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Six players returned to the action on the final day of the PokerGO Tour $1m Championship Freeroll, where the top 40 players of 2023 were joined by Dream Seat winners, Last Chance kings and queens and other poker legends. A total of 54 players had battled down to the six money places for Day 2 and as a million dollars was won by half a dozen stars of the game, Daniel Smiljkovic, who a week earlier lost heads-up to Daniel Negreanu, took the title and $500,000 in the process. The Year of Daniel, anyone?
The action was always going to be intense at the final table of such a prestigious tournament where a million dollars was going to be won between six players. The pay-jumps were huge, too. Head out first in sixth place and you’d earn $40,000 for your trouble. Great value for two days work at the poker felt, but not the top prize – a cool half-million. Life-changing money or a frustrating min-cash? World champion Daniel Weinman, overnight leader Daniel Smiljkovic and four-time WPT winner Darren Elias among others were about to find out.
It was Elias who was first to go. All-in with the short stack, the four-time WPT champ who lives on the East Coast had flown coast-to-coast in order to bag glory but left with just $40,000 for his efforts when his ace-king lost to Artur Martirosian’s pocket queens. It was a painful exit, as with Smiljkovic also committing his chips pre-flop with ace-king, the king-high flop was a surprise bonus to Elias’ hopes. Dreaming of a chop pot that would deal both Elias and Smiljkovic a chunk of Martirosian’s stack and bump them each a place up the ladder, the queen on the river was a dagger to the heart of both men’s hopes of winning.
Elias exited right there and then, and soon after, the Russian got his last chips in as he lost against with ‘Big Slick’. Calling off his stack pre-flop with ace-king again, the flop once again looked to be favorable for him, coming as it did A-J-4 with Leon Sturm holding pocket fives. A five on the turn was a disaster for Martirosian, as Sturm hit trips and Martirosian busted in fifth for a score of $60,000.
Four-handed poker didn’t last too long, as the 2023 World Series of Poker Main Event winner and therefore reigning world champion, Daniel Weinman, busted in fourth place for $80,000. The Atlanta-raised player, who famously returned to his desk job a week after winning last summer’s $12 million top prize in the big one, shoved with king-six on the river of a A-T-J-T-6. It was a perfectly acceptable poker move but it had terrible timing. Smiljkovic had trip tens and called it off, sending Weinman home and boosting his own chances of victory enormously in the process.
Two of the final three players hailed from Germany as Smiljkovic was joined in the trio of players racing for the finish line across the six-our final table by Leon Sturm. The prodigious German talent Sturm has enjoyed a stellar rise to prominence in both online and live tournaments and he led the field with three remaining. Sadly for him, his stack took a couple of hits, and as Arden Cho moved into a big lead, Sturm sunk to short stack.
Moving all-in with ten-deuce, known as the ‘Texas Dolly’ after Doyle Brunson won back-to-back WSOP Main Events with the hand in 1976 and 1977, Sturm was called by Smiljkovic with jack-nine of hearts. The board didn’t help Sturm, and as it came A-Q-7-6-9, the young German was on his feet to shake hands with his countryman and wish both remaining players the best of luck as he cashed for $120,000 in third place.
With just two players remaining, Smiljkovic still had work to do, coming into the action with 1.87 million chips, some way short of actress Cho’s 5 million stack. Initially, the German player made huge gains, earning a doubleup to parity when he flopped trips and got a call fro Cho with an open-ended straight draw. While last week, Smiljkovic lost to Negreanu’s four-outer, this time around the hands he was ahead in were holding firm.
Cho bullied her way into a lead, only for Smiljkovic to get back level. The crucial hand then played out, as the German player’s queen-ten flopped a straight and when a c-bet on the turn of a five came from Smiljkovic, Cho made an ill-advised shoved when only a better hand could call. Smiljkovic, of course, did exactly that and all but two of the big blinds on the table now sat in front of him.
As Cho ruefully informed her rail of the hand, saying “Oops!” as she did so, Smiljkovic was silent. Having come so close to a major title last week only to be denied by Kid Poker grabbing a lucky queen on the river, the German was laser-focused on finishing the job. That he did in the very next hand, as Cho’s ace-nine shove led to a quick call from Smiljkovic with jack-five and a board of 7-6-4-J-Q ended the ‘Cho Show’ as Remko Rinkema called it on comms for PokerGO.
As Cho was commiserated with the biggest cash of her poker career, Smiljkovic could finally celebrate, as he accepted the trophy from presenter Natalie Bode and raised it aloft half a million dollars richer.
Watch all the action from the inaugural PGT Championship at the PokerGO inside ARIA Las Vegas right here:
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