Enigmatic Russian player Alex Bilokur broke into the poker world with a win in a €2k side event at EPT Berlin in 2010 for €174,000.
It was just the beginning.
Just three years later Bilokur prefers playing only the biggest High Roller events in the world - one of which, the $25k High Roller at the PCA in 2012, he won for over $1.1 million.
He followed that up last August with a runner-up finish in the €10k EPT Barcelona High Roller for €295,451, pushing his career earnings up over $2m.
Today, he's fifth overall with just 12 players left in the €25k High Roller at the EPT Grand Final and in position for another big score.
So who exactly is this guy? PokerListings Russia's Artur Kurvits caught up with Bilokur on a break in Monte Carlo to find out just what success in poker means to the 37-year-old Muscovite.
PokerListings: Alexey, how did you get into poker? What inspired you to make such a move at not such a young age?
Alex Bilokur: Everything started pretty easy. When I was studying at the Military Academy, it was 15 years ago, we played poker often or other card games. I liked it a lot, as all gambling games.
Then I had no opportunity to play seriously, so I went into business and started my own. But after graduation as an MBA Executive I had some free time since I reallocated some of the responsibilities to subordinates.
Now I can devote time to go to tournaments and play there.
PokerListings: What attracted you to poker?
AB: I love this game. Actually I had no real conditions to start a poker career. Sure I played some online poker but I didn't have any special results - I was just break-even.
In 2010 I went to EPT Berlin, won a side-event for €2,000 and began to play more. Although poker is still a hobby for me.
PL: It's that simple?
AB: Yes, there was no history of incredible stories, it just happened. At first, it was more for fun and then I began to learn the game, understand it more and wanted to succeed in poker.
All the time you have to move forward. I noticed an athletic component of the game and since I had played sports all my life - mostly boxing and football - I liked the atmosphere of the competition.
PL: What is poker for you now?
AB: This is a favorite game. It’s not a job. But to be a tournament player - it's not "fun" necessarily but it is rather pleasant - more like a "heavy" form of recreation.
PL: How do you divide your time between business and poker?
AB: Now, probably 70 to 30 in favor of business.
PL: Do you plan a list of poker tournaments that you will play in advance, or it depends on the business?
AB: I'm still the owner of the business, so I can plan my schedule as I want. The EPT doesn't have too many stops and all of them are in my favorite cities, so I'm happy to play all of them.
PL: I see you always in the same white glasses. Lucky ones? How did you feel about superstitions in poker?
AB: Glasses – yes, I hope at least that they are lucky. I like them, they're a simple and cheap but they grew on me. I love them and always play in them.
Although I usually wear other glasses, I play in these.
As for superstitions, some of my friends say they won't shave during the tournament, or change clothes, but I do all of these things. None of these will bother me.
PL: Why do you prefer to play in High Roller events?
AB: High Rollers motivate me more than Main Events. There are always only good players and you ultimately watch the game, study every action, try to guess their cards and make the right decisions.
In this case, I don't like to play Main Events because you often come across weaker players who play against the laws of logic. Sometimes I can't begin to understand where I am in a hand. And it sometimes knocks me off balance.
So playing Mains I really don't love. It's hard work, you play five long days. The element of luck is much more important than in the three-day High Roller.
PL: What qualities are needed for a High Roller event then?
AB: First of all, you need endurance and patience. In Barcelona I had it until we hit heads-up, then lost the initiative simply because of laziness, despite the fact that I felt superior to the opponent. It gave me a lesson.
PL: You always play with your own money and don't use backers?
AB: No, only my own expense. I prefer to back some other Russian players.
PL: Why is that? Why is backing so popular among Russian players?
AB: This is more a factor of friendly support. I have a lot of players or friends only supported in order to enable them to participate in the tournament.
Not on the basis of their ability or skills, but only because they are my friends. For me, the financial component is secondary. I'm not trying to make money with backing, this is for me only fun.
PL: How do you spend your prize money?
AB: That money has nothing to do with my business. I try to separate poker and business. So this money goes to support friends and for my next buy-ins and poker series. Everything remains in the poker industry.
PL: Will you make it to the WSOP this summer?
AB: Sure, the goal is clear - Las Vegas, I will play a lot of tournaments. I just want to win a bracelet.
The point is not in the money. As I said, the financial component for me is not important, the main thing is the result.
Tune in to the EPT Grand Final live stream right here on PokerListings for bonus coverage of the High Roller final table tomorrow.