Barely even able to drive, and often not even able to legally buy alcohol, players no older than high school graduates are sweeping the tournament scene. They are constantly feasting upon tournaments in countries other than the United States, a country where they are almost always not yet able to gamble. In years past, it was considered quite amazing when Gavin Griffin became the youngest bracelet winner ever, followed by Jeff Madsen, and Steve “MrSmokey” Billirakis. This shattered the old standard where we were used to watching Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Phil Hellmuth on television, not men and women the age of college graduates dominating the televised tournaments. However, even Billirakis’s record was shattered just months later by someone who will likely hold the record for quite a long time, signaling a rather amazing trend in poker right now; poker players who most might still consider children are absolutely crushing the game.
At the forefront of it all was Annette Obrestad’s humongous win of the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event in September. Already held as the best online tournament player in a lot of peoples’ opinions at the time, she shattered multiple records at the Main Event in Europe while bulldozing the final table on her way to a two million dollar payday. At the time, she became the youngest player to ever win a bracelet, not even 19 at the time. She also won the most any female has ever won in a poker tournament. She became the first female to win a World Series of Poker Main Event, and she can’t even play in the one in the United States until 2010. She nearly won her second major title later on in the year, finishing second at the EPT Dublin event, winning roughly $430k. Just 19; one has to think that she has the world at her fingertips with a wealth of experience from online tournaments, and the results to back it up.
One of the records that Annette broke, the youngest player to hit a seven-figure payday, was just broken this past weekend. Michael McDonald, known as Timex online, took down the EPT Dortmund event for $1,381,728. If you don’t know the name by now, chances are you will soon, despite only being 18 years old. Again, just like Annette, Michael is an established online poker player, well known, and well respected in many circles. A trend amongst these players is a very determined, very mature nature. If you ask people what they think of them, you’d be hard pressed to find an ill word. After McDonald won the event heads up, trapping the more aggressive Andreas Gulanay, he simply shook his opponent’s hands, and took a drink of water. No yelling or screaming, just a muted celebration from a player mature beyond his age. Most 18 year olds would lose their minds, but perhaps one of the reasons that players like Michael McDonald are so successful is their uncharacteristic maturity and drive at a young age. Michael also won an event at the Aussie Millions, took 2nd in another, finished 6th in the heads up championship at the same tournament, and finished 14th in EPT Prague. Judging from these results, it won’t be long before we hear from him again, taking down yet another six or seven figure payday.
The Aussie Millions this year were a boon for those seeking tournament paydays, but not yet able to do so in the US. Both Jeff Garza (known as ActionJeff) online, and Jimmy “Gobboboy” Fricke had a good series. Jimmy was following up on his year he had before, when he finished 2nd to Gus Hansen in the 2007 Main Event. This year he won a Stud/Stud Hi-Lo/Razz event for nearly $15k. With nearly $900k in live winnings, and a respectable online record, Jimmy has begun to make a real name for himself in the poker world. Jeff Garza came close to winning his first major event in November, finishing 6th at the WPT event in Niagra Falls, Canada. Already an established online winner like the rest of the young phenoms mentioned, Jeff took down the heads up event at the Aussie Millions for $88k, which boasted an extremely tough field.
So what is it that these players possess that allows them to carve through big fields with established pros alike? They are able to hone their skills in online competition. They benefit from the ability to play on the virtual felt long before they’re able to hold a real stack of chips in a brick and mortar casino. They see hundreds of thousands of hands, much more than any live pro ever would. They also benefit from a wealth of knowledge through friends, and information spread all around the Internet. However, they are without a doubt the cream of the crop, striking while the iron is hot, so to speak. It’s just a matter of time before more prodigies pop up, winning huge tournaments before they even drink their first beer, drive their first car, or have their first shave.