PCA 2012: Eugene Katchalov, player of the year
While many were polishing off turkey and toasting in a new year with cheap champagne, Eugene Katchalov was bathing in the winning glow of his first Player of the Year title. The Ukranian-born, American-bred Team PokerStars Pro had an incredible twelve months on the live circuit fighting off stiff competition from fellow Team Pro Bertrand 'ElkY' Grospellier and WSOP destroyer Ben Lamb to claim PoY status, during which he bagged himself $2,572,726 across 13 cashes.
Katchalov started off his 2011 campaign in eviscerating manner here at the PCA, tearing through the three biggies of Paradise Island; 1st in the Super High Roller ($1,500,000), 74th in the main event ($28,000) and 2nd in the $10,000 six-max ($131,900). Unsurprisingly, he's pitched in a $100,000 wedge to play the event again this year.
At the table Katchalov looks the real deal. The Ukrainian sports a stony faced demeanour, jaw clenched like a poker Popeye, with his eyes always keyed in on the action - we had to wait several minutes into the break to grab him for an interview as he stayed put to watch Justin Smith and Tom Marchese go to war - but away from the table he's often smiling, which given this past year he has good reason to. We caught up with the man of the moment.
How does it feel to be player of the year?
"It feels amazing. It's something that I've been striving for at least half a year, ever since I thought it became feasible for me to win it. It's a feeling that I'll always remember."
In 2007 you actually won more ($2,692,798) but it was primarily from one big score, as an achievement does last year feel greater?
"It feels much better because it was won through many different tournaments and, you know, you can always get lucky in one event but to do well in multiple tournaments gives me more confidence."
Now it's the first big tournament of the year, does 2011 feel a long time ago?
"No, I'm still feeling good about it and confident that I'll do well again this year. I'm not thinking about Player of the Year quite yet. It's way too early for that."
So what's your key ambition for 2012?
"To keep running well and not get into a bad streak. I'm planning on playing many more EPTs than I did in the past for the chance to win the Triple Crown."
If you could change any tournament moment of 2011 would it have been that EPT Barcelona final table? (a visibly exhausted Katchalov came third just missing out on a triple crown)
"It would have been to win Barcelona for sure. I couldn't sleep the whole trip. It was weird as I'd never been jetlagged that badly before but I've learnt my lesson. I carry sleeping tablets with me now - nothing that strong but enough to put me to sleep. I just couldn't think straight at times. I put ice water over my head because I was so exhausted."
How difficult is it to play under the heat of the lights when you're that tired?
"The thing is that it lasted so long (Katchalov's final table campaign lasted for 13 hours) and I was extremely tired. I was card dead, then ran bad in a couple of spots so became extremely frustrated. It was really getting to me. There was all this pressure that everyone expected me to win, I really wanted to win and I also knew I'd be really upset if I didn't. A combination of all of it came crashing down on me there. But all in all, it's been a good year so no complaints for sure."
At the time of writing Katchalov was still throwing punches in the $100,000 Super High Roller, the event in which he started his incredible run last year. Although the chip counts show that he's currently down from his starting quarter-of-a-million stack to 150,000, few would write him off quite yet. Repeat for the title? Maybe, but one thing is for certain, you can expect Katchalov to hit a lot more headlines in 2012.
How Katchalov took the title
Katchalov scored 13 live cashes in 2011, four of which were for over $100,000. The key scores are listed below. It was
6 Jan - 1st, $100,000 PCA Super High Roller, $1,500,000
16 Jan - 2nd, $10,000 PCA High Roller 6-max, $131,920
12 Apr - 2nd, $10,000 NAPT High Roller Bounty Shootout, $68,000
7 May - 27th, €10,000 EPT Grand Final, €35,000 ($51,948)
2 Jun - 1st, $1,500 Seven Card Stud, $122,909
27 Aug - 3rd, €5,000 EPT Barcelona, €315,000 ($453,812)
9 Aug - 8th, $20,000 Epic poker league 6-max, $70,960