The 2014 World Series of Poker main event final table has many captivating storylines. American Mark Newhouse overcame astronomical odds to become the first player ever to make back-to-back November Nines. The chip leader, Jorryt Van Hoof, became the second Dutch pro in as many years to make the November Nine, following Michiel Brummelhuis last year. With possibly the most animated rail in the history of the WSOP, Bruno Politano became the first Brazilian ever to make a WSOP main event final table and has the potential to make the poker boom even bigger in his country. Billy Pappas is attempting to become world champion in two different disciplines, foosball and poker.
Then there's the player who has the most career tournament earnings of the nine, Sweden's Martin Jacobson, who has earned $5.5 million on the felt. The 27-year-old poker pro is the first player from Sweden to make the main event final table since 2006 (Erik Friberg) and will enter play with 14.9 million in chips. With more than 35 big blinds, he still has plenty of room to maneuver at this story-laden final table.
When Jacobson turned 18, he received his first poker book, "Pokerhandboken" by Swedish player Dan Glimne, as a gift from his father. After reading the book cover to cover, Jacobson developed an interest in the game, but had no plans on becoming a pro. He wanted to become a world-class chef.
"[Going to culinary school] was the best thing that could've happened to me because I really enjoyed it," said Jacobson. "I created a big passion for food and cooking."
After completing culinary school and working for a couple of years in Sweden, Jacobson wanted a change in scenery. An opportunity opened up in the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain, and he quit his job at the time. The opportunity unexpectedly fell through, and while trying to figure out his next gig, he utilized his free time to play poker. It was at this point his life changed forever.
"I started playing sit-and-gos online, and they were my bread and butter," he said. "I made some extra money online and [those sit-and-gos] ironically helped prepare me for the steps on PokerStars."
Jacobson's first major poker score was qualifying for the 2008 WSOP main event online via PokerStars' step satellites. Earning $12,000 as one of the satellite winners, Jacobson had a dilemma: keep the money or risk the entire amount and travel to Las Vegas for a chance at fun and glory. Jacobson turned to his mother for advice.
"I wasn't really sure what to do," recalled Jacobson. "It was a lot of money, but at that same time, I really want to go to Vegas. I called my mom and asked for her advice. She said, 'Obviously, you are going to Vegas.' That's not what I was expecting her to say, but when she did, I definitely decided to go."
This decision was a true risk, as Jacobson did not have much experience playing live. In fact, the 2008 WSOP main event would be his first major live tournament ever.
"I really hadn't played much live," he said. "I played some home games and played some smaller tournaments at some poker clubs, but I had never experienced like anything like the World Series."
Upon arriving in Las Vegas to the symphony of shuffling chips at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, his first major event did not go as planned. After hitting a set of 8s on the flop, he was eliminated from the 2008 WSOP main event on the third hand of the event when he ran into his opponent's set of kings.
"That was a devastating moment," said Jacobson. "I was upset for a few hours, but I got over it pretty quick."
Even after this disastrous start to his poker career, Jacobson was undeterred and ended up having an incredible 2008. First he had a tremendous near six-figure score, finishing second in the PokerStars Sunday Million. Then after qualifying and playing in EPT London, he headed to EPT Budapest to play in his third major main event.
"I was enjoying traveling and playing poker. Somehow I managed to make it to the final table," he said. "I definitely got lucky in a couple spots and took third. I was incredibly happy at that time. It was unreal."
The remarkable run paid him almost $250,000 and there was no looking back. His culinary career was officially on hold as he redirected his focus toward the world of poker.
During the past half decade, Jacobson moved to London to play poker and has been consistently cashing in Europe, owning nine European Poker Tour main event cashes and four final tables (two of which were runner-ups). Widely recognized in Europe for his success on the EPT, he finally got his elusive first win in October 2013 by winning the 2,200-pound EPT preliminary event over longtime poker pro Eugene Katchalov for more than $125,000.
"Just to taste the feeling of winning something live was really sweet, especially winning in my hometown with my friends there on the rail," he said. "It was very memorable."
A few months earlier, he gained some recognition in the United States as well, when he finished sixth in the WSOP One Drop High Roller in 2013 for $807,427. But up until this year, he had been anything but successful in the main event. Jacobson had never made the Day 2 dinner break.
Of course, 2014 turned out to be completely different.
Jacobson began the tournament with a run that made him the chip leader after Day 1A. The next few days were just as magical for the Swede as he continued to build his stack level after level and finished in the top 30 on Days 2, 3 and 4. In fact, as he enters the final table, he still has never gone all-in for his tournament life, similar to 2009 champion Joe Cada.
"I wasn't even aware of how good things were going," said Jacobson. "I was just going with the flow and was in the zone. I actually did not have a losing level until level 23, which was during Day 5. Every level I chipped up, which mentally felt really great."
As the tournament got deeper and deeper, Jacobson continued to fly under the radar.
"I wasn't one of the chip leaders at the time so I wasn't getting too much attention. I actually never really get too much attention in the [United] States anyway. It's more on the EPT."
Jacobson entered Day 7 as the chip leader with 22 million, but it was Mark Newhouse and his back-to-back quest that headlined the final 27 players and kept Jacobson's feat from being highly publicized. Nevertheless, Jacobson steadily continued his march to the final table and was involved in a huge hand, or "misclick," on the final table bubble.
On the sixth hand of the bubble, Jacobson surprisingly limped from under the gun with Ac-Jc. After everyone folded, William Tonking completed from the small blind and Dan Sindelar checked his option from the big blind. After a flop of 10c-8h-7c, Jacobson and Tonking end up pushing all-in with Tonking holding the nuts. The turn and river were blanks and Tonking doubled up to 11.25 million, while Jacobson fell down to 17.1 million.
Later admitting that he meant to raise from under the gun, Jacobson, thanks to his laid-back attitude, didn't let this mistake affect him.
"It's nothing that bothers me," said Jacobson. "It is what it is. It could have easily worked in my favor."
As he prepares for the final table, Jacobson is humbled by the support from his fellow Swedes and believes that all of his final tables over the past six years have prepared him for this moment.
"I think all my experiences will help me," he said. "I have played for big money before. I know that I don't fold under pressure and I don't get affected by the prize pool. So that feels good and I feel that I'm ready."
He has remained under the radar for this entire tournament and hiatus, but there's no place to hide anymore. Jacobson has the skills, experience and focus that a world champion needs, and if anyone underestimates him next week in Las Vegas, there's a good chance the bracelet will be handed to the first Swedish WSOP main event champion.