Glendale man works on poker face

Glendale man works on poker face
Poker player Martin Oganov, of Glendale, in his home on Friday, August 23, 2013. Oganov taught himself how to play poker, and has won access into the upcoming World Poker Tournament at Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

After Martin Oganov won a coveted, pre-paid spot at the World Poker Tour in Los Angeles, his wife, who can't tell a flush from a straight, pushed him to buy a pair of dark glasses.

Then she immediately took back her suggestion.


Oganov doesn't need dark glasses. He rarely shows emotion. During a 90-minute conversation with a visitor at the couple's Glendale apartment, he swapped a blank face for a smile just a handful of times — mostly when his wife talked about how they met more than 30 years ago in Azerbaijan.

"I've got a real poker face," he said, cracking a smile for a split second as his wife continued to joke about the glasses.


While his blank-faced nature may help him when he competes next week against hundreds of others at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, it didn't help him win the spot. That was won online.

Oganov, who immigrated to the United States as an Armenian refugee from Azerbaijan in the 1990s, beat out roughly 2,300 people in an online competition operated by a tournament subsidiary,, for a spot at the live, multi-day event.

Last year, the Los Angeles competition, which has counterparts around the globe and has its final round scheduled to be aired on Fox Sports Net in 2014, had a pot of more than $2 million. As part of his online prize, Oganov gets the $3,500 buy-in, invitations to dinners and parties, backstage access and other prizes.

When Oganov found out he won, he wasn't openly excited. His wife attributes his stoicism to his humble nature.


He has only played in casino tournaments a few times before, but most had buy-ins of just a few hundred dollars, which he split with a friend. The most he's won was $1,100 two years ago at another tournament.

"In person, every move, how they play, if he's bluffing, I know what's next. Online I just wait for my card — better when you play with people because you can feel it," Oganov said, his words laced with a deep Eastern-European accent.

The 57-year-old didn't start playing poker until two years ago. He was a chess lover before poker became his obsession. Flipping through the television channels one day, he landed on a celebrity poker game. He didn't understand what was going on but he was interested in figuring it out. He saw an ad for online poker and decided to give it a shot.

Online gambling sites boomed nearly a decade ago stateside, but they've had their hurdles due to government limitations. While gambling online is banned in most states now, subscription services that offer prizes are allowed, said Adam Pliska, President of WPT Enterprises, which operates the World Poker Tour across the globe and runs

Oganov logged hour after hour on the computer — sometimes playing for eight hours at a time — under the username "amostas," a combination of his two sons' names. For him, the game's 80% luck and 20% skill.

"He has red eyes, believe me," his wife, Svetlana Oganov, said. Outgoing and chatty, she manages the apartment building they live in. Martin Oganov is currently unemployed.

He used to be a shoemaker and once worked at a medical transportation business. Back in Azerbaijan, he was a salesman.

As the Soviet Union weakened and tensions between Christian Armenians and other ethnicities in Azerbaijan heightened in 1988, Svetlana Oganov wanted to apply for refugee status in the United States but her husband didn't want to leave his homeland.


But two years later he was taken hostage with dozens of other people on a bus for a business trip. The captors took all his money and the home-goods products he had to sell.

"Let's move," he said to his wife when he made it home.

While his wife's brothers are in the United States, Oganov's sisters live in Uzbekistan, never having completed their applications for refugee status.

"Maybe if he wins a lot of money, we can bring his sisters here," Svetlana Oganov said.


Martin Oganov's top-three poker tips:

•Be patient

•Be aggressive

•Don't worry about losing


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