2008 World Series: Keeping ones feet on (Romanian) ground

PokerStars qualifier Cristian Dragomir's rise to the top of the World Series main event leaderboard has been nothing if not steady, as he explained during the most recent break. At the end of day one, he had 55,000, at the end of day two, he had 193,000, and at the end of yesterday, he had 824,000. He made it to 2,500,000 in the opening couple of levels today.

Cristian Dragomir

But going even further back, Dragomir is accustomed to seeing acorns grow into mighty oaks. About four years ago, he started playing poker with a few online freerolls and made his first ever $1.87 in a freeroll tournament. He steadily turned that into $15 and then entered a $5 tournament with rebuys, in which he placed second for $200. That became $500, then $1,000, etc., etc., etc. Let's just repeat: now he is sitting with the chip lead in the World Series. The first prize is nearly $10 million.

And yet...

"It's not to do with the money," Dragomir said. "I can't say that I am missing two or three million dollars from my life. It is about representing Romania in a big sporting event. I am just happy to be here and I'm hoping for a big result and to write history for Romania in poker."

The strangest thing about this comment is that it is clearly the absolute truth. Since Dragomir took up poker, he has made some of the best friends of his life, including Cristian Mihai, who he describes as the best heads-up player in the world, and who is one of about 20 friends who have come to Las Vegas from Bucharest to follow the event. Dragomir couldn't quite remember the details of his qualification for the main event until Mihai reminded him of his Wednesday night $320 satellite success. "There was one seat. I can't remember how many runners, but I won it," Dragomir said.

The two players were members of the Romania team at last year's PokerStars World Cup of Poker that finished second to Greg Raymer's American team.

"That was the proudest moment of our lives," said Dragomir, to the nodded agreement of Mihai. Mihai was the star of that particular show, and beat Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu heads-up to get Romania through to the final round. Poker in Romania is now booming, according to Dragomir, and his success here seems set to make him a national celebrity.

"It's huge," he said. "I just read on the internet that I'm going to be on the news. All my friends back home are rooting for me. It's massive."

It is indeed massive. It's 2,500,000 in chips massive. But if ever there was a player to keep it all in perspective, it's Cristian Dragomir.