His stare can send shivers down your spine. From behind shiny aviator glasses, he sits stoically at the tables, his cool silence giving away nary a tell. Alex Kravchenko hardly cracked a smile when he won his first WSOP bracelet in 2007, but the hardware he brought home to Moscow ended up inspiring an entire nation of poker players. (Ivan Demidov was one of them, rolling up a stake and heading to Las Vegas the following summer and ending up $5.6 million richer as the 2008 Main Event runner-up.) Now, poker is booming in Russia. Some of the biggest cash games in the world are played in Moscow. There's a new Russian Poker Tour sponsored by PokerStars. And it's impossible not to link many of these new developments to the stunning success Alex Kravchenko has enjoyed over the last two years on the world poker stage.
Alex Kravchenko was born on April 21, 1971 in Arkhangesk, in the northwestern part of what was then the Soviet Union. While enjoying a successful first career as a business investor, Kravchenko started frequenting some of the casinos in and around Moscow. He started off playing blackjack, but soon discovered he could beat the game of Oasis Poker, a Caribbean Stud variant. In short order, Kravchenko began making more money in the casinos than he did in business. By 1997, Texas Hold Em had been introduced in the Moscow casinos and Kravchenko began playing in cash games and small buy-in tournaments, all while still working his day job. His first taste of tournament success came in the 1999 Moscow International tournament series at the Cosmos Card Club, where he made three final tables in no-limit hold'em and seven-card stud events.
Within a year, Kravchenko was traveling around Europe for poker tournaments. He made two final tables at the 2001 Austrian Masters, and notched his first tournament victory in the ATS2,000 pot-limit omaha event. Kravchenko continued racking up the cashes over the next two years, making final tables in Paris, Helsinki, Barcelona, St. Petersburg, and his hometown of Moscow. Before anyone had ever heard the name Chris Moneymaker, Kravchenko had already earned nearly $175,000 from live tournament play.
In 2004, Kravchenko played his first World Poker Tour events, cashing in the Aruba Poker Classic and the Grand Prix de Paris. It wasn't until 2006, though, that he started traveling on a more full-time basis for major tournaments. Kravchenko cashed the 2006 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and made the final table of a €1,000 side event at the EPT Monte Carlo before heading out to Las Vegas for the 2006 WSOP. He cashed twice at the series, both times in pot-limit Omaha events, and earned seventh and tenth place finishes down the street at two Bellagio Cup II events. Close, but no cigar for Kravchenko, who returned home to Moscow for another long Russian winter.
2007, however would prove to be Kravchenko's breakout year. He won his first WSOP bracelet in one of the first events of the series, the $1,500 Omaha 8-or-better event, for a $228,446 score, and went on to cash in four more preliminary events, including a ninth-place finish in the $5,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. Kravchenko's biggest splash would come in the Main Event, though, where he finished fourth place out of 6,358 entrants. Kravchenko won over $1.8 million for his finish and got a huge amount of face time on ESPN in the process. Soon after the WSOP, he picked up sponsorship from PokerStars, signing on as a member of Team PokerStars Pro.
Kravchenko traveled the European circuit that fall, making another final table at the WSOP-Europe's £2,500 H.O.R.S.E. event. He got even more television exposure competing in the PartyPoker Premier League in London, and cashed twice on the EPT, finishing 17th in Baden and 36th in Copenhagen. Back in the U.S.A. at the 2008 WSOP, Kravchenko racked up two more cashes, finishing 13th in $10,000 World Championship Seven-Card Stud and 27th in $10,000 World Championship Limit Hold'em. His best tournament finish in '08, however, came at Baden's Poker EM, where he finished runner-up to Sandra Naujoks in the €4,000 No-Limit Hold'em event for $171,631.
Outside of poker, Kravchenko enjoys playing basketball and tennis and spending time with his wife and children. He still calls Moscow, Russia home.
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