Champion Mikalai Vaskaboinikau!

The Belarusian businessman Mikalai Vaskaboinikau is only an occasional player on the Triton Super High Roller Series, usually heading to town when there’s a big invitational to play, and when the buy-ins are biggest. He usually plays two events per trip, for six events total so far in his career. His tally of three final tables was already staggering.

Today, Vaskaboinikau has gone even better. After an early surge at the $125,000 buy-in Triton Montenegro Main Event final table, Vaskaboinikau prevailed from a nervy short-stacked, short-handed battle to down Dejan Kaladjurdjevic heads up and win $4.737 million.

It was his first title from a fourth final. It’s worth restating: he has only ever played six events on this series.

“It’s a really amazing feeling,” Vaskaboinikau said. “I had a good feeling about this a few months ago. I put this thought in my mind in a dream.” He hinted at the true value of his business dealings when he described the prize as “not life-changing money”, but added: “I’m really happy about this.”

Mikalai Vaskaboinikau wraps things up in the Main Event

Vaskaboinikau, who is 37, is hardly a household name in the world of poker. Neither is his defeated heads-up opponent Kaladjurdjevic, who became the first Montenegrin to play on the tour, the first to cash and the first to make a final table. He will have to try again to land a first title, but has $3.196 million to continue his quest.

But this was all about Vaskaboinikau, who managed to treat one of the world’s undisputed titans, Phil Ivey, as if he was a newbie, and also outgunned Triton heavyweights such as Bryn Kenney, Wai Kin Yong and Aleks Ponakovs — not to mention the rest of the world’s best who came and fell in this massive Main Event.


Day 1 was all about prize pool accumulation and stack building, with the entry tally quickly scooting past 100. When late registrants were included, it got all the way to 171 entries and a $21.375 million prize pool, with a promised $4.737 million to the winner.

Day 2 was characterised, as always, by an anxious trickle of eliminations all the way close to the money, at which point the $214,000 min-cash became the revised target for many.

The bubble in this one was again a lot of fun — unless you happened to be two of the three principal characters in the drama. After good-natured bubble a couple of days ago, boss man Paul Phua was once again among the short stacks as the field thinned to fewer than 30.

Paul Phua was once again central to the bubble fun

There were 27 places due to be paid, and Phua was alongside Matthias Eibinger and Mikita Badziakouski as the three players with sub-10 big blind stacks.

They were each on different tables, so Phua was sweating it from the Triton Poker Plus app. Suddenly Eibinger shot up to the dizzy heights of 11 big blinds. “No!” shouted Phua. “Eibinger got a walk!”

Chris Brewer, at Phua’s table, consulted the app and offered a correction. “It was a steal,” Brewer said. “He opened under the gun and they folded.”

Eibinger wandered past. You couldn’t miss him in his bright orange hoodie. “You got walk? Or you earn it?” quizzed Phua. Eibinger chuckled.

“Aaah, Mikita!” Phua said on the next deal.

“He’s celebrating that you folded your big blind,” Brewer explained, to laughs around the room.

Danny Tang soon wasn’t finding it funny. He three-bet jammed his big blind over Phil Ivey’s early position open, but quickly learned that Ivey wasn’t at it. Ivey called and his pocket jacks beat Tang’s AsQs. Tang plummeted out of the tournament in 29th place. It beckoned in hand-for-hand play and the stone bubble.

Tournament Director Luca Vivaldi took the microphone and stated the rules of hand-for-hand play, including the fact that if two players bust from separate tables on the same hand, they split the 27th place prize money.

Badziakouski hatched a plan. “Paul, we go blind all in together? Chop chop!”

Eibinger now chirped up from across the room. “That’s the way!” he said.

They continued to yuck it up like you would if the next hand could be the difference between $214,000 and nothing.

A relaxed Matthias Eibinger fell just short of the money

Phua got his chips in. It came as a shove over chip leader Paulius Vaitiekunas’s early position open. Vaitiekunas called and although Phua said, “I don’t have a very good hand,” his pocket sixes held against Vaitiekunas’ Ah6h. “Mikita, sorry,” Phua said.

But it was not Badziakouski who really needed the apology. This was Eibinger’s bubble. The Austrian put out a raise to 300,000 from mid-position, leaving himself 140,000 behind. (The big blind was 50K.) Ivey, in the big blind, moved all in, comfortably covering Eibinger.

Eibinger waited for all the hands to finish elsewhere before committing his last chips. He was in trouble. Eibinger’s KhQs was behind Ivey’s AcKs. The flop was the all action AhThKc. But the 5dTc turn and river changed nothing.

That was that for Eibinger. The two-time champion hit the rail in 28th and the Main Event was in the money.

The plan was to play down to a final table of nine, but with significant payjumps all down the payout ladder, and ICM geniuses packing the field, this was never likely to be fast. Phua enjoyed his bubble reprieve and edged up the counts. Meanwhile Ivey continued his relentless surge through the field, underlining his immense pedigree.

Japan’s star Masashi Oya also spent some time at the top of the counts, but no one occupied the summit in the counts as long as Chris Brewer, whose careful aggression proved impossible to play against for many.

Without question, the most significant pot of this phase involved Brewer, chip-leading at the time, in a hand against another well-staked competitor, Wai Kin Yong. Brewer had aces, Yong had queens, and they went at it for heaps.

The vast majority of the money went in on the seven-high flop, with Brewer shoving and Yong calling off for his tournament. And then, boom, a queen on the turn. It gave Yong a massive double and sent Brewer plunging down the counts. He lasted only three more hands before busting in 13th, one spot before Phua.

As for Yong, he found himself unimpeachable at the top as the tournament played slowly into the early hours of the morning. With only 12 minutes left before officials intended to call it a night, Paulius Vaitiekunas bust in 10th to set a final table. Everyone could retire to get some sleep.


It had been a late finish to Day 2, but they finally got it done. It meant the following nine returned to play to a winner on the tournament’s last day.

Wai Kin Yong – 8,725,000 (70 BBs)
Aleks Ponakovs – 7,850,000 (63 BBs)
Phil Ivey – 7,100,000 (57 BBs)
Dejan Kaladjurdjevic – 5,300,000 (42 BBs)
Igor Yaroshevskyy – 4,725,000 (38 BBs)
Mikalai Vaskaboinikau – 3,100,000 (25 BBs)
Samuel Ju – 3,000,000 (24 BBs)
Bryn Kenney – 1,650,000 (11 BBs)
Elizabeth Chen – 1,250,000 (10 BBs)

Triton Montenegro Main Event final table players (clockwise from back left): Elizabeth Chen, Mikalai Vaskaboinikau, Phil Ivey, Wai Kin Yong, Bryn Kenney, Igor Yaroshevskyy, Aleks Ponakovs, Samuel Ju, Dejan Kaladjurdjevic.

For obvious reasons, most poker fans had their eyes fixed on Ivey. Meanwhile, Triton observers wanted to know if the all-time money list leader Bryn Kenney could take down another monster event. Perhaps better than all that in wider poker terms, however, was the presence of Elizabeth Chen at this final table. Women remain under-represented in the poker world, and it was hugely refreshing to see Chen taking her place among this elite nine.

Chen had survived a heart-in-mouth moment on the bubble, but had subsequently picked her spots judiciously as she navigated her way to the last nine. With the shortest stack in the room, it was always going to be difficult to run it up, but she got it in good at the final with pocket eights to Ivey’s KhQd.

Anyone will tell you that the key to taking down any poker tournament is to win your flips. But Chen couldn’t win this one. The king on the flop ended her chances. Chen won $478,000 as the field slimmed to eight.

Elizabeth Chen’s fine run ended in a ninth-place finish

Kenney was now shortest, but doubled through Dejan Kaladjurdevic to survive. But the next significant pot Kenney paid pitted two pocket pairs against one another: Kenney with nines was faced with Igor Yaroshevskyy’s tens.

Kenny moved away from the table to watch the run-out through the reaction of his girlfriend sitting on the rail. She was watching the video screen and Kenney looked for her expression to crack as she saw the dealer put the flop, turn and river down. She didn’t break. The board was dry and Kenney was out.

He is still comfortable at the top of the Triton money list, but his payday this time was “only” $580,000 for eighth.

Bryn Kenney stood with back to the video wall as his fate was decided

Having enjoyed the good fortune of the major cooler to eliminate Brewer yesterday, Yong was essentially freerolling into this final table. However, his luck quickly ran out at the most crucial stage, shipping back-to-back pots to Mikalau Vaskaboinikau. First, Vaskaboinikau doubled with AcAcQh beating Yong’s KdQs. But then the killer: Yong found pocket queens again and was this time ahead of Vaskaboinikau’s pocket tens.

But in a repeat of yesterday’s beat, the tens spiked a third on the river to give Vaskaboinikau a set. Yong was now sent to the rail with the same hand he had profited most with yesterday. Yong had gone from first to seventh at this final, and won $800,000.

Six players were left. And each was now guaranteed six figures. However, with $3.7 million between sixth and first, nobody was going to be taking any stupid chances.

The problem was that the dealer kept dealing out coolers. Samuel Ju had more than 4 million in chips, around 22 big blinds, when he picked up pocket queens. The resurgent Vaskaboinikau raised for the umpteenth time, Ju three-bet the queens and Vaskaboinikau jammed. Ju called all in, but Vaskaboinikau had it again.

His kings stayed best for another huge pot. Ju, following up his second-place finish in the $40K Mystery Bounty earlier this week, hit the rail in sixth. His $1,098,000 prize was still much bigger than his total prior Triton earnings combined.

Samuel Ju found queens at precisely the wrong time

With five players left, and levels now shortened in length, the shrinking stack sizes offered less for players to work with and increased the ICM pressure dramatically. Each payjump was now even more significant.

Dejan Kaladjurdjevic had the relative liberty of the tournament short stack and duly doubled it up. That put him essentially neck-and-neck with Ivey, Ponakovs and Vaskaboinikau at the top, with Yaroshevskyy a distant fifth.

Whatever happened in this event, Yaroshevskyy had already enjoyed a superstar trip to Montenegro. He had cashed three of the five previous tournaments he’d played, made two final tables and won the $50K Bounty Quattro. It was already a terrific return. A final table appearance in the Main Event was further proof of a player in form, but he didn’t quite get the run good at the final to go all the way again.

Yaroshevskyy seemed to have the second best hand in all the crucial spots, and he then suffered one last indignity when he called a shove with his last 10 blinds and ended up losing to a three-outer. Ponakovs made the aforementioned shove with Js9h and Yaroshevskyy had Qs9c, technically the “average” pre-flop hold’em holding.

Yaroshevskyy made the call and had a dominant hand, but the jack on the flop hit Ponakovs and sent Yaroshevskyy packing. He won another $1,430,000 for fifth and retired to the lounge to watch the tournament play to its conclusion. He would have wanted more, but there were no complaints.

Igor Yaroshevskyy can’t watch as the dealer ends his Main Event run

Ivey came into today’s final table knowing that a win would bring him within only a few Player of the Year points of Danny Tang as the season goes to the wire. But he had found a nemesis in this tournament in the form of Vaskaboinikau, who seemed to have Ivey’s number — or, at least, was a player who seemed to have a better hand when Ivey had a good one.

Vaskaboinikau won a massive pot with As8s when he rivered a flush. That was convenient because Ivey’s QsTs had done the same, and they were both happy to risk it all.

That coup left Ivey in real trouble, and when he found an ace and a good opportunity to open shove, from the button, Vaskaboinikau was lurking behind him with an ace as well, and a better kicker. Vaskaboinikau’s AdKd beat Ivey’s Ah8s as Ivey perished in fourth. It earned him $1,795,000, but he’ll need a good showing in the PLO to catch Tang.

Elimination hurts, even for Phil Ivey

The last three took a scheduled break, with Vaskaboinikau in a decent lead. He had 56 blinds, Ponakovs had 34 and Kaladjurdjevic continued to bring up the rear with 16 big blinds. Whatever happened for him, it was a pretty spectacular way to start a Triton career: locking up a minimum $2.2 million as a first cash on the series.

But he wasn’t giving up without a fight. Kaladjurdjevic found AsKd and called Vaskaboinikau’s three-bet jam with AcTc. That scored a double. And as Kaladjurdjevic continued to chip away, they bunched up with all three players having between 20 and 30 big blinds.

For some obvious reasons, the table tightened right up as every blind assumed ever more value. Vaskaboinikau managed to hold firm at the top, but Ponakovs slid down to the bottom of the pack. That was a good time for Ponakovs to find AdKc. He shoved, Vaskaboinikau called with As8c, and Ponakovs doubled to stay alive.

Kaladjurdjevic was now short again, but shoved twice on Vaskaboinikau and chipped up, before he played an absolutely extraordinary hand against Ponakovs. The long and short version of it is that Kaladjurdjevic had pocket aces, Ponakovs had pocket kings and Kaladjurdjevic ended up with a royal flush. For real. Kaladjurdjevic limped his aces from the small blind and Ponakovs checked his kings in the big.

A royal flush at a Triton final for Dejan Kaladjurdjevic

The ThJhQh fell and Kaladjurdevic bet one big blind. Ponakovs called. After the 2c turn, Kaladjurdjevic bet a little more and got a call again. And then the Kh river gave Kaladjurdjevic the royal and Ponakovs a set of kings.

Kaladjurdjevic laid the trap with a check. Ponakovs side-stepped it with a check back. Hands don’t get any bigger than that, and somehow it wasn’t a double up.

Vaskaboinikau was now the short stack, but not for long. He doubled through Ponakovs with everything going in pre-flop and Ah8h beating Ks5h. Vaskaboinikau took command again, with Kaladjurdjevic clinging on. And sometimes that’s all you have to do to win a million bucks.

Kaladjurdjevic must have greatly enjoyed seeing Ponakovs and Vaskaboinikau get it all in. They were the two biggest stacks. Ponakovs had KsJd to Vaskaboinikau’s Ac4d. And though a jack on the flop gave Ponakovs hope, the ace on the turn snatched it away.

The three-handed grind was finally over, with Ponakovs leaving and picking up $2,200,000.

Another deep run and huge score for Aleks Ponakovs

Vaskaboinikau had 44 big blinds to Kaladjurdjevic’s 9 as heads-up began. But there was only 1 minute on the clock, meaning very few hands, until the blinds went up again. And but two hands were all they needed.

Kaladjurdjevic shoved with Jc2c and Vaskaboinikau found pocket sixes with which to make a mandatory call. They stayed good.

Dejan Kaladjurdjevic: Second place

“Poker tournaments is always second, second, second for me,” Vaskaboinikau lamented. “Now finally it was my time.”

He takes a spectacular trophy and an exclusive Jacob & Co timepiece, given to Main Event champions on the Triton Series.

“For sure it will be one of the brightest moments in my life,” Vaskaboinikau said.

Mikalai Vaskaboinikau: One of the brightest moments of my life


Event 9 – $125,000 – 8-Handed NLHE Main Event
Dates: May 19-21, 2024
Entries: 171 (inc. 69 re-entries)
Prize pool: $21,375,000

1 – Mikalai Vaskaboinikau, Belarus – $4,737,000
2 – Dejan Kaladjurdjevic, Montenegro – $3,196,000
3 – Aleks Ponakovs, Latvia – $2,200,000
4 – Phil Ivey, USA – $1,795,000
5 – Igor Yaroshevskyy, Ukraine – $1,430,000
6 – Samuel Ju, Germany – $1,098,000
7 – Wai Kin Yong, Malaysia – $800,000
8 – Bryn Kenney, USA – $580,000
9 – Elizabeth Chen, China – $478,000

10 – Paulius Vaitiekunas, Lithuania – $406,000
11 – Mauricio Salazar, Colombia – $406,000
12 – Paul Phua, Malaysia – $353,000
13 – Chris Brewer, USA – $353,000
14 – Masashi Oya, Japan – $320,000
15 – Xianchao Shen, China – $320,000
16 – Matas Cimbolas, Lithuania – $287,000
17 – Wang Yang, China – $287,000
18 – Stanley Choi, Hong Kong – $256,000
19 – Jean Noel Thorel, France – $256,000
20 – Yerai Iribarren, Spain – $256,000
21 – Santhosh Suvarna, India – $235,000
22 – Hossein Ensan, Germany – $235,000
23 – Patrik Antonius, Finland – $235,000
24 – Justin Saliba, USA – $214,000
25 – Dan Smith, USA – $214,000
26 – Mikita Badziakouski, Belarus – $214,000
27 – Joe Zou, China – $214,000

Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive