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12 Dec, 2008 03:51

Poker fans dealt a winning hand

It’s official. Russia has recognised poker as a sport. The news comes shortly after a former maths student from Moscow scooped $5.8 million during the World Poker Series tournament in Las-Vegas.

, who is 27, became the first Russian to clean up at a top international tournament.

But he only started playing poker two years ago after getting a degree in maths. He soon realized that cards would make his fortune.

“A friend of mine told me that I must try playing online saying it was easy money. He put $50 on my account and I went from there,” Ivan says.

Russia is a hotspot for online poker. Live games also have a big following here.

Casinos will soon disappear from Russian cities. From July next year gambling is to be restricted to four special zones spread throughout the country.

But poker players have nothing to fear. Russia has made a landmark decision to recognize the game as a sport.

A sport that brings good returns. Ivan Demidov earned more money for a single tournament than Russia's leading boxers and tennis players collected in 2008.
The President of the Russian Sport Poker Federation, Dmitry Lesnoy, says that “Ivan's victory is phenomenal. Poker requires mathematic and psychological skills.  Russia has many talented people and can go high in the game.”

However, there are concerns that a growing number of young people in Russia are becoming addicted to gambling.

Psychologist and a gambling expert, Alyona Avgust, outlines the lure of poker.

“Imagine a middle class person who knows no matter how much he makes, he will not be able to afford luxuries such as a flat in downtown Moscow, so the desire to solve all problems in one shot is strong. But as a result he might lose his family and job,” she said.

Ivan Demidov plans to buy a flat in Moscow with his winnings. As a science graduate, he says it's skill rather than luck that marks the difference between winners and losers in poker.