Less than 24 hours later, they're calling it the best thing to happen to poker in years. Norway's Annette Obrestad, all of 18 years, 363 days, won the World Series of Poker Europe main event in London on Sunday, shocking the live poker world and simultaneously confirming what the online world had already known.
Obrestad's story is legend now. Raised in a card-playing family, she asked her mother for her credit card number to start an online account when she was 15. When Mom said no, Annette signed up anyway and promptly won $9 in a freeroll on Ultimatebet. She built her bankroll from there, reaching six figures before she was 18.
According to the official coverage at worldseriesofpoker.com, Annette has "won more than 23 major online tournaments and made just under 100 final tables," earning $845,000 in her career. The fact is the young woman the online poker world knows as "Annette_15" has been one of the top tournament players in the world for the past couple of years, ascending to the top spot on pocketfives.com's online tournament rankings earlier this year.
Annette's win is without much in the way of historic precedent. With a first prize of 1 million pounds ($2,013,102 U.S.), consider:
• She's the first WSOP Europe main event champion.
• She's the first woman to win a WSOP "main event."
• She's the first woman to win a bracelet in Europe.
• She's the all-time WSOP money leader among women, with almost twice as much earned as runner-up Annie Duke.
• She's the youngest main event winner ever, breaking Phil Hellmuth's record with more than five years to spare.
• She's also the youngest person ever to win a bracelet, beating Steve Billirakis' record by 2 years, 11 days.
• She's the youngest person to win a $10,000-plus buy-in event.
Every one of those accomplishments is obviously exceptional, and to have done it all in one grueling five-day event with a field that could only be described as elite makes what she's done all the more stunning. Of course, there will be questions: How was it a 15-year-old girl was able to play online? How legitimate is the American edition if the young woman they're now calling "The Queen of Europe" can't even play? Does that make the European event the more legitimate one?
Call her the Queen of Europe or the Princess of Poker -- it doesn't matter. It's the player that counts, and she's here for the long haul. In a scene reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's cameo in "The Rundown" (in which Arnold basically passes the action-star baton off to the Rock), Annette was the one who took Annie Duke out of the tournament in 21st place. Amazingly, she also removed Jennifer Harman from contention in the early going. This isn't to say the live-game ladies are obsolete, but Annette is part of a new breed of player engineered by the boom itself. They've learned the modern game at a younger age, and therefore with a greater learning capacity, not to mention the convenience of being able to play a million hands in a year if one were so inclined. Imagine where poker's going to be 10 years from now, tactically speaking.
By then, the ripple effect of this win will be looked back upon as the good old days. As poker continues to expand throughout Europe and get younger, Annette is going to be viewed as the new poker poster child literally. She'll be the proof that anyone can win, and at the same time, that skill prevails. Young players will flock online trying to be like her, and the old sharks (the Moneymaker generation) will feed on those new fish like the older sharks (the "Rounders" generation) fed on them. And so the endless circle continues. Congrats, Annette, and we can't wait to see you in the U.S. in 2010!
Three guys you're going to want to keep your eyes on Tuesday night on ESPN's WSOP broadcast:
I first met Dario Minieri when he was 15 years old during my Magic: The Gathering days. Dario looked then and still looks 12 now with his youthful face augmented by the diminutive body. The burgundy and gold scarf of his favorite football team, Associazione Sportiva Roma, became his signature at the WSOP. That it looks remarkably similar to that of Harry Potter's Gryffindor makes the Minieri youth movement comical.
For all of the jokes, Minieri is a beast on the baize. He practices the unbridled aggression of an Internet generation that knows the math and puts players to decisions for their tournament lives. Dario's background in Magic: The Gathering (a collectible card game whose tournament circuit has fed many poker stars, including David Williams, Justin Bonomo and Eric Froehlich) allowed him to develop a lack of appreciation for the hard-earned dollar, which might be why he tosses around his chips like so much confetti. He may have personally been responsible for more eliminations this year than anyone, save perhaps Jerry Yang.
This year's WSOP will eventually be recalled as Minieri's first TV appearance, not his only. The cameras love a guy who will make the action happen. Minieri, more than any other player, was that guy this year.
It was a popular misconception that Hansen had never cashed at the WSOP prior to this year's main event, but the reality is he's actually cashed once before, with a 150th-place finish in 2004. Still, for a guy who managed to win three WPT events in less than 12 months, albeit with the smaller crowds of the early years, one cash is pretty appalling.
Over the past couple of years, some have questioned the legitimacy of Hansen's massive public reputation. He quieted some of the whispers with his victory at the Aussie Millions in January, but that didn't turn heads like his ascendance through the field in the early going of this year's main event. In a community looking for a big-name champion, every conversation was starting with Gus. He'd been relegated to single-name status, like Sting or Nelly.
Gus is as streaky as they come, thanks to that same, unpredictable style that launched him to fame five years ago. Fortunately for the viewers, it's that style that makes him so great to watch on the tube.
Hal Lubarsky's story was obviously inspiring, and Jerry Yang's will endure like no other, but the Scotty Nguyen saga in this year's main event was the most electric. An entire community united in its desire to see the 1998 WSOP world champion make a run at another title. The closer we pushed to nine players, the more intense it got.
Scotty didn't win, but he did give us a full-blown dose of everything that's made him one of the game's most popular figures. The cackle, the beer, the smile, the mullet, the "babies," it was all Scotty being Scotty, playing some of his best poker and wanting the win more than anything in the world.
In the age of diluted fields, we don't get to see many deep runs by the biggest names in the biggest events. With all due respect to the Allen Cunninghams of the world, we haven't seen a deep run in the main event by a presence of Nguyen's stature since Phil Hellmuth in 2001. It was a treat to watch unfold and one of the things I'll remember most about those last few adrenaline-infused final days of the 2007 WSOP.
Gary Wise covered the WSOP for worldseriesofpoker.com. You can hear him on his podcast, Wise Hand Poker, Wednesday nights at 8 ET at www.roundersradio.com.