The phenomenal success of the PokerStars.com European Poker Tour has led to the constant expansion and addition of poker tours around the world. The PokerStars.com Latin American Poker Tour and Asian Poker Tour are also in second seasons of tour stops, and only months ago, the launch of the PokerStars.com Russian Poker Tour (RPT) was announced. With the rapid growth of poker games and tournaments in Russia, along with names like Alex Kravchenko and Ivan Demidov exploding onto the global scene, it only made sense to bring the success of PokerStars.com tournaments to the Russians themselves.
Two stops on the inaugural RPT were initially set, with St. Petersburg as the first and Moscow to follow at the end of February. The St. Petersburg event took place from January 25 through February 1 and exceeded the brightest of expectations. Players traveled far distances to participate, and by all accounts, the first RPT event was a grand success.
The RPT St. Petersburg began with side events, which reports noted were well-attended, and the main event attracted 201 players for the $5K buy-in event. The most famous faces in the crowd included Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Rousso, who made the trek from the United States to take part in the festivities, and Alex Kravchenko, along with Alexander Kostritsyn and 2008 WSOP main event second place finisher Ivan Demidov. Kostritsyn was the only one of the mentioned that did not make it through the first day of play.
With such a large field, tournament director Thomas Kremser, of EPT fame, agreed that play should begin ten-handed at the tables so as to accommodate everyone, though there were still alternates on a list to join when seats became available.
Eventually, Day 1 ended with only 69 remaining. Oleg Suntsov was the chip leader with an 85,600 stack, while players like Kravchenko and Demidov each sat in the 30K range. Rousso was on the lower end of the leaderboard with 10,900 but still alive to see another day.
Day 2 began with those 69 players, a number that quickly diminished as only 18 of them were to receive payment for making it to the final two tables of the tournament. And when the field found only 19 left, which excluded already-eliminated Rousso and Demidov, hand-for-hand play ensued. It was then that Alex Kravchenko pushed his 50K into the pot with pocket aces, only to be called by Alex Grishuk and his A-2. Looking like a favorite to double up on the bubble, a deuce on the flop was a bit scary, but the other deuce on the river was too much. Kravchenko took the bad beat and finished on the money bubble in 19th place.
When the field thinned to ten players, action slowed to a crawl and continued that way for about 90 minutes until finally Mark Vronsky pushed all-in with pocket nines. He unfortunately ran into the Q-J of his opponent, and that was the hand that won the race, eliminating Vronsky in tenth place. That allowed the final nine to retire for the evening with the following standings in place:
Dumitru Gaina (Moldova) 501,000
Sergey Popuk (Russia) 302,000
Sergey Solntsev (Russia) 256,000
Vadim Markushevsky (Belarus) 256,000
Anatoly Ozhenilok (Russia) 203,000
Bulat Bikmetov (Russia) 181,000
Evgeny Zaytsev (Russia) 178,000
Alex Pantukhin (Russia) 76,000
Oleg Suntsov (Russia) 64,000
Chip leader Gaina gained entry into the tournament through a PokerStars online qualifier, as did Pantukhin. But none would have the storybook final table experience of Oleg Suntsov, the St. Petersburg resident who led the pack on Day 1 but came to the final table struggling to stay alive.
Contrary to the starting chip stacks, it wasn’t the two shortest stacked players to move first. Evgeny Zaytsev was the one who looked down at pocket jacks and decided to push with it, but he came up against the pocket queens of Bikmetov. Nothing was able to save Zaytsev from being eliminated in ninth place, which was worth 643,000 rubles.
Chip leader Gaina took some hits early during final table action, including one loss to Suntsov that allowed the latter to double up. Gaina finally pushed the rest of his chips into the pot on a subsequent hand with an open-ended straight draw, but Markushevsky called with a nut flush draw that made it on the river. That put Dimitru Gaina out in eighth place with 965,000 rubles.
Anatoly Ozhenilok had trouble getting things going but thought he could turn it around with . Bikmetov was there with Q-8 and the call. The flop gave Bikmetov the advantage when it came 8-4-9, and the queen on the turn made it better. The river was an 8, giving Bikmetov the full house and eliminating Ozhenilok in seventh place with 1,287,000 rubles.
Sergey Popuk was the next player at risk, though he looked forward to a double-up with pocket aces. Pantukhin called with K-Q, and the board came K-Q-5-8-7 to crack those aces. Popuk was gone in sixth place with 1,608,000 rubles.
Bikmetov dropped after eliminating a player earlier and finally put the remainder of his chips all-in with A-8. Markushevsky was the caller with A-J, and that was not only good enough, but he got a jack on the turn for the pair and another on the river for trips. Bulat Bikmetov was gone in fifth place, which was good for 1,930,000 rubles.
Markushevsky kept up the pressure and put some of it on Sergey Solnstev. Solnstev pushed all-in with pocket eights, and Markushevsky called with A-5, only to catch an ace on the river and send Solnstev packing in fourth place with 2,380,000 rubles.
When Alex Pantukhin decided to move all-in with pocket sevens, none other than Markushevsky was there to call with Q-J. A jack came on the flop, and no sevens were dealt on the turn or river to save Pantukhin, who left in third place with 3,217,000 rubles.
Heads-up action began with the following chip counts:
Vadim Markushevsky 1,200,000
Oleg Suntsov 800,000
With some aggression and a calm, steady purpose, Suntsov slowly chipped up through some small pot victories. He eventually made his way into the chip lead, which was when the final hand came down.
Markushevsky made the initial raise, which was called by Suntsov. After the flop hit 6-9-3, there was some betting in order to move on to the turn, which was a 5. Suntsov bet out 220K, but Markushevsky raised all-in holding K-9 for top pair. Suntsov called quickly with pocket queens, and the 2 on the river was enough to force Markushevsky to settle for a second place finish. The aggressive player was rewarded with 5,469,000 rubles.
It was Oleg Suntsov who became the RPT St. Petersburg champion, forever to be dubbed the first ever PokerStars.com Russian Poker Tour champion. He was given 10,616,000 for the feat, which would have amounted to approximately $300,000 in U.S. funds. With the trophy presentation, Suntsov went to celebrate, and the St. Petersburg main event was in the history books.
(Thanks to the PokerStars blog for live updates.)