In the 39-year history of the World Series of Poker, there have been some remarkable achievements, including:
• Johnny Chan's near three-peat at the WSOP main event (back-to-back wins in 1987 and 1988 and a runner-up finish to Phil Hellmuth in 1989)
• Dan Harrington's back-to-back final tables in the WSOP main event in 2003 (839 players) and 2004 (2,576 players)
• Greg Raymer winning the WSOP main event in 2004 (field of 2,576) and finishing 25th the following year (with a field of 5,619)
• Scotty Nguyen winning the WSOP main event (1998) and the $50,000 HORSE event (2008)
• Annette Obrestad becoming the youngest WSOP bracelet winner (a day before her 19th birthday) and the first woman to win a WSOP main event (2008 WSOP Europe)
Now, we can add one more to the list:
• Ivan Demidov making the final table in both WSOP main events in a single year. Entering the November Nine, he is sitting second in chips, while in London for the WSOP Europe, he is finished in third place. Truly amazing!
Even though the final table at WSOP Europe includes the likes of Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda (the chip leader) and Scott Fischman, Demidov was the talk of the poker world due to his unprecedented double WSOP main event final table.
Although Russia is not one of the first countries that comes to mind when discussing poker, Demidov and his WSOPE final table-mate and fellow Russian, Stanislav Alekhin, are proving that Russia is currently undergoing a poker uprising that has been exploding over the past 15 months.
This past year and a half have seen numerous Russian players succeed at the highest levels. The original Russian poker stalwart was Moscow's Kirill Gerasimov. Bursting onto the poker scene with a second-place finish in the 2003 World Poker Tour $25,000 championship event, he won more than $500,000. Since this success, Gerasimov has become a regular on the tour, with 21 WSOP cashes including eight final tables. He has won nearly $1.8 million in lifetime tournament career earnings.
A number of other Russian players have quickly made their mark on the poker world including Alexander Kravchenko (won a bracelet and made the main event final table in 2007), Alexander Kostritsyn (won the 2008 Aussie Millions by defeating Erik Seidel heads-up), Nikolay Evdakov (cashed 10 times during the 2008 WSOP) and Svetlana Gromenkova (won the 2008 WSOP Ladies' event).
After the success of these players, it seemed only natural that another Russian would find success during the 2008 WSOP main event. And, of course, one did. For the second consecutive year, a Russian-born player will sit among the final nine. This year it is Demidov. A 27-year-old professional poker player, Demidov started playing poker at the age of 18 and made it to the WSOP in Las Vegas for the first time just a few months ago.
Prior to playing in his first WSOP, Demidov had been in Vegas for almost two months, playing in numerous events, but primarily ending up out of the money. He cashed in one tournament, barely missing the final table, finishing 11th in Event No. 44 for almost $40,000, but that was it. Entering the main event, he felt tired, but confident.
"I feel the main event is the easiest field," Demidov said. "There are so many players who do not have much experience."
Early on, it didn't seem like the easiest field to Demidov.
"I was down to 600 chips twice early," recalled the Russian poker player. After the dinner break on Day 1, Demidov turned his play around, doubled up twice and never looked back. However, he feels fortunate to be a member of the November Nine.
"I did not play well at the beginning of Day 7," Demidov said. "I was concerned about busting out of the main event by making a bad move. It was my dream to do well in the main event and since I was so close, I tightened up. Overall, I did not play my best game."
With 11 players remaining, Demidov needed a little luck just to survive. He moved all-in with 9h-9c versus David Rheem's 10d-10c. When the dealer revealed the flop of 10h-8h-6h, Rheem had hit top set. However, there was some hope for Demidov with the heart flush draw. The turn (4h) and river (5h) completed the flush, allowing Demidov to come back and catapulting him among the chip leaders.
"This hand gave me the chips to take some chances," Demidov said, and he settled in and reverted to his comfortable aggressive style. He chipped up and put himself second in chips and in great position to become the first Russian WSOP main event champion. To prepare during his 117-day hiatus until the November Nine reunite, Demidov consulted with his friend Kostritsyn and is playing live as much as possible as he admits he does not have the most live experience. His performance at WSOP Europe states otherwise.
Poker in Russia is primed to become mainstream and if Demidov captures the 2008 WSOP main event bracelet, Russia may not be able to contain the inevitable explosion of this red-hot Russian poker revolution.
"The Russian Federation recently said that poker is a sport," explained Demidov. "Now, many card rooms are opening all over Russia, many in Moscow. The Russian poker community is small, but growing. I hope that it keeps growing."
The poker world believes you, Ivan, and your finish on Thursday has started the beginning of a very exciting six weeks for not only Russia's, but the poker world's newest star.
Bernard Lee is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and author of The Final Table, Volume I. He also hosts a weekly poker radio show, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show", on Rounders Radio and in Boston on 1510 AM. The show can be heard from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday and repeated throughout the week. For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.