Poker Coverage:


Costa Rica – Past and Present

by Eugene Katchalov |  Published: Jan 25, '13



As much as I travel most of the year for poker, 2013 started off for me in Costa Rica and completely poker-less.  Besides visiting one of the head offices of Pokerstars and its super friendly staff for a few hours, the rest of the week I spent with friends just hanging out at a beach house.  It was a lot of fun, weather was beautiful and I came to realize that I don’t eat nearly enough BBQ throughout the year!  Being from Central America, my friends cooked up some incredible fish and meats but nothing was as memorable as the time they made some incredible Burritos.  It reminded me of how good South and Central American food is in general and really makes me look forward to hopefully going there again soon.  This trip was overall without any unforeseen surprises and I had a great time.  The last time I was in Costa Rica before that, however, was a completely different story.


Visiting Pokerstars Office in Costa Rica

My first time in Costa Rica was either in 2004 or 2005, I can’t quite remember.   That’s not very important though in comparison to what happened to me there.   I was in my early 20’s and just barely started to play poker and it’s probably fair to say that it was my first poker trip.  My friend Paul Wolfe, who was more experienced in poker at the time and taught me a few things about the game, invited me and a couple of friends of mine to go down there for a poker tournament and vacation afterwards.  That was one of the first times I went somewhere outside of my local underground games in NYC and remember that I met Humberto Brenes there, whom up to that time I’ve only seen on TV and found that quite exciting!  The tournament itself was a lot of fun but quite uneventful for us.  We were treated very well and I enjoyed the overall experience.  Once we were done with poker, we took a long drive to a beach house and were looking forward to starting our ‘vacation’.


We arrived at the beach that evening and as the weather was warm and beautiful, we decided to go for a swim in the ocean.  As it was around 6pm, there were barely any people at the beach, lifeguards were gone and the waves were quite high.  Excitedly, my good friend Illya Trincher and I decided that it would be a good idea to go jumping into the incoming waves and letting them carry us back to the beach.  At the time, I was not in particularly great shape, but Illya was very athletic as he was just finishing up a career in Tennis that he was training for all his childhood.  With every jump into these waves, we were having so much fun that after about 15 minutes we didn’t even realize how far offshore we were carried off and that we were now barely even able to stand.  At that point we looked at each other and decided that this would probably be a good time to start swimming back.  A few minutes go by and suddenly we realize that instead of getting closer to the shore, we are actually being carried off further and further into the ocean and are no longer able to feel the ground beneath our feet.  With waves crashing on us from behind, panic began to set in and we started getting quite nervous.  About 10-15 minutes go by and I suddenly find myself running out of energy and starting to swallow seawater that keeps splashing me from behind.  At that point I start feeling a type of helplessness that I’ve never experienced before and really just did not see a way out for myself.   A few more minutes had passed and now I barely had anything left in me.  I yelled to Illya that I just couldn’t go on anymore and needed his help.  Being very athletic at the time and with much more energy in general, he grabbed me and continued trying to get to the shore any way possible.  After a few more very long and agonizing minutes, miraculously we were able to get close enough to finally feel the sand beneath our feet and stand up.  As we finally crawled onto the beach in relative safety, all that I remember is that I was quite nauseous from not only the extreme life and death situation that I was just in, but also from all the sea water in my stomach.  I passed out on the sand for about 2 hours before I was finally able to regain my energy and go home to recuperate.


I now have an immense amount of respect for the power of the ocean and never venture out further than waist-deep.  I consider myself very lucky in general to have learned this relatively ‘cheap’ lesson without too much harm.  Illya has remained my good friend and business partner throughout the years and I remain grateful to him for saving my life that day.  Without his help I just don’t see a way that I could have gotten out of that situation and probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this story.  Though it has been almost a decade since then, we both remember that incident quite vividly and still talk about it sometimes…usually with him jokingly saying that the only reason he saved me was because he wouldn’t know what to tell my dad if he came back home without me.



The post Costa Rica – Past and Present appeared first on Eugene Katchalov.

Eugene Katchalov has been a professional poker player since 2003 and is a World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour champion. The Ukrainian native has won over $8 million on the live tournament circuit and is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.

You can read more about Eugene on his website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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