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Found 3 results

  1. Every player travels to the World Series of Poker from a different road, and this year, thousands of people will make it to Las Vegas with dreams that were formed all around the world.   One such player who has endured a harder journey than most, escaping war-torn Ukraine to evacuate his family to safety, is Eugene Katchalov. We spoke to him on the eve of his poker pilgrimage to Sin City.   Escaping Ukraine   "It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions, seeing things I never thought I’d see."   Katchalov’s journey from the heart of his home country, Ukraine, to freedom on the other side of the border as bombs literally fell is one of the most incredible stories of the year. As the world reacted with shock at the war in Ukraine, Katchalov attempted to help his family escape to safety by driving through the country. This inspired Poker Twitter to reach out and help the former Team PokerStars Pro. He is immensely grateful for that support over two months on.   “I’ve been in the Czech Republic ever since we left Ukraine,” he tells us. “We spent 10 days in Budapest then Leon Tsoukernik rented four different hotels and invited over 500 refugees to stay there. I didn’t need the help personally but many of my wife’s family and friends who left with us did. Leon settled everyone in those hotels, and we rented an apartment nearby.” [caption id="attachment_638203" align="alignright" width="300"] Katchalov saw at first hand the devastation that the bombing of his home country caused.[/caption]   The time since that fateful journey has disappeared and Katchalov says that fleeing the city under attack and his subsequent efforts to raise funds for those still in Ukraine has altered his perception of time.   “The first week or two was a rollercoaster ride of emotions, seeing things I never thought I’d see. Because I have an audience on Twitter, I thought it would be good to show what was really going on. Once I did enter Europe, people offered their homes from 16 different countries for free, it’s been incredible. We were able to connect a lot of people because so many people from the poker community reached out to help.”   Clearly struck by the humanity of the relief effort, Katchalov is emotional as he says how ‘incredible’ the efforts of the wide poker world were in supporting refugees and those on the frontline.   “I started raising money for different humanitarian needs and discovered a foundation to partner with me and Luca Pagano’s esports company Qlash, to raise money. At this point, we’ve raised over $200,000 which is quite amazing. I just want to keep that going.”   Katchalov admits that he, like most of the world, has no idea how long the war will last or the devastation that will be left behind to repair. As he tells us, the kind of help that’s needed has shifted from helmets, drones and radios for soldiers in the early days of the invasion to logistics, with governmental aid focusing on the war. He hopes to raise money to help provide food and medical support for those still in Ukraine, the most affected of anyone during the conflict.   “Money can go through many different hands, so a big portion of my effort has been trying to help people I know who are on the ground. I’ve been working with different kitchens who are cooking food for soldiers and people. There’s a lot of money pouring in, but its stuck and food and clothes aren’t coming in - it’s about logistics.”   [caption id="attachment_638204" align="aligncenter" width="583"] Katchalov and his family were relived to arrive safe in Budapest.[/caption] Raising Money for Ukraine   "It’s my favorite poker series bar none, nothing compares to it."   Katchalov freely admits that his quest for glory at this year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas includes some motivation from him missing playing the game he loves. Over the last couple of years, he has been focused on Qlash, the esports team he runs with fellow poker pro Luca Pagano. This year, however, the opportunity to raise money was too good to miss the WSOP.   “To play the game I’ve always loved and do it for a good cause is amazing,” he says. “It’s my favorite poker series bar none, nothing compares to it. I’ve always loved mixed games and limit games and the WSOP is pretty much the only place you can play those.”   [caption id="attachment_638205" align="alignright" width="245"] Katchalov's memories of the WSOP are some of his fondest of an incredible poker career.[/caption] Everyone is excited about the potential growth that having the WSOP at Bally’s and Paris could provide this year. Katchalov is no different.   “I feel it might break records,” he says. “I’m an ambassador for the largest online site in Ukraine, PokerMatch, and they’re going to be buying a significant piece of my events and donating to the same humanitarian charity I will.”   Katchalov is hugely passionate about bringing money to the charity and has seen at first-hand the effect it can have on a country desperate for help from all corners of the globe.   “My plan is to donate at least 10% to Ukrainian charities and PokerMatch will be donating their full share to the same charity. I feel like my poker game is up there and I’m ready for any result.”   The Year Darvin Moon Busted Katchalov   "He looked at his chips and he just nonchalantly took one stack and called."   Back in 2009, the World Series of Poker welcomed a fresh-faced 28-year-old Katchalov as he ran deep in the Main Event. His memories of that event are clearly very special 13 years on.   “It was the year Ivey made the final table. When there were 50 players left, I was chip leader. I was texting Phil as we kept going back and forth at the top. Then I lost 30 pots in a row and busted and was devastated. I’d love to have another deep run in the Main Event.”   The magic of getting so close is still palpable to Katchalov after all these years.   “There are four tables left, and first place is life-changing money. You’re like ‘Oh my god.’ This was during the boom of online poker, too, so you probably stood to make as much as first place from a sponsorship with one of the major sites.”   Katchalov’s exit came at the hands of the man who would run all the way to second place, losing to Joe Cada in the hand that changed the young player’s life.   “Darvin Moon busted me!” laughs Katchalov. “I remember it too. I was kinda short with 11 blinds and had ace-ten. I shoved and he had just arrived at the table and was sitting down. He looked at his chips and he just nonchalantly took one stack and called. I think he had kings. It’s a painful memory... but it was memorable!”   Mixing It Up   "I’m planning to play mostly limit games and some of the smaller No Limit events."   Katchalov will focus mostly on mixed games in Las Vegas, and he has fond memories of winning his bracelet in Seven Card Stud, as well as plenty of other mixed game moments over the years. He feels that it is in those events where he has the biggest edge.   “I still feel like my NLHE edge is good, but in terms of mixed games, the game hasn’t advanced as much. There isn’t [so much] popularity to them, so the level of the game is stable. I’m planning to play mostly limit games, some of the smaller NLHE events where the fields are comparatively soft and of course the Main, which is a special event. I think it could reach record numbers.   Katchalov will be selling some action for the World Series of Poker events that he will play on Pocket Fives. His package goes on sale on Wednesday 25th May, just six days before the WSOP begins.   “I think it’s great that there are platforms like Pocket Fives that allow you to ‘crowdfund’ your events. It’s great to be able to give fans another reason to root for you and also to support a great cause. I’ve never sold pieces in public before. I'm looking forward to it and, hopefully, I can make lots of people some money. I’ll be tweeting about the experience a lot, especially for people who are backing me!”   After one of the hardest journeys anyone has had to make, Eugene Katchalov hopes to raise much-needed money and renew his love affair with poker in the capital of gambling, Las Vegas. There could hardly be a better player to root for at the World Series of Poker this summer... whether you’re lucky enough to get a piece of his action or not.   [caption id="attachment_638206" align="aligncenter" width="581"] Eugene Katchalov (pictured left, hiking Red Rock with Dan 'Jungleman' Cates' can't wait for this year's WSOP adventure.[/caption]                  
  2. Back in 2009, the youngest player to win the World Series of Poker Main Event triumphed on the biggest stage of all. Beating the logger and amateur poker player Darvin Moon to the title, 21-year-old Joe Cada captured the imagination of the poker world as he won over $8.5 million and the title of world champion. It was undoubtedly a monumental moment in the career of the now four-time WSOP bracelet winner, but more than that, it was the hand that changed Joe Cada’s life. The Teenage Busboy A year before the poker world changed and Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event, Joe Cada lived back in Michigan, where he was brought up and still resides. Aged 14, he was a bus-boy in restaurants, earning $15 an hour with tips. It gave him an early discipline and as the ‘super shy kid’ grew up, he found poker online. “I had mental health issues growing up as a teenager,” admits Cada. “I was a depressed kid and kept to myself. Poker was my outlet and it really opened me up as a person.” Depositing for the first time, Cada was only allowed to put down $50 on the site. He told his Mom that instead of heading out to parties and drinking, he saw this as his form of entertainment, a budget akin to heading to the cinema. “It was my $50 and I had a job. I'd started working at a really early age. I asked her to have trust in me that this wasn’t going to be a problem. Telling your Mom that you’re going to gamble online at a very young age especially when they’ve seen people go through struggles. I was lucky that my Mom trusted me.” Cada was given the go-ahead to play online and immediately treated poker very seriously. Within six months of that first deposit, he’d turned it into hundreds of thousands. A Piece of the Action “If you’d stayed in the league and won, we would have had a piece of you!” Cada knew he was going to play at the 2009 World Series of Poker when he was 18 years old in 2006 as Jamie Gold scooped up the $12 million top prize. Three years later, the young man had quit his job, moved into his own home and had one question - how much of his own action to take on. “I had a ton of success on Full Tilt Poker, winning almost every major, and was probably in profit by $550,000-$600,000. That gave notice to ‘Johnny Bax’, who went through the numbers.” Cliff Josephy, otherwise known as the aforementioned ‘Johnny Bax’, bought half of Cada’s action, but as Cada tells us, he very nearly gave half of his Main Event action away before he even arrived in Vegas. “My brother’s buddy got me to join this league back in 2009. After the first few tournaments, I was overall first. It was a 50/50 split if you won; you played for half of it and the rest of the league split the other 50%. I stopped going and played bigger, it was more a thing to get together with friends. I didn’t take the league that seriously. I ended up going out there and winning it! They were a little bitter, like ‘If you’d stayed in the league and won, we would have had a piece of you!’” Everyone around his home town knew of Cada’s success at the game and expectations were thought the roof, apart from his own. “I wasn’t as optimistic,” he laughs. “I knew what tournaments were like and thought I may win the Main Event one in 1,000 shots.” Cada travelled to Vegas and felt the responsible thing to do was to give back and accept Josephy’s offer. “At the World Series alone, the variance is a lot. I could afford it, but it would have been a big hit. I felt like if I won, what was the difference between $8m and $4m. It was never a concern to me. I always treated poker with a big responsibility and never put my back against the wall.” During the World Series, Cada went out to eat with Josephy and a bunch of other players. “He singled me out, saying something like ‘Hey Joe, you better win something otherwise we’re in for a bunch of money, I got the most faith in you of anyone here.’ I couldn’t believe he said that out loud. I’d been with him a month leading up to that event. He really is a legend.” The Hand That Made Poker History “I thought he had pocket queens - it was hard to see across the table.” As Cada made his way through to the final table, he took all before him. All except a logger called Darvin Moon. “Before the final started, he said something I’ll never forget. He said he didn’t want to take last place, but he didn’t want to take first place either. He didn’t want the million-dollar sponsorship deal with PokerStars and that resonated me in a way. He didn’t want the attention and it felt like he played the heads up like he didn’t care if he lost.” Cada had played with Darvin for a few days leading up to that final table. His mental notes were to play very fundamentally and let his opponent make mistakes, not getting too tricky or three-betting light. Heading into the final duel, Cada was confident of victory. He puts that down to the fortune he’d enjoyed in reaching that stage, combined with his experience with playing heads-up at the time, and the 2:1 chip lead he began the final battle with. “I couldn’t have been more wrong. I played the heads-up match like it was a cheap sit ‘n’ go and I didn’t make the adjustments I would normally make. Starting our match, he outplayed me, bloating the pots real big and putting me in tough spots. Before I knew it, he was a 2:1 chip leader.” Cada fought his way back into contention and before the final hand took place, felt like he had the momentum, having worked a deficit of 2:1 into a similar chip lead. With all the money piled on the table in bricks of dollars, Cada felt Moon wasn’t in it to play a long game. Pre-flop: Joe Cada: [poker card="9d"][poker card="9c"] Darvin Moon: [poker card="Qd"][poker card="Jd"] “When I opened nines on the button and he re-raised me, I thought it was the aggression factor. Nines is a good hand heads-up. I made it 3 million and he made it 8 million. He’s playing about 60 million effective. I could call, but nines are very exposed and there could be overcards and you could be guessing. If he folds, he chips down a bunch, I chip up. It’s more hand protection.” Darvin Moon was going nowhere and made the call. When he did so, he surprised Cada. “I thought he was going to fold,” he says. “Once he called quickly, I thought he had pocket queens - it was hard to see across the table. It took me a second to realise that he had called with queen-jack. If you wait for a better spot, sometimes you can blind down and never get that shot.” As the famous commentary from Lon McEachern declared: “Phil Hellmuth’s record as youngest Main Event champion stood for 19 years. Peter Eastgate’s record could be wiped out in one.” Flop: [poker card="8c"][poker card="2c"][poker card="7s"] As the flop fell, Cada jumped out of his seat, and was enveloped by his support group on the rail, with Josephy front and center. Darvin Moon was the polar opposite, stoic in his seat with his gigantic arms folded across his barrel chest. Josephy told Cada ‘Relax, relax’ as Cada’s supporters chanted ‘Joey, Joey’ around the Thunderdome. Turn: [poker card="Kh"] Cada was one card away and Josephy told him that he was going to be the ‘Main Event champion’. Cada was overwhelmed. “Poker was my career and that spot was a cumulation of the whole build-up, thinking ‘It can be all over, I don’t have to stress any more’. But Moon looked the opposite of bothered. “He didn’t care. He was so happy, we both were. I didn’t like attention but nor did he.” Time seemed to stand still. As Cada’s rail leaned closer to the table, the river card confirmed victory. River: [poker card="7c"] Sharing an exultant moment in the face of Josephy, Cada’s rail jumped towards him, but overcome with relief, Cada pulled away, wanting to speak with Moon instead while his supporters went wild in the stand. [caption id="attachment_638137" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Joe Cada's moment of glory under the lights at the Rio will live in WSOP fans memories forever.[/caption] The Late, Great Darvin Moon “He was a champion in everyone’s eyes.” Approaching Moon, Cada embraced him and congratulated him on how he played. “I felt he deserved to be where he was at.” Says Cada of his heads-up opponent in 2009. “It’s a tough moment for anyone to come that close. I put myself in his shoes for a second and realised the tournament wasn’t all about me or him. I never want to be the person celebrating in someone’s face. It’s hard not to get excited at that time, but that’s not who I was as a person, and I wanted to pay respect to Darvin. “You played a hell of a match, seriously, all the props in the world.” Said Cada to his opponent. Moon hugged him and raised the arm of the new world champion, still the youngest ever to achieve it. Cada let Moon hail his victory, but when his arm was released, grabbed Moon’s arm and raised it aloft too. When we ask him why, there is a moment’s pause. “He was a champion in everyone’s eyes, so he deserved to have his hand raised too.” Says Cada simply. Moon, tragically, passed away in September 2020 after complications following surgery. He was just 56 years old. “It’s super sad,” says Cada. “It’s so tragic. I went out with him a few times after the [Main Event]. We did this thing in Pittsburgh for Poker Night in America and after the streamed session, we went out to a Penguins game, got to go out on the ice and went drinking. He was a super friendly, nice guy. It was hard to hear about the surgery and the complications and how awful it was.” After Moon’s tragic death, Cada admits to feeling lost at what to do, not knowing the right way to reach out to his family or even knowing how to do so. He felt sad about his one-time opponent’s passing and wishes he’d paid his respects at the time. [caption id="attachment_638140" align="aligncenter" width="1158"] Darvin Moon (left) was just as much of a champion in Joe Cada's eyes (right).[/caption] A Lifetime of Change “I didn’t play poker to get rich, I played it to have fun and compete.” After winning the Main Event, Cada felt that it hindered his ability. Before it, he had worked all hours studying and playing the game. That all changed after November 2009. “I was battling every day non-stop. After winning it, though, the greatest thing it gave me was a sense of balance. I realized I didn’t have to play 90-100 hours a week, I wanted to see the world.” If you asked anyone about Joe Cada before the 2009 Main Event, Cada admits they’d have called him ‘The quietest kid in the world’. Now, he is approached by strangers and has spoken about the game on TV. “From when I was 21 compared to now, I’m a much better poker player, but I don’t feel as confident playing the biggest games now. When I was a kid, I was willing to play anyone for any stakes. I don’t have that same mindset now. I don’t want to risk what I have or get in over my head chasing giant buy-ins. I can play the stakes I like and be comfortable the rest of my life.” Cada regularly takes long breaks from poker, a month or two away from anything to do with the game. But then he’ll jump back in and loves the competitive edge the game provides him. While he’s played in high roller events, he prefers the social elements that more accessible tournaments provide. “I love meeting all sorts of different people, and I’ve always had fun with poker. I’ve realized that when it stops being fun, I’m not in the right spot. With the WSOP launching online in Michigan, it’s really become fun again. That’s what poker has always been to me. I didn’t play poker to get rich, I played it to have fun and compete.” Cada achieved both when he won the biggest tournament in poker 13 years ago. The World Series has since left the Rio, and this year, thousands more poker players will take on the greatest Main Event in the world at Bally’s and Paris on the Las Vegas Strip, many of trying to eclipse Cada as the youngest-ever winner. Cada says he hopes to spend time in the broadcasting booth this summer and at WSOP events in the future. This year, as every year, however, he’ll be back in Vegas playing the tournament where he made his name. At multiple stages, a young 21-year-old is bound to tell Cada what he once told Peter Eastgate over a decade ago, that his record as the youngest ever winner is going to be beaten ‘this year’. One day, just like it did for Joe Cada in the hand that changed his life back in 2009, that declaration will be transformed into truth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SXTois83Xc        
  3. The Rio is absolutely packed and the energy has been electric as players have found their way back to the World Series of Poker. To chase bracelets, maybe win some cash, and to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of bad beats. But also, to be a small part of something bigger. The Reunion, the first massive field event of the fall, is capturing all of that nicely. The idea was to have a coming together of poker players to reignite the fire of live tournament poker and to, essentially, enjoy making moments in one of the most prestigious series in poker. For the most part, the players have embraced it. Lively table talk and laughs can be heard while taking laps through Brasilia. Hand histories between friends fill the hallway and while, yes, there are some formidable lines to get into The Reunion, many of those would-be bracelet winners are demonstrating the kind of patience that is praised as a profitable trait in the game. But as much as The Reunion is a time to celebrate, it’s also a good time to remember. It’s been more than 800 days since the last hand of the 2019 WSOP was dealt and in that time poker has lost a number of notable figures in the community that has made the WSOP great. Players who have made a lasting impact on and off the felt with their play and personalities. Players who are no longer able to join us to enjoy the final WSOP at the Rio. Mike Sexton is one of those players. The legendary voice of the World Poker Tour was an avid player at the WSOP. There’s simply no doubt that if he could be at the start of the 2021 series, he would. Sexton’s charm could light up a table and his $2.6 million in earnings let you know he could also take it down. His passing in September 2020 was a massive loss to the poker world and there’s a bit of a void for a high-profile, old-school player who is willing to mix it up at all levels of buy-ins. His last time at the series was in 2019, in the final event, the $1,500 Closer where he finished 61st for more than $8K. Layne Flack got his “Back-To-Back” nickname at the WSOP. A Las Vegas resident and six-time bracelet winner, Flack’s outgoing personality helped define the early ESPN poker boom broadcasts. Flack played all the games and locked up two of his six wins in 2003, first in a $2,500 Limit Omaha Hi/Lo and then six days later in a $1,500 Limit Shootout. After Flack’s sudden passing, at 52, the poker world remembered him for his sense of humor and quick wit. Undoubtedly, he’d have a biting quip about the state of the WSOP, but it’d be great to hear it. Unlike Sexton and Flack, Darvin Moon doesn’t have a long storied history with the WSOP, but it’s no less memorable. He was the logger who won a satellite to the Main Event battled Joe Cada for the 2009 title. He told a fib to his wife on national TV about what he had in a hand and became another poker icon for the everyman, maybe the biggest since Moneymaker himself. He left the WSOP with $5.1 million before disappearing back into the woods from which he first emerged but you mention Darvin Moon at the WSOP and everyone knows who you are talking about. Moon passed away in September 2020, his runner-up finish was his only WSOP cash. Sam Grizzle’s first WSOP recorded cash was in 1990, bubbling the final table of the $1,500 Razz for roughly $4,000. While he never took home a bracelet, he splashed around in a mixed game event or three nearly every year for the better part of two decades and played as recently as 2019. Grizzle carried the reputation of pre-boom, old-school poker. A man who wasn’t afraid to say what is on his mind and even take it outside if pushed. Ask any longtime veteran about Sam Grizzle and surely a story will follow. Norm MacDonald, long-time Bay Area player and two-time bracelet winner Howard ‘Tahoe’ Andrew, and another two-timer Rod Pardey are among them as well. Plus, all of those grinders who have taken a shot over the years, enjoyed the chase and were a part of this community. This crop would likely shudder at the thought of being remembered with a black and white photo slideshow with “Tears In Heaven” playing in the background. They’d rather you check-raise bluff the turn. Double-tap the table when you've been beat. Take a photo in front of the WSOP sign. Don’t shed a tear, raise a glass and, maybe, make some memories and maybe a bit of history while you’re at it. But most importantly: enjoy. It’s a Reunion after all.
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