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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Juan Carlos Mortensen

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson started the new millennium with a bang, winning the 2000 World Series of Poker Main Event, but it was Juan Carlos Mortensen who put an end to an era.  While many people consider Chris Moneymaker both the end of the “pro era” and the beginning of the “amateur era,” it was actually Mortensen that won the 2001 WSOP Main Event two years prior to Moneymaker.  Mortensen is the last professional poker player to have won the event.  Not only has he found major success in the WSOP events, but he has also shone at the other big events around the country.

Juan Carlos Mortensen was born in Ambato, Ecuador on April 13, 1972.  When he was 15 years old his family moved to Spain.  As a young man Mortensen was very interested in chess, and joined a team at his school.  During down time at chess practices a few players would play a game of poker, a game Mortensen soon joined.  Because poker was illegal at the time in Spain, Mortensen and his chess teammates were forced to keep the game a secret.  However, it quickly became no secret to Mortensen that he was a pretty good player, often taking the majority of the money from the small stakes game.  It was this success that made Mortensen think he could have a future in the game.

However, as mentioned, the game was illegal in Spain, so after his high school years he was forced to put the dream on hold and find other ways to make money.  During this time Mortensen held a variety of jobs, including manufacturing leather goods, and being a bartender.  One night at the bar he noticed a group of customers playing a poker game, No Limit Hold’em.  Quickly Mortensen became a regular at this game.  Having never played the game before, he took his lumps early on, but in a short time he was winning this game the same way he was against his classmates a few years before.

After graduating from the bar room games he began playing in private games and underground poker rooms.  It was during this time that he began to master his highly aggressive style that has been the topic of many discussions over the years.  Some say he was too aggressive and this hurt him in the long run, but as you will shortly see, it has led to some major successes.

As a youngster and a young man, Mortensen had read stories about the poker games in Atlantic City and Las Vegas as if they were the land of “milk and honey.”  When the local games in Spain began to dry out Mortensen and his since divorced wife and fellow poker player Cecilia Reyes-Mortensen, traveled around Europe before finally setting foot on the sandy shores of Atlantic City.

Mortensen initially took a big hit to his bankroll when he first arrived in America.  While Mortensen has spent the majority of his poker career playing illegally, the players in America had enjoyed the freedom to play as much as they want, and in turn probably held a bit of a skill advantage over the newcomer.  It also made Mortensen feel uncomfortable because he didn’t know a single word of English upon his arrival to the States.  Around the same time he started to learn English, his game began to turn around.  He started to really analyze the game and study the players, something he didn’t need to do against the competition in Spain.  He began to become a constant winner in cash games in both Atlantic City and Las Vegas, and wasn’t far from making an impact on tournament poker.

Mortensen began regularly playing in tournaments around the fall of 2000.  In the winter of 2001 he won two tournaments, the $300 buy-in Limit Hold’em event at the LA Poker Classic and the $1,000 buy-in at the Shooting Stars event.  These two victories netted him over $160,000, and justified his decision to come to America to play poker professionally.  This was just a sign of things to come.

That summer, at the World Series of Poker, Mortensen forever put his name in the history book by winning the Main Event.  Mortensen held a 2 to 1 chip lead over fellow poker pro Dewey Tomko heads up, when his K-Q of clubs spiked a straight on the river to knock off Tomko’s Aces.  The 1.5 million dollar prize was his biggest to date, but he would more than double it six years later.

Mortensen continued to find success in tournaments, including winning a second WSOP bracelet in the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event in the 2003 Series.  He also came close to winning a third a number of times, making three final tables alone in 2006.  As of 2008 he has an impressive 15 cashes in the WSOP.  

In 2007 Mortensen made history by becoming the first player to win a WPT event and the WSOP Main Event.  While the Main Event is considered the pinnacle of tournament poker, and rightfully so, by winning the $25,000 dollar buy-in Championship at the Fifth Annual Five Star World Poker Classic, he pocketed $3,970,415, one of the biggest amounts to be won outside of the WSOP Main Event of recent times.  This victory was Mortensen’s second WPT victory.  He won one million dollars in 2004 at the Doyle Brunson sponsored WPT event.

People have said that Mortensen’s quiet demeanor at the table appears stand-offish at times, yet others seem to think he is one of the nicer regulars.  He has also drawn some remarks from the way he stacks his chips.  As he seemingly gets bored at the table, he’ll make elaborate towers and columns of chips, unlike anything anyone has ever seen at the table before.  Some players get a kick out of this, and other players think he’s just trying to get attention.  Make of him what you wish, but his over eight million dollars in tournament prizes will tell you that he is a force to be reckoned with, and “El Matador” isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

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