The $600 buy-in, $1 million GTD MSPT Venetian Main Event – the 125th Main Event held in tour history – drew 2,779 runners, which generated a $1,425,627 prize pool. After three starting flights and two other days of play, 44-year-old Russia pro Sergei Nikiforov who took home $174,708 (original payout was $202,456).
“I’m incredibly tired, a long three days,” he said after the win. “At the start of the day I was the third shortest stack. I won many coinflips. It’s the luckiest day for me in life.”
Nikiforov, who plays and is also a part of Russian poker academy Poker Moscow, struck it big on what was his fifth visit to Vegas.
“We teach people how to play better,” he said of his profession. “My best companion, his name is Roman, he is the greatest guy in Russia. He wrote a book, in Russia this book is like Super System by Doyle Brunson, but in the Russia language. So, at Poker Moscow we teach lessons and also play poker.”
Day 1A of the tournament attracted 412 runners and saw 57 bag with Morgan Polo and his stack of 424K leading the way. Others to advance from the flight were Gerry Cunniff (206,500), 2016 MSPT Wisconsin State Poker Champ Andy Rubinberg (111,500), and Tim Acker (111,000).
Meanwhile, the 1B flight drew 581 entrants and ended with 132 advancing including chip leader Ed Miller with 427,500. He was joined by notables Tim Reilly (247,000), MSPT Season 6 Player of the Year Mark Hodge (222,000), Michael Ermie (214,000), Joe Serock (137,000), and MSPT Season 3 Canterbury Park champ James Gibson (46,000).
The third and final flight proved to be by far the biggest with 1,786 runners, but it ended with 193 still alive including chip leader Nick Quraishi (527,000), poker reporter Valerie Cross (312,500), AP Garza (182,000), Danny Gonzalez (155,000), and 2013 WSOP National Champion Jonathan Hilton (120,000).
Day 2 saw 382 players return to action but only 297 of them would get paid. Among those to fall short of the money were Cunniff, Barbara Sargent, and Ray Kondler, just to name a few.
Once the bubble burst the in-the-money finishes mounted and included Randy Perkins (27th - $6,986), Day 1C chip leader Quraishi (36th - $4,990), MSPT Season 8 Canterbury Park Regional champ Paul Cross ($3,279), Day 1B chip leader Ed Miller (53rd - $3,279), AP Garza (59th - $2,994), MSPT Season 6 POY Mark Hodge (120th - $1,996), 2016 MSPT Wisconsin State Poker Championship Andy Rubinberg (165th - $1,782), former November Niner Jake Balsiger (183rd - $1,568), and 2013 WSOP National Champion Jonathan Hilton (200th - $1,568).
Just 17 players advanced to Day 3 with Longsheng Tan and his stack of 5,805,000 leading the way. That meant seven players needed to hit the rail before the final table and they included former November Niner Jeremy Ausmus (15th - $13,543), Christian Nilles (13th - $13,543), and Mark Bailey (11th - $17,108).
Final Table Action
It took a while for the first elimination but it finally happened when Preecha Taepakdee got his short stack in with the J♠9♠ of Alexandre Mantovani, who had the A♠8♠. The board ran out 10♣6♦2♦8♣2♣ and Taepakdee hit the rail in 10th place for $17,108.
Mantovani then eliminated Mats Karlsson in ninth – the result of the latter’s ace-nine failing to overcome the former’s pocket jacks all in preflop – and France’s Guillaume Diaz followed him out the door in what was one of the biggest pots of the entire tournament.
It happened in Level 36 (200,000/400,000/50,000) when Nikiforov moved all in for 5.1 million under the gun holding the A♦K♦ and Diaz called off for 4.25 million with the Q♦Q♥. Mantovani then looked down at the Q♣Q♠ in the big can called to put both players at risk. The 9♠8♦2♦ flop gave Nikiforov a flush draw but it was the A♥ turn that paired him and left his two opponents drawing dead. The meaningless 3♠ was run out on the river and Diaz headed to the payout desk to collect $26,944 for his eighth-place finish.
Becky Wooten saw her chance at becoming the MSPT’s second female champ come to an end when he three-bet jammed with queen-seven and was called by the king-nine suited of George Watson. A king on the turn sealed her fate in seventh place for $25,641.
Mantovani was the next to fall when his king-seven failed to get there against the ace-seven of Ken Kao, and then Watson took his leave after running pocket sevens smack dab into the pocket kings of Thomas Ward.
An intense four-way battle ensued but eventually, it was Ward’s turn to exit after high ace-jack failed to overcome Kao’s pocket eights. At that point, the final three players struck a deal that entailed leaving $42,200 and the trophy to play for.
“We tried to make a deal four handed,” said Nikiforov. “I’m not so crazy and gamble. Poker is a game of mind, not of gamble, and in a situation where everyone has 12-15 blinds it’s only about gamble.”
In the first hand after the deal was made, Longsheng Tan got his last five bigs in holding the A♦J♥ and he was primed to double through Nikiforov, who held the A♣10♣. However, the board ran out 2♥7♦10♠Q♦2♠ and Nikiforov won it with two pair.
Heads-up play began fairly even but before too long Nikiforov pulled away. In the final hand of the tournament, Nikiforov raised to 2.1 million and called when Kao shoved for 15 million. Kao was ahead with the A♥8♣ against Nikiforov’s A♦3♦, but the board ran out 5♥J♠2♠5♣4♣ to give he Russia a winning wheel.