World Cup of Poker: Team Latvia celebrates maiden voyage to finals

Just a little more than four weeks ago, the Europe III Divisional Finals ended in a tie, with Team Latvia and Team Spain both putting up 43 points each. The decision would lie with a tiebreaker, a winner-take all heads-up match played by one member from each team.

It was Riga, Latvia's Partorg who was selected by his teammates to play that final match and after a marathon 152-hand match against Spain's VARICO, he claimed victory and secured Latvia's first-ever berth in the World Cup of Poker finals.

Along with Partorg, two amateurs who secured their spots on the team through hard-fought freeroll play and one of Latvia's top live tournament players will all board a plane to the Bahamas, leaving behind the frozen landscape of their home along the Baltic. Could this team of upstarts on their first trip to the finals topple World Cup veterans like the United States, Poland and Germany?

Hailing from the capital city of Riga, Partorg earned his place on the team by climbing to the top of the Latvian Tournament Leaderboard. In 2008 alone, the 34-year old won three tournaments outright on PokerStars across a variety of games including pot-limit Omaha, pot-limit Omaha 8 or better and no-limit hold'em. Among his dozens of final tables were deep finishes in a number of large-field NLHE events including the $109 Rebuy, the $22k Guaranteed, and the $32k guaranteed, all for solid four-figure scores.

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Juris Sacains received a special invitation from PokerStars to represent Latvia in the World Cup of Poker. A prolific live player, Riga's Casino Olympic is practically a second home to him and he has a lengthy resume of cashes in the no-limit hold'em and pot-limit Omaha tournaments he plays there several times a month. The 44-year old has been playing for two years but has kept his day job in the car tire business, preferring, like many Latvians, to play poker solely for enjoyment.

Like her screen name indicates, Ance "missjazz83" Laganovska has a passion for jazz and hopes that a successful finish in the World Cup of Poker could give her more financial freedom to pursue writing and performing her own songs. Like the fourth and final member of Team Latvia, BuTut?, Laganovska won her way in on a freeroll. Also apparently born with no shortage of brain cells, the 24-year old also has a master's degree in Information Technology and currently pays the bills by working as a programming engineer at an electronics factory.

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Laganovska started playing online 2-3 years ago and met some fellow Latvian players who organized a regular cash game in her hometown. While she credits online poker with developing her skills, Laganovska prefers the thrill of live play and can't wait to hit the felt in the Bahamas.

"I have seen such things only on TV so I really would like to be there and be a part of it," she related excitedly.

Fellow freeroll winner BuTut? is a 21 year old player for Riga who has been playing for about two and half years.

"I'm proud of representing my country in such a big tournament!" he said.

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Kristin Bihr
@PokerStars in World Cup of Poker