22-year-old Russian wins WSOP Omaha high-low title

10 June 2011

Viacheslav Zhukov, a 22-year-old professional poker player from Stary Oskol, Russia defeated a star-studded field of 202 players to win the $10,000 Omaha High-Low Split Championship and $465,216 at the World Series of Poker.

Prior to taking up the game full-time last year, Zhukov graduated from Moscow Mining University where he studied geology. Zhukov must have learned something at the mining school. He appears to be using his formal education to maximum benefit. He came to this year's WSOP seeking to find gold and cash, and ended up uncovering a treasure chest.

This was not only Zhukov’s first year to attend the WSOP. It was, in fact, his very first WSOP cash. Zhukov sure picked a powerhouse event in which to make a splash. He came out on top in one of the toughest events in poker, thereby achieving, by any measure, an international tournament breakthrough. Indeed, the championship-level Omaha high-low split event is widely-regarded as having one of the toughest fields of in tournament poker.

As is the case with just about every WSOP winner, Zhukov has a marvelous story en route to victory and riches. On Day One, he lost several pots in a row and was about to give up. Zhukov began the tourney with 30,000 in chips. Three hours into the tournament, he was down to just 2,000 – an embarrassingly-low figure that was, for most, a ticket to almost-certain elimination.

But then Zhukov starting winning pots. By the end of the first day, he was back to where he started – with about 30,000 in chips. Day Two would prove to be a moving day when he climbed into the upper ranks. By the time the cards were dealt out at the final table, Zhukov had a shot to make poker history. And, he did just that.

Zhukov is one of many Russian poker players who are becoming a formidable force in WSOP tournaments. Skill games have always been entwined deeply in Russian culture, which has been manifested in dominating competitions such as chess for centuries.

“I think chess and poker are similar games," said Zhukov. "But in poker you can win a lot more money. Young people now prefer to play poker. And, with the Internet it is easier. I think many Russian young people are concentrating on poker now."

The runner-up was George Lind, a tough poker pro from Chandler, Ariz. Lind is one of online poker's most accomplished players. He has been known to play up to 40 tables/screens simultaneously. He was previously selected as the "Player of the Year" at one of the biggest online poker sites.

Lind had a 2-to-1 chip lead at one point when play was heads-up. But his final opponent proved just as tough and caught a run of cards that ended up winning the tournament. Lind's consolation prize for finishing second amounted to $287,554, which for a player with as much talent and ambition as Lind was like being given the keys to a red Ferrari with a flat tire.

The final table contained three former gold bracelet winners – including Steve Billirakis, who finished third for $214,697, Richard Ashby, who was fourth to win $161,379, and Josh Arieh, who finished ninth.

Mack Lee, a 51-year-old investor from Los Angeles, Calif., was fifth; Guillaume Rivet, a 25-year-old poker pro from Lorraine, Quebec was sixth; Jason Steinberg, a 32-year-old attorney from Montebello, Calif., finished seventh; and Mikael Thuritz, a 25-year-old poker pro from Stockholm, Sweden, was eighth.

The top 27 finishers collected prize money. Other former bracelet winners who cashed in the event included: Michael Chow (13th), Brendan Taylor (14th), Mike Sexton (15th), Perry Green (17th), Freddy Deeb (20th), Eric Buchman (21st), and Jason Mercier (27th).

This was one of the few tournaments this year with a decline in attendance. The 202-player field was a slight reduction from last year’s 212 runners.

Tournament summary provided by Nolan Dalla, WSOP Media Director, reprinted by permission.

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