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Ivan Demidov on Politics, Putin, Zoom Poker and StarCraft
In 2008, Ivan Demidov became an icon in Russian poker.
Becoming a member of the first-ever November Nine and finishing runner-up to Peter Eastgate, Demidov took home a mind-boggling $5.8 million.
Five years later it's still enough to keep him on top of Russia's All-Time Money list.
But after all is said and done, not too much in life - or in Russia - has changed. He lives closer to the center of Moscow. He eats at better restaurants. And he still has a distaste for Russian politics - enough so that he might end up leaving the country.
PokerListings Italy's Giovanni Angioni caught up with Demidov at EPT London to see how life is progressing for Russia's most famous Zoom grinder.
PokerListings: My first question is a follow up to the interview we had during last EPT Grand Final when you said you started playing Zoom Poker… but with not too good results. Did anything change since then?
Ivan Demidov: Yes, now I've started making small profits. What changed since Monte Carlo I guess is simply that I got more experience. I've been working a lot with some software to improve my game, to work on my ranges in different spots.
It usually takes a lot of time but it’s also very useful to go this way.
PL: Can I ask which software you use?
ID: Mostly CardRunners TV to analyze different situations, then I also use PokerTracker a lot.
PL: I remember an interesting bit from Monte Carlo, where you advised young players to play on Zoom – which I think is pretty much the opposite of what the vast majority of us would do. Do you really think Zoom is a beginners kind of thing?
ID: Yes – but I advise it to beginners who want to turn professionals, to beginners that are serious about their career in online poker.
Remember when online poker just came out? Back then we had guys who played offline for 30, 40 years who were very old guys with a lot of experience.
Then, very young guys, with only one or two years of (online) poker experience had played the same number of hands or even more.
It’s the same thing with Zoom. You get a greater number of hands than when you play the usual online games. It’s better for practicing, you learn faster.
Of course, it can be frustrating if you lose or you get in a bad streak but if you want to be a professional you have to learn how to deal with it.
If you were just an amateur playing for fun, maybe Zoom Poker would not be the best for you. Otherwise you can play 30 hours a month a get a very nice volume of hands, even playing for a little.
PL: How about online poker in Russia in general? From a non-Russian point of view, my most spontaneous question is: “can you still even play?”
ID: You can still play. People worry because in the Duma (the Russian parliament) they want to pass a law … and they will probably pass it … which does not affect poker directly as there is no mention of “poker” in the text.
The law is against online casinos and online gambling, so it’s not really against poker. So I would say: 80% everything is going to fine and maybe 20% ... well …
PL: Still to me it looks like Russia has a very strange approach to poker. Just think about how they treat live poker.
ID: Yes, that one is banned.
ID: Because … you first have to understand how things are done in Russia. It works like this: someone very important did not like poker, and so they banned it. There is no other explanation.
PL: But then…does everyone just give up!? Don’t you have anything to push for legalization of the game?
ID: A lot of people try to do that - I am among those too. With some people I created an NGO, a union of poker players for talking to the government to get something done. But so far nothing has happened.
No one in the Russian parliament wants to take the responsibility of talking about poker. Maybe the economic situation in Russia will help because maybe the government will want to put taxes on it and get some money out of the game.
Maybe something will change – but, as for now, I stay on the 80%-20% situation.
PL: Lately Tatjana Barausova and PokerStars “divorced” and she is not part of the team pro anymore – do you know what happened there?
ID: Yes, I do. I spoke to her and she told me she just decided that she did not want to be an open public figure. Nothing went wrong: the contract was over and she decided to step back.
PL: I also have some questions about you as a gamer, as you started off playing games like Age of Empires, Starcraft and World of Warcraft.
ID: I like strategy games, yes. (laughs)
PL: Good. Because I can’t stop wondering if there’s anything you learned from those games that helped you and kept you going in poker as well.
ID: It’s funny – listen. When I started with poker, my day was exactly as when I played computer games.
I would wake up, sit at the computer, play for a very long time, work on my game and my strategy and chat with my friends online.
It’s hard to explain it to “regular people," to those who work in an office from 9-5. When I played computer games I did not have a workplace to go to. If I wanted to stay in and sleep I could do that, I could stay around with my friends.
Then it has been the same thing with poker. I kept doing the same thing I was doing before, the same kind of life.
PL: Game-wise, do you think there might be anything that helped you in poker coming from those games?
ID: Of course, in StarCraft you have to understand what your opponent is doing so that you can elaborate a counter strategy, see if he understands what you are doing and switches to a different one too so that you eventually keep changing.
It’s the same thing with poker. Different rules, different games but same psychology. In Starcraft as in poker I always try to structure my play.
ID: Playing StarCraft I always have a base strategy and when I see that my opponent does something particular, then I deviate from my strategy following another one. Usually I have everything planned ahead.
Of course, I cannot be ready for everything but – this helps already. In poker it's the same: I have a base strategy and if I see that my opponent starts adjusting his game to it, then I change it.
PL: As a gamer and online grinder, your computer must be a sort of sanctuary. So, seeing what happened in Barcelona to some Finnish high-stakes players, I wonder: how do you do to keep your computer secure?
ID: First of all, I don’t play from laptops.
PL: What ... why!?
ID: Because when I travel I don’t really have any time to play. I play the tournaments, some side events, do the commentary, some interviews.
PL: So you're not one of those who run to the hotel room to start grinding online after the tournament?
ID: No, really – I don’t play online when I travel. At home I just have a separate computer for playing poker. I just use it for playing, I don’t even surf online with it.
Let’s say that I hope this is enough to make it safe.
PL: You're married and have a three-and-a-half year old. How is it traveling the circuit when you actually have a family?
ID: Most of the time I travel with them, which is really nice. We were planning to come also here to London together but my wife wants to play the ladies event at the WSOPE Europe, so we decided to meet there.
It’s nice to travel with them – now that I am here alone, after I busted from the tournament I just went to my room and stared at the wall because I was depressed and I had nothing to do.
Traveling with them we would just go somewhere, have a nice dinner out.
PL: How is it to be a poker couple? Do you discuss hands, bad beats, strategies together?
ID: We don’t talk about bad beats because that would be just frustrating. She also does not like when I get mad after I lose: she understands that as a poker player but … well … then she gets mad too.
She is playing Open Face Chinese now and I am trying to help her with math calculations. I don’t really imagine myself with anyone else though, especially with someone who is not a poker player. It would be hard to say “you know, I played well but I lost 10K."
PL: As I know you are from Moscow, one of the most chaotic and expensive cities in the world, I wonder: how did things change after your big score at the WSOP?
ID: The biggest thing I did was move from the suburbs to the center of the city. Before I needed 40 to 50 minutes by subway to get there, meet with my friends or go to the movies … now it takes me 5!
Not much else though. I still don’t have a car.
PL: Well, maybe because driving a car in Moscow would be like committing suicide …
ID: …yeah, no need of a car there if you can avoid one. But nothing much changes. I still go to the same places, have the same friends.
Yet, Moscow itself changed a lot since I won at the WSOP. Now we have a lot of things, nice restaurants, nice places to hang out.
You know, traveling a lot as I do, I have very high standards for restaurants. I remember when I used to go back to Moscow thinking “Shit! I don’t have any place to go to."
But now it’s getting better. Let’s say that now, everything that is not run by the State in Moscow is becoming much, much better. In the area I live in, at least.
But then, wait. I still don’t like the city.
PL: Don’t you?
ID: No. Too much traffic, no parks in the center, things like that. Sometimes I go to European places and it’s so different. Take Berlin …
PL: Berlin is nice, isn’t it?
ID: Yes it is nice but I'm used to if at 3am I want to go somewhere, everything is open in Moscow. In Berlin, in Europe … it’s all closed!
PL: Ok, then let’s say that your 20% beats the 80% and Russia shuts down online poker. Would you move out of the country? Where?
ID: I would definitely move if something goes wrong. I that happens, at first, I would probably move to Kiev because it’s easy. Otherwise, I like California.
PL: You'd move to the U.S.? Really?
ID: If they legalize online poker, why not? I also like Barcelona.
PL: Oh, but there you would end up playing on the .es online poker system. Would you really do that?
ID: I heard they want to change it and they want to put Italy and Spain together.
PL: Which probably sounds like free money for you, doesn’t it?
ID: (laughs) Yes, maybe.
PL: Very last thing – if you don’t want to answer to this, no problem. But what do you think about the Russian government and it's treatment of homosexuality?
ID: I don’t like what the government is doing and I participated in some rallies as well – to be honest Russian politics really depresses me, and that’s one of the reasons why I might move away.
I don’t see the situation in Russia changing in the near future. I still hope and I still try to help – but I don’t see it changing. So, really, that’s one of the reasons why I might leave Russia at some point.