Crimean Poker: Putin Bets, Europe to Act, Poker Pros Weigh In

Most poker players - and particularly younger players - live in a semi-permanent, hermetically sealed poker bubble.

Play poker. Watch poker. Talk poker. Travel for poker. Sleep (occasionally). Repeat.

And fair enough. If you want to get good at this game these days, you need to put the hours in. If you're playing poker 12-16 hours a day, online or live, it's also pretty hard to keep up with what's happening in the world-at-large.

If you're a poker player from Russia or the Ukraine, however, you don't have the option of turning the outside world off. It finds you. And especially in recent months, with ongoing political unrest and rioting in Kiev during the recent RPT to the current stand-off over Crimean sovereignty.

While calling it a form of "political poker," as many news organizations have, is undeniably a stretch there's no question the struggles of their countrymen and women weigh heavily on the minds of poker pros from both countries.

PokerListings' Christian Henkel caught up with three high-profile pros at EPT Vienna to get their thoughts on the situation.

Eugene Katchalov (33), Team PokerStars Pro, born in the Ukraine, raised in the US

“It doesn’t really affect my daily life because my whole family emigrated in the early 90s. But I have a lot of friends in Kiev and so I am worried about the situation. So I am staying up to date and always reading the news.

Eugene Katchalov

Ukrainian-born Eugene Katchalov

"It is a little bit strange though. We are Ukrainians, but we left the country before the Ukrainian language turned into an official language. So, I only speak Russian.

"The discussion about that issue (Crimea) is more a dispute between the social levels and socialisation than nationalities. I would be surprised if poker players from Russia and Ukraine would really get in trouble over that.

"The conflict is very difficult to understand and I am sure there is a lot of strategy involved from all sides. It is actually hard to know what the right thing to do is. But some people get really hurt and that’s why I dont want to bring that too close to a poker game.

"I go to the Ukraine a couple of times every year. The last time in fall last year, shortly before the protest begun. I represent the Ukraine as the only player for PokerStars.”

Maxim Lykov (31), EPT winner, born and raised in Russia, recently left the country

"The situation is hard to understand. If you live in Russia you get the impression more and more that the government leads the country more and more back to the 19th century. The politicians behave like kings and for people like me it’s time to move to Europe to have the chance to lead a normal live.


Russian Max Lykov.

"It is not right to take a part of another country, doesn’t matter what happened 50 years ago.

"I check a few news sites in the morning and don’t think about it too much during the day. The Ukrainian poker players are more affected by the situation. So, we talk with them more about their personal situation and sorrows.

"There are not too many discussions about the higher level of this conflict and to think about that in poker terms is more your job as journalists. Players like me can play on the EPT or in the US. But the poker middle class in the countries of the former Soviet Union were really happy about their opportunities in Kiev, before the rebellion.

"The city has its own charm and a lot of mid-range tournament series, including the Russian Poker Tour, have taken place. Now it’s all over, and these poker players have no replacement for that. We hope the new government can stabilize the situation soon.

"Otherwise we have the same situation like in Russia: a lot of illegal poker games and no real security for the players.”

Ivan Demidov (32), born in Moscow, WSOP Main Event runner-up 2008, still lives in Moscow

Ivan Demidov

Ivan Demidov

“People that have never been to Europe or the US are way more likely to believe the stuff they see on Russian TV etc. But if your main source of information is the Internet then it is different.

"It is not that simple though. Among internet users there are still a lot of people that support the official Russian point of view. But the percentage is definitely smaller, compared to the TV audience

"I still live in Moscow at the moment, but I am planning to buy an apartment or house in Riga (Latvia). To get a permanent residence there, so I’ll be free to travel in the EU.

"We haven't decided yet if we’ll move there completely or if we’ll spend half of the time in Moscow and half in EU. But all the recent political events have definitely made me scared.

"I like to argue with Ukrainian poker players :) So I’ve spent a lot of time arguing the issue. Not anymore I guess, as it has come to a stalemate and there is not much new info.

"I don't think we can compare it to a poker game, to be honest. But from a psychological point of view, I personally think Putin is acting irrational, while the rest of the world tries to stay rational.

"That doesn't mean Putin had no plan or that all of the Crimea operation wasn't thought through. I definitely think it was well executed technically. But I am talking about the real motives behind all of this.

"I don’t think the situation will change much in the Ukraine poker world. Some Kiev tournaments were canceled, and probably there will be a period of time with no big tournaments in the Ukraine, but I don’t think it will last long.”

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