Champion Dao Minh Phu

The Triton Series rightly deserves its reputation as the home of poker’s elite. But observers should never consider entry to this world completely closed to newcomers — as a dramatic finale to tonight’s action in Vietnam proved.

Dao Minh Phu, a 42-year-old playing on home turf in Vietnam, became the latest Triton Series champion, prevailing from a field of 139 entries in a 50,000 buy-in tournament. He banked 1,670,000 for the incredible triumph, beating another newcomer Biao Ding heads up.

Before tonight, Phu had documented lifetime tournament earnings of 93K. Ding’s total before this week was only around 300K. But they both secured seven figure paydays having laid waste to the supposed cream of poker’s crop.

It was a brilliant victory for Phu, who had been all in and at risk on the bubble, before turning things around. With his pregnant wife watching from the sidelines, Phu was fearless in closing things out and was cheered by a partisan home crowd, even as the clock ticked past 2.15am local time.

Dao Minh Phu is in dreamland

Phu has a clear passion for the game, and made all the right moves at the right time to record this famous triumph. The field was absolutely stacked, of course, but the local man made good.

“I just learnt poker three years ago,” Phu said. “This is the first time I have played a big tournament, and I’m so happy.”


As ever, the returning overnight field had only one thing on their minds during the early levels: making it to — and then through — the bubble. That was a task beyond Adrian Mateos, Jonathan Jaffe and then Ike Haxton, who got a rough beat from Linus Loeliger to soft bubble.

The double-ups came thick and fast on the stone bubble, with Chris Brewer doubling through Ben Heath, then Heath doubling through Ding. The most dramatic reaction came from Phu, whose pocket nines flopped a set and turn quads to take a massive pot from Tommy Kim.

Dao Minh Phu prays for survival on the bubble

Kim was the overnight chip leader, and flopped an ace in this hand to give him top pair. But it was crushed by those quads of Phu, who rocketed into the top five of the counts — and managed to make it count several hours later.

The hand-for-hand period straddled a tournament break, and not long after they returned, Lun Loon finally got the job done. Loon and Viktor Kudinov got their short stacks in pre-flop, and Loon had both the better hand and the bigger stack.

Bubble Boy Viktor Kudinov

Kudinov’s pocket nines never caught up against Loon’s pocket queens. A few quiet fist bumps later and the final 20 were all in the money.


The complexion of the field was exactly as you’d expect for a 50K buy-in tournament: plenty of superstars and a few wildcards. Coolers can affect and benefit any of them, however, and Stephen Chidwick lost with pocket kings to Nick Petrangelo’s pocket aces, but Petrangelo fell short of the final table after losing against jack-ten, then losing with the same hand.

This period ahead of the final table also accounted for Bryn Kenney, Chris Brewer, Mario Mosboeck and then Loon, whose bubble-delight was short lived. Loon took 139K for 11th.

After Tommy Kim hit the rail in 10th, they finally reached the final table. The only two players with any level of comfort were Linus Loeliger, who had been a big stack throughout, and Biao Ding, who had been up and down but now sat as chip leader heading to the final.

Final table players (clockwise from back left): Patrik Antonius, Biao Ding, Dan Smith, Karl Chappe-Gatien, Viacheslav Buldygin, Dao Minh Phu, Ben Heath, Linus Loeliger, Sam Greenwood

Final table line-up

Biao Ding – 8,750,000 (70 BBs)
Linus Loeliger – 6,200,000 (50 BBs)
Dao Minh Phu – 2,525,000 (20 BBs)
Karl Chappe-Gatien – 2,400,000 (19 BBs)
Viacheslav Buldygin – 2,200,000 (18 BBs)
Dan Smith – 1,700,000 (14 BBs)
Ben Heath – 1,550,000 (12 BBs)
Patrik Antonius – 1,325,000 (11 BBs)
Sam Greenwood – 1,150,000 (9 BBs)

This next passage of play was very slow, at least by the standards of lower buy-in events. It used to be conventional wisdom that anything sub 20 BBs was a shoving stack, but not any more. These elite pros are happy to play from a short stack, raising one blind and folding if necessary.

Sam Greenwood secured an early double, but then dwindled again until AcQh became a clear shoving hand from the button. The only problem was that Ben Heath had aces in the big blind, and Greenwood was finally free to head to the 75K event, which was nearing the end of its registration period.

Sam Greenwood, out in ninth

With eight players left, and blinds escalating, the average stack was a mere 14 big blinds. Phu was now chip leader, with 19 bigs.


After the long period without an elimination, they suddenly began to occur with increased regularity. Loeliger, who had at once appeared untouchable and even hit a 1% chance earlier in the day to stay alive, now didn’t have the chips to survive losing a big flip. His queens were second best to Dan Smith’s XxKh. Loeliger was out in eighth for 215,500.

Smith assumed the chip lead after that hand, but it was an ephemeral notion as any pot that went to showdown would likely change it.

So it proved as Ding went, ahem, ding-dong to knock out two Triton stars back-to-back. Heath’s jacks perished to Ding’s AdQs, and Karl Chappe-Gatien lasted only a couple of hands more. His JsTs lost to Ding’s aces.

Ben Heath hands over his last chips
The massage, and the tournament, stops for Karl Chappe-Gatien

Chappe-Gatien had been the breakout success of Triton Cyprus, but there was not much of the same table chatter this time around. He drank his whisky, enjoyed his massage and headed out in sixth, taking 389K. Heath’s seventh earned him 291,800.

For all the talent still in the final five, only one of them had a previous Triton title. That was Patrik Antonius, the fearsome Finn, who had assumed the role of short stack at this final and had been clinging on.

His laddering job ended in a fourth-place finish, however, when he couldn’t hit with KdJh and lost to Phu’s pocket sixes. It meant a payout of 497,000 for Antonius and four left for the title.

Patrik Antonius heads off

For all the unpredictability of the field, there hadn’t actually been any spectacular bad beats or outright unexplainable plays at the final table — until, that is, the Russian pro Viacheslav Buldygin suffered a sickener at Ding’s hands.

Ding jammed his button with the chip lead and QdJs, but Buldygin snap-called in the big blind with KhKc. When you’re running well, you’re running well and the board ran Td2hQc8d9s to give Ding a straight.

Buldygin had been paying tribute to his lucky hat all night, but it lost its aura after this one. He took 618,000 and will maybe look for new headwear.

Viacheslav Buldygin’s hat ran out of luck

The last surviving member of poker’s established stars was Smith, a man who had spent the past two weeks exploring Vietnam and enjoying his time among the locals. That had extended too to the final table, although Ding brought Smith’s journey to it conclusion.

Dan Smith finished third

Smith got his chips in with Kd7h but it lost to Ding’s AcTc. That brought them to heads up play as Smith went looking for 750,500.


Word had got round the Phu was heads-up for a title and supporters arrived on the rail from, presumably, close by. He had a disadvantage at the start of heads-up play, but after an aggressive start scored a double up with AdJd against Ding’s As8d.

That gave him a huge lead and even though Ding managed his own come-from-behind-double, Phu never relinquished the lead. The final hand came about when they got it all in pre-flop with AsTs for Phu up against Ding’s KsQs.

A king appeared on the flop, which suggested an outdraw was on the cards and an extension of an already painfully long day. But turn and river were both spades, giving each man a flush. Phu’s was a pip better, and he was the winner.

It’s an incredible result for the Vietnamese player and will immediately send him into the top three of his country’s all-time money list. As for Ding, he was at his second final table of the week, so we may well see a lot more of both these guys in the future.

Beaten at the last: Biao Ding


Event #6 – 50,000 NLH 8-Handed
Dates: March 5-6, 2023
Entries: 139 (inc. 51 re-entries)
Prize pool: $6,950,000

1 – Dao Minh Phu (Vietnam) – 1,670,000
2 – Biao Ding (China) – 1,135,000
3 – Dan Smith (USA) – 750,500
4 – Viacheslav Buldygin (Russia) – 618,000
5 – Patrik Antonius (Finland) – 497,000
6 – Karl Chappe-Gatien (France) – 389,000
7 – Ben Heath (UK) – 291,800
8 – Linus Loeliger (Switzerland) – 215,500
9 – Sam Greenwood (Canada) – 166,800

10 – Tommy Kim (South Korea) – 139,000
11 – Lun Loon (Malaysia) – 139,000
12 – Nick Petrangelo (USA) – 121,600
13 – Bryn Kenney (USA) – 121,600
14 – Mario Mosboeck (Austria) – 111,200
15 – Chris Brewer (USA) – 111,200
16 – Henrik Hecklen (Denmark) – 100,800
17 – Johannes Straver (Netherlands) – 100,800
18 – Moonho Seo (South Korea) – 90,400
19 – Stephen Chidwick (UK) – 90,400
20 – Steve O’Dwyer (Ireland) – 90,400

Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive