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Glendale man works on poker face

August 24, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com | By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

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.

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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, clubwpt.com, 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.

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