The first major PokerStars tournament to be held in Russia is over, and tonight a 30-year-old professional player from St Petersburg named Pavel Shirshikov hoisted the PokerStars Championship Sochi Main Event trophy.
Shirshikov wins more than 29 million rubles–around $500,000–which is the lion’s share of the guaranteed 150 million rubles prize pool. He beat a field of 387 to record the single largest score of his career.
The thing that’s most surprising about Shirshikov’s triumph is how dominant it turned out to be. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. Back on Day 4 of this six-day tournament, Shirshikov knocked out the American pro Jason Wheeler in an enormous pot, taking the tournament chip lead with 32 players left.
Shirshikov was still leading at the end of Day 5. Then he was second by only the tiniest margin heading into today’s finale. This victory had been in the mail for three days.
“My friends were believing in me more than I was believing in myself,” Shirshikov said. “I had a very nervous day.”
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However, he also said that he was delighted to be the first Russian winner of a PokerStars Championship event, adding that he had already received an SMS from his mother asking for a Mercedes-Benz. We don’t know yet whether he’s called a car dealership.
Perhaps the only reason tournament officials hadn’t handed over the first prize–and Mrs. Shirshikov’s car keys–all the way back on Monday is the continued presence in the field of a man named Vladimir Troyanovskiy–otherwise known as Russia’s premiere poker export.
Troyanovskiy is a fixture on the final tables of all of the major PokerStars events, including Super High Rollers, High Rollers and side events. He has never been closer to a Main Event triumph than this, however. He got all the way to heads-up play.
But then with a dinner break looming after a near nine-hour grind, Troyanovskiy and Shirshikov played a number of big pots to decide which of them would take the top prize. Troyanovskiy threatened to overturn a massive deficit, doubling up twice from behind, but it was third time lucky for Shirshikov who managed to get a better hand to hold.
That left Troyanovskiy with a second-place finish and 18.45 million rubles. Shirshikov, who plays online at PokerStars as OMGinmarsat8, now has a name known across the poker-playing world.
But let’s take a look how they got there, starting at noon with six still in with a shout.
As ever coming into a six-handed final, there were short stacks and there were the opposite. But poker’s inherent unpredictability meant that the first two players out today were those at either end of the overnight counts.
Timur Bubnov was already overjoyed with his week’s work. The chocolatier from Vladivostok was one of a clutch of players in the tournament field who had unwrapped a bar of triple scrumptious fudgemallow delight to find poker’s equivalent of Wonka’s Golden Ticket. He had won his trip to Sochi in a Spin & Go on PokerStars, parlaying peanuts into a tournament buy-in.
When he then progressed all the way to the final, guaranteeing a payday of 6.5 million rubles, Bubnov was already a grand champion. He fell short of inheriting the factory, however. His flopped top pair against Troyanovskiy’s two pair ended his hopes in sixth. (Hand history.)
As for Lavrentiy Ni, he was one of two Kazakhstani players to make the last eight here, but in a similar fashion to his countryman Daniyar Aubakirov yesterday, Ni was the architect of his own downfall.
His overnight lead had slipped somewhat when he tried to get things moving in the right direction. However a failed bluff in a blind-on-blind battle against Dmitry Vitkind cost him around 700,000, then he ran into a flopped straight in Troyanovskiy’s hand for another million or so, before another semi-bluff with a flush draw couldn’t shift Seyed Ghavam.
Eventually Ni got the last of his chips in with pocket eights, but ended up losing to Pavel Shirshikov’s flush. He went from chip leader to fifth-placed finisher inside four hours. (Hand history.)
Vitkind’s tournament had been fairly uneventful leading to the final. The European Poker Tour veteran, who had nine Main Event cashes on the EPT, had used all his experience to coast into the money, then glide towards the final table. And only then did he begin taking a more volatile path.
He was very nearly first out today, when he was all-in and called with A♠J♠ to Ghavam’s K♠K♦ on a jack-high flop. It was looking pretty bleak for Vitkind at that stage, but the A♥ landed on the river to keep him alive and send him near the top of the counts.
That kind of suckout for your tournament life gives a player a certain sense of calmness. And when Vitkind latterly found queens at the same time as Shirshikov found kings, he had the decency not to complain about a gross cooler.
Instead he took his medicine–a king on the turn sealing his fate–and went looking for his near 11 million ruble prize for fourth. (Hand history.)
On the subject of volatility, Ghavam had also endured a pretty turbulent final table. It was his kings that were cracked early on, then he built himself up patiently again, before sliding back down the counts.
There has never been an Iranian champion on any of the major PokerStars tours–and Ghavam also wasn’t able to become the first. He eventually perished in third after running into the irrepressible Shirshikov. Ghavam flopped a pair of nines on a draw-heavy board. But Shirshikov had a made hand too: two pair. In it went, and out went Ghavam. (Hand history.)
Ghavam’s elimination left that most intriguing of heads-up battles. Two men from St Petersburg; two men at the top of their game; two men with formidable reputations.
Crucially, Shirshikov had the bigger stack and it only got bigger in the opening heads-up exchanges. Troyanovskiy was staring at a near 20-to-one deficit when tournament officials told the players that they needed to take a 45-minute dinner break. They didn’t want to, and negotiated a deal that gave them 30 minutes to play some more poker before the TV crew had to take on sustenance.
The players did not disappoint. The chips went in immediately. Troyanovskiy scored a lucky chop. The chips went in again. Troyanovskiy doubled, but was still short. But then when they danced for a third time, Shirshikov got his hand to hold and his railbirds in the theatre of Casino Sochi were finally able to celebrate with their man. (Relive all the blow-by-blow action on our live updates page. Or Jump straight to the Troyanovskiy elimination.)
“I’ve played heads up for nine years, so that was the easiest part of the game for me,” Shirshikov said. It certainly is when your opponent is jamming blind.
So there we have it. It’s been a fine week in the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, sandwiched between the luge track and the ski jump of the Winter Olympics. We’ve had a few thrills and spills of our own along the way.
The PokerStars Championship circuit now takes a break before reconvening in Barcelona in August, but don’t miss coverage from Marbella, Manila and Las Vegas coming up on PokerStars Blog over the coming few weeks.
For the time being, take your hats off to Pavel Shirshikov. He tamed Troyanovskiy, and anyone who can do that is a worthy champion.
PokerStars Championship Main Event
Dates: May 25-31, 2017
Buy-in: ₽318,000 (approx. $5,590)
Prize-pool:₽ ₽150 million (approx. $2.65 million)
|POS||NAME||COUNTRY||STATUS||PRIZE (RUB)||PRIZE (USD)|
|2||Vladimir Troyanovskiy||Russia||PokerStars qualifier||₽18,450,000||US$326,454|
|6||Timur Bubnov||Russia||PokerStars qualifier||₽6,570,000||US$116,250|