The unstoppable Triton winning machine that is Jason Koon set a new mark for titles on this prestigious series today, taking down the sixth Triton tournament of his career — two more than his closest rival.
Koon’s victory came in the second event of this festival at the Merit Hotel & Resort in Northern Cyprus, a $20,000 buy-in no limit event, for which he banked $663,000. Koon won his fifth title a few months ago in Vietnam, pulling him clear of Mikita Badziakouski, and once again demonstrated why his was a no-brainer pick to be an ambassador for the Triton Series.
The 35-year-old from Las Vegas pushed his career earnings past $44 million, consolidating his position in fifth on poker’s all-time money list. There were 138 entries in this event, but none could stop Koon.
“I love it, man,” Koon told Ali Nejad on the Triton live stream, shortly after securing victory, and asked what keeps him coming back. “I absolutely love the game…I just really, really love poker and I love the atmosphere here. I don’t travel for poker anymore unless it’s a Triton really. So these are all my friends. It’s fun to come compete. I just love it here.”
Asked how he continues to rack up such incredible results, Koon said: “I have obviously run well, but I have a lot of experience. I think one of the biggest things is that I’ve been doing it for a very, very long time. I’ve been playing with the same player pool for a very long time. There are some new faces in this smaller event, but I’ve played with the same competition for years and years. You start to download good information about people and you can make good decisions.”
As always on the Triton Series, this was a super-tough field, and a mightily difficult final table, also featuring Stephen Chidwick, Adrian Mateos, Artur Martirosian and Sean Winter — all high roller crushers themselves. But the most determined competition came from local player Kanan Taherkhani, who Koon beat heads-up.
Taherkhani was playing his first Triton event and took $451,200 for second. However he was powerless to stop Koon and lost after a brief heads-up battle, committing the last of his chips with two pair. By that point, Koon had a winning straight.
The result had seemed inevitable ever since Koon won a pivotal cooler at the final table against Martirosian — kings beating queens. But he still had to finish it off, which he did, of course, in characteristic style.
The banner that showed Koon as a five-time champ already needs updating, just two days after it was unveiled. With more than 10 tournaments still to play here, Koon might not be done just yet.
There were 28 players returning overnight, from that starting field of 138 (including 44 re-entries). Martirosian was chip leader; Biao Ding was the short stack. The former was heading for the final table; the latter perished before the money.
The bubble this time was a roller-coaster of emotions for Nikolay Losev, ending with the lowest low. With 21 players remaining (20 due to be paid), Losev was in the big blind with pocket 10s and watched Viacheslav Buldygin open-shove from the button.
Losev called for his last five blinds, saw Buldygin roll over pocket fives, and then saw five blank cards on the board secure his double up.
On the very next hand, it seemed to get even better. Losev saw Sean Winter open from early position, and then peeked at his own cards to discover pocket queens. He three-bet. Winter, however, put it all-in, covering Losev, but those queens were good enough to justify another flirtation with disaster.
Winter made it even bleaker when he tabled his pocket kings. Once again the board was blank, and this time Losev had to take the walk. He missed out on what would have been his first cash on the Triton Series.
With some kind of payday now assured, the characteristic wave of eliminations carried away some of the game’s biggest stars: Isaac Haxton, Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan and Hossein Ensan were all knocked out as the field thinned towards its final.
Such was the quality of the field, however, that the last nine still featured the all-time money-list leaders from the UK and Spain, the only player with five Triton titles, and Russia’s undisputed form player. The final nine lined up like this:
Stephen Chidwick – 61 BBs
Artur Martirosian – 46 BBs
Jason Koon – 43 BBs
Adrian Mateos – 36 BBs
Eduard Barsegian – 29 BBs
Sean Winter – 24 BBs
Kanan Taherkhani – 19 BBs
Ian Bradley – 17 BBs
Things had been going very well for Winter since he knocked out Losev on the bubble. The American reg was making a first appearance on the Triton Series, but clearly had the experience from the U.S.-based high roller tournaments to feel instantly at home.
However, he was quickly roughed up at the final table and became the first to be knocked out. He lost a pivotal hand to Kanan Taherkhani, when Winter’s pocket eights were no match for Taherkhani’s queens, and then Chidwick finished the job a couple of hands later.
In the final match-up, Chidwick raise/called Winter’s shove with and ended the hand with two pair. Winter’s did not improve on the board. He took $85,500 for eighth.
Ian Bradley was another player sampling life on the Triton Series for the first time here in Northern Cyprus, and after a whiff in the $25K curtain-raiser, he was sitting pretty at a final table on his second attempt.
Although he was now the tournament short-stack, he found a spot to get his chips in with on the button. Artur Martirosian called in the big blind with pocket fives, and Bradley would have been delighted to see a queen land on the flop. That delight turned to despair when Martirosian hit his two outer — the landed on the river.
Bradley recently took his lifetime poker earnings past $1 million, mostly from smaller buy-in tournaments in Europe. He added $115,900 to his tally for this maiden Triton cash and he’ll hit $2m pretty quickly if he keeps this up.
In case anyone was under the impression that these final tables are merely a series of all-in pre-flop flips, this next hand should dispel the notion. Mateos and Chidwick got involved in a major skirmish that showcased both their nerve and skill — with Chidwick this time coming out on top.
Chidwick opened with a min-raise from under the gun and Mateos called in the big blind. The pair saw a flop of . Mateos checked, Chidwick bet a little more than one big blind, and then Mateos check-raised. Chidwick called.
The came on the turn and Mateos now bet 400,000 (blinds were 75K/150K). Chidwick, with the covering stack, moved all-in. Mateos snap-folded. But what did they have?
We needed to wait an hour before it hit the Triton live stream, at which point we discovered Mateos had for a flush draw. Chidwick had one of those too, but his , coupled with his position, was stronger. It left Mateos on the ropes.
With Mateos sitting with a sub 10 BB stack, few would have forgiven the others to sit back and wait it out. But then Koon found pocket kings with which to go to battle against Artur Martirosian, and the good news for Koon was that his opponent found pocket queens.
The pair had decent-sized stacks and they put them all on the line, with the bigger pair holding. That catapulted Koon to the top of the counts and left Martirosian now struggling. Mateos scored a quick double, which left Martirosian rock bottom.
He got his last handful of blinds in with another pocket pair — threes — but once again his nemesis Koon had him out-pipped. Koon’s pocket fours stayed good through the full board and Martirosian had to leave.
The Russian picked up $154,400 for this result, while Koon remained focused on that new title mark.
Mateos had laddered one spot thanks to Martirosian’s demise, but he couldn’t build back a stack big enough to challenge. He got his last chips in pre-flop with and managed to find himself in a position to potentially triple up. Both Taherkhani and Barsegian called from the blinds.
They had and , respectively, and Mateos was far from down and out. But after an ace flopped, he could only sit helpless and watch his two opponents play out a side pot. He knew he would have to make do with $197,300 for fifth.
There was an interesting dynamic in the final four. Two of poker’s most recognisable figures — Chidwick and Koon — sat alongside two rookies — Eduard Barsegian and Taherkhani. The former pair were the obvious favourites, but Taherkhani put himself in a great spot to challenge by knocking out Barsegian.
Barsegian had been ticking along fairly evenly, but the blinds were now catching him up. He then called from the big blind with after Taherkhani made a small button raise. The flop came , and the flush draw was enough to persuade Barsegian to stick his last chips in.
Taherkhani didn’t have a pair either, but he called for five blinds with . The turn and river bricked and the ace high won it for Taherkhani. Barsegian was out in fourth, taking $245,500.
Koon still had a comfortable chip lead, while Taherkhani and Chidwick were all but level. Until Koon set to work nullifying the threat of Chidwick, thanks in no small part to a pot in which his made a four-flush in hearts to beat Chidwick’s pocket tens. Shortly after, Koon’s pocket deuces stayed good against Chidwick’s .
That cut Chidwick to shreds and his final chip went to Taherkhani. Chidwick won $298,000, plus a chunk more POY points to keep him ahead in that race.
Koon had a big lead going into heads-up — about three-and-a-half to one — and even though his opponent had more than 20 big blinds, and won the first few small pots during heads-up, there was practically nothing Taherkhani could do to halt a great player running well. That final hand said it all: Koon had to Taherkhani’s . They bet on every street as the board ran .
Koon had his straight on the turn, while the queen on the river gave Taherkhani the reason to move all in. Call. Done. That’s how six-time champs do it.
“I ran really well, man,” Koon admitted, before adding that he felt in good form to do even more damage. “I feel great this trip. The last couple of Tritons have gone really well for me, but I was in bad health for both of them. I just happened to get sick travelling and had to grind through them. But this Triton in particular, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in multiple years. I feel great. So I know I’m going to play really well this trip.”
He’s a man of his word.
Event #2 – $20,000 NLH 7-Handed
Dates: May 11-12, 2023
Entries: 138 (inc. 44 re-entries)
Prize pool: $2,760,000
1 – Jason Koon, USA – $663,000
2 – Kanan Taherkhani, Turkey – $451,200
3 – Stephen Chidwick, UK – $298,000
4 – Eduard Barsegian, Russia – $245,500
5 – Adrian Mateos, Spain – $197,300
6 – Artur Martirosian, Russia – $154,400
7 – Ian Bradley, UK – $115,900
8 – Sean Winter, USA – $85,500
9 – Viacheslav Buldygin, Russia – $66,200
10 – Punnat Punsri, Thailand – $55,200
11 – Kiat Lee, Malaysia – $55,200
12 – Samuel Ju, Germany – $48,400
13 – Hossein Ensan, Germany – $48,400
14 – Tom Dwan, USA – $44,200
15 – Alexey Tsessarsky, Russia – $44,200
16 – Patrik Antonius, Finland – $40,000
17 – Andriy Lyobovetskiy, Ukraine – $40,000
18 – Henrik Hecklen, Denmark – $35,800
19 – Isaac Haxton, USA – $35,800
20 – Axel Hallay, France – $35,800
Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive