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The Steady Growth of a Likeable Russian

'Master of the Short Stack' Kirill Gerasimov and his constant achievements -- plus the stories behind some of his amazing comebacks

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

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Kirill and his amazing comebacks
The first time that I saw Kirill Gerasimov was in Petersburg, five or six years ago. Together with my fellow countrymen Marcel Lüske, Rob Hollink, Ed de Haas, Rolf Schreuder, and Kosta Anastasyadis, I was there to represent my home country the Netherlands in the European Nations Cup Challenge. I believe it was in one of the side events when I first noticed this charismatic young Matt Damon look-alike whom everyone in the poker community was talking about. His name is Kirill Gerasimov, and in no time he had built a reputation of being the strongest and most successful Russian player. And in this event that I watched, it didn't take me too long to see exactly why he had this reputation.

At the final table, Kirill had lost a big pot and was down to just one chip. And by "one chip," I don't mean one big chip, or even one random chip; he was down to the lowest-denomination chip in the tournament. In fact, in the pot he lost, the dealer was about to hand over all of his chips to the winner of the pot, but Kirill stopped her and said, "Please count the pot again. I don't think my opponent covers me." And when the dealer recounted, it indeed turned out that Kirill had one chip more than his opponent - and thus was still in the event.

The look on the dealer's face that seemed to say, "Gee, why all the fuss about this one chip," didn't disturb the young Russian at all. He said, "Hey, one chip is one chip. Even with just one chip, I still have a shot at winning." And, of course, in the end, that is exactly what he did.
This was not the only time that I saw Kirill make an amazing comeback. At the final table of the €220 limit hold'em event at the Master Classics of Poker a few years ago, he was down to just two or three times the big blind. And yes, he won that event, too! In both tournaments, I saw a likeable young man with amazing perseverance and an unparalleled unwillingness to ever give up.

So, what are his secrets?
When Kirill and I sat down for a chat during the World Poker Tour event in Paris, I asked him if he uses any special strategies, or if it all is based on just one simple thing - his excellent mentality.

He explained, "Well, Rolf, for me, things are like this: When you have chips, you still have a chance. Occasionally, you may get lucky by people letting you keep your blinds, buying you some extra time. A few years ago, this was quite common, and it helped me tremendously when I needed to survive. Nowadays, this has become much more difficult, because people play much more aggressively and actively go after the shorter stacks. However, because people nowadays are sometimes overaggressive with hands that don't warrant it, you can employ a patient waiting game and still be successful. But I have also tried to change my game in such a way that I am not just a good survivalist, but also someone who is capable of aggressively taking charge. Quite frankly, I have tried to combine the survival style of Garry Bush and the aggressive "always steal and bluff" style of Marcel Lüske into one balanced overall strategy.

"However, this doesn't mean that my game plan always works. On one of those occasions when I really tried to run over a table, it backfired quite a bit. I am certain that many people will remember it; it was in 2003 during the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio. At the final table, it was the strong Alan Goehring who had a huge chip lead. I busted one guy, then Alan busted two. I then busted Phil Ivey - and before I knew it, Alan and I were heads up for the title. Things had gone so quickly, and this being the first time that I had been in front of all the lights and the TV cameras, I was feeling pretty nervous. In fact, I probably had gotten caught up in the action a bit too much, because unlike my regular, rather conservative style, I had been playing very aggressively - with many bluffs and huge overbets. However, these bluffs had always been in pots that were already fairly big. But in the heads-up stage, I made a big blunder: I went for a massive bluff in a pot that was very small. Alan had a monster, and easily busted me. Despite the fact that I had fought so hard and so well to get back into this event, I gave it all away in one hand when I simply hadn't thought things through well enough."

No big wins overseas just yet
When Kirill and I think back about how things were five or six years ago, when all the Russians started traveling the circuit, we agree that it is quite surprising that many of the Russian stars back then are still big right now - while not all that many young, new Russian faces have come to take their place. This is in contrast to the entrance young Kirill had made back then. After an incredibly successful run in his home country during the first year of his professional career, he showed Europe what he was capable of doing in 2002, when he won the first-ever World Heads-Up Championship in Vienna. This was despite his limited experience abroad, and despite a very tough draw.

"In the first round, I was up against Erik Sagström. Low on chips, I fought my way back into the match to win it, only to find that in round two, I had another big name up against me: Surinder Sunar. In the semifinals, I was faced with Tony G., and, obviously, he is not someone you like to play heads up. But I won that match, too, and then in the final, I won against ... well (laughing) I guess I forgot who it was. And despite the fact that the €60,000 prize money was fairly moderate, it did put my name on the European poker map.

"Nowadays, I don't play that many tournaments; however, I do go to the U.S. to play in the big events, like the WPT and the World Series of Poker. So far, I have booked many decent results and a few second places, but I have no wins. And in my book, second places don't count. It is about winning events, and so far, I have not been capable of doing that, unfortunately. However, I hope that soon I will be able to show the Americans that I am also capable of winning events."

One more remarkable play
"One of the most remarkable plays of mine - at least in the eyes of some - did take place in America, though. It was in the $1,500 no-limit hold'em shootout at the 2005 World Series. There were 10 players at a table, and you needed to beat them all to go to the next level. You know how it works. Anyway, I played my regular strategy and we ended up heads up, and my opponent and I had even stacks of about $7,500 each. I had the 10heart 6heart. On a flop with two hearts, my opponent bet and I called. The turn was checked, and the river was a blank. The final board was Aheart Jclub Kheart X X, and with just about $2,000 in the pot, I didn't feel like going for the big bluff. So, when my opponent checked, I simply checked it back, showing my 10heart 6heart for a busted 10-high flush draw.

"Now, this is when things got strange. My opponent started making a scene that he hadn't checked and that he wanted a floorman for a ruling. I thought to myself, 'Why call the floorman for such a small pot? Why all the fuss for a nothing pot to begin with?' Anyway, a ruling was made that he was allowed to bet, and he then bet all in. Now, quite obviously, with my mere 10 high, I could beat only about 10 combinations, including hands like 7-5, 7-4, and so on. With the pot being so small, and knowing that if I simply let it go, I would have an excellent chance of beating him anyway, it seemed silly to call such a huge bet with a mere 10 high. However, for all the world, this looks like a total bluff to me, and I know that if I don't call, I will feel bad afterward. So, I called the $6,500 river bet, and sure enough, I was right. My opponent had been trying to take advantage of this situation, attempting to buy the pot with 7-2. So, my 10 high scooped a massive pot."

Goals for the future
While Kirill had an amazing first year as a poker pro, especially in Russia, where he seemed to be one of the final three players in just about every tournament he played, nowadays he rarely plays in his home country anymore. The only game that he still plays occasionally is the $50-$100 blinds pot-limit Omaha high game in Moscow. But more often than not, he can simply be found online. He is very successful there, especially in the pot-limit Omaha games.

By consistently playing at a very high level, Kirill is one of the most steady poker pros around. In the future, he will continue to play especially online, slowly trying to move up in limits even more.

"You know, Rolf, in poker, things are simple. You cannot allow yourself to stay at the same level; you need to move up, and continue to tackle new games, apply new strategies, and so on. So far during my career, I have not had even a single losing month, and every year has been better for me than the year before. Now, this is something that I am very proud of. However, I hope that I will also be able to win a major televised event soon, either in the U.S. or in Europe. My guess is that it's about time now - don't you agree?"

Right after this interview, Kirill went to Vegas, where he played in almost all of the WSOP events. With some excellent results, like a ninth-place finish in one of the no-limit hold'em events (for a $35,532 prize) and a third place in the $5,000 pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better event (netting him $112,095), he was one of the best-performing Europeans. However, he again couldn't reach his ultimate goal - coming home with a bracelet.spade