Gambling has been a touchy subject in Iceland over the years, especially when it involves cards being dealt, small and big blinds. Yet there seems to be a loophole in the law, and thus last weekend around 200 poker players gathered at the Nordica Hilton Hotel to compete at the Icelandic Poker Championship. The 200 were of course hoping to take home the title of Iceland’s best, as well as seeing a portion of the 6.000.000 ISK Grand Prize find its way into their bank accounts.
The hotel’s two halls were packed with players and you could hear various shrieks of “YES!” or (indeed) “NOOOOH!” sounding from the tables, as players either saw their stacks grow higher or—as the game is apt to go for most—smaller and smaller. Tensions were high and so was the temperature; the rooms got hotter and hotter with every passing hour of play. Fourteen hours later, at two in the morning, only thirty players had any chips in front of them, advancing to the second day of play.
The tournament saw its share of Icelandic celebrities (or what counts as celebrity in Iceland) putting chips into the pot and contributing to the cash prize. Olympic silver medallist Sigfús Sigurðsson could not repeat his 2008 Beijing success, going out on the first day. TV comedian Auðunn Blöndal made through the cut to day two, only to be eventually taken out by the would-be champion, much to his dislike.
23 hours of poker
On day two, the poker playing commenced at noon with thirty players competing for a seat at the final table. It appeared as if most of the players had managed to get some sleep, although the game was on the slow side in the beginning. Fortunately, their play picked up and some five hours later only nine remained to earn a seat at the final table. The atmosphere was thick with tension, and it didn’t take long until players were going all in, before leaving the table—all out.
After 23 hours of poker, it was Axel Einarsson who wound up as the last man standing, beating Matthías Vilhjálmsson’s hand with a pair of Queens over Axel’s suited Joker, Eight of hearts, taking home a cool 1.5 million ISK. Vilhjálmsson did not leave empty handed, his second place warranting a little over a million ISK. In third came Logi Unnarsson Jónsson, with 700.000 ISK.
So it would seem like tournament poker is here to stay in Iceland, as the police left the event alone, and next year’s event is already in the planning stages.