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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Vitaly Lunkin

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

In late June and early July I had the opportunity to cover portions of the World Series of Poker live and in person for the first time.  I was really excited to see all the big names of the poker world in their element, such as Negreanu, Brunson, and Hellmuth.  As a boxing fan, I was also excited to see Mike Tyson, who participated in the “Ante Up For Africa” charity tournament.  Tyson, known in the boxing world as a knockout artist, didn’t do well in his WSOP experience, but another player I had not heard of up to that point seemed to be knocking everyone out in multiple tournaments.  Vitaly Lunkin cashed in six WSOP events, winning his second bracelet in as many years.  Before his efforts in this year’s WSOP he was already a well known player in his native Russia, but after this impressive performance the entire poker world has come to know him a little better.

Born in Moscow, Russia, Lunkin was interested in a variety of games at an early age.  When Lunkin was a kid in Russia, poker was still legal in casinos, but Lunkin wouldn’t become interested in poker until he was well into adulthood.  One of Lunkin’s favorite first games of choice was a Japanese board game called Renju.  Renju is played like the game “Go” on the same 15 by 15 board, but some of the rules are different, giving the game its own unique feeling.  Lunkin continued to play this game on the highest level, participating in the World Championships even up to the year 2003, which is when he began focusing more on poker.  Also, following in the footsteps of Dan Harrington and Gus Hansen, Lunkin was also a professional Backgammon player.  The money he won in these wasn’t much, and when a friend of his introduced him to the game of poker he admitted he was intrigued, and after a transition period where he played all three games on a regular basis, he eventually made the full turn towards poker.

Almost immediately Lunkin began to make an impression on the poker circuit in Russia.  In 2003 came the first tournament he ever cashed in, a $300 Pot Limit Omaha event at the Moscow Open.  Over the next three years he cashed in a handful of other events, all of them in Russia except one that was in Ireland.  While the money wasn’t huge by today’s standards, it was big for Lunkin compared to what he was making in the Backgammon and Renju world.
Also during this time he began playing cash games, doing well in those as well.  His game of choice is Omaha, and while he started at low limits, he was quickly able to work his way up in stakes.  The stakes he prefers to play today is 25/50, but will go higher if the game is juicy enough.  For the most part, though Lunkin has earned his reputation as a tournament player, and as of late, his popularity has begun to go through the roof.

Lunkin made his first trip to the World Series of Poker in 2006, where he finished 829th in the Main Event.  It didn’t paint a picture of future success, but Lunkin wasn’t about to have his success determined by one tournament.  Following the WSOP Lunkin finished 5th at the 2007 $10,500 Buy-In Moscow Millions Main Event, which was won by our very own Tony G.   The 5th place money only amounted to $25,500 in winnings, but it gave him some much needed experience with top players, which he would soon need.

Lunkin blanked at the 2007 WSOP, but in 2008 he won his first WSOP bracelet in the $1,500 buy-in limit event for $629,417.  As mentioned, 2009 would turn out to be a huge year for Lunkin.  In May Lunkin finished first at the Russian Poker Tour’s Main Event in his native Moscow.  The victory earned him $436,389, and proved to be a great warm-up for the upcoming WSOP.
Lunkin started the WSOP season with a victory in the $40,000 40-year anniversary event.  His final table featured the likes of Isaac Haxton (2nd), Greg Raymer (3rd), Justin Bonomo (5th), and Ted Forrest (9th).  The hard earned victory not only earned Lunkin a career high $1,891,018 but also the honor of being associated with such a high profile event.  It also earned him his second WSOP bracelet.

That was just the beginning of good fortune for Lunkin for the 2009 WSOP.  On June 20 he finished second to Matthew Graham in the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha event adding an additional $419,832 to his bankroll.  Just six days later he made another final table, this time finishing 4th at the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E tournament, what many experts call the toughest event in poker, and the true indicator of a world champion of poker.  That finish earned him $38,812.

For his career Lunkin is just a few thousand dollars short of $4,000,000 in career earnings.  That number puts him in second place on the list of Russia’s all-time money leaders behind Ivan Demidov.  He is also listed fourth on Europe’s all-time money list. 

When Lunkin isn’t traveling the world for a poker tournament he still considers Moscow home.  Up until recently Lunkin earned some extra income working as a poker coach around Russia, but this summer Russia made poker illegal.  It made all poker games illegal, and shutdown casinos in all but a few locations.  While this may have hurt Lunkin’s bottom line a little bit, I’m sure he isn’t panicking, especially if he keeps cashing in World Series of Poker tournaments at his present clip.

Lunkin is a Full Tilt Poker sponsored player, and can be seen playing in both the cash games and tournaments on the online poker room.

*Read Billy Monroe’s Blog*

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