Two Brazilians, two Canadians, and five other players from Africa, Europe, and South America sat down at a poker table this Sunday. They were guaranteed to take home more than $364,000 between them — the only question was how they would end up splitting it.
Here’s how this week’s Sunday Million was won.
When the final table of the October 20th Sunday Million began, 30-year-old Bulgarian poker pro Rosen “dtminator” Apostolov had the chip lead. That was nothing new for him as he’s been playing poker for more than a decade.
“I began playing when I was in high school, mostly in home cash games with friends and the occasional live tourney in Bucharest,” he told me by email this week. “I started taking the game more seriously when I realised you can actually make some money playing with some really hard work and studying. I love my mother and father dearly, and they’ve been supporting my ‘poor life choices’ for as long as I can remember, so a big shoutout to them!”
He dedicated himself to playing a steady diet of $2.50 180-man SNGs, with occasional shots in select MTTs like the Sunday Million. He slowly built a roll from those and moved up to the $3.50 180-man SNGs, then switched entirely to MTTs in 2017. “I was no longer feeling happy playing those games because they are mostly a push-or-fold format in the late stages and I believe it really hurt my overall game playing strictly such a format.”
Holding the lead as the final table began was also nothing new for Apostolov in the sense that he had first taken over the top spot in the chip counts of this tournament with 27 players left.
“The first key hand that comes to mind was when I ran my A-7 offsuit into T-T for 20BB in the blinds,” he said. “I managed to spike an ace on the flop to become an above average stack. It was also around that time when I had a really close decision pre-flop versus a couple of very good regs. I opened the hijack with 9-9, Samuel Peace three-bet to 2.8x my bet in the cutoff, and the small blind (who I considered to be a very good reg) tanked for more than a minute and jammed his 30bb stack.”
Apostolov called and won, while Samuel Peace folded and would eventually progress to the final table.
“In hindsight, my call pre-flop is actually losing money in the long run, with ICM implications,” Apostolov said. “But it was just highly unlikely for the small blind to tank so long with A-A, K-K, or Q-Q, even if it was a fake-tank. Plus both had just seen me open quite a few hands, so they knew I was opening a lot.”
He held the chip lead from there all the way until the final table — and from that point it ended up being a 73-minute cruise to victory.
For 27-year-old cryptocurrency account manager Ermir “Miry1313” Dunga, things weren’t quite so straightforward. He had a very healthy stack compared to most of his opponents with around 50 big blinds, but Apostolov was directly to his left.
“That was exactly my first comment upon reaching the final table: ‘Why do I have the chip leader on my left?'” he told me this week. But he focused on playing his best game and managed to make a run despite the less-than-ideal circumstances.
The lack of a clear path has never bothered Dunga. If it were, he would have never begun playing poker in the first place, since there’s no poker scene to speak of in his home country of Albania.
“I never played live tournaments or cash games, just online in front of my PC,” he said. “I never did training for poker, just came from play money to real money. I started on PokerStars in 2014 but I was introduced to Twitch in December 2018, and thats where I started picking up some things since usually twitch streamers talk about their spots. I started with no bankroll, just playing freerolls and using what I could pick up from Twitch giveaways.”
In the last few weeks that dedication had already begun to pay off. Working with Twitch streamers like BensBenz (“without him, none of this, would have been possible”) and unconquer3d (“he never gets tired of me, he taught me a lot”) helped him to post a few good tournament results, allowing him to buy into the Sunday Million directly without damaging his bankroll.
“I usually watch the Sunday Million even when I am not playing,” he said, “so it was a dream for me to participate in it.”
Apostolov dominated the early action at the final table and scored its first knockout about 15 minutes in.
He min-raised to 700K under the gun with K♣J♣ and only Mike “goleafsgoeh” Leah, who was directly behind him with K♥Q♣, called. Apostolov checked the 2♥A♥Q♠ flop and struck gold with a Broadway straight after Leah checked back and the turn was the 10♠. He bet two-thirds of the pot there and, after Leah called, bet enough to set him all-in on the 9♣ river. Leah tanked, eventually called with his pair of queens, and left in ninth place.
About 10 minutes passed before Apostolov scored his second knockout — and his third, too, just for good measure.
The hand opened with Dunga min-raising to 800K chips UTG+1. Apostolov picked up 7♣6♣ behind him and re-raised to 2.4 million, clearing out the players behind him, and Seaman58 called all-in for 502K with A♠4♦ in the small blind. Then Brazil’s Diego “D!egoRezende” Rezende re-shoved for 4.8 million with A♦K♣, clearing Dunga out, and Apostolov called. The board ran out J♣9♥2♥[6g]9♣ to give him two pair, nines and sixes, and eliminate both opponents on the same hand.
Apostolov now had 40.4 million chips, good for 101 big blinds and more than double the stack of his nearest competitor, Dunga. The question now was less “who will win?” and more “how long will it take?”
Six-handed play comprised the largest portion of the final table. Dunga was hemmed in with Apostolov’s monster stack directly to his left, yet over the next half-hour he kept picking up playable hands in otherwise decent positions. Pocket fours, pocket sixes, pocket sevens, A-Q, K-Q — all playable, but none would become a winner in the end. His stack eventually dipped to around 12 big blinds, leaving him in a standoff with Argentina’s Conglomo222 and Morocco’s bibichov1989 to see who would depart first.
Eventually Conglomo222 — appearing at what looks to be his third career Sunday Million final table, in addition to one 10th-place finish and another in 12th place — took a stand and jammed in the small blind with K♠10♣. wendellau called with K♣9♥ in the big blind and paired his nine on the river, sending Conglomo222 to the rail in sixth place.
Dunga was now in jam-or-fold territory.
“I did fold a lot due to ICM pressure, but in the first moment I became the lowest stack in the table, my range of shoving became wider,” he said. “I shoved with A♣3♣ under the gun, A♥5♥ and 10♦10♣ in the cutoff, and A♥K♣ in the small blind. Finally I shoved with A♣5♣ under the gun again and that was my last hand.”
Indeed, Apostolov woke up with J♦J♣ and called Dunga’s bet. Dunga paired his five on the flop but never improved further, eliminating him from the tournament in fifth place for nearly $29,000.
“I plan to be a reg now in that tournament, since now I can also afford the direct buy-in,” he said. “Also, I have to point out that this Sunday Million was all streamed on my Twitch channel, where I set my record for viewers with 450, and I got 40 subs in just one day. I cannot say for sure, but this is probably the best day of my life.”
Apostolov was in a dominant position with 95 big blinds in his stack, but Samuel Peace closed the gap a bit two hands later when his 9♦9♣ held against wendellau’s A♣Q♦ to knock the latter out in fourth. Minutes later bibichov1989 jammed with A♥5♠ and Apostolov called with Q♣10♣, catching a ten on the flop to end bibchov1989’s run in third place.
Heads-up play began with Apostolov holding 114 big blinds to Samuel Peace’s 59.
“My opponent was playing a really solid game throughout the last stages,” Apostolov said. “He picked his spots really carefully but I didn’t know how he would adjust during heads-up play. I don’t think I had a particular strategy going into heads-up. I was just going to play my usual ranges and try to make some sound post-flop decisions, which hopefully would be enough to bring it home.”
In fact, it was more than enough. Apostolov leaned on Samuel Peace throughout their 15-minute match, dropping the Canadian’s stack to about 18 big blinds before he jammed with K♠8♠ and made two pair against Apostolov’s A♠7♣ to double up. Finally, though, Samuel Peace open-shoved for 9.5 million chips with A♣4♠ and Apostolov called with 7♣7♠. No aces hit the baord and this week’s Sunday Million was over.
“It feels amazing!” Apostolov said of conquering the biggest weekly tournament in poker for the largest score of his career. “Visualising something, and then managing to actually do it is definitely a pure adrenaline rush. It felt extraordinary and I couldn’t sleep for quite some time afterwards, although I was pretty exhausted. Now that the dust is settled, I just want to jump back on the horse and finish out the Bounty Builder Series strong!”
10-20-19 $109 Sunday Million, $1,000,000 Guaranteed
Entrants: 10,344 (7,427 entries, 2,917 re-entries)
Prize pool: $1,034,400
Places paid: 1,826
1. Rosen “dtminator” Apostolov (Bulgaria) $108,027.75
2. Samuel Peace (Canada) $77,677.30
3. bibichov1989 (Morocco) $55,843.42
4. wendellau (Brazil) $40,151.89
5. Ermir “Miry1313” Dunga (Albania) $28,869.48
6. Conglomo222 (Argentina) $20,757.40
7. Diego “D!egoRezende” Rezende (Brazil) $14,924.73
8. Seaman58 (Russia) $10,730.96
9. Mike “goleafsgoeh” Leah (Canada) $7,775.58