The latest Triton Series trophy is heading to Azerbaijan tonight in the possession of the country’s leading poker player, Ramin Hajiyev.
That Hajiyev is not even a professional player is a crucial factor in this story. The 35-year-old for tennis pro is now an entrepreneur, concerned with food imports and exports and the restaurant industry. That qualified him to be one of 32 recreational poker enthusiasts who jumped at the chance to play the Luxon Invitational tournament at the Triton Super High Roller Series in North Cyprus.
Hajiyev not only outlasted the one professional player he was permitted to invite to this $200,000 buy-in event, but he beat the whole field of the game’s leading talents.
After agreeing a two-way deal with German professional Tobias Duthweiler at the conclusion of a three-day tournament, Hajiyev went on to win and bank $4,122,554. That’s more than his entire previous tournament poker cashes.
Hajiyev already had a near $2 million lead over his closest challenger in the Azrbaijan money list. He’s practically unassailable now — and overcome with delight.
“If you’re going to brick nine events and then ship a tenth, it’d better be this one, right?,” Hajiyev said, referencing a modest return in Triton tournaments before today. He added that his passion for poker kept him going through the lean spell.
“I know that poker has a lot of variance, so I was just staying focused, motivated, because I love the game, obviously,” he said.
This was a famous triumph. Hajiyev was ranked second in chips coming into the final, and was able to prosper as others suffered the cruel fortunes that are all too common at the end of major poker events like this.
His beaten heads-up opponent, Germany’s Tobias Duthweiler, was bottom of the counts coming into the tournament’s final day, but he enjoyed elevation to top two, and had his chances to win outright.
Duthweiler, a much-feared online cash game pro, was forced to make do with $3,606,446, however. That’s also his biggest tournament score.
The Luxon Invitational, with a $200K buy-in, pitted poker’s elite against high-rolling recreational players. The latter are always keen to do battle with the former and prove that tournament poker can be anyone’s game. The former are happy to entertain the notion, certain that their skills will prevail.
Both camps will consider their point proven. From a field of 62, six of 13 players who were paid were pros; seven were recreationals. From a final table of nine, five were pros; four were recreationals. And heads up, it was one pro versus one businessman. The equilibrium that characterises the tournament endured throughout.
Hajiyev, however, was able to follow Aaron Zang, winner of 2019’s £1m Triton Million to strike a blow for the boardroom.
FINAL DAY ACTION
After two long days of play, in which poker’s top talents came and went, nine players returned at the start of the final day. There was still plenty of play in it, at least on paper, but as things got going, it was clear that we might be in for some unpredictability.
FINAL TABLE STACKS
Sean Winter, USA – 5.295m (66 BBs)
Ramin Hajiyev, Azerbaijan – 4.875m (61 BBs)
Punnat Punsri, Thailand – 4.12m (52 BBs)
Patrik Antonius, Finland – 4.02m (50 BBs)
Kiat Lee, Malaysia – 2.115m (26 BBs)
Sosia Jiang, New Zealand – 1.905m (24 BBs)
Wai King Yong, Malaysia – 1.45m (18 BBs)
Ben Heath, UK – 1.045m (13 BBs)
Tobias Duthweiler, Germany – 895,000 (11 BBs)
Looking at the starting stacks, we might have expected a couple of early eliminations as the short-stacks looked to climb up the ladder. However, in the Super High Roller world, it is never financially prudent to be too reckless and ICM pressure was huge.
In the first hour, one all-in was chopped and Ben Heath doubled, but there were almost no other significant fireworks. And they’d play another three hours before the first player hit the rail from the final.
Despite that earlier double, it was Heath who grew short again and then took the walk. He had around seven big blinds when he found and raised for almost all of his stack. Punnat Punsri, with , three-bet and Heath was now all in.
He couldn’t catch the jack he needed to survive, however, and was first out today taking $481,000.
Sean Winter was still the table captain, and was the only player who could comfortably see some flops and play through the street. However, he lived to regret doing just that in a hand against Ramin Hajiyev, with the result being a change in the chip lead.
Winter, with , opened to 300K (2x the big blind) from under the gun and Hajiyev called from the cutoff with .
Winter check-called the flop, with his queens now ahead. Winter then led out on the turn, and Hajiyev called. That call was rewarded with the river, giving him the nuts.
Winter checked, Hajiyev made a big bet of 1.7 million and Winter wasn’t able to ditch his top pair. Hajiyev moved into the chip lead and put Winter back down in the pack.
Wai Kin Yong and Duthweiler were now two of the many short stacks, but their fortunes changed significantly on the very next hand. Yong found pocket sevens and shoved. Duthweiler looked down at pocket aces and obviously he was all in as well. Winter then woke up with in the big blind and had the chance for a double knockout.
He called, but the aces held. That gave Duthweiler a triple, cut some more from Winter, and sent Yong packing. Yong earned $636,000 for eighth.
Stacks were so short now that it felt that the next all-in-and-a-call was always imminent. When it duly arrived, it was the turn of Sosia Jiang to find herself up against the wall.
Not long after her Luxon Invitational partner Jason Koon had been narrowly defeated heads up in the PLO event, Jiang was knocked out of this big one. She three-bet jammed with over Winter’s open, but Winter had it this time. He called and tabled . He ended up making a straight.
Jiang’s fourth Triton cash was her biggest yet. She took $820,000 for seventh.
The top six prizes were all worth more than $1 million and it would be difficult for anyone to feel hard done by picking up a score of that size. Even so, with the tournament so shallow, everyone knew that if only someone else could be eliminated, that payday would grow significantly.
The truth was, this was now one of those tournaments where skill played only a small part in deciding the next few eliminations. Hands and situations were essentially playing themselves.
Kiat Lee bust next. He found pocket aces on the button and made a standard raise. Hajiyev found the “wrong” time to shove from the big blind with . However, there were three clubs on the board and Lee was toast. The final club just happened to be an ace, giving him a useless set.
Lee nonetheless took $1,030,000.
Punsri became Hajiyev’s next victim. Hajiyev opened with pocket tens, Punsri had and three-bet. Hajiyev shoved. There was a ten on the flop just to make sure and Punsri perished, picking up $1,325,000.
For a man who had been all-in on the stone bubble, Punsri cannot be too disheartened.
Then it was Winter’s turn. He opened with and Duthweiler was lurking behind with . Duthweiler three-bet, forcing Winter to put in all but one 25K chip to call. He opted to do just that rather than raise.
So they went to a flop of and then the last chip went in. Things hadn’t really improved for Winter, and the turn and river didn’t help. Winter race was run in fourth. He took $1,640,000.
Patrick Antonius might have a reputation as one of those aggressive northern-European types, but his is among the shrewdest minds in the game. And Antoninus thought nothing of clinging on with a micro-stack during this final table, doubling up once, but mostly just staying out of harm’s way and watching his pay-cheque increase in size.
He had only five blinds when he found pocket jacks, and got his money in eventually. (He too raised and left one chip back, putting it in on the flop after being called by Duthweiler.)
Duthweiler had so a flop of was good for him. However, he needed the turn and river to give him the straight that beat Antonius’s pocket pair. But either way, that was it for Antonius. His $2,100,000 prize was the second biggest of his career, and biggest since 2018.
With that, only two players remained. One pro and one recreational, but both with significant poker experience. Hajiyev is a semi-regular in the highest stakes tournaments across Europe, when he finds the time away from his various business pursuits. Duthweiler, known as “dudd1” online, is a formidable cash-game player, enjoying his best ever tournament run.
Hajiyev had the chip lead — 71 BBs to 33 BBs — and they immediately looked at the numbers. Duthweiler didn’t really like the ICM chop. He wanted to play it out. But Hajiyev said he would give him an additional $40,000 and they came to an agreement.
Duthweiler locked up $3,606,446 to Hajiyev’s $3,992,554. With $130K left on the side, the heads-up winner would also be taking the most money, alongside the trophy.
Hajiyev could have won it very quickly. All the chips were in the middle sharpish, but Duthweiler’s pocket nines held firm against Hajiyev’s . But then it flipped back again. They were all-in once more, but Hajiyev’s stayed good against .
There were at least three more all-ins called, which mostly favoured the shorter stack (one was chopped), until Duthweiler’s stack was small enough that even when he doubled it, he was still in great peril.
Finally, at around 8.25pm local time, Hajiyev got one to stick. He and Duthweiler got involved in a flip for it all: against Duthweiler’s . There was a king on the flop and that was all Hajiyev needed this time.
He held his head in his hands, then punched the air in obvious relief and delight. He accepted Triton’s invitation, came to Cyprus, and is now a huge, huge winner.
Event #9 – $200,000 NLH Luxon Invitational
Dates: May 18-20, 2023
Entries: 86 (inc. 24 re-entries)
Prize pool: $17,200,000
1 – Ramin Hajiyev, Azerbaijan – $4,122,554*
2 – Tobias Duthweiler, Germany – $3,606,446*
3 – Patrik Antonius, Finland – $2,100,000
4 – Sean Winter, USA – $1,640,000
5 – Punnat Punsri, Thailand – $1,325,000
6 – Kiat Lee, Malaysia – $1,030,000
7 – Sosia Jiang, New Zealand – $820,000
8 – Wai Kin Yong, Malaysia – $636,000
9 – Ben Heath, UK – $481,000
10 – Orpen Kisacikoglu, Turkey – $369,500
11 – Philip Sternheimer, UK – $369,500
12 – Anson Ewe, Malaysia – $350,000
13 – Linus Loeliger, Switzerland – $350,000
*denotes heads-up deal
Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive