Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

The World Series of Poker has always attracted a competitive international field. Interestingly, this year’s WSOP featured more players from Russia than ever before. That’s a trend that’s likely to continue.

Last year, the main event’s final table included Alex Kravchenko, who finished in fourth place. This year, Ivan Demidov sits in the final table’s second chip position. He’s got a good shot at bringing the title to his Russian homeland when play resumes in November.

Two other Russians won WSOP bracelets this year. Vitaly Lunkin won a no-limit Hold’em event and Svetlana Gromenkova won the Ladies Championship. Also, Nikolay Evdakov broke the WSOP record for most cashes in a single year with an astonishing ten cashes. The previous record was eight.

And yet another Russian player, Kiril Gerasimov, had an impressive 2008 WSOP. He reached two final tables and cashed in four times for over $400,000.

Poker’s popularity is surging in Russia. You can expect to see more Russian names winning on the European Poker Tour and other major international tournaments in coming years.

Why are so many talented Russian players suddenly bursting on the poker scene? Maybe it’s because of the game of chess.

Many years ago, Russian masters dominated their American counterparts in a different game of skill. That game, of course, was chess. The battles between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky were epic. And while poker isn’t quite at that point, we’re definitely headed in that direction.

Chess is a great training ground for poker players because it’s a math-based game, much like backgammon is. Pro poker players Gus Hansen and Phil Laak come from the backgammon world and you know how successful they’ve been in poker.

Now, the biggest difference between chess and poker is that in chess luck is virtually non-existent; it’s obviously a factor in poker. Also, bluffing is a big part of the game of poker but it’s rarely a factor in chess.

How about the biggest similarity between the two games?

Well, success at both games requires intense focus, often for extended periods of time. In chess, make one error and you’ll lose your King; in poker, make one mistake and all your chips are gone.

Playing chess can make you a better poker player because it forces you to think several moves ahead. That kind of intense mental exercise develops a deeper level of thinking than is typically encountered when playing poker.

There are other methods to improve your poker skills off the felt, too. For example, to improve my people reading skills, I’ve spent hours at the mall simply watching people as they walk by. This obscure drill may seem insignificant but you’d be surprised at the number of personal habits (tells) you’ll pick up from simply observing people in everyday environments.

Above all, poker is a people game. Playing chess can sharpen your mind and improve your concentration skills but you also must spend ample time studying the psychology of the game. You’ve got to know how to read your opponents. Russian players at this year’s WSOP proved that they are capable of doing both, and that’s a deadly combination.

It’s an exciting time in the poker world. The American card game of the Wild West is no longer ruled by homegrown players. The stage is now shared with the aggressive Scandinavians and talented players from Vietnam, Australia, and the UK. And make no mistake about it, the Russians are indeed coming!

Online poker training is now available from Daniel Negreanu. Visit

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