How Romanian Poker Stars Defied the Odds to Turn a Hobby into a Full Time Job

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Despite the hazy gambling regulations and society’s misconceptions, Romanian poker players have proved their talent to the world.

Poker is popular in Romania and has seen significant growth during the past few years. Local players started accessing poker sites even before they became technically legal under Romanian gambling laws and many of them qualified in online poker tournaments.

Back in 2010, a local television revealed that almost 400,000 gamblers played online poker in Romania, spending as much as one third of the state’s budget for health care. PokerStars was and still is the most popular website. The Internet was a common alternative to land-based casinos, which were the only venues where poker was legal.

Since then, authorities have regulated internet gambling in Romania, but there are still no licensed online operators in the country. This is why the state’s gambling authority is now considering banning foreign-based companies, and this could completely change the face of online poker in Romania.

Laying the cards on the table

In a televised news report filmed in 2010, Ciprian Hrisca complained: “People still have the misconception that poker players are common gamblers playing in casinos.” The Romanian poker community sees things differently. It is a game of the mind, just like chess. It takes math and psychology skills to win a game. “Luck has nothing to do with it,” another player said.

This was almost four years ago, when online poker was not regulated in the country and the only legal option was playing in casinos. But even then, Romanians were familiar with PokerStars and other similar websites, and many of them regularly participated in online tournaments.

Ciprian Hrisca started gambling when he was young. “We didn’t always play for money,” he told the reporter. “Back then, we played for small surprises – chewing gum, Pif magazines…” A couple of years later, he decided to go on trip with his friends, just for fun, and ended up winning 2nd place at the European poker tour in Budapest.

Living for poker

The era of online poker suddenly opened a lot of doors for fans of the game. The more talented ones soon realized that they could make a living out of it.

“Fried Fish” (“Peste prajit”) is the name of a weekly poker podcast available in Romania. The show features:

• Poker news

• Interviews

• Debates

• Tips and Tricks

Abdul Atila Seiar gave up his career in mathematics to become a professional poker player. In his home country, the police were cracking down on everyone playing poker outside of a casino. Online, he was a champion. Players like Mihai Manole, Ionel Anton, Dan Murariu or Andrei Stoenescu became famous after participating in international tournaments.

Romanian poker pro Cristian Dragomir was involved in a famous incident with Phil Hellmuth, who received a one-round penalty after losing his temper during the 2008 World Series of Poker and calling his adversary “an idiot”.

Daniel Negreanu, a Romanian-Canadian poker player, is famous for his six World Series of Poker bracelets and two World Poker Tour championship titles. The 39 year-old professional has won more than $21 million throughout his career.

The uncertain future of online poker

Internet gambling is now legal and the Romanian poker community has grown larger. There are a number of options for gamblers looking for poker websites in Romania and some of them even accept deposits in the country’s currency. Other options include deposits in USD or EUR, with various online payment methods available.

More importantly, local players now have the opportunity to participate in several live online tournaments. PokerStars recently hosted the Sunday Million online tournament, where two Romanian players qualified for a place at the final table.

But the upward trend might soon come to an end, as the National Gambling Office is considering banning foreign operators from the local market. However, there is still hope, as the European Commission is investigating the matter and might not allow such drastic measures. It would certainly be a pity if all these talented players weren’t allowed to take advantage of their skills.

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