Russian poker scene

Texas Hold Em, online and off, is all the rage in the United States. But its becoming more popular in other countries, as well. As the Moscow Times reports, there is a burgeoning poker scene in Russia:

Fueled by Internet game rooms and television coverage of tournaments, poker has experienced an unprecedented spike in worldwide popularity in recent years.

The web site PokerPulse.com, which tracks the online poker industry, estimated that in May there were more than 1.8 million active online players betting $200 million every day, a tenfold jump since televised poker began to take off in early 2003.

While poker was once the domain of flamboyant, hardened gamblers and rich businessmen looking to blow off steam with other high-rollers in backrooms and casinos, the surge in the game’s popularity has created a new generation of young poker pros, relative rookies, honing their craft — and padding their wallets — on the Internet before testing their skills in major tournaments.

Online and casino poker in Russia is still in an embryonic stage. There are currently around 100 players in Russia, a majority of them in Moscow and St. Petersburg, whose income depends primarily on their success at the poker table, said Dmitry Lesnoi, publisher of the monthly magazine Casino Games and a ubiquitous figure on the Moscow poker scene.

Despite the relatively small numbers compared with the West, Lesnoi, who is also president of the Russian League of Intellectual Games, said poker’s popularity had grown exponentially in recent years.

“Five years ago, there was a total of 200 people playing poker regularly in Moscow, and now there are thousands of players playing on the Internet and in casinos,” Lesnoi said.

Vlad Shushkovsky, a burly hockey agent who emigrated with his parents to Canada from Soviet Ukraine in 1979, has also noted a surge in popularity in Russian online poker. Shushkovsky, 38, created the web site RedStarPoker.com after he saw a gap in the burgeoning online poker market.

“There are a lot of Internet poker players all over the world, but there were no Russia-specific sites,” Shushkovsky said.

Shushkovsky estimates that a year ago there were around 1,000 Russians regularly playing poker at popular sites such as PartyPoker.com. Red Star Poker, which went online in June, currently has around 5,300 registered accounts.

“Given that some players register under more than one nickname, we probably have around 3,500 players registered at any given time,” he said.

Not Yet a Full House, But Poker Catching On

Personally, I’m fascinated by the Russian League of Intellectual Games. What a great name for an organization. It’s interesting that poker is considered an “intellectual game” in Russia, while in the United States, where it was born, it has traditionally been looked down upon.

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