An explosive end to the Triton Series Cyprus No Limit Hold’em Main Event resulted in a first Triton title for a Thai player, as the Asian game’s breakout star Punnat Punsri destroyed a final table of established wizards to bank a career best $2.6 million score.
Punsri, who says he has a cash game background, was all but unknown when he made the final table of a $50,000 High Roller event at the World Series of Poker this summer, finishing third for a near $600K prize. Punsri re-invested some of that money on a first trip to the Triton Series here in Cyprus, including a buy-in to this $100K Main Event, and emphatically proved he is here to stay.
As is commonplace on this prestigious series, the tournament featured the very greatest in world poker, and the final table featured not only the defending champion, but also Triton’s most decorated ambassador. However, even Henrik Hecklen and Jason Koon were powerless to stop Punsri’s incredible surge, which ended when he defeated Hong Kong’s Wayne Heung heads up.
Heung, for his part, earned $1.825 million, but his role was largely one of a support actor only as Punsri dominated proceedings. Punsri somehow also managed to lay waste to Wiktor Malinowski, best known as the online superstar “Iimitless”, who had come to the final with an enormous lead.
Punsri was happy to play big pots, often, and surged up the leader board from the middle of the pack overnight. And once he had a chip lead, nobody could lay a glove on him. He’s a puncher and a punisher. He’s Punnat Punsri, Triton Main Event champion.
At the end of the second day of play, which had been interrupted and delayed owing to an issue with the air conditioner, players faced the daunting prospect of bursting the bubble in the early hours. There were a handful of short stacks, but both Laszlo Bujtas and Horace Wei doubled up, leaving the bubble hovering most menacingly over Stephen Chidwick.
The 33-year-old from the UK is leading the Triton Player of the Year race after his stellar performance in Madrid, but tournament bubbles pay no heed to reputations, and it was Chidwick’s turn to take the unluckiest walk. He got his last five big blinds in with a suited jack-ten but Artur Martirosian had pocket jacks, and there was nothing on the board for Chidwick.
He scurried away, tailed by a TV camera, with nothing to show for his performance in this one.
Thirteen players bagged and tagged, all now in the money, and all hoping for a good night’s sleep ahead of the final day. The remaining field was an appealing combination of Triton veterans and newcomers, both pros and recreational players, as well as the defending Main Event champion, Hecklen. There were some very short stacks, so there was every chance of a speedy race to the final table on Day 3.
So it proved, as none of the short stacks were able to rally. Isaac Haxton and Bujtas fell in short order, and then Paul Phua, the all-time leader in number of cashes on the series he founded, perished in 11th. It was an incredible 25th in-the-money finish for Phua, but he will have to wait for his second title.
Seth Davies, the player next out, is surely now getting impatient waiting for even his first. Davies has been the standout performer here in Cyprus, with three final table appearances already. But he had also been on the wrong side of a number of bad beats or coolers, leaving him on the rail before the trophy was close to being handed out. The same story continued, with Davies losing a chunk of his chips in a race against Punnat Punsri, and the rest going to Malinowski. Davies’ departure, which earned him $225,000, set our final table.
1 – Punnat Punsri, 2.235 million
2 – Wiktor Malinowski, 7.415 million
3 – Wayne Heung, 4.245 million
5 – Jason Koon, 1.15 million
6 – Artem Vezhenkov, 960,000
7 – Gregorie Auzoux, 1.075 million
8 – Henrik Hecklen, 5.27 million
9 – Artur Martirosian, 1.66 million
10 – Horace Wei, 740,000
Horace Wei was one of the relative unknowns who signed up to play the Coin Rivet invitational during this festival, partnering with Dan Cates. He not only outlasted Cates in that tournament, but he also secured a first Triton cash, earning $400K for 14th place.
Wei was keen to show that was not a flash in the pan, and immediately secured a second cash. His Main Event ended in ninth, when his lost a race to Punsri’s , but there was $280,000 waiting for him at the cash desk.
This year’s Triton Series events have seen an influx of Russian players, including two of the online game’s most distinguished talents, Artem Vezhenkov and Artur Martirosian. Both had made it to the final table here, and both seemed to be making an easy transition to the high stakes live tournament game, after making their names online.
Vezhenkov in particular seems to have been enjoying his trip to Cyprus, and his partner had been going around on previous days collecting autographs from the Triton superstars on a branded T-shirt. Vezhenkov was now proudly wearing it at the final, bringing names to the final of many players who had already been knocked out.
Vezhenkov battled to eighth, before he received the baddest beat yet on the final table. He had pocket nines to Hecklen’s pocket eights, and for seven blinds it was always going in. Hecklen spiked an eight on the river, and that was the end of that. Vezhenkov took $366,000.
Martirosian wasn’t far behind, and Hecklen again applied the finishing touches. Martirosian hadn’t managed to get much going during the final, where he was card dead and strangled by the bigger stacks. He took a stand from the small blind after Hecklen’s button open, and then called off when Hecklen fought back with a four-bet shove.
Hecklen’s was unthreatened by Martirosian’s and the final Russian was out in fourth for $470,000.
There was an enormous division between stacks now, with Hecklen and Malinowski comfortable at the top and all of Gregoire Auzoux, Punnat Punsri, Jason Koon, and Wayne Heung in trouble. Auzoux lost a big pot to Punsri, which put the former in danger and gave the latter some wiggle room, and then Auzoux became Malinowski’s first victim of the final.
Auzoux was only at this event to see his friend and colleague Kent Staahle, who had played the Coin Rivet Invitational. But the pair had struck up a bet over who could first win a Triton title, and that had inspired Auzoux to enter the PLO event a few days ago. He finished fifth in that, for a debut cash.
He hopped in the Main Event and ended up extending his 100 percent Triton cashing record — although the bet against Staahle is not won yet. Auzoux’s couldn’t come from behind to beat Malinowski’s and so the Frenchman’s run ended in sixth and a $595,000 payout.
It was around this point that the first really enormous pot occurred, clipping the wings of the flying Hecklen. Until now, the big stacks had mainly kept out of one another’s way as the shorties were knocked out. But Punsri had kings when Hecklen had queens and it went raise, three-bet, four-bet, five-bet shove, call.
Punri’s hand held for an 11 million chip pot, and now Hecklen joined Koon and Heung in the doldrums.
Each of those three knew that they were in double-or-bust mode, and even Koon’s sensational skills couldn’t get him out of his hole. He lost a race with pocket fours to Punsri’s and was eliminated in fifth, failing in his bid for a record-setting fifth title. There was $762,000 heading to his bank account though.
Next out: Hecklen. No one has ever successfully defended a Main Event title on the Triton Series, and that may well be true for many years yet. But Hecklen certainly came close, riding the big stack all the way to a second consecutive final, only a couple of months after that famous win in Madrid.
However that pot against Punsri had left him with a near-impossible task to get back into it, and Punsri wasn’t even done with the punishment. Hecklen got his last chips in with and Punsri called with . There was a ten on the flop and the back-to-back dream died.
Hecklen took $946,000, but won’t be strapping another Jacob & Co timepiece to his wrist.
With Hecklen out of the way, this was now expected to be a cakewalk for Malinowski. He had all the experience of short-handed play and, more importantly, still had all the chips. But occasionally we need a reminder of how devastatingly quick fortunes can change in no limit poker, and this was one of those days.
Punsri got involved in another enormous pre-flop confrontation, this time with Malinowski. Punsri opened his button with a standard raise, Malinowski three bet from the small blind, and then Punsri jammed for 60 big blinds. Malinowski, with called and was up against pocket tens. Punsri won the race again, leaving Malinowski with fumes.
His last chips went in with , which didn’t beat Punsri’s . Malinowski won $1,210,000 for third.
“I didn’t want to four-bet small and then have to call it off,” Punsri explained later about the enormous shove.
Heung then squared off against Punsri and, with around 28 big blinds, was not necessarily out of it. But all the momentum was with the Thai player, and they were all in very quickly after heads-up play began.
Heung had a dominant ace — it was versus — but there was an eight in the window. And Heung never caught up.
It was a sensationally swift end to this tournament, done by 6.30pm local time. But Punsri was just unstoppable, and now has the $2.6 million prize to prove it. After an incredible summer, he is clearly one to watch. And one suspects the Triton Series will be seeing a lot of him in the coming stops.
Triton Cyprus $100,000 NLH – Main Event
Dates: September 12-14, 2022
Entries: 99 (inc. 34 re-entries)
Prize pool: $9,900,000
1 – Punnat Punsri, Thailand – $2,600,000
2 – Wayne Heung, Hong Kong – $1,825,000
3 – Wiktor Malinowski, Poland – $1,210,000
4 – Henrik Hecklen, Denmark – $946,000
5 – Jason Koon, USA – $762,000
6 – Gregoire Auzoux, France – $595,000
7 – Artur Martirosian, Russia – $470,000
8 – Artem Vezhenkov, Russia – $366,000
9 – Horace Wei, Hong Kong – $280,000
10 – Seth Davies, USA – $225,000
11 – Paul Phua, Malaysia – $225,000
12 – Laszlo Bujtas, Hungary – $198,000
13 – Isaac Haxton, USA – $198,000
Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive