There’s a certain mystery that surrounds the Russian poker scene.
Over the last few years Russian players have been thriving on the international poker scene but the language barrier has kept many of the country’s biggest poker stars from breaking out on a larger scale.
That cannot be said, however, of charismatic Moscow native Anatoly Filatov.
Filatov seems to be involved in all aspects of the game and speaks English very well.
He’s a consummate grinder at the WSOP, he’s the Team Manager for the Moscow Wolverines in the GPL and he even won last year's PokerListings Spirit of Poker Award for Most Inspirational Player in a landslide vote.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” he said when asked about being an ambassador for the game.
“I like it. I stream on Twitch, try to answer questions and I’ve participated in several conferences. That’s kind of my role.”
Filatov Out of The Shadows, Into the Spotlight
There’s a simple reason why more Russian players haven’t made a huge mark on the poker world, according to Filatov.
“Russians don’t like to speak English a lot so we’re kind of closed-off sometimes,” he said.
“In two or three years or maybe five years I think there will be more well known Russian players,” he said.
Russians may not like to speak English but they certainly know how to win tournaments.
Andrey Zaichenko won the $1.5k 2-7 Triple Draw and Viatcheslav Ortynskiy took down the $3k PLO 6-Max event at the WSOP this summer.
They could have a couple more if it wasn’t for some bad luck.
“Our community isn’t running so hot right now,” said Filatov.
“Andrey Pateychuk finished 15th in the $2k Hold’em and Mikhail Petrov placed 16th in the $1k Turbo.
“I’m hopeful we can win a third bracelet this summer.”
It helps to have a close-knit group of players to discuss strategy.
“We’re not as close as the German poker community but we usually discuss some things over WhatsApp or conference calls,” said Filatov. “Various hands and strategies.”
“We have a few different groups.”
Filatov Behind Wolverines' Exceptional Play in GPL
Filatov is the Team Manager for the Global Poker League’s Moscow Wolverines. The team has easily been one of the most dominant squads over the course of the inaugural season.
Filatov decided to do something a little different with his picks and chose mostly Russian players. It’s a strategy that seems to have paid off.
“It was my plan to pick up the guys that I could connect with,” he said.
“Other teams and players seemed to be quite separate. We’re all together. We eat dinner together and discuss hands. I like that. We all speak the same language too."
Of course the other factor for the Wolverines has been the actual play of Filatov who’s absolutely crushed when called upon to play for his team.
“I feel pretty confident,” he said.
“We’re in first place and I like the experience in the Cube. I really enjoy watching my teammates like Sergey Lebedev and others. We have fun in there.”
For many poker fans Lebedev has been a revelation on the GPL. It’s thanks to Filatov that he’s getting that kind of exposure.
“Sergey Lebedev is running so hot right now,” said Filatov.
“He’s had a lot of success on the EPT and he just finished 7th in the $5k NLHE here at the WSOP. I think he will play the $111k One Drop High Roller too. I definitely think he could win it.”
Living a Poker Life in Moscow
While Russia has turned into a powerhouse on the international poker circuit, the game is in a strange place back home.
Poker still exists in a legal grey area.
“They’ve been talking about legalization for two or three years but nothing happens,” he said.
“Maybe this year they open Sochi or Crimea or something like that. They’ve made a zone for live tournaments. Maybe they legalize online poker. I don’t know. I hope so.”
There are other options in Moscow of course but Filatov isn’t a huge fan of unregulated live games.
“I don’t play [the underground games] because I’m scared of getting defrauded,” he said.
“I prefer to play online in winter because you don’t want to leave your home. The weather sucks, it’s snowing and all that. It’s a lot harder to play online during the summer, I’d rather be outside.”
Unfortunately the politics are so volatile in Moscow that Filatov fears he may be forced to leave the city someday.
“I don’t want to move but with the politics always changing I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stay there,” he said. “I do love my city though.”
The Russian Poker Style
So why have Russians become such a force on the international poker circuit? Do they know something the rest of the poker world has yet to learn?
“It’s kind of different,” explained Filatov. “We’re famous for our crazy bluffs. We’re improving every year though."
"Russians play more solid these days because the game has changed and there are less amateurs. We’ve had to change our range.”
With two bracelets already heading back to Russia this summer Filatov is hopeful at least one more can be added to the haul before the 2016 WSOP is complete.
Filatov himself has had a mediocre WSOP with only one cash in 16 events. He finished 31st in the $3k 6-Max event.
“That’s how it goes,” said the still upbeat Filatov. “I’ve been playing until dinner or just after and then busting.”
With the $10k Main Event looming, it’s a perfect time for Filatov to find his form.