Monday, November 10, 2008

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

After a 117-day wait, we're down to two players remaining in the 2008 WSOP Main Event. 6,844 players bought into the Main Event last July, which seems like an eternity ago when the Amazon Ballroom was transformed into the killing fields and we were knee deep in donkey blood. I also overlooked a lot of the sheep that were led to the slaughter as they juiced up the prize pool. There's still around $15 million up for grabs as both Peter Eastgate and Ivan Demidov having their eyes on the coveted $9,152,416 first place prize and all the honor and glory that accompanies the winner of the WSOP.

The next champion will truly be a world champion and either a Scandi or a Russian will take it down. I covered a good share of EPT events over the last couple of years and clsoely watched the premiere players in Europe. The Scandis (Sweden, Norway, Denmark) are among the best poker players in the world. Despite what Phil Hellmuth thinks about the skill level of players from Northern Europe, those uber-aggressive Scandis in hoodies or with perfectly messy hair are among the toughest to play against.

It's the bleak Scandinavian winter of discontent. Too many hours of darkness, not enough light. Many of them turn to online poker to help retain their sanity which is why that area of the world has been a fertile breeding ground for top notch players over the last decade or so.

But there's a new poker hotspot in Europe and this one is located in Mother Russia. Since the collapse of communism, Russia has struggled with entering the free market and shedding the shackles of the former Soviet empire. And in the last several years, the Russian economy has been fueled by oil. Black gold. Although oil production has slipped a bit, the earlier part of the decade was a boom for Russia. All of a sudden there was an influx of oil money trickling into all parts of the economy.

And just as the Texas rounders fleeced wealthy oilmen in East Texas in various card games in the 1960s and 70s, so too did their Russian counterparts in the earlier part of the 21st century. The Russian sharks had a feast on the fat cats. I have never been to Moscow, but I've heard several wild stories about some of the insane cash games where billionaires are donking off millions and millions of dollars at the table every couple of hours. Poker is a viable source of income in Russia.

Most North Americans are familiar with a fictional Russian poker player - Teddy KGB. And yes, the NYC underground card rooms have their fare share of wild and wacky Oreo chomping Russian players in track suits, but not too many of them were staples on the various tournament circuit. Ralph Perry (a Russian immigrant via Brooklyn) made the final table of the WSOP the year that Varkonyi won, but he was not as popular as Kirill Gerasimov, who was the first big named Russian player to get lots of media exposure due to his good fortunate during the early seasons of the WPT.

Over the last couple of years, the top Russian players have been making an impact. Alex Kravchenko won a bracelet at the 2007 WSOP and also made the final table of the Main Event. And earlier this year, Alexander Kostritsin headed down under and won the Aussie Millions after he beat Eric Seidel heads up for the victory. And don't forget about a couple other Russian transplants from Brooklyn such as Sweet Svetlana Gromenkova (the 2008 WSOP Ladies Champion) and Alex Bolotin.

Ivan Demidov
Photo courtesy of Flipchip

Ivan Demidov admitted that Kravchenko's appearance at the final table last year was an inspiration not only to him, but to many young Russian players who looked up to Kravchenko. Prior to the November Nine, Kravchenko was number one on the all time Russian money winners however, he will lose the top spot to Ivan Demidov since the young gun is guaranteed to win $5+ million later tonight. That would instantly put Ivan Demidov into the number one spot.

So right now, 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.

But let's not jump the shark just yet, although I firmly believe that five and ten years down the road, poker historians and pundits will look back at the heads up match up between Peter Eastgate and Ivan Demidov and say that was a defining moment in tournament poker, when the Russians made a run at the Scandis in the quest for supreme poker prowess.

In my final table preview post I wrote, "There's a good possibility that we could see a Demidov and Eastgate showdown." Now you understand why I wrote that.

And of course, the biggest winner in all of this will be PokerStars and other online poker sites that are actively seeking new areas of the world to conquer. The Northern European market is oversaturated, but Russia and Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic) is an enticing emerging market.

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Chipleader - Peter Eastgate
Photo courtesy of Flipchip

Peter Eastgate is on the cusp of making WSOP history and kicking Phil Hellmuth in the junk in one swift motion. Only Ivan Demidov stands in the way of Eastgate winning the main event and becoming the youngest champion of all time. Hellmuth held that distinction since his victory in 1989 when he beat Johnny Chan heads up for the title. That was 19+ years ago and despite the influx of young internet players over the last few years, Hellmuth has been able to retain that record for almost two decades.

I can tell you right now, that Hellmuth will be rooting for Ivan Demidov. I wonder if the Poker Brat will show up waving an old-school Soviet flag?

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I thought about writing up a recap of yesterday's events, but I'll let the live blog (in the post below) stand on its own. No sense in repeating myself and I'll save my commentary for an overall recap once the heads up match is complete.

I do suggest that you listen to the latest batch of Tao of Pokerati episodes... the shortest poker podcast in the business mainly because Michalski and I have short attention spans and we're too lazy to actually produce anything bigger.

I believe we recorded around ten or so. Michalski should be posting a few more shortly over at Pokerati.

Anyway, all the descriptions were penned by Michalski. So, here you go....
Book 4: WSOP Final Table

Episode 4.1: WSOPenn & Teller (2:04)
Pauly and I are back ... watching the biggest sit-n-go in the history of poker, very live-ish from the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio. As fans were filing in, chips were being unbagged, and 4 months of semi-hyped anticipation was getting underway, we are nice guys looking to share our observations with you.

Episode 4.2: Root, Root, Root for the Short Stack (3:17)
As action gets underway, Pauly and I check out the crowds and the difference in expectation between Dennis Phillips' and Kelly Kims' fans before debating the name of the whole shebang — November Nine, bleh — while paying homage to Robin Leach and noting that the PBR Rodeo, which is also in town, is going nuts over the chance for a cowboy to win $1 million. Puhlease.

Episode 4.3: Double Up! Double Up! (1:20)
I'm having some trouble with properly title-ing this stuff ... but follow along, as "Book 4" is definitely the event going on here at the Penn and Teller Theater that we are discussing. This time, Pauly and I witness a double-up by Kelly Kim, much to his fans delight, who are suddenly fueled with new hope for a better poker day.

Episode 4.4: Bustin' Outs (2:43)
The action picks up, with Craig Marquis and Kelly Kim busting out ... Kim had some of the best fans, and for Marquis, it's all sickness ... sick to go out when he did, sick to go out how he did, and as a result, he goes home with nada, or at least nada mas. Kim, on the other hand, has an extra $300k ... and we can only assume his friends and fans are out celebrating that achievement.

Episode 4.5: Boo Berry (4:18)
Last Woman Standing Tiffany Michelle shows up and gets an unwarm reception from the crowd, perhaps inspiring her to play up her "bad girl" image? Oooh.

Episode 4.6: Poker Rogue (1:05)
I go rogue to bring you the bustout of David "Chino" Rheem — supposedly the most serious pro at the table, but also the guy with the most serious criminal record. Dude knows how to play hardball, though, as we’ve all seen him on ESPN get hella lucky to get here, and the (unconfirmed) word buzzing around the room is that he was a contract holdout with PokerStars, reportedly threatening not to wear his gear without more money attached to it. To be sure, much of this is just rumor second-hand from quasi-reliable sources, but on Tao of Pokerati — especially without Pauly to keep me in check and Benjo to keep it funny — does that really matter?

Episode 4.7: Pokerstarzistan (2:04)
At dinner break, Dr. Pauly and I discuss Chino Rheem's bustout interview and its political inspiration, along with PokerStars' domination over Full Tilt. (Four Stars players left, one Full Tilter.) In fact, there’s even a rumor we start discuss about PokerStars' intentions to start its own country — which would be theoretically feasible, and would probably have the best prisons.

Episode 4.8: Livin' on a Prayer (4:57)
Upon reaching the Final Four, Pauly coins Dennis Phillips as "Mr. F-in' Rollercoaster", and from there we look at the strategy in play, make assessments of the time (and playing styles) it will take to get to the final two, and officially declare victory for PokerStars.

Episode 4.9: The Novembrists (5:31)
Ylon Schwartz check-raises with nothing into the nuts of Peter Eastgate, and Pauly and I begin the countdown and begin speculating on what two Eurokids (and maybe even Dennis Phillips) will mean for poker/PokerStars... and where poker is in Europe these days. But are Russians dead money or just scary? Maybe a little bit of both? Plus advanced blogging strategy by Dr. Pauly.

Episode 4.10: Ivan Moneymaker (3:29)
Either that or Peter Hellmuth. As we wind down the day yesterday and look forward to tonight’s action, that’s what’s at stake — either we'll have a new youngest main event champion ever, or the Ruskies will have a new national hero. Meanwhile, Dan gets his facts wrong, but does Pauly even care when he can’t see the final f-in table.
To listen to old episodes, visit the Tao of Pokerati archives.

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The conclusion of the final table will begin at 10pm local time on Monday night (or at 1am on Tuesday morning for all of you East Coasters or 6am GMT for the Europeans).

Check back in with Tao of Poker for live updates from the Rio.

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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