It is another moment in poker history provided by PokerStars. With only two runnings of the tournament in its history, the PokerStars Players’ Championship has quickly etched its name in the annals of poker history. In only the second running of the tournament since its creation in 2019, the 1014 entry field for the 2023 PokerStars Players’ Championship was bested by Belarus’ Aliaksandr Shylko, who agreed to a deal with the second and third-place finishers to walk away with a decent payday of $3,121,838 and joins Ramon Colillas as the only two players to have taken down this title.
Each Man at Six-Handed Table Guaranteed a Million
Indicative of the importance of this $25,000 buy-in PSPC, each man who showed up for action on Friday was guaranteed at least one million dollars for getting out of bed. At the start of play, Argentina’s Nacho Barbero looked to be the man in charge with his 19.325 million in chips, but Shylko was within shouting distance at 12.2 million. Shylko had his issues, however, with Phillipe Pizzari of Brazil (11.975 million) and Pedro Marques of Portugal (10.475 million) looking to move past him. Only two players had their work cut out for them – Germany’s Max Menzel (5.025 million) and his countryman, Niclas Thumm (1.8 million).
The story of the early action was a monster mistake from the veteran Barbero. The Argentinian, who has over five million in career earnings, was engaged with persons from his entourage on the rail and didn’t see that Shylko had raised the action in front of him to 500K in chips. Thinking that he was only dealing with Menzel in the big blind, Barbero looked to bully him with a large bet, over five million chips. Menzel dropped his cards in the muck, but Shylko wisely saw that Barbero hadn’t seen his bet.
After Menzel’s fold, Shylko pushed his stack to the center for twelve million chips and, sheepishly, Barbero saw that he had made a mistake in not paying attention to the action. He quietly slid his cards to the muck, but it was a major error for such a veteran pro. That hand alone saw Barbero sacrifice over five million of his chips (5.125 million, to be exact) and it completely changed the cosmetics of the final table of the PSPC.
The strangeness was not finished with that hand. On a board reading Q-8-4-Q-J, Pizzari (with a 7-4) and Thumm (with K-10) checked down the options in a blind battle. Thumm, in the small blind, was obligated to open up first and he showed his King high. Not realizing that he had actually paired on the flop, Pizzari shot his cards into the muck, even though he had the winning hand.
Players Work Out the Butterflies
After these strange occurrences (and with so much on the line with the 2023 PSPC), the players seemed to have gotten all the butterflies out of their systems and settled down for some poker. Barbero bled off chips to both Marques and Menzel, but he would get them back by taking down Thumm in sixth place after flopping a King and turning a second to go with his K-Q against Thumm’s A-2. It was enough to get Barbero back to the lead, but not for long.
A major clash was brewing on the felt between Pizzari and Barbero and it would end in an unfortunate manner for the Argentinian pro. After a limp from Shylko, Pizzari upped the betting from the small blind to 900K and Barbero called from the big blind. Shylko came along for the ride and the trio saw an A-6-5 flop.
Pizzari would fire again holding an A-10, but Barbero had him topped with his A-6 (Aces up) and raised the action to 3.8 million. Shylko, holding an open-ended straight draw with his 8-7, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and got out of the way. After a call from Pizzari, the turn card was dealt.
It was a killer for Barbero – the 10♣, giving Pizzari a better Aces up, and it immediately got ugly. Pizzari checked his option out of the small blind and, almost automatically, Barbero moved all in. Pizzari just as quickly called the bet, and the cards were shown. Needing another six to save him, Barbero instead saw a Jack come on the river; after the chips were counted, it was Pizzari who was all in and the winner of the pot, moving up to 27.8 million and the chip lead, while Barbero went to the basement with only 6.53 million chips.
Frenetic Action Over Final Three Hours
The action was frenetic after this mark, with the players getting their chips in action with the smallest edges. Shylko was the beneficiary of some good fortune, rivering a Broadway straight with an A-10 after Pizzari had picked up Aces up with his Big Slick to double up. He then would pound Pizzari again, this time with a minuscule A-3 that found a trey on the board against Pizzari’s A-10.
Now stacked with over 25 million chips, Shylko sat back to see who would come at him. Pizzari rose after he knocked out Marques in fifth place, hitting a runner-runner two pair against Marques to end his day. After Pizzari ended a dismal day for Barbero in fourth, Barbero’s 8-5 running into Pizzari’s 5-3 on a 5-2-3-A-7 board, and three men were left.
As Barbero quietly departed the battlefield, the three remaining players – Shylko (26.1 million), Menzel (20.6 million), and Pizzari (14.15 million) – brought out the calculators. With the stacks relatively equal in comparison to the blinds (250K/500K with a 500K big blind ante), a deal was the thing that made sense, and the trio was able to work out a plan everyone was happy with for the remaining PSPC prize pool:
The players did leave a little something to play for, with the eventual runner-up taking a $100,000 bonus and the champion earning the 2023 PSPC trophy and an extra $200,000 in cash.
Slightly more than an hour into three-way action, Pizzari would depart in third place after his J-7 failed to catch against Menzel’s K-Q. On the very first hand of heads-up play, Shylko would limp in and Menzel checked to see an 8-5-5 flop. Menzel tested the waters with an 800K bet and, after Shylko called, the tandem saw a ten on the turn. Menzel fired another bullet, this time for 2.8 million, and Shylko quietly called the bet to see the river Queen come down.
It turned out that card was huge for Menzel, as his J-9 had rivered a Queen high straight, but he decided a check was the right play. It was Shylko who was the trapper on the hand, though, as his 10-5 had flopped trips and turned an unbeatable full house. Shylko put out a tentative 4.5 million chip bet and Menzel, thinking his hand was a lock, moved all in over the top. Shylko sprung the trap, showed the boat, and the 2023 PSPC was his.
1. Aliaksandr Shylko (Belarus), $3,121,838*
2. Max Menzel (Germany), $2,859,990*
3. Phillipe Pizzari (Brazil), $2,524,871*
4. Nacho Barbero (Argentina), $1,551,300
5. Pedro Marques (Portugal), $1,251,500
6. Niclas Thumm (Germany), $1,001,200
7. Thomas Eychenne (France), $801,000**
8. Petar Kalev (Bulgaria), $621,300**
9. Andrei Boghean (Romania), $449,700**
(* – indicates three-way deal at the final table)
(** – knocked out during Thursday’s action, part of the official final table)