Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Poker Couple: John and Oleysa Kabbaj

by John and Olesya Kabbaj |  Published: Mar 01, 2006

John and Oleysa Kabbaj

Names/Ages/Places of Birth

John Kabbaj, 32, Birmingham (England)

Olesya Kabbaj (maiden name, Lopatko), 27, St. Petersburg (Russia)

Marital Status/Children

We've been married for about four years now. I've got one son from a previous marriage, Jamie, who is now 10. Olesya and I are planning on having children in the very near future.

Current Jobs

I've been a poker pro since 1995.

Desperate housewife!

Education/Previous Jobs

I studied at the University of Lingualistics, in order to become a German and English teacher in Russia. In Moscow, I used to work at a travel agency, at the Incoming Department for Foreigners – which meant arranging tickets, visas, and so on. This is how I got in touch with poker, because I was hired by Keith "Bendigo" Sloan to arrange things for foreign participants in Russian poker tournaments.

I quit school when I was 16, and from then on had lots of jobs. I was a builder, and did things like painting and decorating. I was working at Heathrow Airport in the Import/Export Department when I won the Christmas Cracker at the Vic. I quit my job the very next day.

How did the two of you meet?

I went to Moscow to play a tournament, and Olesya was the assistant tournament director for Bendigo. Two weeks later, I went back to St. Petersburg, knowing that she would be there. I then took her to my mom's in Spain for Christmas. I first got her a tourist visa so that she could stay with me in England for six months, and then a fiancée visa. Then, we went to Sharm El Sheikh on holiday, and it was there that I proposed. And despite the fact that my phone started ringing just as I proposed, she still said yes.

Highs and Lows in the Relationship

The high was the World Series in 2003. We had been going through a rather tough year, both in poker and our relationship. Frankly, in the first year of our marriage, one could say our relationship was struggling somewhat; I guess you could call that our "low." Then, John took second place in the $3,000 no-limit hold'em tournament, a two-day event with 800 runners that lasted three days. It was the longest final in WSOP history. Despite winning no less than $260,000, John was still a bit upset at first, because he didn't win the bracelet. But this big win was a clear turning point for us. You know, even though the money shouldn't matter, it is strange how little problems simply disappear once your money problems are gone – and things have been great ever since.

Poker Accomplishments

The WSOP second place, obviously, but probably just as importantly, the fact that I don't rely on tournaments. Recently, I have not booked many good tournament results, yet on every trip, I've won money because of my cash-game results. I now play regularly in the £10-£20 pot-limit Omaha games at the site of my sponsor, Littlewoods, and sometimes bigger games than this, as well, up to £25-£50. If I'm honest, I'd say that my career won't be complete without a bracelet. But I have accepted and realized that simply making good money for us and our future family is a viable goal, too.

John has actually taught me how to play, and I have been sitting behind him for days, watching him play. I already have booked some minor tournament successes in Monte Carlo and St. Kitts, and I now hold my own in online sit-and-go tournaments and £1-£2 no-limit hold'em cash games.

Goals for the Future

Frankly, what we want now is children, and for this reason we are busy buying a big house in or around London. The plan is that John will continue to be successful in the games, while I am going to take care of the children.

Yes, and we hope that when the children are big enough, they can simply travel along. Many venues like Vegas, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Amsterdam, and St. Kitts are not just good for poker, but are also great places for children to relax and have fun.

And Finally …

Because of the – in the eyes of some – strange life that we lead, we have lost quite a few of our friends who don't play poker. Some think that what we are doing is a bit "odd." But, I hope that once we've got children, we will be able to turn our lives into a more normal, accepted way of living. I know that Olesya will be the strong link here, but I also want to do my own share. I didn't see my son very often when he was a little baby, simply because I was always so busy – and I just don't want to make that mistake again.