Konstantin “krakukra” Maslak finds success wherever he plays poker. The Russian chess grandmaster has won major titles both live and online, boasting a World Series of Poker bracelet and a WCOOP 8-Game Championship title among his many accomplishments.
And as of this afternoon, with the series halfway complete, he has the overall lead on the SCOOP 2019 Player of the Series leaderboard.
Maslak’s run for the leaderboard crown got a big boost from his win in Event #13-H, a $2,100 2-7 Triple Draw tournament. (It’s a game he has some experience with — he once won the same tournament often enough that the organizers took it off the schedule.) PokerStars Blog reached out to him in the wake of that victory to talk about how he got there, how his background in chess helps his approach to poker, and just how tough the competition is in SCOOP events.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Konstantin, I am from Volgograd, Russia. For many years I played chess at a serious level. I became a grandmaster, but I could not break into the world elite. In addition to poker, I have been interested in sports betting for a long time. In general, I have interest in everything connected with games, especially gambling.
Have long have you been playing poker and how did you first get started?
I don’t remember exactly how I started because it was many years ago. Many of my friends played poker at that time and were very successful. It was in the early 2000s. It was easier to play and win [back then].
Did your chess experience help you to learn the basics of poker? Do you continue to play chess now?
This experience was probably useful. Chess develops an analytical mind and an ability to maintain concentration for many hours and to work a lot to improve my game. Now I don’t really play seriously anymore, only occasionally some blitz tournaments.
What kind of poker is more comfortable for you: offline or online? What limits and games do you prefer?
Probably online poker is more comfortable for me. I prefer to sit at home in my chair in a cozy home environment. Although I note that rivals in live poker are much weaker. Each type of poker has its pros and cons.
In online cash games I play limit and mixed games, with stakes from $10/20 to $100/200. I choose the game by the level of competition. You don’t have much to choose from in limit games, regulars hardly ever play with each other without a rakeback.
I play MTT tournaments, nine tables at a time. I prefer tournaments with high buy-ins and I also like to play as many tables as will fit on the screen during tournament series and on Sundays. Also I am interested in additional prizes for the participants of the leaderboard of tournament series. Therefore, I try to play almost all tournaments.
How did this particular tournament progress for you?
The start of the tournament was hard. For a few hours my stack ranged from two blinds to the starting stack, and I had to re-enter the tournament. When the blinds had already started growing significantly and completing each hand became very expensive, I won a whole series of large pots in a row and became one of the chip leaders. Then, toward the end of the first day, I had to fold every hand — there was not one suitable to play. By bubble time I had a below-average stack, but I made it through to the second day of the tournament.
Day 2 was calm, there were no particularly memorable moments. I didn’t make a point of trying to remember any hands because I was playing nine tables at once, but I remember I did a good job of knocking out short stacks from the game. The strongest contender at the finals was Shawn “buck21” Buchanan, but luck was on my side.I just won a huge hand when we were three-handed, and heads-up was over quickly. I haven’t watched the final table replay yet, because I play every day for 10-12 hours and do not have enough time. But I’m sure I’ll look back it after the series.
How did you react when you won this tournament?
I am not an emotional person, I react calmly if I win in poker. I didn’t react in any way, I have played almost the whole series nine tables at a time. So, when I won late at night, I just closed the table and opened the next one.
Your final competition included some of the more successful players in SCOOP history. Is there any extra pride in the victory when you win a title against such players?
I don’t feel particular pride here. Of course, the composition of the final table was strong, but even while playing this SCOOP, I played several final tables in no-limit hold’em as well. There were real battles as there were no weak players at all in the deep stages and I had to fight a crowd of very strong professionals.
How does a win like this compare to some of your past accomplishments?
If I remember correctly, I already had victories at SCOOP and WCOOP before this series. I can single out two of the most significant victories in my career — my World Series of Poker bracelet and my victory in the WCOOP 8-Game championship with a very solid lineup of rivals. It has been several years since then, so it’s nice to win something significant again.
This isn’t your first major success playing Triple Draw — you won a mixed Triple Draw tournament in Prague several years ago. What aspects of the game do you enjoy compared to other games like hold’em and Omaha?
Yes, I won in Prague and it was fun. [In 2015] I won a mixed-game tournament of five different Triple Draw games. The following year I won the same tournament in Prague. A year later, the tournament was removed from the schedule of the series — it no longer existed. Apparently someone was pretty bored by my victories!
I like to play different mixed games, because the overall level of opponents is weaker there than in standard Hold’em and Omaha. It is quite difficult to maintain a high level at the same time in a large number of games, each of them has own nuances. But lately, in Hold’em, I had several finals in expensive tournaments on SCOOP series. So I understand one good thing — you just have to work more and complain less.
How do you plan to rest after the series? Can you share your secret to maintaining concentration during long poker sessions?
I rested a lot before SCOOP began, most of April and the start of May, so I feel fine. Most SCOOP tournaments begin at 7 a.m. local time, which causes some inconvenience. After SCOOP I hope that I will be able to get to the World Poker Tour and continue the marathon there.
I don’t have any special advice on maintaining concentration. I just enjoy the game and try not be distracted much during the sessions. It is important to love what you do, to love poker. If you need to force yourself to play poker, you can not come to a successful result.
Finally, do you have any suggestions or advice for novice players and the PokerStars community?
Tips: work on your game, and then work on it again. Please, try to complain less about the RNG and to think more about the fact that your own game is not perfect. Look for how and where it can be improved.
Advice: сatch the fattest fish and win a lot of money!
Special thanks to Andrey Maksin and Olga Sitak from the PokerStars Russian blog for conducting this interview in Russian and providing an English translation.