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Final Table Takedown: Igor Kurganov Captures Twelfth Tournament Win and Another High-Roller Event

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Nov 08, 2017


Igor Kurganov is a Russian professional poker player born in 1988. He tends to play in the highest tournament buy-in events almost exclusively. The first six-figure cash on his resume came at the 2011 European Poker Tour Madrid event, placing second to Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier. In 2012, he captured his first major title at the EPT Grand Final high roller for $1.4 million. In 2014, he came in third at the EPT Grand Final super high roller for $1.5 million.

Even though poker is a huge passion, Kurganov is most proud of being a founder of Raising for Effective Giving (REG) along with Liv Boeree, Phil Gruissem, and Stefan Huber. The charity partners with poker players to pledge a percentage of their income to finding efficient ways of helping solve global problems. Kurganov has more than $14 million in career tournament earnings.

Event: PokerStars Championship Barcelona High Roller
Players: 86 • Entry: $57,607 • First Prize: $1,275,071 • Finish: 1st

Key Concepts: Limping strategy when a player is automatically all-in from the blinds;

Craig Tapscott: You have been on quite a heater in the high roller events over the last few years. Do you approach these events any differently than the much smaller buy-ins?

IK: I certainly come significantly better prepared to the higher buy-ins regarding sleep, exercise, food, and attention at the table. Most players behave similarly, so in terms of a competitive advantage I think that my two main strengths are being better at putting myself in my opponents’ shoes than they are at putting themselves in mine. And I have always loved mathematics, and a good intuition for mathematical problems certainly helps in poker.

Kurganov limped from under the gun (UTG) holding QClub Suit JDiamond Suit. Negreanu is all-in from the small blind. Machon calls from the big blind.

CT: Why didn’t you raise from UTG instead of limp with this hand?

IK: While this is a fairly minor detail, it is still interesting: When the big blind, or in this case the small blind player is automatically all-in, due to them having around one big blind as a stack left, many hands that one would usually open raise shouldn’t be raised anymore since some of the profitability of an open raise lies within the possibility of everyone folding and us picking up the blinds. Obviously, with a player being automatically all-in that is not an option anymore, therefore even when everyone folds we now only get something like 60 percent of the pot (rough average equity vs their hand). So, I prefer to limp with many hands instead.

Flop: JHeart Suit 9Club Suit 7Diamond Suit (pot: 255,000)

Machon checks. Kurganov bets to 80,000.

CT: You have to bet this flop to get Machon out.

IK: Well, I am ahead of the big blind’s range, so we should want more money in the pot in general and with our hand specifically as well.

Negreanu had not looked at his hand. He slowly flipped over 7Spade Suit 5Club Suit. Machon folded.

Turn: ADiamond Suit (pot: 255,000)

River: 3Heart Suit (pot: 255,000)

Kurganov wins the pot of 255,000.

CT: I am sure you were not too sad to see a player of Daniel’s caliber gone from the final table. From what I’ve heard, Daniel is like your own personal rabbit’s foot.

IK: Not at all sad. (Laughs) Busting Daniel pays off greatly at final tables. I’ve now done it three times and won the event all three of those times. Hope to see you soon, Daniel!

Key Concepts: Blind vs. blind: Trusting your reads;

CT: What read did you have on Machon up to now?

IK: Without wanting to disclose too much: I have played a few hundred $2,000 and $5,000 six-max sit-n-go’s with him on PokerStars and have an idea of his playing style. Another factor was that he has played only a few high buy-in events. I believe that this was the biggest final table of his poker career. Having said that, he carried himself well throughout the tournament.

Machon limps the small blind. Kurganov raises to 420,000 holding AHeart Suit QSpade Suit. Machon calls.

CT: You have to raise here for value. It’s no time to be tricky, correct?

IK: Yes. It is more important to get extra value with A-Q than to be deceptive, so of course it’s worth a raise.

Flop: 10Spade Suit 5Heart Suit 3Spade Suit (pot: 920,000)

Machon checks. Kurganov bets 300,000. Machon calls.

CT: After he makes this call what range are you putting him on?

IK: Well my range is ahead of his on this flop. My A-Q is a hand which will get worse hands to call like A-4, QHeart Suit JHeart Suit, etc. We are betting for value, but also denying some hands equity that beat ours 20 percent plus of the time, such as 9Club Suit 9Diamond Suit, with a cheap bet. Additionally, we are setting ourselves up to get him off a 5-x type hand if the runout allows for it. For example, a jack or similar card on the turn that makes us stronger than him.

Turn: 10Heart Suit (pot: 1,520,000)

Machon bets out 400,000.

CT: What do you make of this lead out?

IK: This is interesting. Some players like leading when a card pairs of which they have more in their range than their opponent. I think, in this case, I don’t hold a smaller amount of 10-x hands and additionally hold the stronger ones. I would certainly raise my Q-10 plus and 10-9 suited plus hands most of the time, whereas he doesn’t limp-call them as often since he also raises A-10, K-10 and suited 10-x regularly. And given that I still have a range advantage and hold more nutty hands than him, I’m happy to occasionally raise here.

Kurganov raises to 1,300,000.

CT: Why do you raise instead of calling?

IK: My hand is not optimal for a raise, but is rather a good bluff catcher and additionally blocks some of his semi-bluffs, especially with my QSpade Suit taking away QSpade Suit-Xs hands he has plenty of preflop. So, the situation doesn’t call for a raise. But according to my perception of Machon’s behavior, he didn’t seem like he had a strong hand. I doubt he’d want to lead out and put more money into the pot with a 5-x type hand here vs. an aggressive chipleader, so it appeared more likely that he’d be on a semi-bluff regardless of my blocking QSpade Suit.

Machon calls.

CT: Did you expect a call or perhaps even a reraise?

IK: Some of those semi-bluff hands he will call with. But I doubted that he would jam them over my raise due to the above range reasons. I could genuinely have a bunch of strong hands and because the pay jumps were starting to get very big. So, I decided to raise hoping to sometimes get a worse hand (a draw) to pay and sometimes a draw to fold. With both cases I am kind of happy.

CT: How so?

IK: Because in one scenario I gain extra equity and in the other I deny equity to the draw, that most likely has 14-15 outs. I am happy to take a pot and solidify my chip lead with lower volatility as it allows me to gain more equity later due to higher leverage.

River: 2Heart Suit (pot: 4,120,000)

Machon checks. Kurganov checks. Machon reveals 9Spade Suit 8Spade Suit. Kurganov wins the pot of 4,120,000.

CT: This was a big pot with four players left and you held the chip lead. Did you have a game plan to close the deal?

IK: At this stage having a significant chip lead pays off greatly and allows me to play many hands; my opponents have to kind of sit each other out and play a waiting game of sorts. So, part of my plan was to play small pots and many of them. But I planned also to put my opponents in situations where they have to anticipate that I’ll be putting them in front of a decision for most or all their chips, by timely raises or second barrels post flop.

CT: Players many time ask me how to structure a deal (if both players are amenable) when it comes down to heads-up play. I read that this deal was a little different than the norm. Can you share what that was and why?

IK: Before deciding whether to make a deal one should ask themselves how much one wants to play for. When heads-up, your stack worth is simply the price difference between second and first multiplied by the percentage of chips you hold. So, in this case I am effectively sitting with €220,000 at the table vs my opponents €105,000 and we are playing a cash game with blinds of €1,200-€2,400, that are about to increase. That’s a very big game. Machon asked me to deal, but I still wanted to play. I also saw myself at an advantage in a heads-up format given my extensive experience in these games. We ended up settling at playing for 50 percent of the prize pool, meaning starting with €600-€1,200 blinds worth and splitting 50 percent according to our chip stack sizes with me receiving a premium. ♠