Poker is booming in Russia, and next week's Zavidovo Open seems to attest to the sport's popularity. That's right – sport. In Russia, poker has been officially declared a sport by the government. The fact that the game can be treated like a sport in the eyes of the government opens many doors to the game that have been such a struggle to open in so many countries. The event next week at Zavidovo is sanctioned by the government – just like a soccer match, or a hockey game would be.
Poker clubs in Moscow are opening literally every month. There are luxurious venues such as the Golden Ring Club that can be visited by invitation only, or more open games such as Shangri La, offering daily tournaments with $500 buy-in and unlimited rebuys. But there are also several clubs which welcome those who are just starting their poker career and can't afford to play in big buy-in events.
The most popular poker clubs "Korona" and "Metelitsa" are situated in the center of Moscow, on Novyi Arbat street. Daily tournaments in these clubs attracts up to 100 players. "Korona" poker club is run by Australian John Kocbek, who was one of the poker pioneers in Moscow. He is not the only foreigner making poker business in Moscow. New Zealand's Reese Jones is a general manager of recently opened Poker House club and Englishmen Tony Powell is one of the owners of the Poker Club Management company which is currently involved in organizing local events in Russian regions.
After poker was officially recognized as a sport several poker-only clubs were opened with no traditional Russian casinos involved. One of these, Le Poker Club, recently organized its first-ever poker tournament with a live broadcast showing the hole cards of the players. The participants, of course, played in a closed room without any electronic devices. Another new club could easily win the prize for the funniest name – "Frog", a club in one of the Moscow suburbs, has all the buy-ins posted in "frogs" where 1 frog = 25 Russian rubles.
On August 16th, the top players in Russia and a couple of the biggest names in international poker will all gather at the Zavidovo resort, a posh complex about 60 miles outside of Moscow that is frequented by high-powered Russian government officials and the well-to-do of Russia. The part of the complex that tournament players are housed in is the 'elite' section, which is run by an organization called the 'Central Directorate of Servicing Diplomatic Corps'.
Russia's economy is booming, and this is clearer than ever with the stakes of some of the games that are happening in Russian casinos. Earlier this week, one top Russian player observed a pot-limit stud game (not a game you hear much about here in the States). The ante on this particular game was $2,000. Another game that has been getting a lot of action lately has been a $2,000/$4,000 Omaha-8 game, albeit played in the one of the local variations where each player receives five cards. Pots in some of the bigger pot-limit games can easily exceed $1 million. Earlier this year, Tony G reportedly won a single pot of over $3 million.
Tony G will be at the Zavidovo event next week, to be televised into millions of Russian homes. Also scheduled to appear, according to tournament organizers, are Phil Ivey, and Patrik Antonius.
The organizers are expecting up to 90 participants. The event will easily break the record for the biggest prize pool for an "official" event in Russia, currently held by Moscow Millions tournament (53 players, $10,000 buy-in), though insiders remember that there was an incredible $20,000 with rebuys event held in Moscow in late April at the Golden Ring Club. That event was won by well-known Russian high-roller Sergey "Gypsy" Rybachenko, who received $460,000 for this win.
All the big names in Russian poker will take part in the Zavidovo events including Aussie Millions champion Alex Kostritsyn, WSOP 2008 final-tablist Ivan Demidov, bracelet winners Vitaly Lunkin and Alex Kravchenko, and WSOP record-holder Nikolay Evdakov, who cashed 10 times during the Series in June. The Russian poker market is starting to look very attractive for the biggest online poker rooms as well, as PokerStars recently started sponsoring Kravchenko and Demidov and Full Tilt signed Lunkin and Evdakov as "red" pros.
The structure of the USD $10,000 buy-in event is one of the slowest ever put in for a major tournament. Players start with 20,000 chips, the first level of 50/100 is three hours long, with subsequent levels being two hours long. Another interesting twist of the structure of the event is the introduction of a 'stack balancing' rule, which, according to the tournament website, will be used starting on day two, and states that if, at any time in the tournament the average stack has, in Harrington on Hold'em terminology, an 'M' of less than 15, the current level will be extended until the average stack exceeds an 'M' of 15.
Besides the Main Event with its $10,000 buy-in event, there will be several holdem events in Zavidovo including the fourth leg of the Russia Cup ($5,000 buy-in) and a couple of $2,000 events. Russian high-rollers definitely won't miss the pot-limit Omaha event with $5,000 buy-in and unlimited rebuys.
The main event is set to last five days, with the fifth day being the televised final table. The tournament website has much more information about the event.