No one knew what to expect of Ukraine. After five seasons on the EPT, we had a new starting location, a new country to visit, a new city to explore and a new poker experience to investigate. As has been well documented, we were supposed to have been in Moscow this week, which would also have filled all of those criteria. But circumstances conspired against the Russian capital, and they flung us to Kiev.
That, however, has proved not to be a bad thing at all. Early impressions of the Ukrainian capital are good. After enjoying some terrific hospitality on our first evening, and managing a brief glimpse at what is clearly a city of vast complexity and cultural history, we arrived today to the poker venue and were startled afresh. No one is going to suggest that the Palace of Sports is the most attractive building we have ever visited, but it is by some measure the most imposing.
Only the Royal Dublin Society, home of the EPT event in Ireland on season three, comes anywhere close to the size of this place. It is a vast concrete hangar of a room, with a concave roof, serried ranks of chairs filing upwards on three walls, all with a view of the stage on which the stars of rock and the Eurovision pretenders perform. Today the stage was packed with a flurry of colour and action as drummers and dancers welcomed us to Ukraine.
All of that took place in front of a huge tournament floor, one big enough for full gymnastics meets, major boxing bouts and, for this week at least, poker. The confirmed number of runners for today’s day 1a was 129, and with a few more expected tomorrow, this will comfortably become the largest poker tournament ever hosted in a CIS country — a fitting record for such a gigantic place.
As ever, the opening salvos downed some prominent players, and sent others into pole position. Team PokerStars Pro was represented here by Luca Pagano and Alexander Kravchenko. Only the latter lives to fight another day after Pagano ran his two pair into a flopped set of eights.
Surprisingly enough, those eights weren’t in the hands of Mihaylo Demidenko. He simply won just about every other sizeable pot on offer today. The local player is our run-away chip leader at tonight’s close, sitting behind something like 145,000, an exceptional five times his starting stack.
Seated next to Demidenko is Oleksandr Ziv, who has about 85,000, which represents another good day at the Palace.
Over the other side of the room — what could be about a half-mile walk if the tables hadn’t been arranged closely together — sits another well-stacked table, featuring Allan Bække and Michael Naletov. Bække, a familiar figure from his time in the media, his destruction of heads up online tables, and his appearances at EPT Copenhagen and Budapest, was one of the very early chip leaders. He had accrued enough chips that even when he lost a pot to Naletov, making the Russian the first player past 100,000, he still had about 30,000 left, enough to chip back up. At the end of the day, Bække had caught up brilliantly and is back with 100,000 of his own.
Tomorrow we do all this again, when there’ll be a Minieri, a Demidov, a Thater and a Deeb in the mix, among many others. They too will attempt to battle through seven one-hour levels and into day two.
Take a look back at today’s action with some, any, one, three, all, none of the following links. And see if you can find the way to find the chip counts, which will be updated in full and official form tonight.
Introduction: This show is on the road
Introducing the PokerStars Blog Featured Seat
Alexander Kravchenko: The man in red
A chat with the PokerStars qualifier Eren Sergil
Rain in Ukraine: notes on the roof
Alan Bække is back
And the level-by-level:
That’s all from the Palace of Sports for tonight. See you tomorrow. Bye!
All photography is (c) Neil Stoddart.