Mikhail Shalamov: “Russians Now Among Strongest in Online Poker”

mikhail shalamov
Mikhail Shalamov

One of the lesser-known PokerStars Team Online Pros Mikhail Shalamov has an insight into Russian poker that very few do.

Living in the Ural Mountains Shalamov keeps busy by snowboarding, photography, writing, taking care of his son and of course online poker.

A true grinder, Shalamov once recorded 40,000 hands in 24 hours although he admits he lost nearly $15,000 in the session.

We caught up with Shalamov at EPT London and talked about the state of Russian online poker including heavyweight contenders Alexander Kostritsyn and Trueteller.

PL: Mikhail, we haven’t seen you at an EPT tournament before. Live poker doesn’t seem to be your thing?

MS: I play one or two major tournaments a year. I love to travel to those, but when you play cash games you have to focus more on your EV.

So, I see trips to EPTs more as vacations. And it is my very first time in London. A long trip from Jekaterinburg in the Ural, where I come from.

PL: Your English sounds well educated for someone who has never been to London.

Alex Kostritsyn
Alexander Kostritsyn: party game aficionado.

MS: Thanks. I had it in school from the age of 11 and for a long time I was into rap music and translated almost every single Eminem song. Also, I have watched every single Friends episode in English without subtitles.

PL: If you follow chats and online discussions, a lot would say Russian online players have a certain playing style. Aggressive, sometimes with weird hero calls, hard to bluff and willing to risk way too much money in one spot.

MS: That doesn’t sound too good and is more true for the recreational players. If you look at the professionals I think that Russian players are now some of the strongest in online poker.

Young people from the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, even with a university degree don’t have many options to earn good money.

It’s hard to get a good salary. So poker can be an exit out of a bad situation.

PL: You say you are more a cash gamer. Do you know Alexander Kostritsyn, who now is the most successful online cash game player of the year?

MS: We met in 2010 at the PCA and played Mafia, a party game that is very popular among poker players.

You can see that he has a lot of talent. I don’t know how much he dedicated himself to learning the game but it is really obvious that he learns much faster than other people on his level.

But I cannot say how strong he really is, because he plays mixed games and I play mostly NLHE.

PL: But there are some Russian experts in the high-stakes NLHE games also...

MS: Yes. For example Trueteller and forhayley, they are both Russians and I have discussions with them a lot in Skype. For me, they are both closer to being real poker wizards.

They have all the information about how to play the hand perfectly every time, how do play the range.

Trueteller is actually considered by many poker players to be the best online cash game player in the world. He learns new poker games and new strategies so fast.

PL: Like what?

MS: One example. When PokerStars introduced the cap games on the nosebleed limits and everybody started to play the same way, he actually was the first to limp buttons, which nobody else did.

He had an excellent winning rate at the Cap-PLO tables, he was the first player to make one million dollars in these games and had twice as much profit as the second best player.

He is now getting involved in 2-7 Triple Draw and I am sure he will soon dominate this game, too. His brain is dedicated to playing poker.

PL: But you never met him in person?

mikahil shalamov
Mikahil Shalamov

MS: No. I guess not more than five people know who Trueteller really is. But forhayley had the most popular blog in the Russian poker community.

He doesn’t blog anymore, but is in the top news topics every day. He stopped blogging because of his activities on the Nosebleed Limits.

He said to me: “If you risk that much money in one session you better give zero information about yourself and your game to the public.”

PL: Do you have any experience with online high stakes?

MS: Yes, I used to play these limits two years ago. But once I lost about $60k in one session and it was such a big hit that it took me about one year to recover from it emotionally.

I think I am done with it forever and better stay in my comfort zone.

PL: Whereabout is that?

MS: No-Limit Holdem, $10/ $20. Up to 18 tables. Zoom.

PL: You play 18 tables of Zoom simultaneously?

MS: No (laughs), that’s impossible. I either play 18 tables or six tables zoom.

I play four to five hours the day, if I play regularly. In one year, I don’t play more than 1,000 hours, which for me is just okay, so I don’t burn out.

PL: What is the annual income you can achieve with that?

MS: I am going every year for Supernova Elite. If you reach it, you earn 130,000 dollars benefits. That is a solid annual income.

PL: Is that in danger? The Russian government seems to think about taking over the whole internet in Russia and could then cut off all private providers including online poker sites.

Bertrand Grospellier
Mikhail Shamalov has been known to 18-table.

MS: First fact: it is legal to play online poker in Russia. Or at least, they cannot do anything against you.

If the owner of an online poker site doesn’t operate from Russian territory, it is okay.

The latest news that I got is that they try to control the internet by saying that you have to keep all information about Russian citizens on Russian territory.

This meant nothing else, other than that Facebook and other social media would have to buy or rent a service from the government for a certain territory in Russia, which could have been cancelled whenever they wanted.

But the law is suspended and hopefully will never be discussed again. But I must confess that all the recent changes in Russian politics at least give you something to worry about.

PL: What do you think about the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine?

MS: I am not too much into politics. I know there is a conflict and the only thing that I know is that I prefer to live in an open-minded free world, without war and, by the way, any economic sanctions.

I cannot buy some European food anymore and I heard from people they got some problems with their visa for the US for example. This all disturbs me very much.

PL: You seem to like a challenge. You once held the record for the most hands played online in 24 hours. A record what was later broken by ChicagoJoey…

MS: Yeah, he needed really 24 hours for his 50,000 hands. I made my 40,000 in 18 hours. But my brain died at the end of this session.

Man, I also lost of money that session. (laughs) It cost me $15,000 dollars and that is the reason why I never did it again.

PL: And then there was your marathon in New York.

MS: It started with a bet with my friends about running two miles.

But then I got so interested in training myself running that we changed the bet to a marathon. I made it, but it almost killed me.

I needed more than five hours for it and got overpassed by 60 year old women. If someone would have made a bet with me about that, I would have taken it on for a lot of money. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

Interview by Dirk Oetzmann and Christian Henkel

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