Jesper Hougaard burst onto the poker scene in 2008. The Dane won a $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event in Las Vegas for $610,304 and his first World Series of Poker bracelet. Three months later, Hougaard became the first person to win a bracelet in Vegas and Europe when he triumphed in the £1,575 No-Limit Hold’em Event, a result that also awarded £144,218.

I was there when Hougaard won his second bracelet, having travelled to London to watch the WSOP Europe take place. So when his name cropped up in the recent Poker Master Online PLO Series some 12 years later, I just had to pick his brain!

Jesper currently lives in central Copenhagen but is currently in the process of building his dream home to the north of the city. Anyone who has had to tangle with Jesper over the years has a certain Gus Hansen to thank for Jesper immersing himself into the game.

“I first discovered poker in my late teens. Poker was being broadcast on TV and I saw this crazy Danish guy winning the first WPT tournaments. Everyone at college was talking about it and we would play whenever we got the chance. I wasn’t good, but we always played cards in my family, so I was maybe slightly better than the others. Winning a bit of pocket change back then got me hooked on the game. Incidentally, that crazy Danish guy? Today I consider him a close friend.”

Hansen did enjoy a massive heater at the start of the 2000s. His first recorded cash on his Hendon Mob profile is an outright victory in the $10,000 Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $556,460. Hansen’s second entry is a victory in the $10,000 L.A. Poker Classic for another $532,490. His first nine cashes included five wins, and two third places and combined prizes worth $3,191,156. No wonder Jesper and his friends were talking about this crazy Dane!

WSOP Main Event Cash Ignites Jesper’s Fire

Although not on the same scale, Jesper’s first recorded live cash was also a victory. He won the €330 World Heads-Up Poker Championship in Barcelona in 2007 for €15,100. Just over 12-months later, Jesper was a WSOP champion.

“I travelled to Vegas on a limited bankroll back in 2007, I was like a sponge back then and I learned a lot from that trip. I had travelled with Dennis “Dazzy” Plejdrup who was playing high stakes those days. I’m very thankful he introduced me to a more advanced strategy and way of thinking about the game. I managed a cash in the 2007 WSOP Main Event and the next few years all I did was eat, sleep and dream about poker. From then on, I ran incredibly hot, winning several live and online tournaments, but was also slowly progressing into what has today become my main game of PLO cash.”

PLO has some crazy variance and that puts some people off playing it. Not Jesper though, he’s played PLO exclusively for the past eight or nine years, with about 95% of his play dedicated to cash games. What attracts Jesper to Pot-Limit Omaha?

“Probably the fact I can win in PLO! Even if I put in a ton of work, I’d never catch up to all the whizz-kids in No-Limit Hold’em. I enjoy watching the High Rollers and appreciate the extremely high level that guys like Timothy Adams and Stephen Chidwick compete at. I think mostly PLO is a few years behind as far as how well people play the game. Structurally, I also find PLO more fun as you can certainly get away with playing more hands and gambling more. I think it was Joey Ingram who came up with the great quote: NLHE is a science, PLO is an art form.”

Jesper must be quite the talented artist then. He cashed twice in the Poker Masters Online PLO Series for $230,421, finishing 12th on the High Roller leaderboard. One of those cashes was an outright victory in a $10,000 buy-in worth $183,621.

He also finished third in the Mini leaderboard, securing another $47,333 in the process.

“The line-ups in the Poker Masters High Roller were incredibly tough. There is no doubt that it’s more about the personal challenge than the actual value. The Mini’s were a little better. I’m just relieved I booked a win to guarantee a profit for the series for me. I’d like to compliment partypoker, Poker Central and whoever else deserves credit. The format and the structure was absolutely spot on. It was so much fun to play these events.”

Jesper wasn’t kidding when he said the fields in the High Roller events were tough. Finland’s Eelis Parssinen won that leaderboard by a mere point ahead of Andras Nemeth. Others who finished in the top 10 of the overall standings included Jens Kyllonen, Gavin Cochrane, Bengt Sonnert, Sami Kelopuro, and a certain Viktor Blom.

Which Country Has the Best PLO Players?

Every event seemed to have half a dozen Finns in the top finishers. Why are players from Scandinavia and the Nordics so proficient at PLO? Does Jesper know?

“The Finns especially are absolutely next level. I’d ick their top 10 against any nation in the world, probably with the U.S. a close second. I know quite a lot of Finns personally, they’re a good bunch of guys that work hard and have amassed an amazing skill-set within their community. There’s also a lot of great PLO players from Norway, like Andreas “Skjervoy” Torbergsen and Esben Myrmo. Sweden has Viktor Nyden, Lars Brodin, and Bengt Sonnert. In Denmark, Alexander Petersen has been a crusher for as long as I can remember. I don’t know exactly what makes the Nordic players so successful at this game, but certainly a culture and tradition has built over time and knowledge is passed on within communities.”

He already touched upon some remarkable PLO talent but who does Jesper rank as the five best PLO players in the world right now?

“I don’t know exactly. Probably a mixture of the players I already mentioned plus a sprinkling of Phil Galfond, Bujtas Laszlo, Yuki Ko from Japan, and Grazvydas Kontautas. I definitely think the players that play and crush online are far superior players to the people who mostly play live. That includes me until this pandemic forced me back to the online grind.”

Will PLO Ever Take NLHE’s Crown?

Those who play PLO love the game and it’s been said for many years that PLO will overtake NLHE as the number one poker variant. That’s not happened yet, could the game be too complicated to make it mainstream?

“NLHE is easier for people to understand, making it easier to follow on streams etc. Even though I’m deeply entrenched in PLO, oddly enough I find watching NLHE more enjoyable. As for the popularity of games, I do think that PLO has overtaken NLHE as the de facto cash game of choice, at least at the higher stakes on the live circuit.”

“For tournaments, it’s obviously no comparison, but I do believe PLO has a shot to do better as a tournament game with this new structure that some Vegas casinos and partypoker has adopted. Six-max with antes that don’t include preflop raise size is a significantly more enjoyable format than a nine-handed table where nits are rewarded for blinding down to 12 big blind over and over and get it in with aces.”

So what is the secret to learning PLO and improving your PLO skills? Plenty of hard work, so it seems.

“Hire a coach and find like-minded people to discuss strategy with, Put in work off the table as well as on the table It’s like an athlete that only shows up for the competition. He’ll never improve his skills as much as his rival who works on all the details in training.”

Thank you to Jesper for taking time from his busy schedule to chew the fat about PLO with the partypoker blog!

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