Rising to the top of most sports brings with it financial security, but on top of that, a fame that extends beyond your immediate fanbase. The likes of Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton are literally household names, and even those with no interest in their sport know who they are.
Where things get interesting is when a new sport suddenly captures the imagination. We’ve seen this recently in Mixed Martial Arts, where the formerly fringe activity was catapulted into the limelight, and suddenly everyone was talking about Conor McGregor. Poker is all set to follow a similar if less violently dramatic.
A new sport for a new world
In the internet age, physical location becomes an irrelevance, and this brings unprecedented opportunities for those in some of the less famous parts of the world. If you want to rise to the top in football or tennis or Formula 1, you need to get yourself to the UK or USA at a young age. But to be a poker pro, it really doesn’t matter. As a result, nations that do not ordinarily have a high sporting profile are becoming unexpected hubs for poker excellence.
Estonia, the smallest country in the Baltics is a case in point. Its capital, Tallinn, has built a reputation over the past decade or so as a place that mixes rich history, great nightlife and cheap prices. Where better to go to play poker?
Tallinn’s growing reputation in this regard has come at the same time as poker’s gradual transition from barroom game to sport. The World Series of Poker initially attracted the attention of sports network ESPN in the late 90s, and 20 years on it is now on the International Olympic Committee’s radar. Over the same period, public interest in poker has been piqued by online poker groups. All this has further enhanced interest in the game in Estonia, where there is an increasing availability of online gaming platforms where people initially visit to play simple slots but are then tempted to try out more sophisticated card-based games.
Estonia’s top poker pros
The net result is that Estonian players are rapidly appearing ever closer to the top of the world poker rankings. They might not be raking in the millions enjoyed by the likes of Justin Bonomo or Daniel Negreanu, but it is only a matter of time.
Markku Koplimaa is top on Estonia’s all-time money list, having taken home more than with more than $1.25 million in career winnings. The 33-year-old hit the headlines last year, winning more than €500,000 by beating all comers at the EPT Barcelona.
Second, on the list is crowd favourite Madis Müür. Unlike Koplimaa, who is mostly New York-based, Muur still lives in his native land. He’s amassed career winnings of almost $800,000, which could go some way to explaining the big smile that makes him so popular.
Estonia is also famous for its female poker pros. Catlin Müür became the first female champion last year and is one of many young female players shaking up the poker scene in Estonia and the wider world.