Champion Michael Soyza!

The Triton Series was founded in Malaysia, the home of its visionaries Paul Phua and Richard Yong. And the country has produced a long series of superlative talents, who have taken to Texas Hold’em as if Kuala Lumpur was somewhere between Dallas and Houston.

One of the absolute very best from this Asian hotbed of poker is Michael Soyza, who learned the game alongside the Triton founders and who has been a fixture on the series since its inception. Tonight, Soyza won the second Triton title of his brilliant career, took his lifetime earnings from all live poker tournaments past $14 million, and put Malaysia on the board for the first time on this trip to Northern Cyprus.

Soyza is the champion of the $75K buy-in Event 8 at Triton North Cyprus, banking $1.735 million. He also had to defeat a customarily formidable field of players, including a final five that featured all of Michael Addamo, Dan Smith and Mikita Badziakouski.

Fortunately for Soyza, he had an enormous chip lead by the time they got short-handed, which allowed him to treat those titans like bunnies. He appeared to be sauntering to the title for almost all of the final table, never being anything short of a dominant leader.

Only when he squared off against Badziakouski heads up did he face real resistance. Badziakouski doubled up twice and brought stacks all but even, and he then took a heroic stab on what turned out to be the final hand, forcing Soyza to dig deep to make an even more heroic call.

Badziakouski was the sixth player Soyza knocked out at the final, so his decision making had been A1 throughout. Even so, finding a call with Td5h on a board of Ts8hJh8d2h must have been tough, with Badziakouski moving all in.

But Soyza did call, forcing Badziakouski to show his 7c6d.

“We’re here to battle,” Soyza said in his post-game interview, admitting that Badziakouski had him worried for a while.

But Soyza completed the job brilliantly and claimed all the applause. Badziakouski fell narrowly short in his quest for a fifth Triton title, but has $1.2 million to fall back on. Soyza begins life as a double champion, with a new Shamballa Jewels bracelet around his wrist as well.


For the first time at this festival, registration remained open at the start of Day 2, and the predictable last-minute influx of players duly arrived. There were 10 re-entries at the start of play, worth 25 big blinds, and it brought the total entry tally to 87.

That meant a prize pool of $6.525 million and a projected first prize of $1.735 million.

Two of those last-gasp re-entries were still battling after the bubble had burst too — Matthias Eibinger and Addamo — while plenty of the players who had stuck around through a tough Day 1 found it even harder going on Day 2 and left with nothing.

That bubble featured as its starring man another of the Day 2 registrants (or, more correctly, re-registrants), Henrik Hecklen, whose elimination in 14th put everyone into the money.

There were a lot of players clinging on with sub 15 BB stacks as the money moved nearer, and then one of them, Badziakouski, doubled up with AcKc through Artur Martirosian’s Ks9d. Badziakouski’s stack continued to move in the right direction, but Hecklen’s moved elsewhere.

Mikita Badziakouski was almost knocked out on the bubble

Hecklen got his chips in with pocket tens, called by Dan Smith’s KhJh. Smith flopped a jack and Hecklen was raced out.

Short stacks including Ben Heath (who had been chip leader for long periods today) and Santhosh Suvarna breathed a sigh of relief. Hecklen’s departure meant that when they both departed soon after, they dropped by the payouts desk for $131,000 each. Hecklen didn’t need to make that stop.

Henrik Hecklen sees the bubble about to burst above his head

The next point of order was the final table bubble, and we knew that every step of this tournament would take no more or less than the GTO-approved time. Every Triton field is full of poker’s elite, but when the higher buy-in events get towards their conclusion, the skill levels are at their absolute peaks.

Players make the right decisions in precisely the right amount of time. Even so, we sometimes see some big collisions — and we went from 11 to nine, then nine to seven, in only two hands thanks to two double eliminations.

The first of those skirmishes accounted for both Christoph Vogelsang and Nacho Barbero, and took us to a final. In it, Badziakouski opened with TdTh and Barbero moved all-in for his last 1.1 million (14 big blinds) with Ac8c. Vogelsang, with five big blinds (two of which were in the middle already as blinds and antes), under-called all-in with KcQh.

Nacho Barbero feels the pain

Badziakouski flopped a full house to finish this one off quickly, and send two dangerous players out.

It left us with a final table, which stacked up like this:

Mikita Badziakouski – 3.6 million
Dan Smith – 3 million
Vicheslav Buldygin – 2.2 million
Michael Soyza – 2.2 million
Artur Martirosian – 1.6 million
Michael Addamo – 1.5 million
Mikalai Vaskaboinikau – 1.3 million
Matthias Eibinger – 805,000
Dylan Linde – 775,000

(Big blind was 80,000.)

Event 8 final table players (clockwise from back left): Matthias Eibinger, Dylan Linde, Michael Addamo, Dan Smith, Michael Soyza, Viacheslav Buldygin, Artur Martirosian, Mikalai Vaskaboinikau, Mikita Badziakouski

The final was only a few hands old when that second double knockout occurred. And remarkably, perhaps, neither of the two short stacks were even involved.

This one was a real cooler, played expertly by Soyza, and it kickstarted his rush to the title. He laid a trap and watched two opponents fall head-first into it.

Artur Martirosian opened the pot from under the gun with a standard min-raise. Martirosian had pocket queens, so nothing wrong with that. Soyza called two seats along, and Triton first-timer Mikalai Vaskaboinikau called too from the big blind. He had AcJs. All pretty standard.

There were three of them to a flop of JcTs6s. That was top pair for Vaskaboinikau while Martirosian still had an over-pair. Oh, maybe it’s worth mentioning here that Soyza had AdAc.

All the money went in now, and those aces faded everything. It meant that Soyza rocketed up the counts while Vaskaboinikau was officially out in ninth, for $182,500, while Martirosian departed in eighth for $241,500.

The double elimination of Mikalai Vaskaboinikau and Artur Martirosyan

The next two eliminations also came quickly, although it was separate hands that accounted for Dylan Linde and then Matthias Eibinger.

Linde was also making his first appearance on the Triton Series here in North Cyprus, and after a few whiffs in the opening events, he picked up $310,000 for this seventh place finish. He had the short stack coming into the final, and his KdJc was picked off by Addamo’s pocket queens.

Eibinger’s departure a couple of hands later was one from the book marked “standard” too. He got his chips in with AhKh and Viacheslav Buldygin knocked him out with pocket tens.

Game’s up for Matthias Eibinger

That proved to be the high point of this final table for Buldygin, however. His quest for a sensational back-to-back triumph finished in a fifth place and with a cheque for $502,500.

After knocking out Eibinger, Buldygin’s chips ended up scattered among all remaining adversaries, before the very last chunk went to Soyza. Soyza found pocket tens this time and open-raised. Buldygin shipped with AsJc, Soyza called and then won the race.

Buldygin was disappointed, but it wasn’t quite 48 hours ago since he was walking away with the Event 6 title. So the smile returned quickly.

Viacheslav Buldygin’s back-to-back dreams end

With four players left, there was an enormous chip disparity. Soyza had close to 100 big blinds and nobody else had more than 20. But each of Badziakouski, Dan Smith and Addamo know their ICM shoving charts absolutely inside out, and it was simply a case of letting fate decide what happened next.

Soyza of course was simply pushing, pushing and pushing, usually collecting blinds and antes unopposed. When Smith tried to get something going and pushed himself, his timing was massively unfortunate. Soyza was sitting behind him with pocket queens and Smith’s Th8h was no match.

Dan Smith bids farewell

To further underline how difficult it is to do anything with a short stack and a dominant chip leader, look no further than what happened to Addamo. He scored a double up through Badziakouski when his As5h hit a five on flop and turn to defeat pocket jacks.

But just as the brilliant Australian was hoping to get some momentum and charge for a third title, he found an ace of his own — As9d — and got it in against what turned out to be pocket jacks in Soyza’s hands.

This time the jacks flopped a set and Addamo was done. He went double/bust in two hands. The $796,000 third-place prize was kind of nice, however.

Michael Addamo busts in third

That left two Triton stalwarts heads-up for the title. The four-time winner Badziakouski peered over the table at one of Malaysia’s very best, who had picked up a title in Jeju in 2019, and was last seen heads-up for the Vietnam Main Event. He came second in that one, but it was another million to his name.

In this tournament, Soyza had 99 big blinds to Badziakouski’s 17 BBs, so there was work for do for Badziakouski. He was, however, prepared to dig in for the fight — and to continue to play his game even after Soyza’s many fans poured int the bleachers after the player party kicked out.

Badziakouski was first all-in for 13 blinds with Kd5d against Soyza’s Ah7h. The first four cards — 9dJhQc4c — were all OK for Soyza. But the Kc river hit Badziakouski and doubled him up.

They played on. And there was soon another double.

This time, Badziakouski always had the best of it. His AdJh beat Soyza’s AsTs when they got it all in pre-flop.

Stacks were a lot shallower thanks to the blinds escalating rapidly. But they were very even now. Each player had 30-ish of them.

Blinds had actually just gone up again when the final hand came about. Soyza flopped middle pair while Badziakouski had a gutshot. Money went in on every street before Badziakouski decided to put Soyza to the test, having missed his draw. “Soyza in the blender,” said Randy Lew in the commentary booth.

Mikita Badziakouski doubled twice, but couldn’t get crucial bluff through

Soyza was up to it. He made the call that brought the house down, with all the Malaysian contingent having poured into the tournament room chanting his name.

It puts him in great form for tomorrow, where Soyza will sit down in the pros’ side of the draw for the Luxon Pay invitational.

A packed rail celebrates with Michael Soyza

Event #8 – $75,000 NLH 8-Handed
Dates: May 16-17, 2023
Entries: 87 (inc. 32 re-entries)
Prize pool: $6,525,000

1 – Michael Soyza, Malaysia – $1,735,000
2 – Mikita Badziakouski, Belarus – $1,200,000
3 – Michael Addamo, Australia – $796,000
4 – Dan Smith, USA – $623,000
5 – Viacheslav Buldygin, Russia – $502,500
6 – Matthias Eibinger, Austria – $391,500
7 – Dylan Linde, USA – $310,000
8 – Artur Martirosian, Russia – $241,500
9 – Mikalai Vaskaboinikau, Belarus – $182,500
10 – Nacho Barbero, Argentina – $140,500
11 – Christoph Vogelsang, Germany – $140,500
12 – Santhosh Suvarna, India – $131,000
13 – Ben Heath, UK – $131,000

Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive