EPT10 Sanremo: Myth-busting, with Alex Kravchenko

Here are the three things everybody knows about Alex Kravchenko:

1 - He's Russian
2 - He's fierce
3 - He's tight

There's not much more to know, right?

The thing is, the received wisdom about the Team PokerStars Pro is actually not all that accurate, and at least two of the "facts" above are untrue. He is Russian, that much is for absolute certain. ("Alex Kravchenko is very popular in Russia," Ilya Gorodetskiy, the Russian poker authority, said. "They love him because he looks Russian.")

But once you get past the scowling veneer, Kravchenko is perfectly personable and, as viewers of a recent televised poker show learnt, he's got a far wider range than you might think.

Again according to Gorodetskiy, Kravchenko recently played in a high-profile made-for-television poker event in Russia, during which he was three and four-betting extremely lightly, much to the surprise of everyone who has seen him on the European Poker Tour. "They were like, 'Wow!'" Gorodetskiy said. "They were shocked."

Typically, Kravchenko has been known to grind pretty much his starting stack into the money, then finally get it in and go home. But he has been exploiting his tight image to great effect recently, and at time of writing is still in with a good shout with 19 players left in Sanremo.


Alex Kravchenko: A teddy bear

When you actually think about it for a little while, those earlier assumptions seem particularly silly. Kravchenko first came to prominence in 2007, when he won a World Series bracelet (in a $1,500 limit Omaha hi/lo event) and made two other final tables, including the Main Event. He came fourth on the table dominated by Jerry Yang, and by most estimations was the best player there.

When the bubble burst here in Sanremo, with Kravchenko and Johnny Lodden still in the mix, the guardians of the EPT statistics spreadsheets were forced to make big changes at the top. Luca Pagano's 20 EPT in-the-money finishes keeps him at the very summit of the cashes list, but Lodden picked up his 16th and Kravchenko his 15th this week, putting them above and alongside ElkY, respectively.

Kravchenko has become something of a favourite among the media covering poker tournaments, largely based on some of the myths he has allowed to be propagated. There's the story of him leading a team of commentators through the corridors of the Spielbank Casino in Berlin after the robbery there a few years ago, and then there's the tale of PokerStars Blog and the plastic salad fork.


Kravchenko, right: The fork messiah

OK, OK, perhaps this one hasn't gone that far, but it's actually the truth. When we were in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Season 6 of the EPT, we found ourselves playing (and covering) poker inside a huge sports arena. We were well out of our comfort zone in many ways, but never more so than after I had purchased a salad from a concession stand, returned with it to my desk, and realised I didn't have a fork.

The problem was that I also didn't know how to ask for one, and even after returning to the concession stand and miming the process of eating with a fork, I was still stared at especially blankly by someone whose expression seemed to suggest I had actually vanished from existence.

Enter Alex Kravchenko, striding through the hallway. At that point, Kravchenko was relatively new to Team PokerStars Pro, and I knew (hoped) he would be prepared to do anything to help out a fellow Red Spade. However this was Russia's biggest poker star we were talking about, and getting a salad fork for a blogger has not (yet) been written into the contract.

But, demonstrating rare boldness, I approached and said: "Alex, would you get me a fork for my salad?" (I am maybe paraphrasing.)

Kravchenko looked at me. He looked at me hard. He maybe was trying to see into my soul, but he would have noticed only a gaping, hungry void. Without a word, he turned on his heels, wandered to the concession stand, and uttered what I can only assume was a request for a fork. He then strode back, handed over the implement without so much as a word, and again went on his way.

It remains the only "conversation" I have ever had with Kravchenko, and I imagine he too regularly tells this anecdote with particular gusto to Teddy KGB over a vodka. But I've never forgotten the fork, Alex. Never.

And for that reason alone, I hope you win this tournament.

Earlier in the day, Kravchenko spoke to Sarah Grant of PokerStars.tv about the hand that vaulted him to more than a million chips:

Full coverage of EPT Sanremo is on the main EPT Sanremo page. There's hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top and feature pieces below. The €10,000 High Roller is also under way. Coverage of that is on the High Roller page.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour