Alex Kulev
Alex Kulev won the first major title of his poker career to date, the EPT Monte Carlo Super High Roller for over $1.1 million!

The breakthrough tournament of a future star of the game or the latest shock success on the live high roller poker circuit? Alex Kulev’s triumph in Monte Carlo saw him beat some of the best in the business as he captured the $1.1 million top prize. Outlasting a final table that featured players such as Ben Heath, Artur Martirosian and Adrian Mateos.

Bumper Field Leads to Bubble Drama

With 37 players, the 2023 EPT Monte Carlo Super High Roller had a whopping €100,000 entry, so it can be safely assumed that not many of the field were in for the full amount. That’s no slight on the players’ abilities, more a question of making good sense, and some of the smartest in the game were in the tournament. That it marked Alex Kulev’s first major title is an incredible achievement by the young Bulgarian and one that will live long in the memory.

The event got underway two days before its conclusion, with the prizepool of €3,589,740 seeing plenty of top professionals crash out long before the money bubble burst on the final day. Stars such as Sam Greenwood, Seth Davies, Juan Pardo, Nick Petrangelo and Isaac Haxton at least busted outside the final two dozen players, as did Steve O’Dwyer, Daniel Dvoress and Mike Watson.

The agony of going close to the money was reserved for some of poker’s best. Justin Bonomo slid out in 12th place, while Stephen Chidwick crashed out in 10th. Christoph Vogelsang took his leave in 9th and Timothy Adams lost his tournament life one place further up the leaderboard in 8th to remain six figures down.

That left the money bubble still to burst, and the final day began with the reigning champion in the event, Adrian Mateos, the short stack. The Spanish pro didn’t exit, however, as Indian professional Santhosh Suvarna was eclipsed by Mateos, who then did the deed himself. Suvarna’s 9h9c was unable to hold against Mateos’ AhJh as the board ran out AcJd7h3s8h to send the remaining half-dozen into the money places.

Mateos Loses His Crown

While Mateos managed to take out Suvarna, he still needed to chip up to put himself in contention to retain his title and take home a seven-figure prize. At the stage where the money places were left, it was the Belarussian Mikita Badziakouski who held the lead with 3.46 million chips, some way clear of Alex Kulev (2.6m) and miles clear of Orpen Kisacikoglu (1.18m), Mateos (950,000), Ben Heath (710,000) and Artur Martirosian (350,000). The big blind was 80,000 at that point in proceedings.

Despite that disparity in chips, the lead and short stack player changed on a number of occasions before the event lost one of its most colorful characters. Turkish high roller Kiscikoglu lives in London but shares none of the reserve typified by its local occupants, bring flair to the felt whenever he sits down. He was all-in with AdQh and needed a miracle when Badziakouski shoved with AsKs, however, and after calling it off, the Turkish pro couldn’t get any help on a Js9c7c8s9s board that gave Badziakouski the nut flush in spades. Kisacikoglu cashed for $275,575 in sixth place.

Down to five, Mateos doubled through Kulev, but rather than a resurrection, it was merely a stay of execution. In that instance, he’d triumphed with the weaker hand, but he couldn’t repeat the trick when calling off his tournament life with Kd3c. Ben Heath had shoved with Ah9c and held through the board of QcTd2s7sJs, leaving Mateos to collect $354,300 in winnings and pass on the torch for a  new champion to pick up.

Deal Done, Kulev is King

With four remaining, the Russian professional Artur Martirosian made his bow. Having been short on a number of occasions, he survived no further, crashing out in fourth place for $452,670 when Heath shoved from the small blind with Kc3h and the Russian called it off from the big blind with Ac8s. The flop of KdJs9d saw Heath leap into the lead and after the Kh turn and Jd river, Martirosian was on his feet, vanquished just before the podium places.

Heath was on a roll, but still sat short of his opponents and in the next few hands, he dropped to having a fraction of their chips. Deciding to push all-in with Qs9c, Heath was up against Kulev’s Ks5s which held through the board of Ts6s5d2d2c to send play heads-up and eliminate Heath for a score of around $610,150.

Heads-up, Badziakouski and Kulev were happy to do a deal, with a fairly small comparative amount on the line. Despite that, heads-up swung both ways, and it took a bad beat to end the event. Kulev raised with AdTd then called off his stack when Badziakouski shoved with AhJc. The flop of As5s3c was safe enough for the Belarussian, but the turn of a 3s was followed by the Ts on the river, giving the Bulgarian top two pair and the €1,036,287 ($1,136,400) top prize. Mikita Badziakouski claimed $1,107,400 in second, but it was Kulev’s day and one the emerging star will look back on with great fondness for years to come.

PokerStars 2023 EPT Monte Carlo $100k Super High Roller Results:

Place Player Country Prize
1st Alex Kulev Bulgaria $1,136,400
2nd Mikita Badziakouski Belarus $1,107,400
3rd Ben Heath United Kingdom $610,150
4th Artur Martirosian Russia $452,670
5th Adrian Mateos Spain $354,300
6th Orpen Kisacikoglu Turkey $275,575