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Capture The Flag -- Alexander Kostritsyn

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Aug 20, 2010


Alexander KostritsynRussian professional Alexander “PostFlopAction” Kostritsyn is one of the most feared tournament players in the game today. The 24-year-old already has earned more than $2.3 million on the tournament circuit, and was the 2008 Aussie Millions champion.

Despite his tournament accomplishments, cash games are where Kostritsyn really shines, having played in not only the biggest games online, but in some of the highest-stakes games on the planet against wealthy businessmen in Moscow.

Kostritsyn is a true rags-to-riches success story, and he sat down with Card Player to talk about how it all happened.

Julio Rodriguez: You went from zero poker experience to the highest stakes in the world in less than four years. Care to tell us how it all started?

Alexander Kostritsyn: I was living in a small city about 1,000 kilometers from Moscow. I had been playing a computer strategy game called StarCraft, and was really good at it. I was browsing some StarCraft forums and became aware of the fact that one of my fellow Russian players had tried his hand at poker and had won something like $7,000 in just a $20 buy-in tournament.

There was very little money to be made in StarCraft, so I decided that I would try to learn to play poker. The minimum deposit online was $50, and I didn’t have it, so in February of 2005, four of my friends and I put in $10 and signed up for an online account. Everyone was sharing the money, but not everyone was consistently winning. In fact, I was the only person winning.

Whenever it wasn’t my turn to play, I was reading strategy forums and reviewing my hand histories. I was winning at sit-and-gos, but I couldn’t win enough to keep the account from going broke.

In StarCraft, I was playing eight to 10 hours a day, almost as an addiction. I was always improving, and I got to the point where it was very difficult for me to lose. I’ve always been a quick learner, I guess you could say. So, you can see why I started playing poker with an expectation to win right away.

JR: What did your parents think of your newfound hobby?

AK: I had a rough family situation. My father was making money, but he was getting paid with three- or four-month delays. My mother was working, but it became clear that she was about to lose her job. I knew then that I had to make poker work for me, and I started to take it very seriously.

My mother was making the American equivalent of $100 per month. Knowing that things were about to get really tough for us, she had spent several months saving and was able to put aside about $150. She believed in me, and gave me the money to play poker so that I could help provide for my family.

JR: That’s a lot of faith to put in your child. How did you do with that $150?

AK: I won right away. At the time, I had a restriction on my account that allowed me to withdraw only $1,000 a week. Well, I won $1,000 on the first day, so I contacted an affiliate from my area, who then contacted the site in order to get my restrictions lifted.

In StarCraft, if you are the better player, you will win close to 100 percent of the time. I honestly thought poker was the same. I didn’t know about dispersion and variance, so I just figured that I’d be winning $1,000 every day. The affiliate contacted me three days later with the good news that my limits had been raised. The only problem was that by then, I had lost almost all of it. Luckily, I at least had withdrawn the $150 that my mother had given me, so I could pay her back.

So, with only about $50 in my account, I vowed to get better and not make the same mistakes. I started to concentrate on sit-and-gos and multitable tournaments, and that’s when I started to win again. But, I still wanted to get better at cash games. So, every night after the tournaments were over, I would play some limit hold’em to try to get better. For a long time, I was giving all of my profits from the tournaments back in the cash games. I was OK with that. I never approached the game with the attitude that I needed to win right away. I had no problem with winning from the really bad players and giving it to the better players, because I knew that it was helping to further my poker education.

After about a year or two, I started to win in the cash games. My bankroll got bigger and bigger, and because I had always challenged myself to play against the better players, I was able to move up in limits very quickly. My StarCraft background definitely helped, in that I was able to play 16 tables at a time on a 15-inch monitor. It was important to me that I thought about strategy before and after I played, not during. When you play that many tables at a time, your decisions should be automatic. At that point, I was pretty much destroying PartyPoker, and had won a little over $1 million.

JR: Can you talk about your experience in the private games in Moscow?

AK: I was invited to Moscow sometime later to play in some live games. I had never played live poker before, and all of a sudden I had jumped into $100-$200 no-limit games with some really good players.

On the first day, I lost $70,000. On the second day, I lost more than $120,000. That was enough for me. I went home and jumped online, and in a few days, I won all of that money back. So, then I went back to Moscow, and I lost again, but not nearly as much. The same thing happened. I went home, and won it all back, and more, online. Finally, on my third trip, I won. It wasn’t much, but it was clear that I was getting better at live poker.
A short time later, I was invited to play in another private game that was really soft and filled with rich businessmen. People think that the biggest game in the world takes place in Bobby’s Room at Bellagio, but they’re wrong. The limits and stakes changed often, but it was normal for us to play $2,000-$4,000 pot-limit Omaha. A few times, although I didn’t play, they spread $5,000-ante pot-limit stud.

JR: How did you fare in those games?

AK: These guys didn’t have the same mathematical understanding of the game that I did, but they had a great feel for the game. They knew when you were weak or when you were strong. I had made around $2 million online at that time, but I lost most of it playing $1,000-ante pot-limit stud. Luckily, I was able to stay afloat in the Omaha and hold’em games, but that stud game was just crazy.

JR: Is that when you started to play live tournaments?

AK: I really started to play tournaments only for fun, just to travel. I had won so much money online that I really just wanted to see the world with my fiancé and continue to play poker. We went to Australia for the Aussie Millions, and I was really on top of my game. I don’t think that I ever got it in bad, and I was fortunate that most of my hands held up. It was funny, because after I won, everyone was assuming that the $1.4 million was life-changing money. Not many people knew that I was already a millionaire from poker.

JR: You play online as “PostFlopAction.” How do the nosebleed stakes online compare to the private games you played in Moscow?

AK: I played in that private game for over two years, and it was a great experience for me. The only problem is that it was for such high stakes that even the current limits online don’t excite me much. I guess you can say that I’m an action junkie, because when I play online now, I’m usually cross-booking my action for 100 percent to 200 percent of myself with other people. Basically, people will call me up when they see that I’m playing somebody, and we’ll cross-book. If I lose $200,000 to the player, I owe the guy on the phone that much money, as well, and maybe even double. But when I win, I win big. The only problem is that lately, I’ve been winning when I can’t find any action and losing when I cross-book. That’s obviously not a good formula for success.

JR: Any chance that you’ll drop down in stakes in order to live a lower-variance lifestyle?

AK: My fiancé and I are getting married soon, so perhaps I’ll want to scale it back a bit. I know that I’ll definitely want to play it safer once we decide to have children. That being said, I’m at the point right now where I can afford pretty much anything that I want. I was able to give my parents a new house and a new car. So, for right now, I’m happy with my lifestyle. To be honest, even if I were to go broke tomorrow and never play poker again, I’d still be grateful for everything the game has provided me. Spade Suit