Playing for family and country

Michiel Brummelhuis is looking to find gold at his third career WSOP final table. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Watch Michiel Brummelhuis compete at the WSOP main event final table Monday, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2

The 2013 November Nine is one of the most talented final tables in the history of the WSOP, from top to bottom. The chip leader, J.C. Tran, is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner, WPT champion and Season 5 WPT Player of the Year. Amir Lehavot, second in chips, owns a WSOP bracelet. The two shortest stacks, Mark Newhouse and David Benefield, are considered extremely dangerous on their own as a WPT champion and high-stakes online legend, respectively.

However, for the past few months leading up to the final table, one player has flown well under the radar screen. Michiel Brummelhuis, seventh in chips with 11.2 million, is a professional online cash game player with significant tournament experience. Having earned more than $650,000 in live tournaments prior to the 2013 WSOP main event, he is making his third career WSOP final table. The previous two, where he finished sixth and seventh, have given him invaluable experience heading into the November Nine.

"It is definitely going to help me, especially because the final tables at the WSOP were a lot of fun, but I made big mistakes in both of them," Brummelhuis said on his past performances. "When you make mistakes, it's also a good experience because I'm never going to make those mistakes again. Both of those experiences are really, really valuable for me."

After making the November Nine back in July, the 32-year-old was inundated with accolades and well-wishes from his home country, the Netherlands, as he became the first player from his country to make the official WSOP final table (in 2004, Marcel Luske finished in 10th place).

"It hit me the most after I made the final table because all the media was coming to me," he said. "I got a lot of new Twitter and Facebook friends and all the nice words for me. A lot of people congratulated me. In two days, it was crazy on my cellphone."

With the country's support behind him, Brummelhuis is in a similar position as a previous WSOP main event champion, Pius Heinz. Both European players not only entered the November Nine in seventh chip position, but Brummelhuis could change the face of Dutch poker, similar to the way Heinz changed Germany in 2011.

Brummelhuis started playing poker back in 2004, right after Chris Moneymaker's improbable victory. Like Moneymaker, Brummelhuis loved to gamble at the casinos, especially roulette and blackjack. However, after losing more money than he would have liked, he heard through friends that poker players were making up to 200 euros a night, which he considered a lot of money back then as a student. To improve his game, he began reading books and eventually found online poker. It was truly love at first sight.

"Back then, we did not have internet at home," he said. "There were a lot of internet cafes. So I sat down there, installed the program and started playing. The first day, I got aces three times and won some money. I just fell in love with the game right away."

Although he began playing around the Moneymaker era, the Amsterdam native was more of an indirect product of the internet craze created by the "Moneymaker factor."

"I didn't start playing because of Moneymaker, but he affected the game when I started playing because the games got really big so quick," he said. "It was crazy to think that you can deposit 100 euros online and you can win 8,000 euros in some tournaments. I wasn't thinking about playing live then. I loved online too much."

However, as a youngster with early success, he definitely had his ups and downs, mainly attributed to poor bankroll management and an inflated ego.

"In the beginning, especially when you are young, it's really difficult to have a lot of money winning a big tournament, and then you just do stupid things with it. Then, after 2008, the games got tougher, and maybe I had a little bit of an ego because I was a little known in Holland online as "utreg." I started to have a downswing and I wasn't willing to learn from other guys."

Over the last few years, his perspective changed, as did his approach to studying the game.

"The last two or three years, my bankroll management has gotten much better," he said. "My ability and wanting to learn, also putting my ego on the side and listening to friends helped make the last two or three years way better than the bumpy road before that. I realize now that you have to study and get better at your game. When you don't do that, it's killing you especially if you want to do it professionally."

Entering the 2013 WSOP main event, Brummelhuis had a new outlook on his poker life and was fully prepared to play. The early days of the tournament went extremely well for him, steadily increasing his stack day-by-day. Heading into the money bubble, Brummelhuis was in excellent shape, but the remainder of the tournament was a roller-coaster ride. He struggled on Day 4, ending with 327,000 chips, then on Day 5, he bounced back, thanks to a big hand against Rep Porter (A-K > Q-Q), and finished the day with 3.4 million. He was 23rd out of the remaining 68 players, but on Day 6, the tides turned again and he finished with 2.2 million, 25th out of the final 27 players.

This dizzying journey could've negatively affected most players, but Brummelhuis felt very calm and comfortable because he was able to share the experience with one of his roommates. Amazingly, Dutchman Jorn Walthaus, who had almost $300,000 in career earnings prior to the 2013 WSOP main event, also made it to Day 7 with him.

"We went to the Rio every day and had breakfast, lunch and dinner. So it was really fun to do it with him and go there every day."

Walthaus' Day 7 would come to an early end, eliminated in 26th for $285,408. As for Brummelhuis, he felt he had nothing to lose.

"My mentality was fearless," he said. "I got lucky as I got queens the first hand. Someone opened and it was an easy shove for me and they folded. So went from two to three [million]. Then went to nine [million] without showdown with some bluffs and good hands. Everything went okay on that day."

With 12 players remaining, the Dutchman got extremely lucky as he was all-in with J-9 and behind to Sylvain Loosli's A-J on a J-10-6 board. Fortunately, Brummelhuis hit runner runner 8-7 for a straight to win an 11-million chip pot. From that moment on, he was confident he was going to make the November Nine.

"Now I'm gonna make it," he recalled of his emotions at that time. "From then on, I thought I will sit back and relax and see if I get a hand. I did not get a hand and I wasn't going to go crazy at that point."

Once play had ended, Brummelhuis went to work. He began by watching all the footage of his opponents and played several live and online tournaments in Europe. Then, on Sept. 13, Brummelhuis' girlfriend gave birth to his son Thijmen.

"I definitely feel different now," he said. "The responsibility and love you feel for such a special new person in your life is really great. It gives me extra motivation to provide for the future and make as much money possible. You don't want to gamble with your bankroll anymore like I used to because there are more people depending on me than just me."

Brummelhuis plans to bring his new family to Las Vegas in November to hopefully witness history. Entering the final table, Brummelhuis doesn't believe he will be nervous.

"I was very fortunate from Day 4 on as I was always at a feature table or secondary-feature table," he said. "There were all these cameras and you just get used to it. That was a good experience as there was so much more craziness. I feel so confident I will not get stressed at the final table as I don't mind all the cameras and lights because I've been there before. I believe that's kind of an edge I have."

With the recent birth of his newborn son, Brummelhuis now has another motivating factor as he hopes to become the first Dutch main event champion in WSOP history. If it happens, Brummelhuis will have received two priceless gifts within a couple of months, but no matter what happens at the final table, life is good for Brummelhuis.