Despite coming from a family of card players and booking a seven-figure win in one of his first big events, newly inked Team PokerStars Pro Eugene Katchalov didn't always dream of being a professional poker player.
The 29-year-old Ukranian-born and Brooklyn, New York-raised pro once had Wall Street aspirations and picked up poker playing home games with friends while starting out as a day trader.
“When I first started playing I didn't even know you could play online, so we just had home games with friends. Like 8-9 of us would get together and play like a $10 Sit and Go or some very small Limit Hold’em cash game, like $0.25/$0.50,” Katchalov told PokerListings.
“After a while I learned that you could play online and that No-Limit Hold’em was the most popular and interesting. So I started to play $5 and $10 Sit and Go's on PartyPoker and was doing pretty well at those.
“Success wasn't quick, but limited success was. I was probably making $20 to $30 per day playing in those days, which was good enough for spending money at the time. I slowly moved up from there and started to play much larger field tournaments. I remember winning like $500 in a $5 buy in tournament and from then on I was hooked.
“From there on poker was always a way for me to make side money while I worked as a trader.”
Modest success in the world of online poker didn't force Katchalov to make any rash moves just yet. But they were certainly coming.
“I was a day trader at the time and it's very difficult to make money right off the bat in that because there’s a large learning curve. So they tell you to not expect to be profitable for the first few years,” he said.
“I figured I'd play poker to pay the bills, and at the same time learn to trade. Even though I eventually became a pretty good trader and really liked it, poker grew on me a lot more.
“I really loved and enjoyed the game and was becoming consistently more and more successful at it. But I still loved trading and wanted to do both.”
Even after he booked a $2,482,605 win at the World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic back in 2007, he continued to keep a hand in both games.
“About a year ago I realized I couldn't do both since to be really good at either, I needed to concentrate and give 100% to only one,” he said
“So since poker was going great and I enjoyed the freedom and traveling, I chose poker.”
It appears he made the right choice.
In January, Katchalov booked another seven-figure win taking down the $100,000 No-Limit Hold'em Super High Roller Event at the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.
Then, just days later, he finished runner-up in the $10,000 Six-Max High Roller for another six-figure score.
Within a few weeks, Team PokerStars came calling and the NYU grad signed on as its latest sponsored pro.
“I was always open to an endorsement deal, but at the same time the offer itself had to make sense to me,” he explained.
“As of a year ago, I realized that all I needed was to win one more major tournament to get a proper offer that I'd be satisfied with, and I believe the $100k at the PCA helped with that.
“I also like being part of PokerStars because they're so respected and professional in what they do. And I love that I get to go back to my home country of Ukraine and represent them globally from now on when I play.”
Unlike many families of poker hopefuls, when Katchalov first started playing the game, his was fully supportive.
It turned out his Father and Grandfather had played cards professionally through their childhood – but it wasn't exactly poker back in Mother Russia.
“Gambling was highly illegal in communist Russia, so they gambled in parks, beaches or each others' homes in those days,” Katchalov said. “They played games I've never heard of... ClubYash. It's pronounced like Club, then Yash.”
His mom didn't fully understand how you could make a living gambling, but quickly became supportive when the results rolled in.
But regardless of the fact he's now fully entrenched as a pro, with a big endorsement deal, $6,104,132 in career live tournament earnings and the full support of his family and friends, those day trader dreams are still there.
“I still dabble in trading a little, and may get back into it in the future if poker doesn't seem appealing any more for some reason,” he said. “Although that's probably not happening any time soon.”
- With files from Matthew Showell