Kenny Hallaert file (photo by Jayne Furman)
: Hansbeke, BelgiumTwitter handle
: @SpaceyFCBFinal table position
: 4th placeChip count
: 43,325,000Odds to win Main Event, via bet365
: 5-to-1Career WSOP cashes
: 22 (no bracelets)Favorite poker book
: "The Theory of Poker
, because it was one of the first books I read about 12 years ago, and it gave me a lot of insight in how poker really worked back in that time. I think for beginning players it's still an OK book to read even now — although poker has changed a lot throughout the past years, it's got the fundamental basics of the game."Favorite poker movie
.Favorite poker room
: "In general, I like to play poker in Vegas . . . In some rooms the games are better, and in some rooms the comfort is a little bit better. It's hard to have a favorite, actually."Favorite poker player
: "I have respect for a lot of players, but I don't really have a favorite player. I'm always rooting for myself."Favorite hobby, other than poker
: Fine dining; watching football (soccer).
Kenny Hallaert has been around the poker scene in Belgium from the very beginning.
"Let's go back to 2005," Hallaert says, referring to the year live poker was first legalized in Belgium. "At the end of 2005, the first ever poker tournament in Belgium was organized. And I did participate in that one, and actually cashed. It's not on my Hendon Mob, but it was my first official cash in
a poker tournament."
The tournament was hosted at Casino de Namur
, in the French-speaking part of the country. "I've been involved in that tournament every year since," Hallaert says. "It's now the biggest yearly tournament in Belgium by far. I played that tournament every year, and during 2006 and 2007 the Casino de Namur was my favorite poker room."
Hallaert had only started playing poker at all the year before. He'd been working as an electrician and placing small sports bets on his favorite soccer team when a banner ad for online poker caught his eye, sometime in fall 2004.
"I was always interested in card games. I'd heard of the game poker before, but I'd never played it and didn't know any of the rules, and I thought it might be interesting," Hallaert tells Casino City. "I had fun in the beginning, playing the game. I just basically played on the weekends for a couple of hours, to pass time. And after a while I discovered that actually there were tactics — that there was skill in this game, that you could be good at this game."
In January 2005, Hallaert decided to stop playing for a month or two and start studying. He went on some forums and read a number of books, including Sklansky's The Theory of Poker
and Lee Jones' Winning Low-Limit Hold'em
. "After that I made one last deposit of $50, and I've never looked back since," he said. "I started grinding low- and microstakes cash games and I grinded my way all the way up. I kept doing it for a couple of years — played limit Hold'em
in the beginning, afterwards switched over to no-limit
Hold'em, and then got into tournaments around 2008."
Online, Hallaert mostly plays tournaments these days, most recently taking down the partypoker Online Grand Prix. In the live arena, he's also done pretty well for himself, coming in fifth in last year's inaugural Colossus event at the World Series of Poker, and sitting fourth in chips at the final table for this year's Main Event. But much of his time at live tournaments is spent directing them.
In 2007, he got a job offer from Casino de Namur, doing marketing for the poker room for the non-French-speaking market. (Hallaert is a native Dutch speaker.) Over the years, the job shifted from a marketing position into an event organizing and tournament directing one.
Hallaert has also directed other poker tournaments, including almost every Belgian tournament sponsored by PokerStars, and more recently has entered into a TD agreement with Unibet.
"And I'm still the TD of that tournament I played the first time in 2005, so this year we'll be hosting it for the twelfth time," he points out.
Belgium's poker scene, according to Hallaert, has become quite lively in the years since the game's legalization. Online poker is popular, and low-stakes
live poker has become a widespread pastime.
"There's not really high-stakes action," he says. "The tournaments are geared toward recreational players, where we have main events with buy-ins going from €200 to €500 — sometimes to €1,000, or up to €1,500, but the majority of the tournaments are for recreational players. There are also a lot of small poker rooms in Belgium — poker clubs, I would say — that offer a lot of self-deal tournaments with very low buy-ins, going from €5 to €20."
"We do have some successful players in Belgium, having had a November Niner last year that's Belgian (Pierre Neuville), having a Triple Crown winner in Davidi Kitai, and Michael Gathy, who has won three bracelets already," says Hallaert. "So for being such a small country, it's quite a big achievement. And I think the success of those players has contributed to the poker scene in Belgium in general."
For Hallaert, working as TD allows him to combine his passion for poker with his interest in organizing events, something he'd been doing in other areas since before he discovered poker. He likes that it also prevents him from playing poker full-time.
"Being a little bit distracted from poker is good for me," he says. "If you're a full-time professional player the pressure is high, because at the end of the month the bills need to be paid, so you have to make sure that you have an income. Having a regular job keeps a lot of that pressure away from me, so I can have more freedom in playing poker because my regular job pays the bills."
Since returning from the World Series in July, Hallaert hasn't been playing all that much poker. "I've been running two Unibet events — one in Belgium and one in Copenhagen," he says. "I went on a small holiday, as well, after I came back from Vegas. But from now on, all my focus is on the final table."
"I've had the luxury of having to know and to meet people at the final table from the last three years," Hallaert says, when Casino City asked how he's preparing. "There was Pierre Neuville last year, two years ago Jorryt van Hoof, and three years ago Michiel Brummelhuis. I have already had a chat with all three of them, to talk about their experience and if they could give me some suggestions about things that I should and shouldn't do regarding my preparation. They were really helpful, and I learned a lot from those conversations." Hallaert is also planning on devoting more of the upcoming month to playing and studying.
Including the $1 million he received in July for making the final table, Hallaert has risen to #3 on Belgium's all-time money list, behind only Davidi Kitai and Pierre Neuville. If he comes in fourth or better in the Main Event, he'll overtake Neuville; if he wins the whole thing, he'll overtake Kitai.
Hallaert, however, isn't focused on that right now, nor is he thinking about anything further ahead than 30 October to 1 November.
"The tournament isn't over, and there's so many scenarios that can happen that I just don't want to think about what will happen if I finish in first or if I finish in ninth place," he says. "Those are all things I will think about once the final table is over."
As for the final table itself, Hallaert says he likes his chances.
"I can't complain about my table draw," he says. "I have the four biggest stacks on my right-hand side, which in general is always a good thing in poker; however, I think we're all quite competitive players to each other. I think it will be a nice final table to rail
, because I would say nobody is a world-class player, but everybody is a very good player, and the majority has a lot of experience, as well. I think I'm not afraid of anyone, but nobody should be afraid of me, either."This article is part of Casino City's series of WSOP November Nine profiles. Other articles include: