RPT St Petersburg: From zero to $300,000 hero
When you start a final table as the short stack, you have two real choices: show no fear and go for the win, no matter how unlikely, or exert minimal risk and hope to climb a few cash positions.
Oleg Suntsov was in just this sticky spot yesterday, starting the final table of the inaugural Russian Poker Tour event in St Petersburg so behind the pack he was in danger of being cast adrift.
In fact, so short was he that his 64,000 chip stack needed to double, double again - and then yet again before he could get up to the dizzy heights of chip leader Dimitru Gaina, from Moldova, who had more than 500,000 in front of him.
Yet Oleg had been chip leader after day one, a fact that implied he would not have been content to sit back at the final table in order to cash a bit extra to add to his bankroll.
And so it proved: he wanted the win, and he wanted it bad. Hours, and eight defeated players later, he had got his prize - the big prize of more than 10 million Russian rubles. That's about $300,000 to you and I.
Impressive stuff, then, from the young Russian, who is a regular player on the tournament scene in his home city of St Petersburg.
This was a fine destination to kick off the PokerStars-sponsored Russian Poker Tour. In total, 201 players forked out $5,000 to play - way above expectations - including PokerStars qualifiers, Team PokerStars Pros Alex Kravchenko and Vanessa Rousso, and Ivan Demidov, the PokerStars-sponsored player who final tabled the WSOP Main Event just months ago.
Such was the interest that esteemed tournament director Thomas Kremser and his staff ran a list of alternates in order to squeeze everyone in.
Here's how the final table looked when they sat down:
1. Dimitru Gaina, Moldova, 501,000
2. Sergey Popuk, Russian, 302,000
3. Sergey Solntsev, Russia, 256,000
4. Vadim Markushevsky, Belarus, 256,000
5. Anatoly Ozhenilok, Russia, 203,000
6. Bulat Bikmetov, Russia, 181,000
7. Evgeny Zaytsev, Russia, 178,000
8. Alexander Pantukhin, Russia, 76,000
9. Oleg Suntsov, Russia, 64,000
First out of the door was Evgeny Zaytsev. He pushed all-in with J-J against Bikmetov's Q-Q, but neither of his two outs arrived to save him.
Soon after, Suntsov got the first of his necessary double ups - against chip leader Gaina. Gaina then completed his riches-to-rags story when he busted, pushing with an open-ended straight draw but running into Vadim Markushevsky's nut flush draw, which filled up on the river.
Out in seventh place was Ozhenilok, unluckily with As-Ks against Bikmetov's Q-8. The flop was 8s-4s-9x giving Bikmetov the pair, but Ozhenilok the nut flush draw. The turn, Qs, filled his flush and put Bikmetov behind with two pair - but the river was another 8, filling Bikmetov's full house.
Next out - and also very unluckily - was Sergey Popuk, who must have thought his A-A was safe against Alex Pantukhin's K-Q. Nope! The board came K-Q-5-8-7 and Popuk was collecting his coat.
Out in fifth was Bikmetov, who ran his A-8 into Markushevsky's A-J (the turn was a jack and so, in one of those completely unnecessary moments, was the river!). Markushevsky then dominated for a period - and got lucky to eliminate Solnstev in fourth place, calling with A-5 against 8-8, and waiting until the river to see an ace win him the hand.
It was that man Markushevsky again who accounted for the third-place finisher, Pantukhin. This time Markushevsky called with Q-J to 7-7 - and hit a jack on the flop.
Suntsov had been quieter while Markushevsky was on his wrecking-ball run, but he had still moved up to 800,000 when the pair got to heads-up - not far short of Markushevsky's 1.2 million.
Suntsov picked up a few small pots to edge himself into the chip lead and then, as so often happens, one sledgehammer hand finished the three-day tournament off.
Markushevsky raised to 60,000, Suntsov called. The flop came 6-9-3, and both players parted with another 100,000. On the turn - a five - Suntsov bet 220,000, Markushevsky moved all in... call! Markushevsky had K-9, Suntsov the dominating Q-Q, and the harmless two on the river meant Suntsov took the crown.
The event had been a great success, and next the RPT moves to Moscow, where the main event starts on February 25.
If St Petersburg was anything to go by, it should be a cracker.
For fuller coverage of the St Petersburg event, you'll have to learn to read Russian. Once you've done that, head over to our Russian blog, and enjoy.
But for now, you may be content with a parting picture of the city...