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Carlos Mortensen

By Paul McGuire

Carlos Mortensen is one of the best European poker players of all time. No other European has won more money at the World Series of Poker than Carlos Mortensen. Known as “El Matador,” he is one of two players (the other is Doyle Brunson) to win a World Poker Tour title and the WSOP Main Event. With almost $4 million in career earnings and 16 cashes in events on the WPT and at the WSOP, the soft-spoken Carlos Mortensen is one of the most dangerous No Limit Hold’em players on the tournament circuit today.

Carlos Mortensen
Carlos Mortensen - Source: Las Vegas & Poker

Juan Carlos Mortensen was born in Ambato, Ecuador in 1972, where his family owned several farms. He was one of six children from his Spanish mother and his Danish father. His father was an international diplomat. Mortensen studied in Paris and even attended military school. Mortensen moved to Madrid, Spain when he was fifteen and his hobbies included playing chess and shooting pool. He attended college and earned a degree in math and physics. During that time he met Cecilia Reyes, the woman who would even up becoming his wife. They were barely twenty-years old when they bought a house together. During his twenties, Mortensen held plenty of random jobs including working in a pizzeria, selling leather goods, and bartending.

Mortensen tended bar at a private club where he also played chess. One day after his shift ended, he saw some of the members playing poker. They had just come back from America and learned Texas Hold’em. Mortensen decided to give it a shot. He sat down with $100 and lost it all. He couldn’t sleep that night because he kept analyzing the events from that day. Not only did he become hooked on poker, he quickly became a student of the game.

Mortensen admitted that he never read any books about poker. He’s an instinctual player. He has an amazing ability to read people and that’s been one of the strengths of his game. He senses weakness, he plays more aggressive. He always mixes up his game and you never know what kind of style he plays because he constantly shifts gears. That’s why he’s one of the most feared No Limit players.

“I believe that poker is a people game played with cards, not just a card game played by people,” Carlos once explained in an interview. “I think that all players have limits, or situations where they become uneasy, and that is when I put them to the test.”

Mortensen took a trip to Atlantic City in 1997 and stayed for three months, which was the length of his travel visa. Despite losing half of his bankroll on the first day, he gutted it out and left New Jersey as a winner several weeks later with over $10,000. Because he did not speak English, Mortensen relied on his ability to read the other players. Despite the language barrier, he was pleased with his efforts and decided to focus on poker full time.

Since poker was not legal in Spain, Mortensen was limited to games at the private clubs in Madrid. He slowly began to build his bankroll while becoming one of the best players in his city. His game became so superior that some of the best players in Madrid decided to bankroll Mortensen into the 1999 World Series of Poker. He outlasted half the field in the Main Event, but did not cash. He brought some of his own money with him and lost it all in side cash games. All he had remaining was a voucher to play in a smaller buy-in tournament at the Mirage. He started the day flat broke and took third place. He won $4,000 and turned that into $10,000 playing $10/$20 at the Mirage. He decided to lease a convertible and drove to Los Angeles with his wife. When Mortensen arrived in California, he killed the soft games at Commerce Casino. He was a regular in their juicy $15/$30 tables. He won nearly $40,000 during his two month visit to Southern California. He would have stayed longer, but his visa expired and he was forced to return to Madrid.

In 2000, Mortensen returned to the WSOP and paid his own way. He cashed in his first WSOP event and made a final table in the $3,000 NL event. He bought into the main event and end the first day as the chipleader. He would end up missing the money, finishing in 69th place out of 512.

In the meantime, Mortensen built his bankroll playing Limit cash games. He also made several final tables and won smaller buy-in events at different California casinos. Those tournaments provided excellent practice for Mortensen as he polished his multi-table tournament strategy. In early 2001, Mortensen began a huge winning streak that started in Los Angeles when he picked up over $116,000 after he won an event at the L.A. Poker Classic. His final table included pros such as Toto Leonidas, Daniel Negreanu, and David Plastik. A month later, Mortensen won an event in San Jose, CA at Bay 101 Shooting Stars. First place paid out over $44,000 including a free seat in the WSOP $10,000 Main Event. In an epic hand during that tournament, Mortensen cracked Brad Daughtery’s A-A with Q-J.

The final table at the 2001 World Series of Poker is one of the most memorable in recent history. It featured Carlos Mortensen, Phil Gordon, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, and Dewey Tomko. Mortensen played some of the best poker of his life and went onto win it all including a $1.5 million first place prize. On the fourth day, Mortensen went from $87,000 in chips to over $870,000 during a remarkable run. He bluffed Mike Matusow out of a huge pot with Q-8. Mortensen thought Matusow was weak when he tried to steal his blinds. Mortensen moved all in over the top which prompted Matusow to fold A-Q. Mortensen even showed his dominated hand.

When heads up play began between Mortensen and Dewey Tomko, Mortensen had a 2-1 chip advantage. With K-Qs, Mortensen flopped an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw. He bet out and Tomko moved all in. Mortensen called as Tomko flipped over pocket Aces! Mortensen made his straight on the river and cracked Tomko’s Aces to give him the WSOP Championship.

In 2002, Mortensen made another final table at the WSOP in the $1,500 NL event. He had another difficult table that included Johnny Chan, T.J. Cloutier, and eventual winner Layne Flack. Also in 2002, Mortensen won a tournament at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and also took first place at the Omaha Hi/Lo California State Championships.

In 2003, Mortensen finished 10th at the World Poker Tour’s L.A. Poker Classic. Mortensen also won his second WSOP bracelet and over $250,000 after his first place victory in the $5,000 Limit Hold’em event. In September of 2003, Mortensen made his first WPT final TV table when he took fourth at the Borgata Poker Open.

Mortensen cashed in six more WPT events including a victory at the Doyle Brunson North American Championship at the Bellagio in 2004. He outlasted a final table that included tough veterans such as John Juanda, Erik Seidel, Hung La, Thang Pham, and David “The Dragon” Pham. At the time, he became the second player to win a WPT event and a WSOP Championship. A few months earlier Doyle Brunson became the first. After Brunson won that tournament, Mortensen admitted that he finally went out and purchased Super System.

Mortensen also taught his wife how to play. His lessons paid off after Cecilia made the final table at the 2005 WSOP Ladies event. She ended up losing to the eventual champion Jennifer Tilly.

Although he misses Spain, Carlos Mortensen currently lives in Las Vegas, NV with his wife Cecilia. “El Matador” frequently plays on the tournament circuit and even plays online. No matter where he plays, Carlos Mortensen is going to be one of the best players at the table.

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