Monday, June 01, 2009

WSOP Day 5: Vitaly Lunkin Who?

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

Quiz time.

Which Russian has won two bracelets in the last two years?
A. Ivan Demidov
B. Vitaly Lunkin
C. Alex Kravchenko
D. Teddy KGB
E. Pavel Chekov
OK, this was sort of a softball quiz. For all of you Trekkies out there, you know that Chekov was part of the crew on the Enterprise. And Teddy KGB doesn't really exists and simply part of the imagination of Brian Koppleman, the screenwriter from the Citizen Kane of poker flicks... Rounders.

So it's really a three part question. Demidov and Kravchenko are top Russians pros, but it was Vitaly Lunkin who emerged as the first Russian to win multiple bracelets at the WSOP.

I warned the poker world shortly after the November Nine about the Russians....
The shift in poker power in Europe is being played out at the final table in Las Vegas. The Scandis are the old guard but right now we're seeing a migration of power towards Eastern Europe led by a Russian offensive. As poker gains more and more popularity in that part of the world, we're going to see more top notch players emerge from the ruins of Eastern Europe. The Russians are coming whether you like it are not...
Wow, I actually sounded like I knew what I was talking about. But yes, the Russians are coming.

Photo by Flipchip

But I gotta say, that I completely dropped the ball with Vitaly Lunkin. I had no idea who he was. His name was in red on Full Tilt, but these days, that doesn't mean as much as it used to.

Sure, he was a bracelet winner, but his victory in a $1,500 Donkament went unnoticed by the majority of the poker world, mostly because it was just one of a handful of bracelets won that week at a final table that contained several unknown players. In addition, Lunkin does not speak very good English and he wasn't a highly sought after interview. Perhaps the language barrier is a contributing factor to why we don't know too much about him.

I had the sense that he wasn't part of the Russian syndicate, but then again, maybe he was one of the horses from behind the Iron Curtain. Over the last year or so, a mysterious wealthy Russian, let's call hi Comrade X, has been staking young Russian internet pros (Ivan Demidov, Stanislav Alekhin, and Alexander Kostritsin) and older established veterans (Alex Kravchenko). I'll let you draw your own conclusions to how Comrade X acquired his wealth to emerge as largest poker horse owner in the former Soviet Union. Oil money? Running cigarettes in the Balkans? Caviar smuggling in the Caspian sea? Who knows. But the bottom line is that as the major staking syndicates in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have been putting less money on the street in previous years, the Russian money has been dramatically increasing. Which means, bet that another Russian will win a bracelet this year. I dunno who it's gonna be, but that's where the money backing the horses is originating from. Mother Russia.

Vitaly Lunkin. I guess he officially earned his red name on Full Tilt. He has more bracelets than Erik Lindgren and Phil Gordon combined. Should we anoint Lunkin a saint for winning both a donkament (last summer) and the largest ever buy-in NL event? (Then again do we count the 50K HORSE from 2006 when they played NL at the final table because it made for "good TV"? Nope. HORSE doesn't count so Lunkin deserves all the credit for being the biggest swinging dick in the Amazon Ballroom right now.)

That's an impressive feat... winning one of the lowest buy-in events at the WSOP and the next year taking home a bracelet in one of the highest buy-in events.

Did Lunkin luck box his way to the bracelet? Maybe his first one was facilitated by some good fortune bestowed upon him from the poker gods. You can't fade a field of 2,706 donks without catching cards, running good, and sucking out left and right.

But how about Lunkin's victory in $40K NL? The field was much smaller, but the players were significantly better and was a fair representation of the top 100 NL tournament players in the world. Let's face it, if you're one of the best, you're gonna be in that event regardless of bankroll.

For the most part, he had rarely showed down any hands for the majority of the final table until it got short-handed. Most of the other players got out of Lunkin's way when he did play a pot. Perhaps it was his tight-aggressive image? Yeah, much like Alex Kravchenko, Lunkin had alligator blood in his veins and managed to have so much stoic discipline to not get involved in bad situations. Ah, that's something quite the opposite compared to the hyper-aggressive lagtard Scandis that I'm used to seeing on the European Poker Tour.

Lunkin came into the final table second in chips behind Isaac Haxton, who was most known as the guy who had 800K stuck in Neteller when the federales froze everyone's account if they were from America. Haxton eventually got his money back (sans interest, of course) and he was on the verge of erasing that memory and becoming the kid who won the $40K bracelet.

The chip lead changed hands too many times to count over the duration at the final table. Ted Forrest and Noah Schwartz were short stacked and couldn't double up early to make any noise. Dani 'Ansky' Stern was also on the short side to begin with but he dug in deep and managed to avoid early elimination and finished in 4th place. Zee Justin, who many online pros felt was the best player at the final table, ran into an unfortunate hand when his Jacks lost to Haxton's Aces. Greg Raymer took the top spot at one point but he could not hold it together long enough to make a run at the final two.

Haxton and Lunkin had two contrasting styles, with Haxton playing more aggressive to Lunkin's subdued demeanor. At one point, both heads-up players were deep stacked and everyone from the ESPN crew to Change100 covering the final table hand-for-hand were expecting for a very late night. But the two traded significant pots where Lunkin took the largest lead of the heads-up battle. It was over shortly afterwords.

And over on the other side of the room, most of the railbirds flocked to watch the Champions Invitational which featured Main Event champions in a non-bracelet-made-for-TV event where they played out for a little red Corvette and the first ever Binion's Cup. But sadly, the masses missed a bit of poker history happening right under their noses.

Thang Luu. Who?

Photo by Flipchip

Thang Luu might be the best low-limit O8 player in the world. He won his second bracelet on Sunday night when he took down the largest-ever $1,500 Omaha 8 tournament at the WSOP. Last year, Luu won the same event. Back-to-back victories is very impressive, but then add the fact that Luu took second place in a similar O8 event ($2,000 O8) at the 2007 WSOP when he lost heads up to Frankie O'Dell. I think Change100 covered that event and she knew O'Dell's reputation around the L.A. card rooms for being a degen-broke-dick. He had so many people on the rail waiting to get paid back the money that O'Dell had borrowed from them over the years. Anyway, if O'Dell was on a mission to pay off his debts, then we'd be submitting Thang Luu's name for poker saint hood.

First. First. Second. Thang Luu is an Omaha 8 god among hobbits.

* * * * *

Boucnin' Round the Room on Day 5....

"Can you stake me in a Venetian event?" one dealer asked me. I shrugged it off because I don't back players anymore. In the hallway, I overheard another dealer try to solicit backing in a similar Venetian event. "Are you interested in buying one-third of my action?" he pleaded into his cell phone.

The cash games on Sunday night were the busiest that I had seen all summer. All those donks who busted out of the Donkulus needed something to do before they went home. The cash games are generally contained to the red tables but shortly before Midnight, the staff expanded cash games into the orange area. They almost filled tables as far as up to the press box. Lots of rake was generated the last two nights. With over 6,000 entrants in the Donkulus, there was a high demand for cash games. I also tell my friends that they should skip playing in those $1,500 donkaments and take the money to play in cash games instead. Those are far more profitable.

Kudos to Change100 and Shamus for their stellar coverage of the $40K final table. I'm amazed at Change100's focus for hand-for-hand. It's not easy and she does it better than me. With the exception of BJ Nemeth, no one in the business does that sort of coverage better. And I was also impressed with Shamus' color commentary. I'm glad that he finally got a chance to showcase his writing ability. If he wasn't already cranking out content for Hard Boiled Poker, I'd add him to the Tao of Poker All Stars!

For WSOP photos? Check out BJ's stellar WSOP photography over at Poker Road and don't forget about Flipchip.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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