The online poker site Americas Card Room (ACR) sent a team of its pros and streamers to play on the Triton Series in Vietnam this week. It was a chance for them to sample life at the very top of the live tournament tree: they had 100,000 in buy-ins with which to take on the elite.
Tonight, at the Hoiana Resort, near Da Nang, one of their number named Mark Rubbathan has multiplied the value of his total package by more than six. And he’s in a dreamland.
Rubbathan, from the UK, is most at home behind his computer screen streaming online poker action. That’s how his booked his trip to Vietnam. But the 32-year-old emerged from his study to win Event #3 on the Triton schedule, playing like he does this every day.
Stacks were short and action was frantic, but after enduring the bubble period with two big blinds, Rubbathan picked his spots perfectly to progress.
“It is all completely surreal,” Rubbathan said. “I don’t know what to say, other than this was a really good time to run better than I’ve ever run in anything. I absolutely sun-run the final table. I’ve got 400K and the trophy, so I’m happy. That’ll work.”
This was a 20,000 buy-in Mystery Bounty affair, with half of the prize pool going in bounty payments and the other half awarded via a bounty draw. Rubbathan added 240K in bounties to the 396K he won from the main prize pool and in the process won 14 times more in one tournament than in his previous live career to date. He also picked up an exclusive Shamballa Jewels bracelet, offered to winners on the tour.
“I have played mystery bounties before but obviously nothing of this scale,” Rubbathan said. “It can be difficult working out all the spots with ICM and that, but to be honest it didn’t really matter for the most part. I just got really good cards and won my all ins. If you do that you can win tournaments, apparently.”
He added: “It’s indescribable. The whole experience was insane enough from the get-go. I won a package so I freerolled my way here. I wasn’t bothered, in a way, about cashing. I just wanted the experience. I was super looking forward to it. This is obviously beyond any expectation. It’s wild, absolutely wild.”
The 250K top-ranked bounty went to Orpen Kisacikoglu, the UK-based Turkish player who didn’t actually cash in the event. Kisacikoglu won one bounty token yesterday and had one chance to pick a winner during a long bounty ceremony hosted by Ali Nejad on the Triton TV stage. Kisacikoglu said he had a chop arranged with Timothy Adams, and added even more when Adams himself pulled a 100K bounty.
For a first Mystery Bounty event on the Triton tour, it was a lot of fun.
But let’s rewind to review the day’s action…
BUBBLE REFUSES TO BURST
For the first time during this festival in Vietnam, they played out a protracted bubble. After a couple of quick eliminations to start the final day, there were 28 players remaining with only 27 due to be paid from the regular prize schedule.
It became a battle to lose that final one.
Minh Nguyen was the first to double, spiking an ace on the river to help his beat Roland Rokita’s pocket jacks. He clenched his fists and sighed deeply, but the agony wasn’t quite over yet.
There were at least another eight bubble-ups across all of the remaining tables, with numerous short stacks put at risk.
All of them managed to double until Mike Takayama got his final 10 big blinds in with , but slammed into Joao Vieira’s .
Another king on the rainbow flop left Takayama drawing dead by the turn. It sent him out with nothing and guaranteed a payday of at least 17,900 for everyone still in a seat.
(We didn’t know it yet, but the flurry of double ups was a sign of things to come.)
THE RACE TO THE FINAL
In a repeat of a now long-established pattern, the tournament followed a slow phase with a period of rapid-fire eliminations. Any short stacks that survived through the bubble now flew into the middle, with the likes of Kiat Lee, Ben Heath and Patrik Antonius hitting the rail.
Monika Zukowicz also locked up a maiden Triton cash at her first visit to the tour, banking 17,900 for 27th. The Event 1 champion Webster Lim perished in 12th, with Artur Martirosian and Vincent Huang then departing to leave us with our final table.
It was a well-balanced selection of Triton veterans and newcomers. Mark Rubbathan, Pedro Garagnani, Gytis Lazauninkas, Joao Vieira and Victor Chung were at a Triton final for the first time; Timothy Adams, Daniel Dvoress and Wiktor Malinowski were returning to familiar territory.
As for Calvin Tan, he was at his second final table in consecutive days.
THE BOUNTY HUNT
The rule of thumb with a bounty tournament is that players tend to take more marginal calling spots in the hunt for a knockout. And though it’s unclear how much influence the format had on many of the players’ thinking, we did witness a real rarity: a four-way pre-flop all-in skirmish, with all of Chong, Malinowski and Tan’s tournament lives on the line.
Garagnani had the covering stack, and was in good shape to profit from the triple knockout. But the dealer conspired to wreck it all. Garagnani’s actually came fourth, behind Tan’s , Malinowski’s and Chong’s .
The board was , giving everyone something except Garagnani.
The Brazilian pro nursed a micro stack after that, doubling it once through Vieira, but then losing it all to Tan after another rough beat. Garagnani’s pocket jacks lost to Tan’s when an ace flopped.
Garagnani can take 40,100 and the knowledge that he didn’t make any mistakes. Just nothing much he could do.
“We will play until everyone has five big blinds, or less,” joked Lazauninkas. By that point, he had seen the four-way all-in, as well as both Vieira and Malinowki double up to stay alive with kings and aces, respectively.
He wasn’t far off. With eight players left and a dinner break approaching, the average stack was 15 big blinds.
Only Rubbathan, the chip leader, knew that he wasn’t in immediate danger — and he only grew stronger after he sent Adams to the rail in eighth. Adams found on the button and moved in for nine big blinds.
Rubbathan all but instantly called in the small blind, which then sent Dvoress, with five big blinds (one of which was already out there) into the tank. Dvoress folded, and Rubbathan showed his . Adams flopped a flush draw, but whiffed through turn and river.
Rubbathan ended the hand with trip kings and Adams was out the door, collecting 48,500 en route.
VIEIRA’S POSTPRANDIAL NIGHTMARE
Seven players went to dinner, none of whom was either a certain winner nor could consider their chances over. The stacks were all incredibly short, and a series of all-in coups was sure to follow.
Vieira was involved in the first two, and both went to his respective opponents. First up, Dvoress’s held against Vieira’s , earning a double.
On the very next hand, Vieira found and got his chips in, but Rubbathan’s flopped two pair and Vieira’s race was run. His first Triton cash was worth 67,000.
Vieira’s cash was the first for Portugal on the Triton Series, and it was soon followed by the first for Lithuania.
Lazaouninkas was another newcomer to the series, but had taken to it like a duck to water. This is one of the most talkative tours, and Lazaouninkas was one of the most vocal, and it’s one with some of the highest-quality action, another area in which Lazaouninkas was comfortable.
He has also been on the right end of a four-way all-in earlier in the day, knocking out the aforementioned Nguyen alongside Kayhan Mokri and Lisawad Pakinai in a single hand. His pocket tens stayed good in that coup, with all of the overcards in his opponents’ hands covering one another.
That earned him three bounties to go fishing with later.
His fun ended in a sixth place finish here for 92,000, however, when his couldn’t come from behind to oust Dvoress’ . Lazaouninkas drily commented on how bad the was for his hand, and the turn ended it.
THE SHORT GET EVEN SHORTER
There’s no two ways about it, the next phase of play was basically a crapshoot for the title. Everyone was so very, very short (and knowledges of shoving ranges are so precise) that really only the deck was going to decide who won.
As a perfect illustration, when Chong found pocket kings and doubled through Dvoress’ , his stack was worth 18 big blinds. And he was in second place. To Dvoress. Who had 19 big blinds.
If you won a flip, you could breathe. If you lost a flip, you were either in trouble or you were out. And Tan lost one of the latter category: his was second best to Rubbathan’s and he Tan was out in fifth, for 120,000.
Rubbathan now had the chips to punish anyone with whom he clashed, and he accounted for Dvoress in fourth too. Dvoress’ pocket eights were never in front of Rubbathan’s pocket queens.
Dvoress now has 15 Triton cashes — the latest worth 150,400 — but continues to search for his first outright win.
Rubbathan now had 23 million, with Chong’s 8 million representing his closest challenge. Malinowski had not had a big stack in practically years, but was still managing to cling on.
It was Chong, however, who was next to perish, giving Rubbathan almost everything. Chong had in the big blind and watched Rubbathan open from under the gun. Malinowski folded his small blind and Chong had every right to think he had the best of it.
He ripped it in, but found Rubbathan at the top of his range with . The board was all blank and Rubbathan sent Chong out with 184,000. (He later picked a 100K bounty, so things got good again very quickly.)
There was an almighty imbalance when the tournament reached heads-up. Rubbathan had 32 million to Malinowski’s 3.4 million. In big blinds, it was 53 to seven. It meant that even after Malinowski managed one double up, he was still in big trouble. And he couldn’t muster a second.
Malinowski’s final hand was and it started well ahead of Rubbathan’s . But a jack on the river ended the flurry of double ups and handed the title to the British player.
Dates: March 3-4, 2023
Entries: 179 (inc. 54 re-entries)
Prize pool: 1,790,000 + 1,790,000 in bounties
Main prize pool
1 – Mark Rubbathan, UK – 396,000
2 – Wiktor Malinowski, Poland – 268,000
3 – Victor Chong, Malaysia – 184,000
4 – Daniel Dvoress, Canada – 150,400
5 – Calvin Tan, Malaysia – 120,000
6 – Gytis Lazaouninkas, Lithuania – 92,000
7 – Joao Vieira, Portugal – 67,000
8 – Timothy Adams, Canada – 48,500
9 – Pedro Garagnani, Brazil – 40,100
10 – Vincent Huang, Australia – 34,000
11 – Artur Martirosian, Russia – 34,000
12 – Webster Lim, Malaysia – 29,500
13 – Tommy Kim, South Korea – 29,500
14 – Oya Masashi, Japan – 26,800
15 – Roland Rokita, Austria – 26,800
16 – Dan Smith, USA – 24,100
17 – Kyudam Kim, South Korea – 24,100
18 – Choon Tong Siow, Malaysia – 21,500
19 – Patrik Antonius, Finland – 21,500
20 – Philip Nagy, USA – 21,500
21 – Kayhan Mokri, Norway – 19,700
22 – Lisawad Pakinai, Thailand – 19,700
23 – Manh Hao Nguyen, UK – 19,700
24 – Ben Heath, UK – 17,900
25 – Pablo Brito Silva, Brazil – 17,900
26 – Kiat Lee, Malaysia – 17,900
27 – Monika Zukowicz, Poland – 17,900
Orpen Kisacikoglu – 250,000
Mark Rubbathan – 240,000
Timothy Adams – 170,000
Pedro Garagnani – 140,000
Vincent Huang – 120,000
Gytis Lazauninkas – 100,000
Victor Chong – 100,000
Wiktor Malinowski – 100,000
Artur Martirosia – 80,000
Kean Wei Tan – 70,000
Choon Tong Siow – 70,000
Joao Vieira – 50,000
Benjamin Heath – 50,000
Daniel Dvoress – 30,000
Roland Rokita – 30,000
Chin Wei Lim – 30,000
Kahle Burns – 30,000
Monika Zukowicz – 30,000
Kyudam Kim – 20,000
Dan Smith – 20,000
Phachara Wongwichit – 20,000
Mike Takayama – 20,000
Kayhan Mokri – 20,000
Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive