Former poker pro Eugene Katchalov flees Russian invasion of Ukraine, reaches Hungary

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: February 26, 2022 19:15 PST

Former professional poker player Eugene Katchalov has reached Hungary after fleeing Ukraine as Russian forces continue their invasion of the eastern European country. Katchalov, his wife, and a small group of friends made the decision to flee Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv, forming a small multi-car caravan as they fled west to another nation.

Though it was only about 300 miles by air from Kyiv (Kiev) to Ukraine's western border, it took Katchalov's group two lengthy days of driving to reach Hungary. The trip was complicated by the slowly-moving traffic of tens of thousands of other refugees, the need to keep their vehicles as fully fueled as possible, winding roads through western Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains, avoiding all large cities (where active Russian military attacks were occurring, and passing through numerous security roadblocks on the journey.

Katchalov and his group reached Hungary on Saturday morning. He had reported on his group's progress via Twitter, finally posting that he had reached the borer, cleared security, and had entered Hungarian customs.

At various times in his winding path westward, Katchalov reported that his group was changing plans and switching to either Slovakia or Polaand, which also share a border with western Ukraine. Long border lines at the other possible border crossings finally convinced Katchalov's group to continue further to the southwest, to the Hungarian border, which is believed to have been the group's original plan. At one point he reported himself as being only about 300 meters from the Polish border, though his group's caravan was inside a mountainous Ukrainian national park with no border-crossing roads in the vicinity.

Katchalov, 41, was born in 1981 in what was then the Ukrainian socialist republic of the USSR. He moved to the United States in early childhood and has been an American citizen since 1991. His American citizenship was crucial to his ability to flee Ukraine as the Russian invasion unfolds, as Ukraine is forbidding its own male citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 to flee the country at the present time.

Ukraine's most accomplished poker-playing native son

Despite playing poker only on rare occasions since 2017, Katchalov remains in the top 500 all-time poker tournament winners as tracked by The Hendon Mob (THM) results database. Katchalov earned more than $9 million in live events over a roughly 15-year career. He likely earned millions more online over approximately the same 15-year period.

Among Katchalov's greatest triumphs are the 2007 Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas, where he earned $2,482,605, and the Super High Roller event at the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, where he collected $1.5 million. He also won a seven-card stud event at the 2011 WSOP, which is his first and only bracelet win to date.

Katchalov has recorded only one tourney cash since 2017, however, which was an in-the-money finish in the 2018 WSOP main event. Nonetheless, he remains Ukraine's all-time leading tournament money winner, still about $1.4 million ahead of second-place Yevgeniy Timoshenko. Katchalov has instead focused his time in recent years to his role as the co-founder of Qlash, an esports media company. Katchalov co-founded Qlash with Italian poker pro Luca Pagano in 2017.

Featured image source: Qlash