The poker community knows the young, dashing, polite wild man as El Matador, with the given name of Carlos Mortensen. Recently, he revealed that his real name is Juan Carlos Mortensen. He explained that he came to America not speaking a word of English, and when asked his name, he said Juan Carlos Mortensen, but he must have spoken too quickly, because the next thing he knew, everyone was calling him only “Carlos.”
Juan Carlos recently burst onto the poker scene and is a force to be reckoned with. He said, “My opponents think I am very aggressive and crazy sometimes. I want to have that image because it gives me an advantage. They don’t want to raise my blind because I will make a move. I might have the best hand or no hand at all, but they will be forced to throw their hand away.”
Coming to America
“When I came here, I didn’t speak a word of English. Because I didn’t understand English, I really had to pay attention to people. If you are a good reader, you can almost feel what people are doing; you can look in their eyes and see it on their faces.
“Sometimes I think, ‘There is no way you can have a hand. It has to be a value bet or a bluff.’ Reading people is very important. When I was new, I just watched and analyzed. I did not get in conversations at the table. I just played my game.”
“I didn’t learn poker by reading books. I learn at the table, and that’s how I study poker. I remember and record everything, and then use that information to help me the next time. I am trying to find out the things other people don’t even think about. I am creating my own way to play. The strength of my game is to analyze the styles of the other players, and after I analyze their systems, I play their ‘anti-system.’ I use their system against them.
“Anytime I can bust someone, that is the right thing to do. If I smell weakness, I attack. Either I bust them or they bust me. Sometimes, I am an underdog according to the odds, but my math is working. I might be the underdog, but if I have more chips and I bust someone on a coin flip, I bust a player and double up. I use that strategy. Sometimes it is luck. Sometimes I call knowing I am an underdog. People wonder, how can you double up this person? But it’s not exactly that way. If I already have $75,000 in a pot and someone raises, say, all in $100,000, I call even if I know his hand is the best because there is the luck factor, the amount I have to put into the pot, and the fact that I can bust him.
“I believe that whatever you really want to do, if you try hard enough, you can do it, as long as you never surrender.”
Handsome and unassuming, Juan Carlos Mortensen was born in Ambato, Ecuador, on April 13, 1972. His mother is Spanish and his father is Danish, he has two brothers and three sisters, and his family had farms in Ecuador.
His dad was an international judi poker mogeqq diplomat, having studied at Georgetown Military Academy. Later, he studied politics in Paris. After his education, he went back to his Ecuadorian farm and family.
After having lived in Ecuador for 15 years, Juan Carlos’ family moved to Madrid, Spain, where Juan Carlos enjoys dual citizenship.
The First Poker Lesson
Juan Carlos remembers the precise day he began playing poker. “It was April 15, 1997, in Madrid, Spain. I was a bartender at a private club called Montera, and I usually played chess and pool. One day, they started playing Texas hold’em. I was waiting for my wife, Cecelia, and I said to myself, I want to try. I took out $100 and lost it all. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was very upset. What mistakes did I make? I came back the next day and doubled my money. For the next four days in a row, I won consistently. I decided to leave my job and start playing poker.
“In Spain, poker was not legal, but it was not really illegal. We were not supposed to play for money, so if the police came, we all said we were playing for fun.
“In that private club, I played every night. I was winning every day, 25 days of the month. After a few months, there was no game because I was winning so often. Since there were no more players, I decided to come to America.”
First Trip to America
Juan Carlos reminisced: “My entire bankroll was $15,000. I decided to come to America with $2,800. Usually, I played with $500 and didn’t need much more money to start.
“I came to Atlantic City in October of 1997 all by myself. I crossed the ocean with only $2,800. On the first day, I lost $1,400; still, I had to pay the hotel bill and the food bill, and I spoke no English whatsoever. I didn’t have much money, so I tried the $5-$10 and the $10-$20 games. When things didn’t go well there, I was forced to drop down to a $2-$4 game until I won $1,000.
“Finally, I worked up my bankroll and ended up winning $10,000 that trip. Because my visa allowed me to stay for only three months, I had to return to Spain.
When Juan Carlos returned to Madrid, he wanted to play poker. He found a no-limit game with a caveat. The game went on for one hour and then everyone cashed out and started over again! Juan Carlos used that structure to practice his no-limit game.
He played so well that he earned the respect of the very best Madrid poker players. They made him an offer he could not refuse. The best players in Madrid paid for Juan Carlos to play in his first World Series of Poker in 1999. It was a 30 percent freeroll for him, meaning that he paid none of the cost of the travel, lodging, or buy-in, but could win 30 percent of the prize pool. In his first attempt, in 1999, he outlasted half the field.
The $100 Coupon to Fortune
Juan Carlos brought $1,000 of his own money that year, which he lost in side games. However, he had played at The Mirage and had won a coupon to play in a $100 tournament.
Broke and holding one small coupon to play in a tournament at The Mirage, Juan Carlos decided to play. Miraculously, he finished third and was broke no more. With $4,000 in his pocket, he said to himself: “Wow.” Then, he started playing $10-$20, and in a short period of time, he won about $10,000.
He and his wife, Cecelia, leased a convertible and went to California, where he played every day in a $15-$30 or $20-$40 game at Commerce Casino. During the first month there, he won about $21,000, and in the second month, he won $24,000. He went from being broke to having a bankroll of about $50,000 in a few short months. The only problem was his visa, which allowed him to stay in the United States for only three months at a time. So, back to Madrid he went.
The Year 2000
In 2000, Juan Carlos played in the WSOP with his own money for the first time. The first day, he was first in chips; in the end, he finished 69th out of a field of 512.
That same year, he tried his hand at the $3,000 no-limit hold’em tournament, and against 301 players, he ended up seventh, winning $22,575. He was hungry to win. He went back to Spain and worked on his game, and came back to the United States ready to win. He says that focus is everything. It is the difference between winning and losing. “Nothing is more important than focus,” he stated.
In 2001, Juan Carlos was focused at the L.A. Poker Classic at Commerce Casino on Feb. 23. The buy-in was only $330, but with 400 players and 652 rebuys, the prize pool was a staggering $315,000! After a hard-fought battle and the sort of tenacious focus that comes with a hunger to win, Juan Carlos won the tournament and $116,772.
A month later, his good friend Leandro Alvarez (“Leo”) talked him into playing in the Shooting Star tournament at Bay 101. Because Leo made all of the arrangements and they are such good friends, Juan Carlos told Leo that he would get 5 percent of his winnings for all of his help. This would end up being a great deal for Leo.
With 150 entrants, the Shooting Star prize pool was $122,850. Not only did Juan Carlos win the tournament, $44,550, and a $10,000 seat in the final event of the WSOP, he also knocked out two Shooting Star bounties at a grand a pop — Men Nguyen and Brad Daugherty.
As the story goes, Daugherty had A-A and made a good-size bet. The ever-aggressive Juan Carlos moved all in with Q-J, much to the delight of Brad — that is, until Juan Carlos flopped a queen and rivered a jack, busting Brad’s pocket aces.
Meanwhile, Juan Carlos decided that his friend Leo’s 5 percent share should also apply to the WSOP main event, since he won the WSOP seat at the Shooting Star tournament.
2001 WSOP Main Event
The ever-confident, 29-year-old Juan Carlos entered the 2001 WSOP main event, having won his seat when he won the Shooting Star tournament. And 612 other hopefuls entered that year.
He remembers it well. He had $28,000 the first day, $56,000 the second day, and $87,500 the third day. He wanted to make it to the money, which meant coming in at least 45th, and then he would start playing his best game. On the fourth day, he had accumulated $875,000.
He slowly took control of the table by using players’ styles against them. Juan Carlos recollected: “Mike Matusow raised me with the worst of it the previous day and I mucked my hand. But I have a long memory. I saw that he was raising with nothing. So, one hand when the blinds were $10,000-$20,000, Mike looked at me and raised my blind to $70,000. I knew he didn’t have anything. I decided I was going to raise to $200,000 no matter what I had. After I raised, Mike said very slowly, ‘Ray-zzz,’ and raised to $380,000. I said, ‘All in.’ Two seconds later, Mike mucked and I showed Q-8. I knew he didn’t have a hand he wanted to invest all of his chips with.”
Although Juan Carlos thought Mike was on a bluff, I have been told that Mike’s cards flashed as he threw them in the muck, exposing an A-Q. This only proves how confidence and aggression make a winner.
One Last Card
When all was said and done, it came down to two great players — the young, hungry Juan Carlos and veteran player Dewey Tomko, a proud owner of three WSOP bracelets. At the start of the last hand, Mortensen had about $4.1 million in chips and Tomko had about $2 million.
In the now famous final hand, Juan Carlos made a standard preflop raise to $100,000 with the Kclubs Qclubs. A flop of Jdiamonds 10clubs 3clubs gave him draws to an open-end straight and a flush. He bet another $100,000. Dewey, holding pocket rockets, raised $400,000. Juan Carlos moved all in. Dewey called all in with the remainder of his chips. The 3diamonds came on the turn, and the 9diamonds on the river gave Carlos his winning king-high straight.
He won $1.5 million, a gold bracelet, and the title of world poker champion.
I asked Juan Carlos to talk about his favorite hand during the tournament. Usually, a champion will describe in great detail the thought process, the cards, and the look in his opponent’s eyes during a defining moment of a tournament. Juan Carlos simply smiled and said, “My favorite hand was the last one!”
This was not the first time Dewey Tomko was the bridesmaid at the main event of the WSOP. In 1982, he lost to Jack Straus.
And this was not the first time Juan Carlos pulled a rabbit out of a hat against pocket aces. Remember the Shooting Star tournament against Brad Daugherty? Juan Carlos knocked out Brad with Q-J there.
This also was not the first time the last card of the tournament was the deciding factor. In the 2000 WSOP final event, the final card was also a 9, stealing victory from T.J. Cloutier, who held
A-Q against Chris Ferguson’s A-9. Poker can be a cruel experience; one just has to have a stomach for this game.
A Family Man
Juan Carlos spoke about his past: “After receiving a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics, I left home to live with my wife, Cecelia. We’ve been together for 15 years now. I left home and had to work many jobs at a time. We bought a house when we were 19 years old. At one point, I worked three jobs. I sold leather goods, worked in restaurants, pizzerias, and pubs, and did importing and just about anything for six years straight until I finally discovered poker.
“Still, what I like to do most is spend time with Cecelia.” I asked him what he would do if it was her birthday and there was a big tournament. He thought about it and then said, “I would celebrate her birthday … but, it’s a good thing her birthday isn’t during the World Series!”
He’s Only Just Begun
In 2002, Juan Carlos came in fourth in the $1,500 no-limit hold’em event at the WSOP, taking home $40,940.
In 2003, he demonstrated to the poker community that this handsome Spaniard was taking his poker game seriously. In February, he came in 10th in the Commerce Casino’s $10,000 buy-in L.A. Poker Classic championship event, winning $21,355. Later that year, he won his second WSOP bracelet, conquering 143 opponents in the $5,000 limit hold’em tournament to pocket another $251,680.
Then, in September of 2003, Juan Carlos made his first appearance at a World Poker Tour final table, coming in fourth at the Borgata Open in Atlantic City and winning $70,500.
2004 Isn’t Over Yet
Juan Carlos started 2004 with a bang and he’s not close to being done. In February, he outlasted a field of 212 players to win the Commerce Casino’s $1,500 pot-limit hold’em event, taking home $117,650. And that was just the beginning. Let’s look at some of his casino successes this year. We’ll discuss his phenomenal online accomplishments in just a bit.
For three recent weeks in a row, Juan Carlos was on a reign of terror at the online sites. He’s so good that sometimes he plays in four tournaments at a time at four different sites! If that’s not enough excitement, sometimes he adds a $5,000 heads-up match while he’s playing in the other tournaments. How successful is he?
A few weeks ago, he played in a PokerStars $200 buy-in event and won it, pocketing $91,000. The very next week, he played in a PokerStars $500 buy-in event and won that one, as well, for $142,000. The following week was a bad one for him. He came in only 17th, for $3,500. The guy is unstoppable.
You must be wondering, what’s the guy’s online name? Sorry, no can do. You’ll just have to watch and see who keeps winning.
WSOP and WPT Championship
Juan Carlos pointed out that he was only the second person to have won a WSOP main event and a WPT main event. The only other person to have accomplished this feat is the legendary two-time World Champion Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, who won his first WPT title at The Bicycle Casino two months prior to Juan Carlos’ WPT win. The cool part was that Juan Carlos’ WPT win was The Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship.
Juan Carlos said, “Doyle is still one of the best players in the world. I heard that Super/System is the best poker book ever written, so I bought it at the Bike when Doyle won the tournament. I read the first 40 pages. Wow, I thought. Doyle is teaching everyone the truth, and that’s why I have a lot of respect for him and his play. He’s a great player and always a gentleman.”
“I believe that poker is a people game played with cards, not just a card game played by people,” Juan Carlos explained. “I think that all players have limits, or situations where they become uneasy, and that is when I put them to the test.
“I am hard to read. I mix it up. One moment I am playing a math game, one time I’m gambling, and the next time I am bluffing and just taking the pot. I can play many different ways because of my image. Everyone over time catches the same number of good and bad cards, but winning in no-limit is all about bluffing. I don’t think it’s the cards and math. It’s like composing music, chip after chip until it all works together.”
I asked Juan Carlos if there was anything else he wanted people to know about him. With charm and a boyish smile, he cocked his head to the side, opened his eyes wide, laughed, and said: “I have a dog!
“Seriously, I love America. I do miss the friendliness of Spain. It’s a smaller place. People are in the streets, outside, and in bars; they’re accessible. In America, people are in their cars. Still, I love America. My goal is to play in the biggest game here and beat it regularly. I have a long way to go, but I’ll get there.”