Safiya Umerova Wins $1,500 Shootout at 2016 WSOP

Lightning has struck twice at the 2016 World Series of Poker as Safiya Umerova won Event #50, the $1,500 Shootout No-Limit Hold’em event, becoming the second woman to win an open WSOP event this summer. Kristen Bicknell was the first (as well as the first Canadian to capture gold in 2016), winning Event #46, the $1,500 Bounty No-Limit Hold’em tournament the previous day.

In addition to what I and others have written in the past about the significance of a female winning an open event, this was a statistical triumph. According to Nolan Dalla’s write-up of the tournament, just 3.4 percent of the 1,050 player field was female, so the fact that one of the 34 ended up on top was impressive in and of itself. If my calculations are correct, Umerova is the 24th woman to win an open event (that is, an event in which anyone of legal gambling age can play, rather than, say, a Ladies-only event, a Seniors event, or an invitational) in the 47-year history of the World Series of Poker.

Umerova is interesting, in that she is a relative poker novice, though clearly not just a luckbox of a player. Born in Russia, she came to the United States back in 2010. It was only a year and a half ago, though, that she started playing poker. As one would typically do when starting out, yet without a reasonable option for playing online, Umerova played for fun at her local Los Angeles cardrooms, preferring the Hustler Casino most of the time.  Small stakes cash games were her thing, but after faring well in her first live tournament in late 2014, she was bitten by the tournament bug.

Safiya Umerova - 2016 WSOP Image credit: WSOP.com

Safiya Umerova – 2016 WSOP
Image credit: WSOP.com

“I went really deep and almost made a final table in the first tournament I played,” Umerova said in her post-game interview with WSOP officials. “That’s when I realized how much I liked it. It’s a different game. I liked it much more than cash games. I don’t want to play cash games anymore.”

According to her page on TheHendonMob.com, it appears that that first cash was a tenth place finish in a $235 event at Liz Flynt’s Fall Poker Classic, where she won $750. After that, she played in more low three-digit buy-in tourneys in Los Angeles, cashing in several over the course of the next year.

Umerova’s first live tournament win came in February of this year in a $350 No-Limit Hold’em preliminary event at the World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic, good for $16,770. In the spring, Umerova ventured out of southern California, playing in some events at the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in Hollywood, Florida before finally making her Las Vegas poker debut this summer at the World Series of Poker.

Umerova is extremely driven, aiming to make poker her full-time career.

“I studied the game almost every day. I read a lot of books. I had people help me. I worked very much on my game to get here,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t work hard on my game.”

She added, “I dream big. I want to be the best poker player in the world. I know I am not there yet. But I want to have the most gold bracelets anyone has ever had. That’s the goal. That’s what you are supposed to go for — right?”

The tournament type that Umerova won, a shootout, is unique. In a regular tournament, players naturally compete against the opponents at their table, but they are also keeping an eye on how many players from around the tournament room are falling by the wayside. Even if nobody at your table gets knocked out for an entire day, you can still make the money or move up in the rankings if lots of other people are getting eliminated at other tables. In a shootout, though, players are literally only competing against the other players at the table. It is a tournament composed of lots of smaller, single-table tournaments. As players are knocked out, their seats are not filled with players from other tables. Instead, each table plays down to a single survivor. When all tables have one player sitting alone, a new round starts (usually after some sort of break, be it short or overnight, depending on the schedule) with the first round winners starting over in single-table tourneys against each other. Rinse, repeat, until the final table, which of course proceeds until a champion is crowned.

“When the day began, I was just trying to make the final table.” Umerova said. “It’s just surreal to win. I’ve only been playing poker for a very short time. It’s exciting. This is a great start for my career.”

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