looking shirt without any crazy patches will make him look more sophisticated, but for a player in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it's just a shame he couldn't benefit from it to the full extent.
Let's just hope that Van Hoof will reap the benefits from his amazing chip position at Monday night's final table, because in the end that's all that matters to him I'm sure.
Remko Rinkema is a poker journalist hailing from the Netherlands. His contributions can be found on PokerNews, iGaming.org, Poker Listings and Card Player. Follow him and his adventures covering the poker world on Twitter @RemkoMedia.