Commentary

The Russian Revolution

Updated: March 20, 2009, 3:19 PM ET
By BLUFF | Philip Conneller

We suspected it might be the case, and once again there is evidence to support our fears. Yes, Daniel Negreanu is the poker equivalent of Nostradamus. Not only can he see through your cards, but he also knows the nationalities of those who will rise and come to the fore. We're all doomed. The Russians are coming, and they want your money.

Months back, Kid Poker said: "Poker's popularity is surging in Russia. You can expect to see more Russian names winning on the European Poker Tour and other major international tournaments in coming years."

We guess it's natural. In a country where chess has always been an obsession, the Russian psyche adapts well to poker. The Russian economy has experienced steady growth over the recent years, which means at least some Russians have money to gamble with. That, and there's 145 million of them.

Okay, so a Russian didn't win the WSOPE, but for hours John Juanda must have felt like Michael Caine in "Zulu" at the final table. While there might not have been thousands of them, Juanda was surrounded by two Russians, both ready to take the chips out of the Full Tilt pro. And you know what? Ivan Demidov and Stanislav Alekhin are just two of the new breed of Russian sharks waiting to take your rubles.

It's All His Fault: Kirill Gerasimov

He was the man who almost won the inaugural WPT Championship event back in 2001. He eventually finished second to Alan Goehring, who was so happy to have won the first USA-vs.-Russia battle on the big stage that he did a silly little dance when he won the lot. Gerasimov took home $506,625 and his dignity, after not doing any silly little dances. …

That was just the beginning for Gerasimov, as he decided to start making WSOP final tables for fun. In 2003 he made his first, in 2004 he landed two final table appearances, and then the following year he got another one. The summer of 2008 witnessed his making another two final tables, including a fifth-place finish in that really sick final table at the $5,000 pot-limit Omaha with rebuys event (eventually won by Phil Galfond).

Chances of winning a major event soon? High. Chances of a silly little dance? None.

Alex Kravchenko
AP Photo/Jae C. HongAlex Kravchenko finished third at the WSOP main event in 2007.

Alexander the Great

Alexander Kravchenko took on the mantle of the great Russian hope after he burst onto the scene at the 2007 WSOP, cashing six times, including a fourth-place finish in the main event. That wasn't the highlight for Kravchenko -- that came when he won the $1,500-limit Omaha high-low event, becoming the first Russian citizen to win a bracelet. He's a diverse player, having landed fifth at the 2007 WSOP Europe HORSE event, as well as third in the Moscow Millions the same year.

After running amok at the 2007 World Series, Kravchenko overtook Gerasimov as the leading money winner among Russians, and his live tournament winnings stand in excess of $2.6 million. That's a lot of vodka!

Kostritsyn: Also called Alexander, also great

While Goehring might have denied Gerasimov, the Russians overcame the Las Vegas pros Down Under at the 2008 Aussie Millions. Alexander Kostritsyn was an unknown coming to the final table, but when he dispatched Erik Seidel heads-up to take home AUS $1.65 million, the poker world began to wonder just how many more of these "unknown" Russians were left …

Cue the Terrible Twosome: Ivan Demidov and Stanislav Alekhin

We'd like to say that Ivan Demidov was first thrown into the limelight by becoming one of the November Nine, but it was more a gentle stroll into the WSOP main event finale. Much of the public attention -- what there was of it -- was focused on the likes of chip leader Dennis Phillips, young gun Scott Montgomery, or the man with the funky nickname and the arrest warrant, David "Chino" Rheem. Perhaps he was a little agitated at not being one of the favorites, but Demidov sure changed that in London.

Ivan Demidov
AP Photo/Isaac BrekkenIvan Demidov finished second and third in the two WSOP main events in 2008.

As he made it to the finale in London, he became the first to complete the double of European and stateside main event final table appearances in the same year. Then for hours it looked as if he would win the European version, pole-vaulting to an early chip lead with the likes of Negreanu, Juanda and Scott Fischman around him. A couple of pots -- which he later admitted he played "pretty poorly" -- cost him the win, but the eyes will be on him whenever he sits down at a table.

Meanwhile, the man who took on John Juanda in the longest WSOP heads-up battle was another of those unknown Russians. Stanislav Alekhin might not been tipped for a win before the tournament, but the men in Moscow obviously knew something we didn't. Russian Stanislav owned only a small percentage of himself at the main event after he and several others pooled their resources to put their young hopes out into the field of battle. It turned out to be a prudent investment, with Alekhin only a fraction away from becoming this year's champion.

They're not all good, though.

Back in 2007 a story was making the rounds that was worthy of Dostoyevsky himself. A Russian man found himself short of cash at a poker game and decided to gamble his beloved wife. As is always the way, he lost his missus to Sergey Brodov, who eventually turned up at Tatiana and Andrei Karpov's place to claim his prize. Naturally, she was somewhat nonplussed when she heard the news that she'd been lost in a poker game and promptly divorced her husband to go live with Brodov. Aw, unlike Dostoyevsky we love a happy ending. If you want our advice, though, don't gamble your wife with a Russian -- there's a good chance he's the next big thing.

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