Mikalai Vaskaboinikau
Mikalai Vaskaboinikau won the $4.73 million top prize in the Triton Montenegro Main Event, more than his entire prior career earnings in the game.

The 2024 Triton Poker Series Montenegro’s Main Event is in the can, and it is Belarussian player Mikalai Vaskaboinikau who lifted the famous trophy and took home the $4.7 million top prize. At a final table packed with superstars such as Phil Ivey, Aleks Ponakovs, Bryn Kenney and Igor Yaroshevkyy, Vaskaboinikau was victorius, more than doubling his entire career poker earnings in the process.

Yet Another Powerful Prizepool

With 171 entries (including 69 re-entries) each costing $125,000, the prizepool of $21,375,000 was a staggering amount of money to be played for, especially on the eve of the 2024 World Series of Poker, where you can already stake some of the world’s best poker players. The Triton Poker Series has become a global monster and in terms of super high rollers, few event schedules can hope of competing with the millions on offer around predominantly European locations on the tour.

A total of 27 players would reach the money places, with a min-cash worth $214,000 claimed by Joe Zou, Mikita Badziakouski, Dan Smith and Justin Saliba, all four of whom have starred in recent Triton events this week.

The 2019 WSOP Main Event winner Hossein Ensan and the Finnish poker legend Patrik Antonius both secured payouts worth $235,000, while Jean Noel Thorel (19th for $256,000), Matas Cimbolas (16th for $287,000), Chris Brewer (13th for $353,000) and Paulius Vaitiekunas (10th for $406,000) all fell just short of the final table lights, camera and – always most important to poker players at this level – the action.

As the final table began, Wai King Yong from Malaysia was the chip leader, sat on 70 big blinds, some way clear of Latvian WSOP bracelet winner Aleks Ponakovs on 63 bigs. The 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Ivey (57BB), home country hero Dejan Kaladjurdjevic (42BB) and Ukrainian Igor Yaroshevskyy (38BB) were the only other players to have at least half of Yong’s dominating chip stack, with the eventual winner Vaskaboinikau starting the final on just 25 big blinds.

Kenney Bows Out Early

The early exchanges of the final table showed that none of the nine were playing worried poker, with a difference of over $4.2m between going out in ninth place or winning the title. It was the Chinese player Elizabeth Chen who eventually busted first, claiming $478,000 when her pocket eights lost a flip to Phil Ivey’s KhQd, a king on the flop doing the damage.

The leader of the All-Time Money List on The Hendon Mob, Bryn Kenney, would have been hoping to win seven figures to stretch his lead over Justin Bonomo before the WSOP, but had to settle for a score of $580,000 in eighth place. All-in with pocket nines against Igor Yaroshevskyy’s pocket tens, the Long Islander couldn’t bear to watch, leaving the table to vicariously sweat the action with his partner. Sadly, both her expression and the board gave him no hope and five cards came and went without a miracle, the American now sitting on over $66 million as the biggest tournament winner in poker history – Bonomo is now over $2 million behind his fellow American.

The chip leader departed in seventh place as Wai Kin Yong cashed for $800,000, six places short of his desired target. Losing with king-queen to Vaskaboinikau’s ace-queen to double up the Belarussian, Yong hoped to get it all back and more when committed with pocket queens to the same opponent’s pocket tens. Instead, a ten on the river sent the Malaysian to the rail in brutal circumstances, propelling Vaskaboinikau up the leaderboard as a result.

German Samuel Yu left next, cashing for $1,098,000 in sixth when his queens lost to Vaskaboinikau’s pocket kings. Then, a short time later, Yaroshevskyy was joining him on the rail. The Ukrainian, whose day – to make an understatement – was a rollercoaster lost with Qs9c to Aleks Ponakovs’ Js9h, a jack arriving on the flop to stun the at-risk player.

Igor Yaroshevskyy
Ukraine’s Igor Yaroshevskyy cannot bear to watch as his fate is revealed by the dealer.

Ivey Cut Down as Vaskaboinikau Victorious

“I put this thought in my mind in a dream – I’m really happy about this.”

With four players left, Phil Ivey was hoping to make his experience in major live events across the course of his illustrious career count. Losing with flush under flush to the eventual winner, Ivey ran short and went all-in with Ah8s soon after. It was a strong holding, especially four-handed, but ran into Vaskaboinikau’s AdKd, sending the Poker Hall of Famer home with just under $1.8 million, vaulting him above Adrian Mateos into 11th place on the All-Time Money List.

Vaskaboinikau had a strong lead three-handed, with 56 big blinds to his opponents’ collective 50. It was Aleks Ponakovs who went next, losing for $2.2 million in third place after a stunning series of hands. All-in with pocket kings, he was behind Dejan Kaladjurdjevic’s pocket aces pre-flop. The flop of Q-J-T all in hearts saw a bet and a call, and after a 2c on the turn, the Kh river got the chips in, Ponakovs rivering top set but losing to Kaladjurdjevic’s royal flush!

The Montenegran player had the chip lead as three-handed play continued, but Vaskaboinikau came roaring back, ace-high beating king-high for a crucial double, before being all-in with the biggest stack holding Ac4d and Ponakovs committing his last with KsJd. The Latvian couldn’t catch up and play was heads-up.

With a 5:1 chip lead, Vaskaboinikau got the job done quickly heads-up, pocket sixes holding when Kaladjurdjevic shoved with Jc2c and couldn’t hit jacks or clubs to collect the runner-up prize of $3,196,000.

“It’s a really amazing feeling,” Vaskaboinikau said after realizing that his win was worth a stunning $4,737,000. “I had a good feeling about this a few months ago. I put this thought in my mind in a dream – I’m really happy about this.”

Over the course of his life, the Belarussian businessman has always put his career in business first, but he hinted that might change in the aftermath of this epic win.

“Poker tournaments is always second, second, second for me. For sure [this is] one of the brightest moments in my life.”

With play like this against such terrific opposition, it is unlikely to be the last seven-figure score of the talented Belarussian’s career, only the latest one.

Here’s how the drama played out in Montenegro:


Triton Montenegro $125,000 Main Event Final Table Results:
Place Place Country Prize
1st Mikalai Vaskaboinikau Belarus $4,737,000
2nd Dejan Kaladjurdjevic Montenegro $3,196,000
3rd Aleks Ponakovs Latvia $2,200,000
4th Phil Ivey United States $1,795,000
5th Igor Yaroshevskyy Ukraine $1,430,000
6th Samuel Ju Germany $1,098,000
7th Wai Kin Yong Malaysia $800,000
8th Bryn Kenney United States $580,000
9th Elizabeth Chen China $478,000

Photographs courtesy of Joe Giron for the Triton Poker Series, proudly partnered by PokerStake.