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WSOP champion Martin Jacobson nearly quit poker before $10 million win

Swedish professional may have played most perfect final table in history

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Steve Marcus

Martin Jacobson, 27, of Sweden holds up his championship bracelet after beating Felix Stephensen of Norway to win the $10 million top prize during the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, at the Rio.

2014 WSOP Final Table Day 2

Martin Jacobson, 27, of Sweden stands with cash after beating Felix Stephensen of Norway to win the $10 million first-place prize during the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, at the Rio.  Launch slideshow »

Main Event final table results

  • Martin Jacobson: $10,000,000 (1st)
  • Felix Stephensen: $5,147,911 (2nd)
  • Jorryt van Hoof: $3,806,402 (3rd)
  • William Tonking: $2,848,833 (4th)
  • Billy Pappas: $2,143,794 (5th)
  • Andoni Larrabe: $1,622,471 (6th)
  • Dan Sindelar: $1,236,084 (7th)
  • Bruno Politano: $1,622,471 (8th)
  • Mark Newhouse: $730,725 (9th)
  • Blinds at 500,000-1 million with 150,000 ante

Martin Jacobson created an optical illusion in the poker community over the previous couple of years.

While it appeared the 27-year-old from Stockholm’s star was rising, it was actually fizzling. Jacobson concealed a galactic secret underneath the $4 million he earned around the world in poker tournaments: He was burnt out.

“I had been a bit lazy over the past few years,” Jacobson confessed. “I hadn’t worked too much on my game because the future in poker has been so unreliable. I really didn’t know how much longer I was going to play.”

Jacobson, a culinary school graduate, had gotten “fairly close” to leaving poker behind to open up a restaurant serving healthy fast food. He ultimately decided to shelve plans to trade cards for calories, a stellar choice after what transpired at the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio.

Jacobson won the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event, earning $10 million and the coveted championship bracelet by beating out eight other finalists over 16 hours of play Monday and Tuesday.

“Once I got to the final table, I got that motivation and that urge back,” Jacobson said, sporting his new jewelry a few steps away from bricks of $100 bills. “I’ve really been dedicating a lot of time to getting better and preparing myself for this day.”

Jacobson’s otherworldly focus came across as clearly as a lunar eclipse on a clear night at the WSOP’s seventh “November Nine.” It’s practically an annual tradition for poker’s cognoscenti to quibble over every disputable maneuver an eventual champion makes at the final table.

And yet, there was no criticism of Jacobson’s performance. In fact, some of the usual harshest critics on social media and the ESPN broadcast began contextualizing his showing as one of the best in poker history and throwing around “perfect” to describe his lengthy set of decisions.

“I don’t think there’s such thing as a perfect tournament,” Jacobson responded. “I think it’s impossible not to make some errors here and there, but I feel like I limited my mistakes and played pretty well overall.”

Jacobson had to show the range of his skills at the final table. Most players in his situation would have never made it to Monday’s nine-handed session, as he came in limited at eighth in chips and struggled for hours to pick up many strong starting hands.

Jacobson nursed his short stack by carefully selecting opportunities to scoop pots, but fell to last in chips for long stretches on four different occasions. Right before the first time he was all-in and at risk in the entire tournament dating back to this summer, Jacobson was especially desperate with less than 7 million chips.

“I felt confident the whole way, even when I was that short,” he said. “It’s a weird thing. I was never in doubt, never worried. I just felt like this was meant to be.”

Jacobson’s position improved Tuesday when he came in with the second most chips of the last three players — ahead of Felix Stephensen but behind Jorryt van Hoof — and immediately took down the first three pots. He erased van Hoof’s 25-million chip advantage in less than two hours.

An hour later, Jacobson eliminated van Hoof with an Ace-10 starting hand that dominated the opposing Ace-5. The 31-year-old from Eindhoven, Netherlands, who had run rampant over all competition Monday, won $3,806,402 for third place.

“I was really playing my A-game yesterday and I missed some spots today,” van Hoof said. “But the other guys, Martin and Felix, were playing very well today.”

Jacobson had total confidence once he matched up with Stephensen, and not just because of a near 3-to-1 chip advantage. Jacobson was so committed to advancing to the final two over the last four months that he studied heads-up play more than any other aspect of poker.

Having felt it was the weakest part of his game and knowing there was a $5 million pay jump between first and second, Jacobson reached out to some of the best heads-up players in the world and learned from them. Within 50 minutes against Stephensen, he had increased his lead to a 7-to-1 margin.

The stacks were so disproportionate that the final hand, Jacobson’s pocket 10s against Stephensen’s Ace-9 suited, played itself out with all the chips going in before the flop. A third 10 was among the initial three community cards to send Stephensen, a 24-year-old from Oslo, Norway, out in second for $5,147,911.

“He picked up some cards in some good spots, and played awesome as well,” Stephensen said.

Jacobson’s friends bum-rushed him the moment the victory was official, but he kept his cool. Jacobson said his concentration was at such a high level that he still felt he was in the game.

Jacobson insisted he hadn’t thought for a single moment what he would do with the eight-figure payday, the second biggest in Main Event history, since making the final table. He put everything on hold for the Main Event.

“All my focus was to become the world champion,” Jacobson said. “That’s what really means something to me.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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