2008 World Series: Muscle from Moscow

For the coming few weeks, just as for the past several years, the PokerStars blog will do its collective darndest to bring you details of all the commitment, colour and creativity on display on this grandest of poker stages. And when every last drop of that stuff has been wrung from the action, you can always also check back here for the chip-counts and bust-outs of the major players.

I write this as a precursor to this next admission, and please remember that there's always an exception to every rule. In our early coverage of the $50,000 HORSE, you probably won't actually be reading many chip counts nor details of any bust-outs. They're largely irrelevant, in the case of counts, and remarkably infrequent, in the case of busts. The players started with $50,000 in chips and the levels were just $300-$600. Moreover, this is the cultured kid brother known as limit poker, rather than the bully's bonanza of no limit. Chip swings are minimal and not terminal; if anyone is seen stalking out of the Amazon Room before about level four, something has gone horribly wrong.

And as we return from the dinner break to begin level three, all 148 players that ponied up the $50,000 still have a stack in front of them. The only empty chairs over the past couple of hours were those belonging to the late-comers, and now they are filled.

That's not to say that these early stages are unimportant or uninteresting. Quite the contrary. This is where the players can get the measure of one another before it becomes too costly; they are delivering a succession of small jabs before winding up the haymaker for later in the week. For some players, it's a chance to get to grips with the unfamiliar variants; for the spectator, it's a chance to see how these top pros set out their stall and execute their game plan.

Tucked in one corner of the L-shaped tournament area sits Kirill Gerasimov, a PokerStars sponsored player from Russia, who needs absolutely no introduction to any followers of the European game. Gerasimov has cashed 19 times at the World Series, twice already this year. During the French Open in Deauville, France, on season two of the EPT, I remember the tournament director Thomas Kremser whispering in my ear that: "Kirill is one of the best players I have ever seen." And Kremser is not a man known for hyperbole.

At the time he said that, we were at a final table from which Gerasimov would eventually bust in third place. But what prompted Kremser's comment was that it had been plain for the best part of two days that Gerasimov had been completely card dead and had somehow got himself onto the podium without ever having any chips. None of us could really work out how he did it: we didn't see his cards for hours on end; he was shoving at just the right moment every single time to pick off bluffs and get the required folds from his adversaries. Every. Single. Time. It was, simply, awesome.

Today, Kirill will need to be on the top of his game. He's on a typically star-studded table in this event, sharing the felt with Doyle Brunson, Annie Duke, Huck Seed, David Grey, Marc Goodwin and, for good measure, Team PokerStars Pro Katja Thater. For the past hour or so, Thater has been having her back thunderously pummelled by a masseuse, but is remaining characteristically calm despite such brutality. Gerasimov attempted to undermine some of her composure shortly before the break, getting involved with Thater during the razz round. If proof were needed of the Muscovite's temerity and aggression, this was it. Thater won a bracelet in razz last year and is probably best avoided during that round. But it didn't stop the Russian picking up the pot on fifth street.

It's going to be a fascinating battle of wits over the coming five days, before we discover who really is the best of the best. And for those number junkies among you, get your fill of this: 148 players are in the tournament, there's $7,104,000 in the prize pool, of which the winner will claim $1,989,120.