Ever since I started playing poker for a living, about seven years ago, there has been legal Dutch poker in one place only — the beautiful Holland Casino in the center of Amsterdam. When I started out, the only game they offered was 10-20 guilder limit hold’em, which is slightly less than €5-€10. At one time, it was decided that the smallest game should be 20-40 guilders, and after the conversion to the Euro, this was transformed to €10-€20.
It was around that time that a pot-limit Omaha game was started, too. Some people had been asking for that game for quite some time, and because of the efforts of Ed de Haas, the 500-guilder buy-in PLO game quickly became very popular. Nowadays, our regular game is €500 buy-in PLO, and when some big players are there who want to play for higher stakes, €1,000 or even €2,000 buy-in games are possible. While this would happen rather frequently about two years ago, nowadays the games are almost always €500 buy-in with €10-€10 blinds.
In fact, while this game used to go at least five days a week when it first started, we currently get the game going three days a week. And not only is the game played less frequently, it has become much tougher to beat, because despite the relatively small player base, there are actually quite a few high-quality players. The fact that the Dutch economy has been struggling for quite a while now and the competition of good games on the Internet has increased have made it increasingly more difficult for poker to grow here. This is especially true because there are not many low-limit (or small-stakes pot-limit) games available, which means it is hard to get new players into our game — and the relatively high rake doesn’t help much, either. All in all, we often face a situation that is characteristic of small poker communities with high-stakes play: lots of regulars, not many new faces, and, in general, a rather high level of play. What may be somewhat unusual is that the games tend to be played in an excellent atmosphere, despite the large amounts of money that are often at stake.
So, who are some of these good players I mentioned? Well, as the author of this piece, I guess I should have the modesty to leave myself out — if only for the fact that my regular opponents will haunt me for years if I write anything that is remotely positive about myself. I will also leave out the three or four Dutchmen who seem to be doing very well on the Internet — for the simple reason that I have not seen enough of the way they play there, the games they choose, and so on. Anyway, despite the fact that there are more decent (winning) players than the ones I will now discuss, at least the following players should be mentioned, because they have put a serious mark on Dutch poker — not only in Holland itself, but around the world.
- “Dutch Flying Fox” Marcel Lüske
He is the undisputed “main man” of Dutch poker. He was Europe’s Player of the Year in 2001, 2003, and 2004. He has truly terrorized the European tournament circuit for the past four years, and has been able to profit from this on the business side, too (by getting good sponsorship, because of his involvement with the International Poker Online Mogeqq Federation, by hosting tournaments in St. Maarten and Australia, and so on). He has even made his mark on the American poker scene, too, reaching the last two tables of the World Series main event in two consecutive years. Because of all of this activity of his, he doesn’t play that often in our regular game anymore, or at least not as much as he used to.
- “The Chief” Rob Hollink
He has proven himself to be a true all-round player, performing well in both international tournaments and high-stakes cash games — in brick-and-mortar casinos as well as on the Internet. He is someone who is not easily impressed, and is not afraid to risk his entire stack with a marginal hand if he thinks his opponent may be bluffing. In addition to his excellence, he is also fun to play with. He’s a winner of large and important events in Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, and Amsterdam, where, in the 2001 PLO event at the Master Classics, he beat “Devilfish” Dave Ulliott heads up in an epic battle.
- “Big Dog” Ed de Haas
The Big Dog, or “Le Grand Chien” as a friend of mine tends to call him, is a truly remarkable character. When he’s in a good mood, he can be one of the most charming persons around, and when he’s not — well, then he tends to be a bit less charming. He’s one of the driving forces behind the growth of big-bet poker in Holland. He’s very successful in both tournaments and money games, and also much better at controlling his emotions now than in previous years. (Nowadays, he will pretend to be very hot, only to show you aces double-suited when you play back at him.) His main strength is cracking someone who is also playing a big stack by making a few seemingly rash plays in small pots in order to bust him later when the real money is at stake. He won the big pot-limit Omaha event at the 2004 World Poker Open in Tunica.
- Arno Weber
He’s a relatively young player who looks much younger than he actually is, and has developed a rather unique style of play. He has taken the concept of changing gears to an entirely new level. He is known to think for minutes on relatively easy decisions in small pots with fairly big hands, and then within seconds put his entire stack into the middle with nothing more than just four random cards. He has been able to hold his own in our regular pot-limit Omaha live game, and also has gotten some great Master Classics results, winning a PLO event in 2003, and finishing second in the €820 no-limit hold’em event in 2004.
- Dennis de Ruiter
He’s a young and rising star in Dutch poker, and one of the biggest winners in the cash games in Holland. He has worked his way up through the ranks, starting with small-limit hold’em games and slowly moving into the big pot-limit Omaha games. He has copied some successful strategies from other players, and has combined them into a highly successful game. In addition to being a good short-stack player, he is now also excellent at playing with deep money. On top of that — and probably most important — he is a truly nice and friendly person who is able to maintain a good mood in good as well as in bad times.
Some Final Words
As I said, there are some other successful Dutch players I didn’t mention, as I decided to focus on just those people who have clearly, and for a prolonged period of time, proven their excellence. All in all, for a country with such a small player base and just one legal cardroom that offers poker games for stakes that matter, I guess we have a disproportionate number of good or excellent players. Actually, every time I sit down in my regular game nowadays, things become more and more of a challenge, because I’m facing a bunch of players whose games I highly respect. Now, for a player like me who always insists on good game selection, this may not be such a great development. But for Dutch poker as a whole, it may well be — as future successes by some of the Dutchmen mentioned here are almost guaranteed. ´