Andrey Zhigalov dreamed about what happened on Saturday afternoon since he was in high school.
The Russian mixed games specialist won his first World Series of Poker bracelet in the $1,500 HORSE. He came back to an unscheduled fourth day to finish his heads-up match against Timothy Frazin. He made quick work of the Dallas native, finishing off a field of 731 entries and earning $202,787.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 16,” said Zhigalov after his win. “I thought when I would have $10,000 I could play the main event. Then, when I had $10,000, I realized I needed to pay for the plane ride and the hotel. So, I needed more money.”
Zhigalov may have dreamed of playing the main event, but he’s turned into one of the fixtures in the limit mixed games tournaments every summer at the Rio. This is the 15th time the Russian cashed at the WSOP and all of them were in limit games.
“It’s boring for me,” said Zhigalov about why he doesn’t play as much no-limit hold’em as limit mixed games. “When I get only two cards, I think ‘Where are the others?’”
Draw games, stud games, flop games, split pot games, scoop games. Outside of no-limit hold’em, if you can name the poker variant, Zhigalov probably cashed in it. It’s his love of these games that brings him to Las Vegas every summer.
Outside of the World Series, the games that he enjoys grinding aren’t spread in the casinos closer to his home.
“I play poker only in June because there are more limit games,” said Zhigalov. “I play EPT, but there are no limit games. Only no-limit hold’em. So, I skipped those last year and I will skip those this year, too. I’m just playing live here, and I played online tournaments in May and September.”
The 29-year-old Russian has been making treks across the Pacific Ocean every summer for the last five years. He plays a fairly intense schedule and stays for at least a month. But he’s not a professional poker player.
Unlike most players that grind as many poker tournaments at the WSOP, Zhigalov works in the accounting department of a software company.
“Maybe I’m a pro, but I already have a job,” joked Zhigalov.
His record shows that he is at the very least, competent in all of the games. During his heads-up match with Frazin, however, there was one game he was actively trying to stay away from.
“I think razz might be my best game,” said Zhigalov. “I felt that I played better in razz, o8, stud8 and limit hold’em, but I think I played bad in stud hi. I lost a lot of pots to him in this game, and I tried to compensate in other games.”
The third and what was scheduled as the final day of the event started at noon on Friday with 24 players remaining. The eliminations came at a frantic pace and in just over four hours, the field had been trimmed to its final eight. There was a redraw with nine players remaining to the unofficial final table, but Ismael Bojang’s ninth place finish gave a final table appearance to the final eight players.
After they reached an official final table, JW Smith was the first to go. He was eliminated in eighth-place when he made a seven-low in razz, but Matt Woodward made a wheel.
They went a whole level before another player hit the rail, and when they did, it was the most accomplished player at the table that was departing. Two-time bracelet winner was eliminated in arguably his best game in the mix.
In Omaha hi-lo, Clements was all in with a middle pair and a low draw against Zhigalov’s top pair and a worse low draw. Clements turned two pair, but Zhigalov rivered trips and eliminated Clements in seventh.
Later in the same level, Sandeep Vasudevan was eliminated by Nicholas Derke. In seven-card stud, Vasudevan was all in on sixth street with a pair of kings and a flush draw against Derke’s trip jacks. Neither player improved on the river and Vasudevan earned his best finish at the WSOP with a sixth-place finish.
The final five players went on a 60-minute dinner break with Frazin leading the pack. When they returned, Derke was eliminated at the hands of Bradley Smith. In one of the first few hands back from break, they played a big Omaha hi-lo hand.
Derke flopped two pair but ran into Smith’s flopped trips with a flush draw. They got all in on the turn and Smith further improved to a full house on the river.
Four-handed play lasted for about an hour and then the table lost Woodward in fourth place. Over the course of four-handed play, Woodward was worn down and became the short stack. He got all in on third street with queen-jack-10 against Zhigalov and Smith.
By the river, it Zhigalov folded and Smith showed two pair. Woodward could only muster up a pair of eights and was eliminated in fourth place.
Smith picked up chips from eliminating Woodward, but they didn’t last very long. Over the course of about a level Smith became the short stack and busted in to Zhigalov in stud hi-lo. They got all in on third street with Smith showing a pair of sixes and Zhigalov tabling buried 10s with an ace up.
They both improved to two pair, but Zhigalov’s was better and eliminated Smith in third place, leaving him heads-up with Frazin.
Frazin started with the chip lead and slowly extended it with Zhigalov falling below 10 big bets. Being on the short stack was nothing new to Zhigalov.
“I’ve survived all of the tournament,” he said. “I had like 10,000 chips when we have like 49 players and I started the final table as the shortest one. I just survived and survived. Then, in some pots I felt that I could get some benefit and I played maybe a little bit wide.”
The tides steadily began to turn, however, and as the limits increased, Zhigalov began winning more pots. After several hours of heads-up play, the roles were reversed, and it was Zhigalov with a massive chip lead.
The two played for several hours and they, but they hit the hard stop and bagged up for the night.
“We played like 15 hours and I was exhausted at the end of it,” said Zhigalov about the Day 3 schedule. “We came back today, and it was very good for me because I slept well, and I felt much better.”
Coming off a good night’s rest, Zhigalov came out swinging. He made a full house in Omaha hi-lo to scoop a pot and then pulled further away with a win in razz, leaving Frazin with just a couple bets.
Zhigalov finished him off in the same game. They got all in on third street with Zhigalov tabling 9-4-A against Frazin’s 7-6-2.
Zhigalov ended up with a 9-8 low by the river and Frazin was left with a king-low. Zhigalov won the pot, the tournament and his first bracelet.
“It was a long time. I feel amazing,” said Zhigalov shortly after the last card fell. “I was excited when I made Day 2 of a WSOP event and I was excited when I made Day 3 and then I was here on Day 4. It’s amazing.”
Final Table Results:
1st: Andrey Zhigalov – $202,787
2nd: Timothy Frazin – $125,336
3rd: Bradley Smith – $87,769
4th: Matt Woodward – $62,379
5th: Nicholas Derke – $45,006
6th: Sandeep Vasudevan – $32,971
7th: Scott Clements – $24,531
8th: JW Smith – $18,541