After starting 2024 with several excellent finishes in the PokerGO Tour LastChance series, it looked like Daniel Smiljkovic was starting the New Year on a heater. He was the runner-up in Event #1 of that series to Daniel Negreanu, made two more final tables in Events #2 and #4, and played his way into the PGT Championship, the season finale for the 2023 PokerGO Tour. Smiljkovic made the most of those efforts, emerging as the champion over actor Arden Cho (an invitee to the tournament) to take down $500,000 and the PGT Championship.
Start With the Lead…
Some might say it was easy for Smiljkovic, as he started the final table with a sizeable chip edge over the other five combatants. Smiljkovic’s 2.685 million in chips dwarfed the stack of poker’s defending World Champion, Daniel Weinman (1.43 million). As the only other player over the million-chip mark, Leon Sturm (1.005 million) looked to have a chance at winning the title, while two-time LastChance tournament winner Artur Martirosyan (720K) looked to continue his hot streak with Cho (655K) right behind him. The person in the most difficult shape was Darren Elias, who would need to move quickly with his 180K short stack to even become viable.
Elias’s move came, quite expectedly, on the first hand of play on Wednesday. Martirosyan put the action to 35,000, with everyone folding to Smiljkovic in the small blind. The German three-bet Martirosyan to 140K, but that was not enough for Elias in the big blind. He plopped his remaining stack in the cent and both Martirosyan and Smiljkovic made the call.
Surprisingly, all three hands were more than viable for action:
Martirosyan: pocket Queens
The flop brought the excitement, coming down K-J-6, to put Smiljkovic and Elias into the lead. A five on the turn kept the duo in that position, but the Queen on the river brought Martirosyan from “worst to first” by giving him a set of ladies to take the hand. As Martirosyan stacked some chips and Smiljkovic saw some of his lead slip away, Elias left the table in sixth place.
The process didn’t get easier for Smiljkovic as the action played out. He would drift down the leaderboard as Martirosyan was stunningly knocked out in fifth by Sturm, with Sturm’s pocket fives holding up over Martirosyan’s A-K. He did get healthier when he defeated Weinman, with his 10-5 catching trips on an A-10-J-10-6 board against Weinman’s K-6, to go to three-handed play and send Weinman out in fourth place.
Finish With the Lead…After Some Work
While Sturm and Smiljkovic being at the top of the standings wasn’t surprising, the sight of Arden Cho there was quite interesting. Cho, a multi-platform celebrity whose most noted work might be appearing on the MTV series Teen Wolf, was an invited participant by the PokerGO Tour to play in the PGT Championship, and she made the most of her involvement. Cho started the three-way battle at the bottom, but she would quickly reverse that course.
Following Weinman’s departure, Cho stormed through Smiljkovic and Sturm to take over the chip lead only twenty minutes into play. It was a combination of guile and power poker as Cho first called down a bluff from Smiljkovic and then bullied Sturm out of a pot to take the lead. Even after Smiljkovic eliminated Sturm in third place, his J-9 surviving over Sturm’s 10-2 when neither connected on the flop, Cho had built more than a 3:1 lead going to heads-up play.
It is said that, eventually, skillful poker will win out over short-term success, and that axiom was proven in the Cho/Smiljkovic face-off. Although Cho would at one point have Smiljkovic down to only a million chips, he would double up in a race situation (catching with his A-K against Cho’s pocket nines) and take the lead after flopping trip fives against Cho’s open-ended straight draw that stood tall.
There was a bit more interplay between the duo before Smiljkovic took the tournament down. The first step was a massive double through Cho, his Q-10 flopping a straight to leave Cho on fumes. The finale was Cho getting her money in good with an A-9 against Smiljkovic’s J-5, but failing to hold as a Jack came on the turn to give Smiljkovic the PGT Championship and the $500,000 payday in the $1 million freeroll.
1. Daniel Smiljkovic, $500,000
2. Arden Cho, $200,000
3. Leon Sturm, $120,000
4. Daniel Weinman, $80,000
5. Artur Martirosyan, $60,000
6. Darren Elias, $40,000
(Photo provided by PokerGO.com)