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Anatoly Filatov - The Life of a Russian Poker Pro

Anatoly Filatov The Life of a Russian Poker Pro

Front page photo credit: Danny Maxwell, PokerNews.com

Russian poker pro Anatoly Filatov might not be the most well known player from his home country, but this year ???????? ???????, as his name is spelled in his native Cyrillic, made quite the splash.

Filatov, who recorded his first live tournament result in 2012, finished 28th in the European Poker Tour Main Event in Vienna after having had the chip lead on Day 4, he finished second in the €10,000 High Roller just two days later for $366,700 and notched up three cashes during the EPT Grand Final for well over $170,000.

Online Filatov plays under ‘nl_profit’ and has $1.6 million in winnings, including a 2013 WCOOP victory in the $320 no-limit hold’em knockout tournament. Filatov also has multiple Sunday 500 final tables, a runner-up finish in the $1k Monday on Full Tilt Poker and a SCOOP final table this last spring.

When talking to the 26-year old you immediately sense that he loves sharing his thoughts, emotions and passions, but speaking in his second language hinders him more than it should.

“I’m sorry for my English,” is a common phrase the Muscovite uses, but there’s no need, as the successful poker professional provides quick rebuttals when yours truly makes a faulty assumption about the Russian culture.

The ever-apologetic approach of non-English natives about their skill of the language is perhaps a false sense of modesty, or just a result of bottled up annoyance created by wanting to express without being able to do so to the full extent.

Filatov speaks with flare and excitement and his thoughts are clear for the one who wants to listen. If Russia was in search for an international ambassador, Filatov should be high on the list, because his ability to self reflect on a conflicted country while maintaining a positive attitude is nothing short of impressive.

The young man, who is about to turn 26, was born on 8-8-88 and jokingly refers to Chinese customs officers who always praise him for being a lucky charm.

“They always tell me I must be a lucky guy,” Filatov smiled, and compared to most, he probably is.

Life in Russia

“People in Russia live the same lives as people in other countries, there are just a few big differences. Our mentality, and the Russian character, is just not the same as in Europe and the United States. Most of the people in Russia live in a much different environment compared to other countries, which was especially the case during the ‘crazy 90s’. Things were a lot different after the perestroika period,” Filatov explains as he must be speaking mostly from stories that were told by his parents.

The perestroika period turned out to be one of the most pivotal in recent Russian history as it has, according to many sources, lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“Those times were really hard on my parents, and it was strange too because all of a sudden people could travel all over the world and make a lot more money. So right now it’s a really good time to be here compared to 20 years ago.”

“Even I can see how Russia and Moscow have changed. The city and country have improved a lot and I feel really comfortable here. Every time I visit an international poker tournament I tell everyone that they should come and visit Russia and Moscow. It’s a beautiful place and it’s a lot safer than it was before,” Filatov said.

After a moment of silence Filatov added, “I like my country,” full well knowing that the pressure on its public image could not be any bigger right now.

When talking about what makes Russians different from the many countries it surrounds and trades with, Filatov offers an amusing answer. 

We don’t always support our government, as every Russian feels like they need to criticize it. This is the way we live, and people are very used to blaming the government for all their own problems. I think that this is a problem many Russians have, and it means that when we travel, and see something we don’t understand, we just try to argue against it instead of trying to understand it.”

“Mainly our people are a little bit crazy because we don’t do anything we don’t absolutely need to. If there were a rule a Russian thinks is stupid, they would definitely speak up right away. Russian people don’t adapt very well, they would either break the rule or find some way to act up against it. I think this is the same for poker in Russia and that’s why Russian players are considered crazy sometimes, because they don’t feel like playing the style that would seem to be the most profitable one. They just want to do whatever they feel like doing. It’s in our blood to not want to listen to what other people have to say, we want to do what we think is best,” Filatov said.

“When Russians travel to other European countries they aren’t very polite and that hurts the public image. They get drunk a lot and I don’t like how they act outside of the country. We have to behave ourselves, and if we do I believe the image of Russian people will improve. I personally never have a problem with anyone because I don’t drink, so it is possible.”

For someone as well traveled as Filatov, who has been a frequent visitor of the United States, and has made the money in poker tournaments in eight different countries, things are different.

“For me personally this attitude problem is not a thing because I feel like I’m much more intelligent than the average Russian. My English is a bit better and I’m very open to the ideas of other people. When I travel I try to show that Russians are good people, and that Russia is a great place to visit. So I never get any strange reactions from people when I tell them I’m from Russia. Russians are very proud of the fact that they are from Russia, I am too but I also feel very comfortable in other countries.”

In Anatoly’s blogs about traveling to the United States he writes a lot about the differences in culture and social climate. This perspective is quite unique for someone from a country like Russia, where most people that travel to foreign countries do so to merely relax and have a good time. Filatov looks to also indulge in the foreign culture’s history, arts and other aspects to get a better picture of what’s going on around him.

Relaxing in Moscow

Traveling and Educating

“I like to visit other countries to see how people live and think. The mentality difference, and I can see that because I’ve traveled to many countries, is pretty big if you compare certain places. I’ve been to Asia, Europe, and the United States so I see what those differences are. Every country or region has its own rules and you have to follow those in order to fit in. For instance, in a country like China respecting your parents and the history of your country is a huge thing. In order to better understand things like that I’ve read some books from Laozi (a Chinese philosopher who lived from 604-531 BC, red), books about Buddhism and I’m also a big fan of Bruce Lee. I’ve read about ten books about him and he’s someone who grew up in China and then moved to the United States, so I understand what both cultures are like.”

“The biggest difference between the United States and Russia is the mentality of the people. People in the United States always try to smile and be polite, but they won’t have an in-depth conversation with you. In Russia people are more open with their emotions, but they also will tell you to “fuck off” if they feel like it, or just look at you as if they were going to kill you,” Filatov laughed before continuing, “In Russia people behave like that while in the United States people always remain polite, but it’s hard to have a conversation with someone that goes beyond, ‘How are you doing?’”

“In Russia it’s okay to discuss anything with someone you like, even if you haven’t know them for that long. The question, ‘How are you doing?’ is more like just saying ‘Hi,’ because if you ask a Russian, ‘How are you doing?’ he will tell you how things are going and explain to you his problems,” Filatov said.

“The thing that I like about the United States is the fact that the rights for every individual are much better than in Russia. We can learn from them because in my country it’s much more difficult to protect your personal rights. Hopefully in 10 or maybe 20 years things will be much better, but for now I think it has already improved a lot compared to 20 years ago.”

“A big problem Russia faces today is the fact that most of our smartest and best people are looking to move abroad. For instance, Russians move to the United States because with a similar degree they can make much more money,” Filatov admitted.

“Nowadays it’s better and easier to start up new businesses in Russia though, because the government supports it. So I could start up a company if I wanted to, or if I had a good idea. For me moving to another country is not an option, I have a strong connection with Russia and I love living in Moscow. My parents live here too, so it’s very important to me to stay here. If online poker was forbidden, I don’t know what I would do, maybe I would stop playing or maybe I would move,” Filatov said.

Future Prospects

While online poker is not legal in Russia, it still is possible for players to play. Options are currently explored in the Kremlin to legalize online poker to bring in an additional $146 million for the federal budget, but legislation is still far from being operational.

“They could even be stricter on the online poker ban, because they’ve already banned legal casinos and poker clubs in Moscow. Now they are trying to ban online gaming as well, and we’ve already seen the start of that with some of the online betting and poker sites getting banned. I can play on PokerStars but I can’t go to PokerStars.com, I would need a VPN for that. It’s very hard to make new accounts right now, but it is still possible if you really want to.”

“It’s unsure what’s going to happen with online gaming and live casinos in Russia, so who knows maybe they are thinking about turning Crimea into an area where Gambling is allowed, or a place like Sochi perhaps.”


Building towers at EPT Berlin in 2013

“Gambling is a huge business, so I think the Russian government is going to find a way to make more money off it. A place like Las Vegas in Russia is unlikely, but I think they will eventually try to create a place where you can gamble. There is actually an area right now where you can legally gamble and play poker, but it’s in the Altai region where there is no infrastructure whatsoever to support tourists,” Filatov said about the country that’s so big that most of its inhabitants live in a sub region and have little to do with Russia as a whole.

Filatov paused before continuing with, “You can gamble and go to casinos in Moscow though, but those are all illegal places. Those casinos pay off the police in order to operate.”

Moscow is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, although the Russian population has not been an example for universal wealth. There is however a top layer of super rich people, who mostly live and reside in Moscow.

“There are a lot of people that make a ton of money in Moscow, because it’s the center of our country. If you just look at the Forbes list there are lots of Russians on there that have made fortunes, like Roman Abramovitch for instance. It’s very common to see fancy cars in Moscow, and spending a lot of money in the nightlife is also very easy.”

“Renting a little flat or apartment costs a lot of money. For instance buying a 200m2 place in some other country would probably be less than what I paid for my small 40m2 place in Moscow. It’s very difficult to buy a house here, but in a place like St. Petersburg it’s a lot more affordable. Food might even be a little cheaper, but the main difference is things like living expenses and luxury items.”

Make sure to tune back in on Monday for the second and final part of this interview with one of Russia's biggest up and coming poker players. In the second part Filatov speaks about how he became a poker player, the top Russian pro players and and his experiences on the EPT.

Interview by Remko Rinkema
Remko Rinkema - Igaming.org Interviewer

Remko Rinkema has covered the biggest poker tournaments in the world since 2008, including many WSOP, EPT, Aussie Millions, APPT, MCOP and Unibet Open events. As an in-depth interview and story enthusiast he tries to do things a little differently. Besides the usual writings Rinkema grabs every chance to appear on podcasts, live streams and in the occasional video.

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