The Notorious Man Bijt Hond Twins

The Notorious Man Bijt Hond Twins

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Meet the de Meulders.

Here’s an idea. We’ve taken two extremely handsome twin Belgian TV stars turned poker professionals and put them on a remote island. We’ve given them a gorgeous female team mate - why not fellow PokerStars pro Fatima De Melo? Yup she’s here too! We’ve also flown out some other random qualifiers and they can all face off in a Battle Royale leaving only one Survivor. This is definitely one of my better ideas!

Oh. This has been done? Really? Malaysia? They went to Malaysia??? Nice...that’s nice.

Twins 2

Ok, we’ll get onto their appearance on Survivor (or Expeditie Robinson as they call it in Belgium) later. As for now, we have have brought the twins on an even greater adventure! Once again our young heroes find themselves stranded on a island battling against strangers, wondering who soon will become friend or more likely.. well, almost definitely, foe. The aim of the game is the same - use your wit, nerve and cunning to survive. It might not be as remote or as beautiful as south-east Asia, but for one weekend this past October, we played Survivor; Isle of Man.

We ask Matti his thoughts of the challenging environment he’s been dropped into to do battle for the weekend “I compare it to a stop we have in Belgium called Spa. It’s a very relaxing, tranquil space. There isn’t a whole lot to do. But I like it”. “With Spa,” adds Chris “It has a home court advantage feeling. You know everyone; it’s a nice community. I think it’s really important that these regional tours are here, because it’s really visible to the players. It’s also a great chance for a get together. It kinda feels like a reunion; twice a year everyone gets together. It’s a really good experience. We also know a lot of the PokerStars staff here on the Isle of Man and we’ve had a tour of HQ, so we have a home court advantage here too”.

“I think with tours like the UKIPT, there seems to be a sentiment that everyone is in it together, no matter what the outcome” continues Matti. “That might be some people” interjects Chris “but I want to win everything I play. “Yeah, but during an EPT” Matti replies, taking back the conversation, “there is more pressure, stress and competition involved, because those are obviously much bigger tournaments. Tournaments like the UKIPT have players who maybe come to play once or twice a year, and will have more locals. So the vibe is more loosened up and chilled”. The brothers sum up the event well. Although the venue looks like any other EPT, the lower buy-in and the unique location, give it a much more relaxed feel.

It’s the first time in the Isle of Man for Matti and Chris and as we meet up on an idyllic Saturday, the weather is perfect - we have the sea and the cliffs as a backdrop whilst we sit outside the Villa Marina, home to the UKIPT, where Chris will soon be starting day 2 after making it through Day 1 with just shy of double his starting stack. Matti and myself are just left to ponder what could have been and go through the post mortems of our ill fated efforts and the unique dynamic of PokerStars employees being allowed to play in the tournament. What did Matti think of the calibre of the Stars employees game? “In the Main Event, they put up their own money (the buyin is a not insignificant figure of £770) so, they’re not going to be doing that if they are clueless”. “You’re right” agrees Chris, “the staff who were playing seemed alright. Although, I do think if you’ve been out of the game for a year or two (PokerStars staff cannot play on either the PokerStars site or at any of their other live events) you’re going to be rusty and not be able to keep ahead of the curve. They’re still definitely better than most amateurs, it’s not like they’re the weak spots.”

Matti and Chris have joined a host of PokerStars Pros and Team Online members to fly the flag on the tour's home stop. Other noteable flag bearers are the champ himself, Chris Moneymaker, Ike Haxton, Vicky Coren, Jake Cody and Mickey Petersen. It’s clear that this is one of the stops where team members are encouraged to swing by. But how do the twins organise the rest of their schedule?

Twins 3

“Most of the time we do everything together,” admits Chris. “I guess it obviously depends on our life situation at the time. Most of the time if one of us qualifies for something and gets a package, it gives the other one an incentive to either buy in or to win a seat-only qualifier. We also have some stops that we are sponsored for by PokerStars which we play together. I guess we always try to do stuff together. The poker world is a lot easier to handle if you have a brother or a friend on your side. You need someone to be able to vent at. It’s an emotional game, it has ups and downs, and obviously when you win you want someone to be able to share that with. When you want to whine and trash talk abit, you want to be able to do that behind closed doors. You also have a good advisor in your brother. You know each other inside out. Not just their tendencies, but their comfort level, so when you have discussions about hands you can be really talk objectively and honestly about stuff”.

One of the things you might find odd about the poker world is that you can talk to word class players who have seemingly been printing money for the last few years and they’ll tell you that they have siblings who still don’t fully know the rules of poker - let alone know how to play. The De Meulder twins are one of the very few sets of siblings who have both had success in the game. When they discuss their professional relationship, it seems to be perfect for poker, you wonder if there are any drawbacks.
“I guess it does have a down point” says Matti. “It’s sometimes better to have another point of view. Because we actually play pretty similar. We have the same constructed ranges and taught each other the game. I guess, sometimes we don’t really get to a solution; we don’t actually know what the right play is. There are still some spots where every choice can be alright, but also where every decision might be bad. So that’s where external influence might be handy”. “We have lots of external influences” replies Chris in an almosted frustrated tone. “No, I know, continues Matti, “That’s why we have a pretty broad group of friends within the poker community. We don’t have the same guys we hang out with all the time. I love diversity - I know Matti does too. It’s just cool to have different people to hang out with and get advice from”.

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This is true. Although they may be extremely close - their natural extrovertness, charm and ridiculous good looks leads to them having a wide variety of friends with whom they can discuss their hands with and you’ll often see either or both of them holding court in the middle of a crowd on the breaks of any EPT stop.

Sharing each other's highs is obviously fantastic, but naturally, sometimes you need to be there for the lows too. As well as the everyday bumps and scrapes that a tournament pro will go through during the grind, there will be a time where once you start to get a bit of success. Once you and your peers start playing the game to a high enough level, you might see a close friend getting some stick from strangers on the forums and maybe even on TV. It can be bad enough seeing a friend end on the rough end of a bit of trolling - but how does it feel if it’s your brother getting stick? The De Meulders would both class their feelings as..“indifferent”.

“Yeah, we both feel an indifference to general opinion” states Chris. “Because general opinion is typically not very well founded. I guess not necessarily indifference - it’s nice to have people who like you. I try to go with constructive feedback and criticism - but anything else... I don’t really read it - It’s like a blur, it doesn’t go inside my head. I don’t read it and I don’t think anyone else should.”

A good outlook to have. It’s perhaps a hard concept to grasp, to be able to easily put aside critism that’s directed at you. But it’s something the guys learned from an early age, as Matti tells me.

“When were young we did a TV show, so at that point in time we were already taught not to care too much about public opinion and just to stay relaxed and be yourself. For us, that has never changed. In poker, it’s also a very important skill to have, because there are loads of forums and places like Twitter and Facebook”.

Due to social media, It’s pretty insane how any random person can call out a famous person directly and that person will get to read or hear about it. It’s something we see a lot in poker and the twins have used their experience as child stars to realise sometimes it’s just better to treat the bad vibes like water off a ducks back.

Poker players get a bit of hate in places like the TwoPlusTwo forums. But the hate from the general public when you gain real celebrity - that’s a different beast altogether...

Two years ago the boys headed off to Malaysia to take part in Expeditie Robinson. The reception they got from the general public watching at home was, how shall we put it?.. You remember Big Brother’s 'Nasty Nick', right? Y’know, the guy who got so much hate even the Financial Times ran a story about him!! Yeah that guy” Man, what a guy! Well, they obviously were not as vilified as much as that guy (seriously, though what a guy - he actually made up he had a girlfriend who died in a car crash, so they wouldn’t nominate him - and for the record he didn’t get one nomination before his plot was found! Not one!) Ok, enough about Nick Bateman. What the brothers did share in common with Nick was that they decided to treat the game like an actual game. And the point of the game is to win.

“We got a lot of criticism about it because we played it, lets put it, pretty optimally? We tried to play the game right. People just didn’t really understand. We played tactically, which made the game non-emotional for us and we tried to make the right decisions, just like in poker, so nothing was personal. But we were portrayed as these “heartless, evil people”. We got a lot of shit from it. I really didn’t care about the public opinion, but our mother was reading it. And one day I got a phone call from a friend who said that there was a really big discussion online and your mother is involved. Basically people were just berating us. Calling us “scum” and saying we should die. It really hurt our mother; and when that happens, it’s a different story, particularly when it’s meant to be just a fun game show.

Twins 5

Hearing this seems like the boys are complaining. They’re honestly not - to an extent they find it both interesting and funny, the way that the public view people and their actions. After all, they signed up for the show, you naturally expect some backlash - but maybe ease off on the death threats next time folks. As Chris puts it “There’s a saying: winners focus on winning and losers focus on winners - and it’s true, that’s the way it is."

The twins were on a TV show when they were nine. Man bijt hond, which Google Translate (other translations services are available) reliably informs us means Man Bites Dog. Yeah, we’re stumped on that one, too.

So the premise of the show was that Matti and Chris would be babysat by a famous Belgian sports star or celebrity and then hilarity ensues. As Matti tells us: “They started a show around us called Babysitter of the Week. We would basically spend the day going around with a famous Belgian celebrity, asking them all kinds of cheeky stuff. Pretty much anything a grown up would be scared to ask”. The kids were spotted after appearing in Total Eclipse, which incase you missed it, stars a very young Leonardo DiCaprio. “That led to us being in a casting database and then there was a production house who were looking to launch a series with kids, so we got an audition. They said we were too young to do it, but they realised that we had a great dynamic and zero-fear of the camera, so they started a show around us called Babysitter of the Week”. This is cool and all, but come on, it’s Belgian TV, you probably only had a few viewers right, Chris? “We had a million viewers every week”. Right. That’s a lot. “It’s 1/6th of the Flemish speaking population”. 1/6th??.. What’s Flemish for blimey?

So, you’re all wondering who these “famous” celebs are right? We asked Matti, but we knew it’d probably be Jean-Claude van Damme. That’s pretty much the only Belgian from the nineties I can name. Has to be him!
“The most famous people we met were probably the Spice Girls”... The Spice Girls?. Verdraaid! (that’s the Flemish for Blimey by the way). Matti, like a true nine year old during spice mania asked the question millions of children at the time needed to know “I asked Geri Halliwell what size bra she wore” That if more proof were needed, shows that from the beginning, these two were destined for success.

Tags: Matti de Meulder, Christophe de Meulder