If Petter Northug’s ski career ever goes south, he might have a future in poker.
On his second day of play at the 2010 World Series of Poker on Friday, Northug quadrupled his chip count and watched Swedish rival Marcus Hellner exit the tournament—giving Northug a victory in the Las Vegas challenge set up for the two skiers by his sponsor, Vi Menn Magazine.
“It was a good table, and I played good poker,” Northug told Vi Menn.
Half of the 2,400 players that began on Northug’s second day were eliminated; another group of 2,600 play Saturday, and will experience similar attrition. All the roughly 2,500 surviving players, including Northug, will return to the tables on Monday.
Prize money will be awarded to the top 747 entrants, and this year’s winner’s share amounts to over $8.9 million, according to information released by organizers.
With his 130,000 chips, Northug appears to be well-positioned to continue in the tournament. According to multiple Norwegian news sources, Northug has been playing aggressively—fooling other players with bluffs and losing few hands throughout the day.
That left an impression on the rest of the tournament. According to Vi Menn, the Olympic medallist attracted attention from ESPN camera crews, as well as Sigurd Eskeland, a Norwegian poker professional.
“Petter’s games today were incredibly strong,” Eskeland told Vi Menn. “All the pros are impressed with how he plays.”
Hellner, who started the day with 40,000 in chips—nearly 10,000 more than Northug—did not fare as well. His stack dwindled throughout the day, and he was eliminated as it drew to a close.
While Hellner is travelling back to Sweden, Northug will remain in Las Vegas until he is out of the tournament.
While the images filtering back to Norway have mostly been of Northug sitting at a card table, according to Vi Menn, he has trained every day in America—including intervals on the treadmill Friday morning with his brother, Thomas.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.