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Koray Aldemir Wins 2021 World Series Of Poker Main Event For $8 Million

German High-Stakes Pro Tops 6,650 Entries To Secure First Gold Bracelet

by Erik Fast |  Published: Dec 29, 2021

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It took nearly two weeks to play out the 2021 running of the largest and most prestigious poker tournament in the game: the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event.

When all was said and done, it was 31-year-old German high-stakes tournament pro Koray Aldemir who walked away with the championship gold bracelet and the massive first-place prize of $8 million. Aldemir became the third player from his home country to win the main event, joining 2011 champion Pius Heinz and 2019 winner Hossein Ensan.

“It’s the biggest tournament, the one tournament family and friends that aren’t into poker know of. It does mean a lot to me to win it,” said Aldemir when asked about adding the main event to his already impressive résumé.

The career-best payday he secured for the win increased his lifetime earnings to more than $20.3 million. His previous top score came when he finished third in the $111,111 buy-in One Drop High Roller at the 2016 WSOP for $2.3 million.

Aldemir held the lead for much of the final few days of the tournament. He bagged up the biggest stack at the end of day five and entered the first day of final-table action sitting atop the chip counts as well. After knocking out the second-largest stack at the table and two other opponents to narrow the field to three, Aldemir sat with roughly two-thirds of the chips in play heading into the final day of the largest poker tournament in the world.

When asked if his monster chip lead, and his clear tournament experience advantage as a high roller regular added a bit of extra pressure on him to close out the title, Aldemir admitted as much.

“I know a lot of people were kind of expecting me to win. It would’ve been a little bit disappointing at first, especially because the money jump is so huge between second and first in this tournament. So, of course, I really wanted to win and it did add some extra pressure. I tried to not look at social media too much, but I know that I got a lot of very nice messages from people that I played with throughout the tournament. I know that a lot of them, family and friends, [messaged] me. I’m very grateful.”

Big Turnout Despite Extenuating Circumstances

This year’s WSOP main event was billed as a ‘return to normal’ after 2020 saw the cancellation of the series in the summer, the introduction of the WSOP Online, and a one-off hybrid online and live main event. A few key differences this time around were that the series was taking place in the fall instead of the usual summer time slot, and that players would be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in order to participate. The unknowns led to questions about just how large of a field this year’s main event would ultimately attract.

When registration officially closed, a total of 6,650 players had put up the $10,000 buy-in, creating the tenth-largest field in the history of the no-limit hold’em world championship. The big turnout was achieved over an unprecedented six starting flights.

Two additional starting days were added to the originally planned four in order to accommodate international players after the US government eased travel restrictions in early November. This year also saw late registration extended into day 2, which allowed players to buy in all the way up to the start of level 8, which was several hours into day 2.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment,” WSOP Vice President Jack Effel told Card Player after the final numbers were in. “I think having the extra two flights to allow more of the international players to be able to get here really helped. Seeing their smiling faces, even if they looked a bit exhausted, was a great thing. It’s been an amazing turnout all the way around, just nothing but a success from our standpoint.”

The healthy field built a final prize pool of $62,011,250 that was ultimately paid out among the top 1,000 finishers, with a min-cash being worth $15,000. The top 63 finishers all cashed for at least six figures ($113,800), with the final nine all earning $1 million or more.

Narrowing The Field

Nearly a week after cards first got in the air for the main event, a long money bubble burst late on day 3 thanks to the cracking of Kevin Campbell’s pocket aces. Campbell three-bet shoved for just shy of 12 big blinds with AHeart Suit ADiamond Suit and was called by initial raiser Chris Alafogiannis, who held AClub Suit 9Club Suit. The board ran out 10Club Suit 9Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit 7Club Suit 9Spade Suit and Alafogiannis rivered trip nines to send Campbell to the rail. Although he didn’t cash, Campbell was awarded entry into next year’s main event as a consolation prize.

The following day saw the field narrowed from 1,000 to just 292 hopeful competitors. Day 5 decreased the number of remaining competitors to just 96, with Aldemir bagging up the largest stack.

A number of fun storylines came to a close that day, including that of 100th-place finisher ​​Salko Imsirovic, who earned $50,900 for his deep run. If the name sounds familiar, it might be because his son Ali Imsirovic is currently the hottest player on the live tournament circuit, with 13 titles and 29 final-table finishes so far in 2021. The elder Imsirovic is a 59-year-old retired parking lot attendant, who owned a restaurant in Bosnia before fleeing the war-torn country.

“He came here and worked hard at multiple jobs for his family, and now he is doing this,” said Ali, clearly overjoyed with his father’s impressive run.

Day 5 also saw the last of the prior main event winners eliminated from contention. Poker Hall of Famer Chris Moneymaker, whose win in 2003 was a major contributor to the poker boom, was among the leaders on day 2 and day 3, but slid towards the bottom of the leaderboard on day 4. His run this year came to an end in 260th place ($38,600) when his A-J failed to win a race against the pocket sixes of Vladas Tamasauskas. 2016 champion Qui Nguyen was able to last just a bit longer, finishing 241st for $38,600, ensuring that a new world champion would be crowned in 2021.

The main event went another year without having a female player at the final table, with Barbara Enright’s run to fifth place in 1995 being the only time that a woman has achieved the feat. Two women made it to day 6, but both were knocked out before play concluded. Fatima Nanji was eliminated in 90th place ($68,900) and Dragana Lim fell in 64th place ($95,700) after her AHeart Suit KHeart Suit was outrun by the ADiamond Suit QSpade Suit of Mikiya Kudo.

Plenty of big names were able to make a deep run, including Stephen Chidwick (89th – $68,900), Stephen Song (83rd – $68,900), Yuri Dzivielevski (81st – $81,000), Asher Conniff (80th – $81,000), John Morgan (70th – $95,700), Jeffrey Trudeau (49th – $136,100), Nick Petrangelo (45th – $163,900), Tyler Cornell (37th – $163,900), Jesse Lonis (25th – $241,800), Chance Kornuth (16th – $305,000), and Ramon Colillas (14th – $380,050).

The final table was set when WPT champion Demosthenes Kiriopoulos got all-in with ASpade Suit 3Spade Suit and was called by the QDiamond Suit 10Club Suit of Aldemir. The QSpade Suit 9Spade Suit 5Heart Suit flop gave Aldemir top pair and Kiriopoulos the nut flush draw. The 7Heart Suit on the turn was of no help to Kiriopoulos, though, and left him in need of a spade or an ace on the river. Neither came, as the JClub Suit sent Kiriopoulos home with $585,000 as the tenth-place finisher.

From Nine To… Three?

Much like the last in-person main event held in 2019, this year featured a final table headlined by an experienced German poker player with a sizable chip lead. In 2019 that man was Hossein Ensan, and he went on to win it all. This time around it was Aldemir that was the player to beat, with his 140,000,000 in chips representing roughly 35 percent of the total chips in play and approximately 175 big blinds when play resumed at the final table.

The final table was slated to play out over the course of two evenings. The first of those days got underway at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16 with actor and comedian Vince Vaughn, the newly announced 2022 WSOP master of ceremonies, kicking off play with the customary, “Shuffle up and deal!”

It didn’t take long for chips to start flying. The first elimination of the day took place just five hands after cards got in the air.

​​Jack Oliver raised from the cutoff with ADiamond Suit KClub Suit. George Holmes called in the small blind, and Chase Bianchi three-bet jammed from the big blind with KSpade Suit QClub Suit. Oliver moved all-in and Holmes got out of the way. The board improved neither player and Bianchi was sent to the rail with $1 million as the ninth-place finisher.

The 34-year-old bracelet winner based out of Boston is now technically a retired professional poker player, with his focus shifting to software development in recent years. With the pressure of playing for a living off his back, Bianchi managed his best-ever run in the biggest poker tournament in the world.

“So, retire from poker and final table the main? It’s pretty sweet,” Bianchi told Card Player moments after he was eliminated. “I’d long given up on final tabling the main or winning the main. So it’s definitely a cherry on top.”

The very next hand saw another knockout take place. Jareth East moved all-in when it folded to him in middle position with ASpade Suit JHeart Suit. Holmes shoved from the button with pocket queens and everybody else folded. There was an ace in the window, but a queen also rolled off on the flop, sending the pot to Holmes and eliminating East. The 31-year-old UK poker player earned $1.1 million.

The two chip leaders then clashed in the largest pot of the tournament. Argentinian rapper Alejandro Lococo raised from early position with pocket tens and Aldemir three-bet from the cutoff with pocket nines. Lococo made the call and the flop came down JHeart Suit JClub Suit 9Club Suit to give Aldemir nines full of jacks. Lococo checked and Aldemir bet. Lococo called and the 8Heart Suit hit the turn.

Lococo checked again and Aldemir sized up with another bet. Lococo called and the 3Diamond Suit completed the board. Lococo checked a third time and Aldemir bet enough to put his opponent all-in. Lococo went into the tank before eventually making the call, only to see that his tens had been out-flopped. The 29-year-old finished seventh for $1.225 million, while Aldemir’s stack soared over 200 million in chips.

Hye Park’s run in this event came to an end when his pocket sevens lost a preflop race to the A-Q of a still-surging Aldemir. A queen on the turn gave Aldemir the lead, and the river was of no help to Park. The 38-year-old poker pro and former Marine collected $1.4 million for his sixth-place finish while his friends cheered on from the rail.

“It means the world to me. I mean, life is about relationships and the journey you take. [Their support] is probably more important to me than the poker part of it,” said Park, who now has more than $1.9 million in career tournament earnings to his name.

36-year-old Turkish player Ozgur Secilmis was the next player to get all-in. He open-shoved for around 14.5 big blinds with KHeart Suit 5Heart Suit and Aldemir called with 9Spade Suit 9Heart Suit. The board came down AHeart Suit ADiamond Suit JHeart Suit ASpade Suit 8Club Suit to give Aldemir a winning full house. Secilmis earned $1.8 million as the fifth-place finisher.

Aldemir nearly scored a double knockout to set up heads-up play, but his pocket queens failed to hold up against the A-J of Joshua Remitio and the J-9 suited of Jack Oliver, who rivered a flush to triple up. Remitio also improved on the end, making a straight to stay alive thanks to the small side pot.

The 27-year-old cash game specialist from Arizona was left as the clear short stack, however. In the very next hand he shoved with JHeart Suit 7Heart Suit and Oliver called with AClub Suit 2Club Suit from the big blind. The ASpade Suit 10Club Suit 7Diamond Suit 4Spade Suit 2Club Suit runout gave Oliver aces up to secure the pot. Remitio earned $2.3 million as the fourth-place finisher. With that, the final three bagged up their chips.

Aldemir Seals The Deal

Aldemir’s 264,600,000 represented nearly twice the amount of chips that his two opponents had combined between them. Oliver came into the day second in chips with 77,300,000, while 49-year-old payments industry executive Holmes had bagged up 57,400,000. The early action saw the two shorter stacks battle back and forth, with Holmes beginning in third place but eventually opening a considerable lead over Oliver.

Oliver managed one double up after falling below 15 blinds, with his A-5 making a straight to beat the K-9 suited of a surging Holmes. Around 25 hands later Oliver was all-in again, this time open shoving for just shy of 18 big blinds with AClub Suit 8Diamond Suit. Holmes called from the big blind with QSpade Suit JSpade Suit and the board ran out 8Heart Suit 7Heart Suit 5Spade Suit JClub Suit 9Heart Suit to give him a winning pair of queens. Oliver was sent home with $3 million for his third-place showing.

“I feel amazing about how I played,” said Oliver when asked if the grueling schedule of the main event led to any plays he regretted down the stretch. “There are a few hands I would change, but there are very few, and thinking about how many hands I’ve played in the past nine days… I think I played very well and wouldn’t change too much.”

This was by far the largest live tournament payday secured by the 26-year-old from Markyate, England. His biggest previous cash came when he won a $400 buy-in event at the Venetian in 2019 for $27,047.

With Oliver’s elimination, heads-up play began with Aldemir holding 261,900,000 to Holmes’ 137,400,000. Holmes won a big pot early on in the match without showdown, betting Aldemir off of a small pair on the river with his even smaller pair to close the gap considerably. Holmes then took the lead not long after that, making a full house with pocket sevens to win another healthy pot.

The two went on to battle for nearly four hours in total, with multiple lead changes along the way. Aldemir had nothing but positive things to say about his final opponent after the fact.

“He put us in spots, me and the other players. He made good bluffs, made good folds. I had the chip lead to start with and he grinded me down. I had to try really hard to beat him,” said Aldemir of his heads-up opponent. “I was pretty stressed, to be honest. After 10 days of poker, especially the last five or six days [which] were all super stressful. Not a lot of sleep, like five hours a day. All those people watching me play. It’s not easy. Respect to all the other players too, who all played great. Crazy experience.”

The final two got all-in with Holmes holding a slight lead, but they had made the same straight for a chopped pot. Shortly after that, Aldemir just edged ahead in time for the final hand of the tournament. With blinds of 1,200,000-2,400,000 with a 2,400,000 big blind ante, Holmes raised to 6,000,000 from the button with KClub Suit QSpade Suit. Aldemir defended his big blind with 10Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit and the flop came down 10Heart Suit 7Spade Suit 2Heart Suit to give him top two pair.

Aldemir checked and Holmes bet 6,000,000 with his two overcards. Aldemir check-raised to 19,000,000 and Holmes made the call. The turn brought the KSpade Suit to give Holmes top pair. Aldemir went into the tank before deciding to make a bet of 36,500,000. Holmes made the call and the river brought the 9Club Suit.

Once again, Aldemir took his time before acting. He eventually checked, and Holmes thought a bit before moving all-in for 133,000,000, which was more than the size of the pot.

“On the flop, I kind of have the nuts,” said Aldemir when asked about the final hand after the fact. “On the turn, still happy. My plan was to check-call on the river because he showed he was capable of making bluffs… but I had to think about it. It’s a big moment, obviously. It was for all the chips. If I lose the hand, I don’t have much left. I’m glad I made the call.”

Holmes earned $4.3 million as the runner-up finisher. This was only his second recorded tournament cash, with the other also coming in the WSOP main event. Holmes finished 213th in 2019 for $50,855. He primarily plays his poker in a weekly home game, and represented the ‘home game heroes’ of the world incredibly well in this event.

His runner-up showing is even more incredible when you consider that he was down to just over one big blind with 26 players remaining. He managed to bounce back from the brink of elimination to come within one spot of the championship bracelet.

In addition to the title and the $8 million payout, Aldemir also earned 3,300 Card Player Player of the Year points as the champion of this event. He had only one POY-qualified score prior to this win in 2021, earning 27 points for an 11th-place finish in an $800 buy-in event earlier in the series. But his monumental win in the main event was enough to catapult him into 21st place in the 2021 POY race standings, which are sponsored by Global Poker.

Aldemir was also awarded 1,900 PokerGO Tour points, enough to move him into ninth place on the tour’s leaderboard. ♠

Final Table Results

Place Player Payouts POY Points PokerGO Tour
1 Koray Aldemir $8,000,000 3,300 1,900
2 George Holmes $4,300,000 2,750 1,500
3 Jack Oliver $3,000,000 2,200 1,400
4 Joshua Remitio $2,300,000 1,650 1,300
5 Ozgur Secilmis $1,800,000 1,375 1,200
6 Hye Park $1,400,000 1,100 1,200
7 Alejandro Lococo $1,225,000 825 1,200
8 Jareth East $1,100,000 550 1,200
9 Chase Bianchi $1,000,000 275 1,200