Krystal Seiling and Sergei Terehovs

Krystal Seiling and her boyfriend, Sergei Terehovs (third from right), gather with friends outside the Seminole Hard Rock poker room after she won $116,350 in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open. (Nick Sortal, Sun Sentinel / August 28, 2013)

Sure, Krystal Seiling wanted the fame and glory of making a huge poker score. But she was playing for something more.

She wants to get her boyfriend a new kidney. He has been fighting lupus for 12 years.

"He just comes from a different place," Seiling said, holding a check for $116,350, her prize for finishing 12th out of 2,384 players at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open in Hollywood. "He just protects me, and now I have a chance to take care of him."

Seiling, 28, was seeking an even bigger payday. A surprise knockout — her opponent flopped a flush, although odds are 118-to-1 against that happening — sent her home on Tuesday, as her boyfriend, Sergei Terehovs, watched.


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Seiling slipped on a pair of sunglasses afterward so people wouldn't see her cry.

The couple met while playing at Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino in Hallandale Beach. They own a condo in Aventura, making extra mortgage payments when they fare well at Gulfstream and at South Florida tournaments.

"I know what people think about playing poker for a living, but we make money and are responsible with it," said Seiling, who moved here from the Buffalo area in New York. "My mom wouldn't let me do otherwise."

Gulfstream poker director Scott Poole said players at the casino know Terehovs has been sick. "But Krystal and Sergei aren't the type to make a fuss," he said.

Her story surfaced among the poker media during the weeklong Poker Open, where she had set a goal of winning $300,000. Terehovs, 26, has been in the hospital six times this year. His kidney is operating at about 20 percent, and poker players with lupus aren't very attractive to insurers. His health has never been good enough for him to maintain a 9-to-5 job with benefits, but he has a basic insurance policy that covers prescriptions and lab work.

Terehovs said his health "is declining" and that he is on dialysis. Seiling said a kidney replacement is still a year away, and that hospitals have set the cost at about $300,000 — if they can find a match.

Seiling said the couple won't accept charity.

"No handouts," she said. "Everybody has their own thing. We just have this one."

Like every poker player who has been eliminated from a tournament, Seiling laments that final hand at the table. She thought her pair of queens was a winner. Had she finished, say, sixth, she would have won $378,138. The tournament's grand prize was $1.7 million.

"That's truly life-changing money," she said. "Who knows when an opportunity like that will come again."

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com