2011 WSOP Runnerup Martin Staszko Revealed as Target of Czech Kidnappers

High-profile poker players continue to be the target of violent crimes, as evidenced by the sensationalist publication by a Czech newspaper of a likely kidnapping and ransom attempt aimed at 2011 WSOP Main Event runnerup Martin Staszko.

How much of the breathlessness of the reveal by Czech outlet PokerArena.cz (“WSOP 2011 Runner-up Martin Staszko Targeted by Deadly Gangsters“) can be attributed to Google Translate is debatable, but the story of Staszko’s dangerous near-encounter comes from Czech mainstream outlet Pravo, and is part of a series of crimes targeting prominent and wealthy Czechs that counts two murders among the group’s victims.

Staszko, for his part, avoided the trap of a supposed appearance fee and special invite to a high-stakes game that a go-between contacted by the ring in the hopes of luring Staszko had invented out of this air; the game itself was a fake, and ransom appears to have been the real intent.  The group responsible for trying to lure Staszko was led by a man named Michael Šváb, posing as a “Robert Kellner,” and Šváb is also cited by the reports as being the brother-in-law of a notable Czech actor, Martin Dejdar.

The gang led by Šváb went on to murder two other wealthy Czechs in similar kidnapping-ransom plots gone wrong, suggesting that Staszko was fortunate indeed to pass on a very suspect invite.

Still, this type of story has been popping up in the poker world far too frequently in recent years.  Whether it’s the story of London poker player Mehmet Hassan being murdered in a strong-arm robbery, or 2010 WSOP champ Jonathan Duhamel being beaten and robbed in a similar “honey pot” home-invasion tale, or even Greg “Fossilman” Raymer taking on two would-be robbers in his Bellagio hotel room, there’s just too much of this stuff.

GunsSuch stories date back to days when high-stakes poker first gained major public visibility.  The late “Amarillo Slim” Preston was involved in two or three such tales, even if there was some conjecture that he might have helped stage the last one himself as a publicity stunt.

Such violent crimes go far beyond the usual long list of robberies and break-ins that have plagued poker players since the game’s beginnings, and as the game has gone global and established outposts in new locales, the risk of being the victim of such crimes has steadily increased.  Staszko’s near-miss is yet another reminder that the image of poker players as free-wheeling, traveling bags o’ cash is exactly the type of image that screams “low hanging fruit” to someone seeking a profitable mark.

Whether that image reflects reality — poker players aren’t always as cash-flush as they seem — belies the fact that they’re frequent victims because of the lifestyle and the image.  And it’s yet another chapter in a recurring, cautionary tale.  High-profile players need to look after themselves, probably a good deal more than many of them realize.

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