A dejected Pieter Aerts, bubble boy

The bubble period in any poker tournament always offers some prospects of high tension, and even though the super high rollers like to project a feeling of weary indifference, it’s actually very clear how much it means to them when you see it up close on the tournament floor.

Event 2 of this year’s Triton Super High Roller Series stop in Cyprus brought us a really thrilling bubble period late last night, complete with four short-stack double ups (or bubble-ups, to use an alternative term) and then a sickener for a Triton newcomer.

The event was a $30,000 6-Max tournament, with the biggest field ever assembled on the Triton Series for a 6-Max event. There were 123 entries, wiht 46 re-entries, which meant a $3.69 million prize pool, a top prize of $930,000 and, crucially, only 17 players to be paid.

As the tournament clock closed in on the end of Level 17, the scheduled end of the day, the tournament reached the stone bubble with 18 players left. All 18 agreed to play on until the money was reached, and that brought us the exciting passage of play described below.

Bubble-up 1: Garagnani through Yong

Pedro Garagnani’s joy as Jason Koon walks away in disgust

The first bubble-up came on Table 3, i.e., the only table not on the television stage. It came about after Stephen Chidwick, with a big stack, made an early-position raise and Kannapong Thanarattrakul called on the button. Pedro Garagnani, the table short stack, was sitting in the small blind with only 270K in his stack, but he had looked down at AcQh. With so much money in the pot already, and a premium holding, he sigh-shoved it in.

But if he’d have hoped for quick folds, he was immediately disappointed. Wai Kin Yong, in the big blind, re-shoved for 1.7 million. The others did now quickly fold.

Both players now let out a chuckle when hands went on their backs because Yong had the same: AhQd. “Anyone suited?” said Jason Koon, who had abandoned his short stack on Table 2 to come over a see what might happen here. Noticing they were both off-suit, Koon said, “Boring.”

But it turned out to be anything but.

The dealer put the flop out there: 4h6hQs and Garagnani now realised he had forgotten which ace-queen was his. He was relieved to find out that his was the hand with the Ah in it.

When the turn brought the 9h, Garagnani started to believe. And the 2h river gave him the flush and the full double-up. He clenched his fist in celebration, as Koon wandered away muttering expletives under his breath.

Bubble-up 2: Koon through Keating and Dzivielevski

Jason Koon’s prayers were answered with a triple up

After witnessing one of his principal bubble rivals double, Koon was now the man under most threat. And on the next hand, he open-raised to 200,000 from a stack of 235,000, leaving himself just enough to see another hand if things got weird.

Both Alex Keating and Yuri Dzivielevski, in small and big blinds, respectively, called Koon’s bet, and they saw the flop of 5sJh8s. After two checks, Koon pushed the 35K forward, and he picked up two calls.

Koon was now all-in, but there was betting still between Keating and Dzivielevski, so cards stayed face down after the 9d turn. Both active players checked. That brought the 8d on the river and two more checks.

As this was playing out, another massive pot was going down back on Table 3, where two big stacks were playing through every street. So it meant Koon, Keating and Dzivielevski had to keep their hands concealed still.

That other hand also ended with a shove and a call — details below — so tournament director Luca Vivaldi told the Table 3 players to wait and scooted over to Table 2 to see the result of this one first.

Koon tabled AdJc for a flopped pair of jacks, and both his opponents mucked. That was a triple up for the Triton Ambassador.

Bubble-up 3: Kudinov through Tollerene

Viktor Kudinov ponders a tournament-defining decision

Bubble play is usually only really stressful for the short-stacked players who have little fold equity and who know that one false move or bad beat could spell disaster. But sometimes you also get two huge stacks going at it, potentially lighting on fire hundreds of thousands of dollars of tournament equity, else putting themselves firmly in a position to win heaps. These pots usually start off as a kind of sub-plot to the main bubble drama, but can quickly escalate.

That’s exactly what happened in the case of the second Table 3 skirmish of this bubble period, which played out immediately after the Garagnani/Yong confrontation, and concurrent to the Koon/Dzivielevski/Keating hand.

Ben Tollerene had been one of the tournament big stacks almost right from the very start, and was looking to exert more pressure on the medium stacks at his table during the bubble period. Tollerene made a standard opening raise to 110,000 from a 2.5 million stack and Viktor Kudinov, with 1.4 million, called from one seat to his left. The rest of the table folded.

The dealer put the 4hTs5d flop out there and Tollerene bet 250,000. Kudinov called, seeing the 8s on the turn. Tollerene kept with his story and bet 450,000. Kudinov still wasn’t giving up and called.

The river was the 2h, surely a blank, but Tollerene emptied the clip and moved all-in, meaning Kudinov would need to call off everything he had to see a showdown.

Kudinov immediately pushed all of his time bank chips in front of him. There were at least eight of them. One by one they dwindled as time went past in 30 second intervals, and the dealer even had to give him “change” from his five time-bank chip. Eventually, with just 20 seconds left, Kudinov had had enough. He called, potentially ending his tournament right there.

“Hold it, Ben!” Vivaldi, the tournament director, said, as Tollerene went to show his cards. Vivaldi had to scoot over to Koon’s table, as detailed above, to oversee the triple up for Tollerene’s good friend.

By the time Vivaldi had come back, the atmosphere was relaxed on the Tollerene/Kudinov table because it seemed that Tollerene’s hand had been seen and the information perhaps relayed to Kudinov. Although the American had AcTc for top pair, Kudinov’s pocket jacks were good. He was going to pick up a huge double up and survive, leaving Tollerene back in the pack.

Bubble-up 4: Jorstad through Malikeh

The run-good continues for Espen Jørstad

The main feature table, Table 1, had three of the five shortest stacks at the start of bubble play, and after the two on the other tables both doubled, those three were now propping up the chip counts. The first of them to make a stand was the WSOP Main Event champion Espen Jorstad, who got his last few big blinds in and found a double too.

This one was relatively drama free. Razzavi Malikeh was very comfortable, with a huge stack, even though the other leader, Fedor Holz, was sitting to her left. Malikeh nonetheless opened this pot to 115K, from a 3.3 million stack, and Holz got out the way, as did Sam Greenwood to his left.

Jorstad, however, moved all-in for 235,000 and action passed back to Malikeh. “I can’t fold,” she said and tabled As6c. Jorstad was in good shape with JhKc, but certainly not out of it.

This time the dealer did not provide any weirdness. The flop was entirely clean and the pocket pair held up, keeping Jorstad afloat.

Bubble bursts! Keating busts Aerts

A sickening end for Pieter Aerts

The tournament clock had ticked deep into Level 18 as all the bubble shenanigans played out, nearly a full level longer than had been originally planned. And then finally a short stack was unable to find a double up and the pressure finally abated.

The unfortunate player was Belgium’s Pieter Aerts, making his Triton debut here in Cyprus. And this was a forgettable end for him, coming in a blind-versus-blind encounter with Alex Keating.

Aerts, with a 510K stack, raised his small blind to 500K, another one of those “almost” all-ins, but not quite. Keating defended his big blind with a call.

The flop came AsTs8h and Aerts checked. Keating bet 50,000, asking Aerts to commit his last 10,000, which he did. But it was bad news for the Belgian.

Aerts had KcQd, and had a gutshot, but Keating had top pair with his Ad4d. The turn and river were bricks, and a very sick Aerts made his way out the door.

The bags came out leaving the remaining 17 players in the money and heading to Day 2.


End-of-day chip counts:

Viktor Kudinov 3,590,000
Malikeh Razavi 3,515,000
Fedor Holz 3,250,000
Wai Kin Yong 1,955,000
Stephen Chidwick 1,810,000
Ignacio Moron Chavero 1,645,000
Alex Keating 1,495,000
Kannapong Thanarattrakul 1,400,000
Yuri Dzivelevski 1,190,000
Pedro Garagnani 1,060,000
Benjamin Tollerene 965,000
Paul Phua 680,000
Jason Koon 630,000
Espen Joerstad 370,000
Artur Martirosyan 360,000
Nicolas Chouity 355,000
Sam Greenwood 345,000

Payout schedule:

Event 2: $30,000 NLH – 6 – Handed
Dates: September 6-7, 2022
Entries: 123 (inc. 46 re-entries)
Prize pool: $3,690,000

1 – $930,000
2 – $627,000
3 – $408,000
4 – $337,500
5 – $272,300
6 – $215,000
7 – $164,000
8 – $123,500
9 – $92,100
10-11 – $75,000
12-13 – $66,400
14-15 – $60,900
16-17 – $58,000

Photography by Joe Giron/PokerPhotoArchive