Martin Jacobson – A Man For All Seasons

Man trying to balance

Unless you’ve been in poker exile over the past week, you will have heard the news that a 27-year-old Swede named Martin Jacobson pulled off something remarkable in Las Vegas on the early hours of Tuesday and Wednesday.

Yes, yes, he won the World Series, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Somebody has done that every year since 1970.

What Jacobson achieved was more significant: he managed to take the various personalities, cabals, commentators and whiners that comprise the dismal, bickering beast that is the world of poker and unite them all in common agreement.

Jacobson’s performance at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio Hotel and Casino was so measured, so composed and so immaculate that just about everybody who follows poker was forced to abandon whatever petty squabble in which they were currently engaged and join together in a collective hat doff.

All of those calling for more personalities in poker were happy to cheer on this taciturn, quiet Swede. All of those calling for a shot clock seemed content to allow Jacobson to go into the tank for however long he saw fit before emerging with the correct decision. All of those insisting that the United States is the only real home of poker didn’t seem to mind that the final three at the world’s highest profile event were all from northern Europe. And everyone convinced that poker is being ruined by aggressive young kids sucking the fun out of the game seemed perfectly happy to cheer on this fearsomely aggressive pro.

Although we’ll never know the nitty-gritty of his performance during the tournament’s early days (and only he will know if he hit any miracle one-outers), it is nevertheless obvious to all that he put on an absolute clinic. He led after day one (from 505 players in his starting flight) then was placed 21st (from 1,864) at the end of day two, 29th (from 746) on day three, 18th (291) on day four, 14th (79) on day five, first (of 27) on day six and was eighth of nine going into the final table.

Even the people who continue to insist that you just have to run well to win the World Series are going to struggle to have a beef with Jacobson. He won some flips and he lost some flips; he wielded a big stack remorselessly, but was careful, precise and patient when he had to rebuild. He was evidently at the top of his game throughout more than a week at the tables — and what a complete game he has.

I think one of the lessons we can maybe learn from Jacobson is actually described in numerous books on the game. It’s this: poker is very much situation dependent.

Going back to the calls for a shot clock, for example, it is obviously hugely irritating when a player takes an age dwelling over a routine decision, but there are plenty of times in poker when decision-making can take a long time. Sometimes, it’s just fine to take a while to think it through – just ask Jacobson – and bringing in a one-size-fits-all rule is rarely an adequate solution.

Similarly, it absolutely doesn’t matter if a player wants to be quiet at a table and not strike up conversation with everybody around. Of course, nobody likes a misery, but you don’t have to be the life and soul. Who can possibly insist Jacobson lighten up a bit and start talking more? What would be the point of that? I hope that just watching him play — politely, with good etiquette and brilliantly — will be enough to convince people that this is a game they want to join.

The perception of poker in the mainstream — what most of us agree is the single most important issue affecting the game — can only be helped by this success. What people will have seen on their televisions is one of the best in the world playing and winning because of his abilities, not because of an invitation from a sponsor, a notoriety in another pursuit, a big mouth or a wacky hat.

I suspect Jacobson hosted a party in Las Vegas to match the best of them, but one of my favourite moments in the immediate aftermath of his victory was his mother dancing on to the stage and flicking his fringe out of his eyes like only a mother can.

Jacobson is a young, rich man who will appeal to the youngsters drawn to poker for their chance at fame and fortune. But he can also probably be the wholesome family man too, which should give poker some respect among the mothers. Again, it’s situation dependent – and Martin Jacobson is the man for all of them.