Mystery Cash Challenge

Take half a dozen of the world’s most entertaining players, combine a cash game and a mystery bounty and what do you get? Poker-tainment, that’s what. Taking place in Monte Carlo, PokerStars filmed the first of a new series called the Mystery Cash Challenge. Featuring stars such as Team Pros Sam Grafton and Parker Talbot, well-known North American  players Maria Ho and Griffin Benger, along with chess grandmaster Alexandra Botez and Brazilian online crusher Fabiano Kovalski, it was a blast from start to finish.

Pokerstars Mystery Cash Challenge After Episode 1:
PositionPlayerCountryProfit / Loss
1stAlexandra BotezCanada+$10,250
2ndParker TalbotCanada+$2,975
3rdSam GraftonUnited Kingdom-$525
4thGriffin BengerCanada-$1,750
5thMaria HoUnited States-$2,100
6thFabiano KovalskiBrazil-$8,850

Talbot Wins Three-Way Opening Pot

Winning the PokerStars Mystery Cash Challenge isn’t as simple as winning the most money in a cash game. The format was quite different, although also a simple one. The six players would play 10 hands of cash game Texas NLHE. To take part in the tenth and final hand, each of the players must have won one of the previous nine hands.

Whoever wins the most hands of the previous nine has the dealer button for the tenth hand, a ‘bomb pot’, where each player must put in $100 to start (we’ve translated euros to dollars for the purposes of this piece, with the values almost equal). Whoever wins the final hand gets a mystery prize, but also, in this opening episode, a bonus prize.

With six rounds – or episodes – in this first series, the profits and losses of the players could easily change multiple times, but in this episode, each player started with $10,000 of their own money on the table.  Play got underway and Brazilian Fabiano Kovalski was not for calling or folding, immediately raising to four times the big blind at $200, with king-ten offsuit. Called by Maria Ho with ace-seven off and Parker Talbot with the queen-ten offsuit.

The flop brought a ten and a seven, so all three players were still interested and called Kovalski’s c-bet. The turn of an eight of diamonds gave the Brazilian the flush draw, but all three checked to a river of an offsuit queen, flipping Talbot into the lead. That led to a bet from the Canadian and he took down the pot, to the amusement of all the others.

“How many hands can I sit out for, eight?” laughed Talbot.

Botez Bullies a Pot, Benger Bluffs

“I feel a genuine love for the game coming from her.” ~ Poker legend Maria Ho on Alex Botez.

In the next hand, Sam Grafton and Alexandra Botez both went to a flop with diamonds, Grafton with king-four and Botez with ace-five. The flop of Q-Q-2 saw James Hartigan excitedly exclaim that “Kovalski would have flopped a boat!” as the Brazilian folded pocket deuces. “Whoops!” said Joe ‘Stapes’ Stapleton on co-comms.

Botez also qualified for the bomb pot with that hand,, saying that she enjoys “I enjoy poker more than chess. That being said, I have a super lot to catch up on!”

“I feel a genuine love for the game coming from her.” said Maria Ho of her tablemate Alex Botez in the between-hands ‘vox pops’ segment that makes poker on TV so much fun.

“What did you have?” asked Grafton.

“Check the VOD!” Botez quipped.

Kovalski may have folded the best eventual hole cards in hand #2, but won the next hand to grab his own ‘bomb pot’ token. The next hand looked even better for him as he called Maria Ho’s raise with a dominating hand, as Ho made it $250 to go with king-jack only for Kovalski to call with ace-jack. Botex had called with pocket three, but a $500 bet from Ho with fresh air on the Q-7-2 flop gave her a chance to take it down and book her seat in hand #10.

Grafton bluffed pre-flop with five-four of clubs to qualify for the bomb pot, leaving only Griffin Benger on the outside looking in but he raised from the button with king-jack and as Botez and Ho defended with four-three and five-three respectively, Benger’s c-bet ensured that all six players had won a hand from the first six.

“Now we play for the button!” said Kovalski, as Hartigan reminded viewers that if players were tied for most hand wins heading the final hand, whoever won the most recent hand would end up with the button in that crucial tenth ‘bomb pot’ hand.

Botez Bags the Bounty Prizes

“The problem is that if I call and lose I’m going home.” ~ Alex Botez

Parker Talbot took the next hand to win a second token, then Griffin Benger took a pot after rivering a straight, missing out on value against Botez due to her hand not catching at all. The ninth hand saw Maria Ho and Alex Botez clash, with whoever would win the pot bound to grab the button in the bomb pot hand. Ho’s king-five hit the 9-9-5 flop, but Botez’s ace-jack hit a jack on the turn. Both players checked to a deuce on the river, whereupon Botez bet $1,000 with Ho calling.

Botez had the button in the final hand, where everyone posted a mandatory $100 bet and held eight-nine offsuit. Oddly, no-one hand a card higher than a queen, but Grafton’s queen-four wasn’t looking good on the flop of 8-7-3. Botez somehow had a 40% shot at winning the hand six ways and called Kovalski’s $325 bet with jack-ten of clubs. The turn of a seven saw Kovalski check but Botez wasn’t going away, betting $500. Kovalski check-raised to $2,400 and Botez quickly called.

The river of a queen meant Kovalski missed, and he asked Botex how much she had. Kovalski heard that it was around $7,000 and he moved all-in with a stunning bluff. Could ‘chess queen’ Alex Botez make the call and win the money and the bounty prizes to come? She talked through her hand and decided that his betting line didn’t make sense.

“The problem is that if I call and lose I’m going home, because I only have one bullet.” Botez said as she weighed up the biggest decision of the night.

“Sounds like she folding…” called Stapes in the booth. Botez, however, talked herself into calling and celebrated wildly with the rest of the table when the cards were turned over, Kovalski laughing along with his tablemates.

“Really, you should go home,” laughed Grafton at ‘Kova’. “Bring in the next Brazilian!”

Parker Talbot
Parker Talbot won two hands on the night, but received a crushing punishment after the special prize was won by Botez.

James Hartigan joined the players on stage, winning the first bounty prize of $500…and a bonus prize.

“Some of them are better than others…” teased Hartigan.

“I hope it’s the cheeseburger one!” laughed Botez. After drawing the $500 prize, she won the first special prize and read its contents out loud.

“Pick one player at the table to remain silent for the next nine hands. If they speak during this time, they must pay every other player $100 each.”

As players laughed, Botez pointed at Parker Talbot and Sam Grafton. “It’s between you two…” she laughed, “… but you would suffer more!” she exclaimed pointing at the British player Sam Grafton.

“I will accept… think carefully, but I will accept.”

“I think Tonka will pay us in bulk!” said Kovalski.

“OK, Tonka!” Botez said.

“What a smart guy,” Talbot said in the general direction of his friend and fellow Team Pro Grafton. “I’m such a big favorite to lose!”

“Will Tonka be able to keep his mouth shut?” Hartigan teased ahead of the next episode.
We won’t have long to find out…and we can’t wait!

You can watch episode 1 of the PokerStars Mystery Cash Challenge by clicking the link!

Did this article deal you a winning hand?

Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!

Looks like you’ve been dealt a bad beat. We’ll shuffle the deck and try again.

Paul seaton

Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He's not just a spectator; he's been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul's poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he's interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton's expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide.