I first met Eugene when he played the WPT Prague Main Event in 2011. I ran after him just as he busted the tournament to find out what happened for the live coverage. He exited the field shortly after the players got in the money with a min cash; obviously he wasn’t very happy. Oh well. Today I know better than to ask a player about his final hand immediately after busting out. And I´d like to think I know Eugene a lot better as well.
Ten-year-old Eugene Katchalov moved to Brooklyn, New York, with his mom in 1991. They left Ukraine to reunite with his father, who had already lived in the US for two years and managed to get them out of the country. In one of our previous conversations, Katchalov recalls that he understood his mom “wanted to raise him in a country where he could have a better future.” I would say that he´s made the most out of the opportunity.
Today, Eugene Katchalov is a well-known American poker professional, and he chooses to represent Ukraine. He joined the elite PokerStars Team PROs in 2011, the very same year he won the PCA Super High Roller, his first WSOP bracelet, and earned the BLUFF Player Of the Year title. It was one of the most successful years for him, if not the most successful. Eugene’s accomplishments at the table and the new contract with PokerStars certainly put him in the limelight. But he was no newbie in the poker world. He´s been playing poker professionally since 2003.
I sat down with Eugene during the EPT Prague festival in December to find out what he´s been up to recently. We spoke about his engagement to Anna Selyukova, similarities between tournament poker and start-ups, and a lot more. I hope you enjoy the interview.
How is Eugene Katchalov today?
Eugene Katchalov is good! It´s been a long trip to Prague. I´ve got three more days here, couple of more side events to play.
Where do you reside now? Still in Las Vegas?
In general, I spend a lot of time with my fiancée in Kiev, Ukraine now. We rented an apartment there. You can say I live there, but I don’t spend the whole year there. Basically, Kiev has become my base, and we travel from there to New York, the Bahamas, etc.
How have you fared at the poker tables here in Prague?
I did make a final table of €500 shootout, but that´s nothing special. Then I didn’t have any other results. I played total of six tournaments.
How would you sum up this year (2015) in terms of poker results? You played the World Series, you went deep in WCOOP event, a few deep runs on the EPT circuit, but still no additional bracelets to add to your collection.
Yes, I finished second in a WCOOP mixed-game event. I cashed five times at the WSOP, but they were all minor cashes. I ended up being down still for the World Series. I guess being down isn’t good. But it is what it is. Nothing terrible.
How does it affect you, when you are down for a poker tournament series? What do you take from it?
For the past year and a half, but really crucially even more for the last few months I´ve been working hard on my game. I´ve been learning new ways of working on my game and I´m enjoying it a lot. It´s important to constantly improve. I don’t think I can just rely upon my experience and knowledge from the past to win in the future. I need to fix a lot of holes and leaks which I may have. I can see a lot of good results coming from that. I´m looking at the future optimistically.
Specifically, how do you work on your game?
There is a lot of approaches that I use. Even when I´m playing, I´m just observing what everybody does without seeing their cards. One of my strengths is pattern recognition. I´m trying to find patterns in terms of where people´s weaknesses or strengths are, in general, and then to see if I can take advantage of that. Also, when people play hands, I try to put myself in their shoes and picture myself: “If I had this hand, what would I do in this spot? If I had that hand, what I would do in that spot?” After that, I come up with a lot of ideas that I apply on my own game. I like to watch final tables as well, whether it is online or live.
Do you go on Twitch?
Occasionally. Not very often.
Didn’t you stream with ElkY?
One time. We streamed for fun when he was in Las Vegas. There are some good players on Twitch, but it´s not my main learning platform by any means.
— ElkY (@elkypoker) June 4, 2015
You are involved in many other ventures. Your life is certainly not just poker. You got engaged recently. Living with someone – it is – let´s say – time restricting. Is there still enough time for poker? How do you balance all your activities?
I think I´m playing … it is close to as much poker as I´d been playing, even before I was engaged. My relationship is not prohibiting me from playing poker. It sucks, of course, if I have to travel and she cannot come with me and is busy with her own things. But she tries to travel with me as much as she can. I guess I´m playing slightly less, but it is still pretty heavy schedule of poker. I plan to play a heavy schedule next year, too.
I know you enjoy to travel. What special places have you visited throughout this year?
Probably the most memorably was Iceland, where I proposed to my fiancé. It was truly memorable. It is a beautiful country with a gorgeous scenery.
I remember seeing the video. You put the engagement ring in your pocket and took her to the top of a mountain, right?
That was the top of a volcano.
And then? She didn’t know at all, right?
She didn’t. I was hiding it. I planned it close to two months in advance. I was trying to find the ring. Obviously, I haven´t done anything like that before. Everything was very new for me. It is very hard to keep things hidden from Anna; she is very suspicious. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but I succeeded somehow.
The plan was to go to Iceland and I figured there would be a lot of cool places where I could propose. I wasn’t sure exactly where. I figured I could find the place on the spot, when we got there.
Once we got there, we went to the tourist center and started looking at the activities to do. I saw this helicopter flight around Iceland, where you also land on the top of a volcano – the famous volcano that blew up five years ago that stopped all the airline traffic. I thought that would be really, really cool and kind of romantic, too. I decided to do it there.
How did you manage to film the whole thing?
I was replaying the moment in my head many times before. I was really nervous. I knew we are going with a small group – usually six or seven people can go, plus pilot. My plan was to ask one of the passengers just to take a picture of us. Then I got the idea to film it with my phone. There were two couples and a man with his son with us, but I decided to ask the pilot because when we stepped out, we were going to spend only around three minutes before we had to leave again. So, I asked my girlfriend to go and pose, that we are going to take a picture together – “go ahead, go ahead”, and I told the pilot in the ear that I´m going to propose, “please, just videotape this.” And he was like: “OH, ****! OK!”
— Eugene Katchalov (@EugeneKatchalov) September 25, 2015
I can understand. You can easily screw up: Oh, I forgot to press the record button. Sorry!
Yeah, exactly. But I thought a picture is not the same thing. Video is much more memorable, much nicer.
I had the ring in my pocket. I was so nervous, and then we were posing for what she thought was a picture and I started telling her that I love her, and she was like “why are you telling me this, we are supposed to take a picture, what are you doing? Tell me this later.” Then I got down on one knee and that was when she started freaking out and realizing what was going on. The pilot was amazing. He wasn’t filming us just from one perspective. He walked around to show where we are and all the people that were with us were overwhelmed and happy for us. This was truly sweet, a memorable day.
Wonderful. Congratulations again!
How did you meet Anna? Was it the love at first sight?
We met through mutual friends. She was the winner of the Bachelor, in Ukraine. There was no chemistry between her and the guy after she won it, and some friends asked her if she wanted to meet me, because there was a time when I was supposed to be on the Bachelor. When she was first competing just to get on the show, it was a secret who the Bachelor is, plus it wasn’t decided yet. They were asking all the girls, who would you want the Bachelor to be? And there were rumors on the Internet that it might be me, and she mentioned it. They have this recording of her saying it. So, they asked her if she´d like to meet me afterwards and then they asked me. I said “Sure, why not? It would be fun experience.” We chatted online for about a month and then I invited her to come to New York for a week and she came by.
I wouldn’t call it “love at first sight” and I don’t think I´m that type of person. We liked each other right away. I was surprised how much I liked her and it took off from there. It just kept getting better and better. I also think that that´s a much healthier way to start a relationship. In many “first sights,” everything is “all-in” at first and it just downgrades from there. It´s much better to start slow and then upgrade slowly.
— Eugene Katchalov (@EugeneKatchalov) January 15, 2014
Is the time of “settling down and having a family” coming?
Yeah, I think, eventually. I mean, this is the first step. We would love to have kids. We´re probably in no hurry. Probably within a couple of years…
In general, what kind of people do you like to have around yourself?
Thought-provoking people. People who make me think about certain things I haven’t thought of before. I like to discuss current events in the world; technology. Intelligence is important for me.
You did some public speaking this year. What were the projects about?
I skipped EPT Malta for a public speaking event in Ukraine. It was a business event, where some of the top CEOs of Ukraine businesses came together. I was asked to speak at the event. There are a lot of similarities between poker and business and I wanted to showcase that. I created a presentation which did exactly that – demonstrated not only similarities between business and poker, but more specifically similarities between start-ups and tournament poker. Percentage-wise, the odds are very similar in terms of success and how often you can expect results.
— napoker (@napokercom) April 22, 2015
Can you expand on that and explain in more detail?
Let´s say you play in a poker tournament. What are your odds to win a poker tournament? Pretty small, no matter how good you are. We are talking about the EPT Main Event in Prague for example, where there are over 1,000 people participating. And even if you´re the best player in the field, your chances of actually winning the event are less than 1%. To make the final table, slightly over 1%, so, maybe 2-3% of the time you can make the final table. In the start-up world, in business, it is very similar as to when you invest in a brand new start-up from the get-go. Most start-ups fail, that’s just statistics. Then some go on to be a successes and then very few go on to be huge successes. These are start-ups that become unicorns – they start from nothing and then are worth billions of dollars. Unicorns are very, very rare – which is why they are called unicorns.
You can look at poker tournaments in terms of odds of finding the unicorn. You should understand that it is something very difficult and rare. Percentage-wise, it is similar. Whether you are professional tournament poker player or a venture capitalist, you kind of think along the same lines in terms of risk. Your approach to risk is similar. You understand that investing in one, or two or three tournaments in poker does not mean you´re going to win anything. Very often you can play 50 tournaments and not win anything. You can still be down and that doesn’t mean your equity is negative. It is a matter of diversifying.
How do you prepare for public speaking? Did you do a course, perhaps?
Before the last public speech I actually took professional lessons from a Ukrainian guy who specializes in preparing people for TED talks. I thought that would be a really cool opportunity to learn from someone like that. I hired him and took quite a few lessons. We´d built my speech, the outlines; we put it together. It was very helpful. Even then, I would not call myself a very comfortable public speaker. I´m very nervous and I don’t feel comfortable. I feel comfortable doing Q&A. It is much easier for me, but to talk about things from memory, I find challenging.
How successful are you in terms of investments outside poker? How is MatchPoint NYC doing? What other businesses are you involved in?
MatchPoint is doing well; it´s growing all the time, which is nice. It is a seasonal business, there are ups and downs to it, but overall it´s doing well. I´m happy with it. But MatchPoint is not a start-up investment. The risks are different. Some investments I´ve made I knew were long shots. They are like poker tournaments; I invest and most of the time I get zero back, but then there is a small chance I get a huge return. MatchPoint is a very different type of investment; it is a much safer investment. There is very little downside, and the upside is also limited.
Start-ups I invested in haven’t really done too well, but I’m always looking for new things to do. I don’t want to do only poker. I don’t think that’s smart. I love poker and I enjoy playing it, but I don’t think it´s smart to do just that. I´m always looking for new ventures and opportunities.
— MatchPointNYC (@MatchPointNYC) May 25, 2015
Are you still as much into fitness and healthy lifestyle? How do you keep fit?
I still exercise a lot. My routine now is three days on one day off. I don’t travel with my trainer anymore. We haven’t travelled together for the past two years, but we still correspond every day. He sends me trainings every day and I send him feedback, and we built the next training based on that. That´s perfect for me, because I know exercises well enough, I just need someone to structure them. So, I do work out a lot. My diet is probably not as good as I´d like it to be. I gained a little bit of weight. It´s difficult to stick to a diet, but I still try.
I did stop meditation. I regret it. I actually resumed it recently. I had a problem after WCOOP. I discovered irregular beating of my heart, so I went to see a doctor and found out I have heart arrhythmia. I think it is inherited from my dad. It might be also stress-related therefore I believe meditation could be very helpful for that.
What are your plans for the next year (2016) in poker?
I want to continue focusing on my live game. The online game is becoming very, very tough. The opportunity to be a winner in live poker will continue. There´s going to be a lot of equity, live. I don’t think players improve as fast live as they do online. So, that´s why I believe there´s a lot of opportunity to win vs. online – that´s completely different game. Online, I´ll be playing mainly to practice and to experiment with different concepts.
Outside poker? Probably the wedding?
I don’t know when that´s going to take place. We were thinking about summer, maybe next summer. It´s open. It´s much more for our families rather than for us. I think we´re past that stage when it´s super important for us.