On Sunday evening no-one had heard of the name 'maratik', let alone Marat Sharafutdinov. By Tuesday afternoon poker blogs, forums and news outlets were awash with the story of Maratik, the man who had turned 40 frequent player points into a million dollars. His deal negotiations have already become legendary, sparking a new poker catchphrase, 'I wont million.' But still the name Marat Sharafutdinov was unknown.
Thankfully the Russian wing of the PokerStars Blog are a resourceful bunch and successfully tracked him down. They spoke to Sharafutdinov, a player with arguably the largest tournament ROI in history, to get the inside scoop on how the low stakes grinder had turned a few points into a life-changing, bracelet-winning seven-figure score becoming the first Russian champion of the World Championship of Poker (WCOOP) Main Event in the process.
It was around noon in Russia when Sharafutdinov completed his incredible journey having spun 40 FPPs, around 11.4% of a car air freshener in the PokerStars VIP shop, through multiple Mega-Path satellites into a $5,200 Main Event seat, past the bubble, into Day 2, onto the final table, through a six-handed deal and finally an epic comeback from a five-to-one chip deficit heads-up to take the title and $1,000,907.26. And it all started with those 40 FPPs.
"I noticed that with enough luck you can qualify for just a small amount of FPPs so I began to play them often. It was the same way I won a couple of seats in the $215 Sunday Million and in one of the nightly $150 tourneys. In that nightly tournament I was chip leader, but when I got close to the bubble, I couldn't decide if I needed to play to get to the final table or just to cash. I played aggressively in one hand but at the point where I had to go all-in I checked and lost half of my stack. After that I promised myself that if I was in an important tourney again, I wouldn't be afraid," said Sharafutdinov.
It was, as it turns out, a very valuable lesson to learn.
"There was a hand where I had QQ and the big blind three-bet me and then bet all three streets. It was not far from the money and I understood that it was a regular who was trying to push out a micro-limits player. He thought I would be afraid of elimination, but I called without much doubt. He had bluffed and after that sat out for some time," said Sharafutdinov.
It was a major turning point for Sharafutdinov who went card dead shortly after. He played a "maximum of five hands in four hours" after that but the deep-stacked, slow structure of the WCOOP Main Event gave Sharafutdinov the time and space to navigate his way past the bubble and to slowly chip up towards the big money.
"I started using my rock image to start opening with bluffs," said Sharafutdinov, taking advantage of other players' perceptions.
It worked and he made his way through to the nine-handed final table where Sharafutdinov rated Mike 'munchenHB' Telker and 'sly caveat' as the most dangerous players. All three made it to the deal stage which saw the six remaining players guarantee themselves a minimum $502,992 payout. Telker held the chip lead and a strong position being just two seats to the left of fellow big stack Sharafutdinov, which allowed Telker to cut himself the largest slice of the pie.
"I wont million," typed marakit, making an English-isn't-his-first-language typo that has quickly been adopted as a rallying cry for grinders the world over.
The other players wouldn't budge, neither would Telker who threatened to end the deal process. It was pointed out that should Sharafutdinov win the title and the $100,000 which was set aside for the champ that he would have his million. That settled the negotiations and, it seems, focussed Sharafutdinov's ambitions onto the win.
The bold demand was a far cry from Sharafutdinov's usual poker grinding.
"For some time I played six-max $6.50 Sit & Go's with a stable ROI of 11%, and $4.40 180-man Sit & Go's with an ROI of around 80%. At that time I had problems with my internet connection and had constant disconnects. One time I registered in 40 $5 tournaments and got disconnected for 45 minutes. As result I lost one-third of my bankroll and stopped developing as a player. After that I played $3 and $1 Sit & Go's even when I had a bankroll for $6 games and higher... I know the value of money," said Sharafutdinov.
It's good that he does. He's now got plenty of the stuff. Some of it will go on a football fan trip to South America, some more on a trip to The Bahamas, so don't expect him to go mad in the nosebleed games. We asked Sharafutdinov for one word of advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps: "Take risks, but remember about bankroll management."
They're wise words that have certainly paid off for Sharafutdinov.
You can read a wrap of the entire WCOOP festival and find out who were the heroes of September by clicking here
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.