Bratislava hosted the third installment of The Festival Series last week. It promised to be a spectacular event with a prize pool of €500,000 guaranteed for the Main Event, not bad for a buy-in of €550. With 1,271 submissions, this prize pool grew to a whopping €603,725, of which the winner would get an astounding €126,650. The emergence of a huge number of Dutch individuals at the Banco Casino in the capital of Slovakia led in a dream scenario. Two Dutchmen would fight to the death for victory.

Michel Molenaar, a 23-year-old emerging poker player from the Netherlands, won the Main Event. The player from Volendam, a nearby fishing village, defeated everyone and won his largest cash prize ever and quadrupled his lifetime earnings. We spoke with him:

Hello, Michel Have you gotten over The Festival Series? How were your first days back in our little nation?

Yes, I have been back in Volendam since Monday and have been able to relax. Volendam’s population of 22,000 is quite small, and it’s not long before you hear the “everyone knows each other” narrative. As I rode my bicycle through the hamlet, I was complimented by individuals who recognized me, which made it even more wonderful. Funny thing is that I had just seen my hairdresser and vowed to return once I had obtained a terrific outcome. I kept my word.

How long have you been playing poker? And how has it all gone so far?

Michel Molenaar. Winner of The Festival Series Main Event in Bratislava 2022.

In the Netherlands, it is allowed to play poker for real money at the age of 18 and you may begin playing at that age. At the age of 19, I abandoned my education to concentrate only on poker. I am also a chess enthusiast, so I devote the appropriate time to it as well. I started playing live poker right away, and with some great cashes in Barcelona, Rozvadov, Nottingham, and Marrakech, I’d say it’s been going rather well so far.

The Festival Series made its third appearance. How did you arrive?

Jeroen Aarts, a friend of mine, went in Tallinn (Estonia) in June and informed me that it is a fantastic series where not just poker, but also enjoyment, is emphasized. This combination appealed to me, particularly if it were hosted in a country such as Slovakia, the safest part of Eastern Europe. I was able to combine mixed games with the No-Limit Main Event and various side events over my full week-long stay for the series.

How did you do up to the last day of the Main Event?

In fact, I performed well throughout the whole competition. On day 1, I ended with 177K (starting with 30K) while running hot and making strong moves immediately before qualifying for day 2, allowing me to concentrate on side events like as the Heads-Up tournament and the NLHE High Roller. Unfortunately, no cash since in the High Roller I won around half of the remaining chips with 16 players remaining. 11 would reach the money, and with 3 million chips, it would have been quite simple to grind their way to the top. With two spades, A J was unable to defeat Jx 8x and Qx Qx on the flip. I had previously participated in TheHendonMob Challenge prior to the Main Event, and my 14th-place finish earned me a substantial cash prize.

Day 2 began smoothly, and I was able to significantly increase my chip stack. The table was soft and great with a large stack of chips until Norwegian Espen Sandvik sat down at my table, and I instantly knew he was an aggressive player. As I ran well and defeated him with my Qx Qx against his Jx Jx, he was soon able to retire to the locker room. The day proceeded without a hitch, and I did not lose anything. I eliminated Johan Huisman with Ax Kx vs Tx Tx on the river. My stack finally grew to 5.7 million without requiring any effort.

I met you at the start of the week, discovered over the week that you were known as “Lord Barre II” in the Netherlands, and found you to be a really calm person. Do you have any particular preparation for such a banquet?

Drawing of Michel Molenaar. The winner of The Festival Series Main Event in Bratislava 2022.

The last two tables did not consume a great deal of time, and we swiftly arrived at the unofficial final table. When there were just eight players remaining, there was a thirty-minute supper break. Sincerity being the better part of valor, I could barely eat half of the pasta. Although a portion of the hunger had subsided as a result of the last table’s stimulating adrenaline. Unfortunately, the brief pauses disrupt your game against the other players, against whom you will ultimately battle for first place.

The ultimate table I was unfamiliar with anyone’s playing style. But had already had a brief conversation with Gerianne Dijkstra (runner-up for €77K), that was all. I had seen a little amount of play at the tables around me, as well as a small amount of how they played. The Icelander, Leo Sigurdsson, and the Hungarian, Peter Kamaras, seemed to be competent players, given that they had some good movements. When there were just eight players left, I saw a number of players make mistakes, indicating that the level was not very difficult. Everything ran nicely until there were just three players remaining, at which point it slowed down a little. And the stacks were rather uniform as well. A couple fortunate bluffs against Gerianne Dijkstra, and a fantastic entry against Leo Sigurdardottir with Ax Ax against his Ax Qx, which nearly spelled the end for him.

When two hands were counted, pleasure and gladness followed. This was the most money you’ve ever earned; what are your future plans?

Yes, the warning did not linger too long, and thankfully I received it. The sum of €126k is enormous, but I do not yet know what I want to do with it. Probably a little more online investment and clicking than normal would be the typical outcome. Playing semi-professionally without a job is already stress-free, and with a side of chess, such a sum is extra delectable.

Regardless, I will participate in the Master Classics of Poker tournament in Holland Casino Amsterdam, where I already know a large number of players. I’ve been playing Dutch poker for five years, and a tournament is usually a celebration. Regarding the upcoming The Festival Series, I cannot comment at this time. I have visited the Dusk Till Dawn poker club in Nottingham, but because to taxation, it is not all that appealing to Dutch players. Malta’s Portomaso Casino appeals to me a great deal, particularly due to the significant number of Dutch individuals who frequent there.

Michel, once again, congratulations, and thank you for the talk; we will remain in contact. Any last thoughts?

Respect to Dominik Nitsche and DTO poker. It was the first competition in which I neglected to wear my patches, but a victory made up for my oversight.

Again, congrats, and thank you for the talk, Michel. We will stay in contact. Any parting thoughts?

Congratulations to Dominik Nitsche and DTO poker. It was the first competition when I neglected to wear my patches, but a victory made up for it.

Main Event Payouts

1Michel Molenaar€126,650
2Gerianne Dijkstra€77,450
3Leo Sigurdsson€50,550
4Slavomir Rakovan€36,975
5Peter Kamaras€27,900
6Sascha Manns€20,375
7Mark Berman€14,350
8Yasen Dichev€9,870
9Marton Lugosi€6,820


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