Jason Koon wrote another chapter in his Triton Series fairytale tonight after the 37-year-old from West Virginia completed yet another awesome tournament victory.
A highly emotional Koon won the $100,000 buy-in NLH Main Event in North Cyprus, bagging a seventh title on the series for which he is an ambassador. No one else has more than four. It was Koon’s second victory of the trip (he also has a runner-up finish to his name this week) and will have far-reaching implications in the Ivan Leow Player of the Year race too.
Although final calculations are still being made, and this festival has three more days yet to run, Koon may have done enough to overhaul Stephen Chidwick at the top of the leader board for the inaugural PoY trophy.
“I was here a little under a year ago when we lost Ivan,” Koon said, choking back tears after the tournament wrapped. “Ivan was a good friend of mine. And walking through these halls every day I feel a little bit emotional about that. Just the title of Player of the Year, it gets me emotional. I miss the guy.”
Koon’s victory tonight, after a heads-up deal with Sam Greenwood, earned him $2,451,082, the Main Event trophy, and an exclusive Jacob & Co timepiece. Koon might also earn himself a watch for the other arm after Triton founder Paul Phua offered him a timepiece from his personal collection if he could win the Player of the Year race. Koon has done everything he can to make that happen.
“I’ve been studying all night,” Koon told reporters before the start of play today. “Even if it might only last one hand.” He was referencing his position in the overnight chip counts, where he was placed second-last of nine remaining players. But Koon weathered the many storms that played out, got his big hands to hold up when he needed them, and remained focused even as the final table became something of a tetchy affair in places.
“I’m always trying to hold it together most days,” Koon said, when asked by Ali Nejad about the emotions that were running through him, and spilling out after the event. “I feel pretty good. I’m always a happy guy when I’m playing. But it’s been a long trip. I’ve made a lot of long, deep runs and I’ve pushed myself really, really hard.”
After doubling up early, and earning another double through PoY rival Chidwick, Koon could do no wrong, and downed Greenwood on the very first hand of heads-up play.
There has surely never been an affinity to rival this one between brand ambassador and tour. And there has surely never been a modern tournament talent to rival that of Jason Koon.
“You deal with a lot,” Koon added. “You hold in a ton of your feelings, and this was one of those ones where it wasn’t just joy. It was just, like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ This is it for me. I don’t really play other poker tournaments. These are the most important to me. I’m sure [Phil] Hellmuth would feel the same whenever he wins a bracelet. To me, these are the most important. I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude.”
TOURNAMENT ACTION REVIEW
The Main Event played out over three days, and it follows that much of the tournament was shaped during the first two sessions. On Day 1, it was about registrants and re-registrants, building a prize pool of $10.1 million before the entry desk closed at the start of Day 2. There were 101 entries, including 36 re-entries.
Day 2 was always likely to be a long one, with the target of the final table beginning as a speck on the horizon but gradually creeping nearer. In tournaments of this type, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line (not to mention Player of the Year points), recklessness takes a back seat to security. Players will now nurse a stack of literally any size. If someone gets knocked out elsewhere, your tournament equity sky-rockets so it’s worth clinging on.
Sean Winter spent a lot of time at the very foot of the counts as the field thinned towards its bubble. Fifteen would be paid in this one. Winter managed a double to earn some breathing space, however Seth Davies lost a cooler (jacks beaten by queens); Wai Kin Yong took a bad beat (kings beaten by ) and then then Triton superstar Mikita Badziakouski sampled the real hurt of a last-gasp bubble.
Badziakouski’s was far too good to do anything but three-bet with pre-flop, leaving himself only crumbs behind, and Mike Watson became his sole opponent. They both checked a flop of , before the turn.
Watson now bet. Badziakouski committed the last of his chips and the cards were exposed. Watson’s pocket eights was now a full house and Badziakouski was drawing dead. We were in the money.
By the standards of the day, the next six eliminations happened rapidly. Each of Chris Brewer, Kiat Lee, Fedor Holz, Michael Addamo, Nacho Barbero and Aleksejs Ponakovs busted short of the final, but each with a payout to their name.
That took us to the end of Day 2 and set a final table led by Henrik Hecklen, but at which nobody could feel entirely comfortable. They lined up like this:
Seat 1: Jason Koon – 1.45m (15 BBs)
Seat 2: Sean Winter – 875,000 (9 BBs)
Seat 3: Sam Greenwood – 3.6m (36 BBs)
Seat 4: Mike Watson – 2.6m (26 BBs)
Seat 5: Steve O’Dwyer – 2.55m (26 BBs)
Seat 6: Dan Smith – 2.75m (28 BBs)
Seat 7: Viacheslav Buldygin – 3.65m (37 BBs)
Seat 8: Henrik Hecklen – 5.525m (55 BBs)
Seat 9: Stephen Chidwick – 2.25m (23 BBs)
FINAL DAY ACTION
Although the scene was set for a cagey affair, Viacheslav Buldygin was prepared to get involved from the very outset. However, the approach turned out to be his undoing as he slipped from second in the overnight counts to rock bottom, losing consecutive pots to Stephen Chidwick and then Sam Greenwood.
Chidwick turned three queens in the first of those hands, and Buldygin did well to bin his top-pair aces on the river, faced with Chidwick’s bet. The second was even more significant, for 2.4m chips, and vaulted Greenwood into the lead.
In this one, Buldygin got involved with against Greenwood’s . The flop brought the and Greenwood slow-played it all the way, including after the turn gave Buldygin encouragement and the river gave Greenwood a lock.
Greenwood check-jammed the river and won piles.
Koon completed Buldygin’s demise. In a pot opened by Dan Smith, Buldygin under-called all-in with . Koon, in the small blind, also called. Three players saw a flop of . The two active players checked.
The came on the turn and Koon now bet 325,000. Smith let his hand go, and Koon tabled his , which was now ahead of Buldygin. The Russian had a wheel draw, but whiffed the river and that was that.
Buldygin was first out from the final, collecting $263,000.
Koon stacked up some more chips but, in truth, the more significant hand for him happened slightly earlier. Smith opened this pot too, but Chidwick three-bet the small blind with . Koon then four-bet jammed the big blind with .
The better ace won it, and this pot carried enormous Player of the Year implications. The two challengers in that flipped their position in the counts here and left Chidwick, the POY leader, in a spot of bother again. Koon was riding high.
Hecklen had started the final as chip leader, but after Greenwood overtook him, Steve O’Dwyer managed it too, this time as a direct result of a big clash between the two. Hecklen’s pocket eights were outraced by O’Dwyer’s after they got it in pre-flop.
Hecklen also then doubled up Sean Winter, whose beat Hecklen’s . Winter, doing everything he could to ladder up, only had one big blind going into this pot, so it didn’t do Hecklen much damage. At least not on the face of it.
Winter’s refusal to budge put plenty of others under pressure, however. And the man who ended up busting next was Chidwick. The UK pro managed one double up, with through Greenwood’s , but despite both Watson and Winter lower than him in the counts, Chidwick went to battle with O’Dwyer. It didn’t end well.
Chidwick opened from mid position with and O’Dwyer called in the big blind with . The flop came . O’Dwyer checked and Chidwick moved all-in.
O’Dwyer had top pair with no kicker, but he had to try to figure out if he was prepared to risk half his stack. He decided he did and got the good news. The turn and river were blanks, and Chidwick departed in eighth for $358,500. With Koon still seated, the Player of the Year race only heated up.
Chidwick was gone, but Watson and Winter had no intention of joining him. They both doubled up their short stacks to survive, but were still in real peril. And it was Watson who lost the crucial flip first to bust.
Watson had pocket sevens and Hecklen had . A jack on the turn sealed Watson’s fate and he was out in seventh for $469,500. Winter’s extraordinary survival skills continued.
The next pot of note was again huge for Koon. He won another race with versus O’Dwyer’s and that put him at the very summit. He was so untouchable that he even then managed to win a pot against Winter, and that finally ended Winter’s incredible durability.
Winter was in the big blind for the Koon vs. O’Dwyer race, which meant he gave up two of his four blinds. Another one went in on the next hand, when he was in the small blind, and after Koon raised from the button, Winter decided he had to call as well.
Winter only had , live against Koon’s . But the board bricked out and Winter was finally frozen out. He had been the short stack since well before the bubble yesterday, but now was heading out with a $595,000 payday.
The atmosphere had turned a little frosty at the table, with Dan Smith and Koon disagreeing on a point of etiquette and both making their opinions loudly known. Other players had tried to broker peace — “Let’s get cocktails,” said Winter — and although tempers calmed eventually, there was something inevitable that the next major battle would play out between Koon and Smith.
This time is was a more familiar hold’em match-up of pocket pair versus over-cards. Smith jammed his 10 big blinds with . Koon called with pocket tens. The board ran dry, and Smith was out in fifth for $762,000.
Hecklen’s tournament lasted only two hands longer. Almost immediately after Smith’s demise, Hecklen found pocket queens. Even better for him, he saw Koon open raise and then O’Dwyer call, with this now the perfect spot to push.
Koon called, O’Dwyer folded, and Hecklen was in great shape against Koon’s . However there was an ace in the window and Hecklen couldn’t find the last queen in the deck. Instead, he looked for a payout of $946,000.
Three were left, and all were guaranteed seven figures. Koon had 66 big blinds, while the others had fewer than 20 each. But O’Dwyer doubled almost immediately, with beating Koon’s . So it was game on again.
Except it wasn’t. Koon and O’Dwyer went to war once more, in a rare pot that played through the streets. O’Dwyer completed from the small blind and Koon checked his option. The flop fell . O’Dwyer checked, Koon bet 375,000 and O’Dwyer called.
The came on the turn and the pattern repeated. It went check, bet (1.5 million), call. That took them to the river, and O’Dwyer only had 1.8 million behind.
O’Dwyer checked, Koon bet all of it, and O’Dwyer called off. Koon’s was a straight. O’Dwyer’s was not.
O’Dwyer took $1,171,000 for third.
There were two players left, ranked second and third on the Player of the Year leader board at that point. Koon had a big chip lead — 80 BBs to Greenwood’s 21 BBs — and they immediately asked to do a straight ICM chop and to leave 10 percent to play for.
Tournament staff facilitated it, and the confirmed payouts guaranteed Koon $2,367,082 and Greenwood $1,923,918, with $84,000 to play for.
They took their seats again quickly, but were standing up again in a matter of minutes. All the money went in on the very first hand of heads-up play: Koon completing the small blind with and Greenwood moving all in with . Koon called it off and flopped a queen.
The full board ran . And that was it. Seventh heaven for Jason Koon.
Event #11 – $100,000 NLH Main Event
Dates: May 20-22, 2023
Entries: 101 (inc. 36 re-entries)
Prize pool: $10,100,000
1 – Jason Koon, USA – $2,451,082*
2 – Sam Greenwood, Canada – $1,923,918*
3 – Steve O’Dwyer, USA – $1,171,000
4 – Henrik Hecklen, Denmark – $946,000
5 – Dan Smith, USA – $762,000
6 – Sean Winter, USA – $595,000
7 – Mike Watson, Canada – $469,500
8 – Stephen Chidwick, UK – $358,500
9 – Viacheslav Buldygin, Russia – $263,000
10 – Aleksejs Ponakovs, Latvia – $215,000
11 – Nacho Barbero, Argentina – $215,000
12 – Michael Addamo, Australia – $190,000
13 – Fedor Holz, Germany – $190,000
14 – Kiat Lee, Malaysia – $175,000
15 – Chris Brewer, USA – $175,000
*denotes heads up deal
Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive