Champion Aaron Zang!

When Aaron Zang won the Triton Million — A Helping Hand for Charity tournament in London in 2019, few people had heard of the mild-mannered Chinese player, and in some ways the victory didn’t get the notice it deserved because of a heads-up chop that gave more money to the runner-up, Bryn Kenney.

But Zang didn’t mind in any way. He was used to flying under the radar, and was happy to continue to do so.

But here in Vietnam, Zang popped up again and returned to his disruptive best. Zang is the new Triton Series short deck Main Event champion, beating a field of 49 entries paying 100K apiece and heading home with a second Triton title to his name and an exclusive Jacob & Co timepiece around his wrist.

That and 1.544 million.

Zang closed out the win after beating his near namesake Michael Zhang heads-up, landing the knockout blow with AsJs beating AhKs after a one-sided heads-up encounter. “He always had it,” Zhang bemoaned afterwards, adding, “Still been a good trip.” He banked 1.115 million after making back-to-back short deck finals.

But thie one belonged to Zang, who has now won two of the biggest events on this tour. He is a force to be reckoned with.


After the first day’s play, there had been 45 entries, 17 players remained and there were four more re-entries. It brought the total to 49 entries and a 4.9 million prize pool — second only to the NLH Main Event from tournaments played at Triton Vietnam.

Almost as predictable as that multi-million prize pool was the name of Michael Zhang at the top of the chip count. Zhang led two other short deck events overnight, although cashed only one of them.

Short deck is a perilous place to be a chip leader, and there were some intense fluctuations as the tournament condensed towards its final table and it bubble. Most dramatically, Daniel Dvoress assumed the chip lead with a massive double up through Aaron Zang when they were 11 handed — pocket aces holding firm against QhJh — but the same two players went at it a little later, precipitating Dvoress’s bubble demise.

The second confrontation pitted Dvoress’ AdKc against Zang’s AsJh, all in pre-flop. But a jack on the flop gave Zang a double big enough to put him back in the lead and leave Dvoress on fumes.

The third skirmish between the two — when Dvoress had AdQs and Zang KcJh — again when Zang’s way. He ended up with a straight and Dvoress burst the bubble for the second time on this stop in Vietnam.

A second bubble of the trip for Dan Dvoress


The remaining seven now reassembled around the final table, after the last jet-propelled walk on. The line-up was as follows:

Aaron Zang – 5,250,000 (263 antes)
Michael Zhang – 3,380,000 (169 antes)
Paul Phua – 1,735,000 (85 antes)
Jason Koon – 1,375,000 (69 antes)
Kiat Lee – 1,285,000 (64 antes)
Mikita Badziakouski – 1,020,000 (51 antes)
Phil Chiu – 685,000 (34 antes)

Short deck Main Event finalists (l-r): Aaron Zang, Michael Zhang, Paul Phua, Jason Koon, Kiat Lee, Phil Chiu, Mikita Badziakouski

There were sub-plot aplenty, even aside from the potential Zhang vs. Zang showdown. Jason Koon and Mikita Badziakouski renewed their personal battle for Triton dominance. Kiat Lee hit the final table yet again, searching for a first win. Phil Chiu was at his third short deck final table out of three attempts. Meanwhile Triton founder Paul Phua’s Vietnam drought was over. Mr Paul was in the money once more.

The first of those sub-plots to end centred on Koon. Having declared he would win two events here in Vietnam, and making it halfway with victory in the 50K NLH Turbo, this was a chance for him to honour his word.

However, he lost a major portion of his stack in a three-way pot against Zang and Zhang, missing a big combo draw with Tc9c but bluffing that he had it on a coordinated board. However, Zhang had a full house by that point and wasn’t going anywhere.

The remainder of Koon’s chips went to Lee with jacks losing to kings.

A hasty exit this time for Jason Koon


Short deck is supposed to be the game full of gamble, with players coming and going in double-quick time. However, when the deck doesn’t cooperate, a stasis can set in with chips being pushed in circles around the table.

After Koon’s elimination, it took about two hours until we saw the next. During that period, Phua, Lee, Badziakouski and Chiu all doubled up, while Zhang reasserted himself at the top of the counts (mainly because Zang was the one paying off most of the doubles).

“There’s been too many double-ups at this table already,” Badziakouski said, when Phua found his chips in the middle one more time, this time in a dominant position against Zhang. Phua’s AcQh was a good favourite against Zhang’s QcTc, but Badziakouski’s premonition was about to come true.

A ten on the flop was followed by another on the turn, and though Phua had chop outs, he missed on the river. That condemned Phua to a sixth-place finish and 318K. “Mikita, I owe you one,” he said on his way out.

A tap of the table and Paul Phua was gone


Phua quickly exited the tournament room after his elimination. He couldn’t even enter the turbo as registration was long closed over there. However, Zhang soon added Badziakouski’s scalp to his list of victims, picking up the whole of the Belorussian’s short stack with Ac7c rivering a straight to beat QcQs.

It wasn’t one of Badziakouski’s best showings at a Triton stop, but he finished with a 416K payday. It left four players still in with a shout, but Zhang had more than half the chips in play.

Mikita Badziakouski

However, that changed almost immediately. And the chips went to his near neighbour Zang, who managed an enormous double with pocket kings holding against Zhang’s Ad6c. That put Zang in touching distance from Zhang, and allowed him to pick up the next elimination.

This time it was Chiu whose tournament came to its end at the hands of Zang. Chiu had pocket kings but lost to Th9c when the connected cards made a straight.

Chiu has been on fire in the short deck this week, finishing seventh, fourth and fourth again, the last one for 540K. It has hopefully been a memorable first visit to the Triton Series.

Phil Chiu falls short of the last three

What Zang could do, Zhang could do as well, and on the hand immediately after Chiu’s elimination, another Triton final table stalwart, Lee, hit the rail. Lee had Ac9d to Zhang’s KcTs, and Zhang ended with a full house.

Lee made four final tables on this trip, and cashed another tournament, from only eight tournaments played. It’s surely not long before he has a title, but tonight has to make do with 710K consolation.

Kiat Lee’s day will surely come soon


And so here we were: Zhang (Michael) against Zang (Aaron) for the short deck Main Event title. They were both guaranteed more than 1 million already, but there was a Jacob & Co watch and a trophy to scrap over, not to mention the significant bragging rights.

As winner of the Triton Million, Zang had already proved his mettle, but maybe wanted to prove that it was not a fluke. As for Zhang, he had flown into Vietnam purely for the short deck portion of this festival, and this would represent a terrific justification.

Michael Zhang only played the short deck but had a fantastic trip to Vietnam

They were close. Zhang had 159 antes to Zang’s 135. They resettled and prepared to play heads-up, with the chit-chat not abating one bit.

Most of the major pots went to Zang in the heads-up portion of play. And most of the minor ones too. The players went through the motions in a friendly manner for more than an hour, and when they got it all in, Zhang had the best hand and was looking for a big double.

Aaron Zang celebrates his victory

But after the jack flopped — “Oh!” Zang said — he then instructed the dealer to keep it low. She obliged and the title was his.


Event #13 – 100,000 Short Deck
Dates: March 12-13, 2023
Entries: 49 (inc. 23 re-entries)
Prize pool: 4,900,000

1 – Aaron Zang (China) – 1,544,000
2 – Michael Zhang (UK) – 1,115,000
3 – Kiat Lee (Malaysia) – 710,000
4 – Phil Chiu (Hong Kong) – 540,000
5 – Mikita Badziakouski (Belarus) – 416,000
6 – Paul Phua (Malaysia) – 318,000
7 – Jason Koon (USA) – 257,000

Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive