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Poker in Russia

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

The first time that I was in Russia was actually the first time that I went abroad for an international poker festival. The event took place at the luxurious Cosmos Casino in Moscow, and was hosted by Mel Judah and Keith Sloan, if I remember correctly. Later, I also went to Petersburg a couple of times, for poker as well as for holiday/culture. When in Petersburg, I even had the pleasure of finding some of my articles translated into Russian in one of the Russian poker magazines - and I can tell you, "Ace Speaks" looks quite interesting when written in Russian. People from all around Europe loved the luxury and the class that this country had to offer, especially to those with a decent enough bankroll. And I can assure you this: Combining a few nights of poker with some special trips to the Kremlin, the Bolshoi Theatre, or the Hermitage means that almost inevitably, you will return to your home country a much richer man. Just like Mel and Keith, I too was convinced that the future of European poker would be in Russian hands.

And indeed, once I had been playing for a living for about one or two years, more and more Russian players started traveling the circuit. Out of nowhere, we suddenly had 10 to 15 Russians at every major event. They were very successful right from the start, and for some time, it looked like the Russians would take over and start dominating poker in Europe.

I guess it is safe to conclude now - say, five or six years later - that this has not happened. If we talk about dominating forces in Europe right now, we would first and foremost think about the Scandinavians, and to a lesser degree the British and the Dutch. But even though the Russians may not be as dominating as some of us thought they would be, there can be no question that a few individual Russian players are part of Europe's poker elite. For instance, people like Alex Kravchenko, Alexander Kuzmin, and especially Kirill Gerasimov show on a consistent basis what they are capable of doing.

In this issue, our cover story features probably the most approachable of all Russian players, Kirill Gerasimov. In addition to all of the prizes that he has won, he is just a likeable guy who serves as a perfect role model for young, up-and-coming Russian players. (The fact that, especially a few years ago, he had a striking resemblance to Matt Damon will not have done him much harm with regards to his popularity, I guess.) In fact, Kirill has been one of the main reasons that, for quite some time, we have had one of the best former tennis players in the world at almost every major event. After meeting Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the Shangri-La, they became friends instantly, and in return for this friendship, Kirill tried to coach the former tennis star into becoming a great poker player, too. Kirill told me, "Well, yeah, that's what I tried, but the truth is, Yevgeny doesn't really want a teacher. He likes to look, but he doesn't like to listen (laughing)! And yes, it's true, it seems like he has lost interest a little - but I still hope that he will soon be back at the poker tables again."

The cover story about Kirill features special emphasis on his remarkable style of play. Enjoy! spade