Perhaps no nation has experienced the poker boom more recently or in a bigger way than Russia. The big bear is one of poker’s fastest-growing markets. Millions of Russians from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok are now playing poker, both online and in live casinos. A new Russian Poker Tour is scheduled to begin play later this year.
It’s no surprise then that many Russian poker players are enjoying great tournament success in the West. Notable poker champions are Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Alex Kravchenko, Kirill Gerasimov, and Ralph Perry (who now lives in the U.S.). Last year’s WSOP Main Event runner up was Ivan Demidov, another very talented Russian player. Now, add the name “Max Katz” to the list.
Katz, a 24-year-old poker professional from Moscow won the latest World Series of Poker Circuit event held at Caesars Palace Las Vegas. He topped a highly-competitive field of 227 players who entered the $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament. For his victory, Katz won $26,699. He was also presented with his first gold ring, the top prize for winning on the WSOP Circuit. In fact, Katz is the first Russian citizen to win a gold ring in the five-year history of the Circuit.
Katz put on a dominant performance. He began final table play on day two second in chips but seized the advantage about mid-way through the finale en route to a most convincing victory. Katz spoiled what would have otherwise been a reunion of Chicago poker players. Three finalists were from Chicago, and a fourth was born in the windy city. In the end, the Russian blew everyone away with his first American win, after previous victories in his native country.
The top nine finishers were as follows:
9th Place – Englishman Lee Brooke-Pearce from London went out in ninth place. The poker pro previously finished in fifth place two years ago at the prestigious Irish Poker Open. The 60-year-old former management consultant and financial advisor earned $2,752 in prize money.
8th Place – Chris Michael went out in eighth place. The 39-year-old quantitative analyst from Chicago, IL pocketed $3,578 for his efforts.
7th Place – Allan Jacobi, a financial advisor from Moraga, CA took seventh place. Jacobi managed to cash in the first tournament he ever played, which was two years ago at the WSOP in Las Vegas. He also cashed at a previous WSOP Circuit tournament last year. This time, Jacobi made it all the way to the final table, which was good for $4,404 in prize money.
6th Place – Sixth place went to the most decorated player at the final table, two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Brent Carter, from suburban Chicago. The player with 48 career WSOP cashes and numerous WSOP Circuit in-the-money finishes earned $5,505 in prize money. Interestingly, Carter also won the last “Caesars Challenge” ever played in 1990, long before Caesars Palace was purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment. “I won their big tournament and the next thing I knew, they down closed the poker room!” he said, still jokingly bitter 19 years later.
5th Place – Matt Vance took the fifth, that is – fifth place. The poker pro from New York had previous made several online final tables as well as at the LA Poker Classic. On this occasion, the 26-year-old had to settle for a payout totaling $6,881.
4th Place – Zal Irani took a tough beat and went out in fourth place. The financial planner from (you guessed it) Chicago has previously made it to multiple WSOP Circuit event final tables, including the massively successful Hammond Horseshoe tournament held last fall. Irani was paid $8,532.
3rd Place – Joe Wasylean ended up as the third-place finisher. The CFO from Ormond Beach, FL was outchipped and received $10,459 for outlasting 224 other players, but not the final two. Wasylean stated that he won a private freeroll tournament to get into the event, so this ended up as a nice payout. Wasylean clearly likes to live his life in the fast lane. He says that poker has replaced his former passion, which was skydiving. Trouble is, in poker there are no parachutes.
2nd Place – When heads-up play began, Katz enjoyed a decisive chip lead. It took the Russian about 15 minutes to vanquish his final adversary. That came when Katz was dealt a pair of three versus Joe Guerra’s A-7. The small pair ended up scooping the pot and ended the tournament. As the runner up, Guerra collected a nice payout totaling $16,514. Guerra works as a contractor and runs a snow removal company in Rochester, NY. He has numerous other cashes and final table appearances, mostly on the East Coast. But this marked Guerra’s first WSOP-related final table appearance.
1st Place – Max Katz won the Caesars Palace Las Vegas event on a one-week vacation. After winning, he now admits he may stay a bit longer. Katz insists he will certainly play in several upcoming WSOP events.
With 17 of 22 events now completed at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, the tournament has attracted more than 3,000 total entries and has awarded in excess of $2 million in total prize money. The Main Event begins on April 27th. The WSOP Circuit continues through April 30th.