WCOOP 2012: Steve 'Illini213' Barshak makes his mark

wcoop2009-thumb.jpgThere's an easy way to become a tournament destroyer. Really, there is. It doesn't take hard work, study, videos or analysis. You just have to be born in the Ukraine and move to the United States at an early age. We may be working off a sample size of two but the results are pretty conclusive so far. Team PokerStars Pro Eugene Katchalov and Steve 'Illlini213' Barshak were both born in Kiev, both emigrated to the USA, both spend their days crushing any that dare try to block their path at the poker table and both have won WCOOP bracelets this year.

You would be forgiven for not knowing Barshak though (unless you've been following our WCOOP coverage intently). While Team PokerStars Pro Eugene Katchalov is a well-known face with $7,189,215 in winnings, Barshak's $242,561 seems less impressive by comparison. That number is simply misleading, you know what tournament poker is like. There's been several close misses which could have told a very different story, most noticeably an 11th place finish in a $10,000 six-handed WSOP event this summer: Barshak picked up $57,031 while Gregory Merson went on to win $1,136,197 (as well as picking up a berth at the WSOP Main Event final table). There has also been several top 30 finishes and a 7th place cash in a $9,600 tournament.


Steve Barshak has almost won enough to buy his own volcanic crater

But where Barshak may have faded live tournament success he has run into win head-first online. The 24-year-old has recorded $3,372,823 in online tournament cashes and is rated one of the most successful online grinders of 2012. Playing under the name 'Illini213' Barshak won the two-day WCOOP-29 title last week to win $225,490, bringing him close to the million dollar mark for the year. As annual campaigns go, Barshak got off to a great start in February when he won the Sunday Warm-Up for $131,028. He is no one-hit wonder.

He's also well positioned on the WCOOP leader board having notched nine cashes into his WCOOP bedpost, one of which left him with a shiny bracelet and that huge $225,490 pay day.

Illini213's WCOOP scores
WCOOP-05: $215+R NL Hold'em (Turbo), 44th, $3,221.12
WCOOP-10: $320 NL Hold'em (Ante Up), 10th, $3,526.86
WCOOP-17: $320 NL Hold'em (10-Min Levels), 73rd, $1,209.72
WCOOP-20: $215 FL Hold'em, 28th, $712.58
WCOOP-22: $10,300 NL Hold'em (High Roller), 38th, $17,820
WCOOP-29: $1,050 NL Hold'em, 1st, $225,490
WCOOP-31: $530 NL Hold'em (10-Max, Triple Shootout), 48th, $1,368.67
WCOOP-42: $215 NL Hold'em, $3,470.27
WCOOP-47: $265 NL Hold'em (Turbo, Knockout), $667.80

Total cashes: nine
Total winnings: $257,487.03
WCOOP leader board: joint 4th (240 points)

It's an impressive run of results capped by that career best WCOOP win.

"Winning a title has been a huge goal of mine since I started playing professionally two-and-a-half years ago. It has felt a long time coming and I've had a lot of big runs and final table bubbles in major online and live events. It feels great for everything to come together, play my 'A' game and win the bracelet," said Barshak.

Barshak, who moved to Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica from Chicago to play online poker, arrived at the WCOOP-29 final table with close to a quarter of the chips in play. Given the amount of money at risk and that series of close misses both live and online, wasn't he tempted to sit back and lock some money up? Ninth place paid $15,357 while scoring fourth would pocket you $96,696.

"There was definitely no room to just sit back and coast, especially since most players did not seem like they were in a hurry to bust and there were a lot of very deep stacks and good players at the table. You can't really take it easy when you have that many good players around, so I really just wanted to play smart and play my game. I feel like I was able to do that very well," said Barshak.

Taking the title in style
Barshak dominated the final table, and to rub it in did so from the beach. Kind of.

"I was pretty much just playing from my room, and a little bit outside in my backyard area which is also a beach. My girlfriend was in the room the whole time supporting me and I occasionally had roommates coming in too. I mainly wanted to just be isolated and focused on the tourney at hand, " said Barshak, who zoned in by listening to a wide range of music; from electronic and house to rap, classical and even some rock.

barshak 3.JPG

The river doesn't usually make so many people smile

"It was the calibre of final table you'd expect in a 1k. I have a lot of respect for the games of many players (at that final table). GripDzNuts (4th), who is a friend of mine, is always a very tough player to play against and won the SCOOP main event this past May. 'Simmsux' (2nd) and 'H.Ouassle' (6th) were also tough opponents," said Barshak.

The American opted against blowing half his winnings on a single night of bottle service carnage (which would probably be pretty tough in Costa Rica).

"I didn't go too crazy celebrating really. I just went stargazing that night with a few friends and relaxed on the beach. That really was a celebration enough for me and I got up at 6:45am the next morning to jump into the 6-max $320 WCOOP," said Barshak.

That's dedication for you. Be warned that brand of focussed grind is going on the road after WCOOP comes to an end.

The future
"I plan on going to lot of big live events, and should be playing my first 25k soon. Winning a major live event is another big goal of mine that I know I am going to accomplish very soon. I love working on my game and always trying to become better. I'm really excited for what the next year entails for me," said Barshak.

It sounds like most of the money is going to be going back into the poker economy which doesn't sound like great news to most grinders. Barshak's had his taste of titles. He wants more.


Barshak has a taste for Dr Pepper, t-shirt puns and sending reversed photos

Barshak also wanted to give a shout out to his room mates in Costa Rica. Jackie 'Peacefulme07' Cassells, Daniel 'Alwaysgobig9' Blum, Jason 'TeamWispy' Helder, Brian 'Brianm15' England, Jin 'Jhwang21' Hwang and Bryan '
Beantown8888' Shay, you can all considered yourselves shouted.

is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.

Rick Dacey
@PokerStars in WCOOP