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Nick Petrangelo Dominates Inaugural Stairway To Millions Series

35-Year-Old High Roller Wins Two Titles, Makes Four Final Tables, And Cashes For More Than $1.8 Million

by Erik Fast |  Published: Feb 23, 2022

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The PokerGO Tour hosted a brand-new series in the early weeks of 2022, featuring a unique format. The inaugural Stairway To Millions series was held at ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas from Jan. 12-20.

The series featured eight no-limit hold’em events, each with a progressively higher buy-in. Players who made the money in any of the first seven events were automatically entered in the next tournament on the schedule, building up to the climactic grand finale: a $1.2 million guaranteed $100,000 buy-in event. The idea was to give more players a chance to win their way into an ultra high-stakes tournament and compete with the top players in the game.

“With so many of our regular events at the PokerGO Studio featuring buy-ins of $10,000 or more, we are pleased to present the first-ever Stairway To Millions and give players at all levels the chance to compete in a six-figure buy-in for a million-dollar prize,” said PokerGO President Mori Eskandani when the series was announced. “For those who have dreamt of playing at the highest levels, the Stairway To Millions is the perfect opportunity to do so while also winning money as you climb to the top.”

While plenty of players did parlay deep runs in the lower buy-in events into big scores in some of the higher-stakes events later on in the schedule, it was ultimately a seasoned high-roller veteran who came out on top with the most impressive performance of the series.

Nick Petrangelo, a two-time World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner with nearly $21.7 million in prior tournament earnings, dominated the back half of the schedule. Petrangelo made the final table in four of the eight events offered, cashing for more than $1.8 million and winning two titles along the way.

Starting The Climb

The kickoff event of the series was a modest $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament. A total of 190 entries created a prize pool of $190,000. After two full days of action, Daniel Sepiol emerged victorious with the title and $28,500.

Sepiol is fresh off of his best year ever on the live tournament circuit, having earned four of his top five biggest scores in 2021. The Bloomington, Indiana native won two titles and made six final tables last year, accruing more than $350,000 across those scores. His largest win came when he took down the Mid-States Poker Tour Riverside $1,100 main event for $162,781 last March. He now has more than $860,000 in career earnings to his name.

The top 28 finishers earned their way into event no. 2, a $2,000 buy-in event. They were joined by another 121 entries to build a $258,000 prize pool. One of the players who earned their seat in the second event via a deep run in the kickoff tournament was three-time bracelet winner Chance Kornuth. He went on to parlay that seat into the title and the top prize of $51,600.

“I think, in general, it’s really, really good to help people have the opportunity to play some of the higher buy-in PokerGO events that are on stream,” said Kornuth when asked about this series’ unique format. “Hats off to them for setting up this Stairway To Millions. I think it’s great.”

His positive feelings about the series were only reinforced when the $4,000 seat he earned into the third event of the series led to him emerging victorious for the second time in as many days. Kornuth outlasted a field of 84 total entries to earn $80,640 and his second title of the series. He also earned 552 Card Player Player of the Year points for his back-to-back titles. With $132,240 in POY earnings, Kornuth now sits in 18th place in the 2022 POY race.

“It feels great,” Kornuth told PokerGO reporters. “I ran even better in this one than I did in the last one. It was pretty incredible. I max late-registered and immediately had chips to play with, and it was smooth sailing the entire way.”

The fourth event on the schedule saw the price of admission grow to $8,000. A total of 56 entries were made, building a prize pool of $448,000. Salim Admon emerged victorious, defeating rising tournament star Jesse Lonis heads-up to secure the title and the top prize of $138,880.

This was Admon’s first major live tournament victory and his third career six-figure score. His largest-ever payday came when he finished fourth in the 2021 Wynn Millions $10,000 buy-in event for $619,160 last summer. He now has more than $1.1 million in lifetime earnings to his name.

“It feels really, really good,” said Admon after coming out on top. “I’ve come close a couple of times and it’s not the same. I’ve actually had a bigger cash, but this feels a little bit better.”

Lonis earned $89,600 as the runner-up finisher. This was his third final-table showing of the year, and second of the series, having also taken sixth for $20,160 and 96 points in event no. 3. With 716 points, he now sits in eighth place on the POY leaderboard. (Petrangelo recorded his first final-table finish of the series in this event, placing fifth for $35,840.)

Raising The Stakes

The second half of the Stairway To Millions schedule featured three five-figure buy-in events and the first six-figure buy-in high roller held in 2022.

A total of 43 entries put up the $15,000 buy-in for event no. 5. The resulting prize pool of $645,000 was ultimately paid out among the top seven finishers. Poker pro Michael Wang outlasted a tough final table to secure the title and the top prize of $219,300.

This was the second-largest payday of Wang’s tournament career, behind only his win in the 2015 WSOP $5,000 no-limit hold’em event for $466,120. The New Jersey native now has more than $3.6 million in lifetime live tournament earnings to his name.

The next high roller on the agenda was the $25,000 buy-in event. A total of 25 entries were made, building a prize pool of $625,000 that was ultimately distributed among the top four finishers. When all was said and done it was 2018 Card Player POY award winner Jake Schindler who came out on top.

The high-stakes regular earned $287,500 to increase his lifetime earnings to just more than $29.3 million, enough to place him 15th on poker’s all-time money list. Petrangelo finished as the runner-up, adding $175,000 and 210 POY points to his totals.

By cashing in event no. 6, Petrangelo was automatically entered into the next tournament, the $50,000 buy-in event. Shortly after registration officially closed with 21 total entries, Petrangelo lost a pot and was left with just 9,000 in his stack while the blinds sat at 4,000-8,000 with a big blind ante of 8,000. The old poker adage of a ‘chip and a chair’ came true, and Petrangelo managed to mount an incredible comeback, surviving the money bubble in second chip position.

He then outlasted Chris Brewer, who was already at his third final table of the year, to set up a heads-up showdown with reigning POY award winner Ali Imsirovic.

The final battle for the title began with Imsirovic holding roughly a 4:3 chip advantage over Petrangelo. The two clashed for roughly 45 minutes before a winner was decided. In the final hand, Petrangelo picked up pocket aces and raised from the button. Imsirovic three-bet all-in for around 30 big blinds with ADiamond Suit 9Spade Suit and Petrangelo snap-called.

Imsirovic picked up some chop outs when the flop and turn came down 10Heart Suit 5Club Suit 2Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit, but the KClub Suit on the river locked up the whole pot, and the title, for Petrangelo. He earned $567,000 and 306 POY points for the win, while Imsirovic took home $315,000 and 255 points to add to his quest for back-to-back POY titles. The 26-year-old won a $25,000 high roller at Venetian earlier this year for $270,000 as well.

The very next day, Petrangelo took his seat in the $100,000 buy-in event. A total of 19 entries were made in the event, building a prize pool worth $1.9 million. As with the $50,000 buy-in event, Petrangelo had to tangle with some of the best tournament players in the game to come away with the title in this final event. 2021 high-stakes tournament breakout Sean Perry finished third for $304,000, while three-time bracelet winner and 2016 POY award winner David Peters placed second for $570,000.

Once again, Petrangelo had to overcome a slight heads-up chip deficit. That was quickly erased and the final hand saw his AClub Suit 10Club Suit make the nut flush against Peters’ pocket sixes. Petrangelo managed to follow in Kornuth’s footsteps and go back-to-back, earning $1,026,000 and 240 POY points for his second trip to the winner’s circle.

The victory brought his year-to-date POY earnings to $1,803,840. And since this unique Stairway To Millions format paid for the bulk of his tournament buy-ins as he progressed up the stakes, most of his winnings at this point are pure profit. With 856 points, he now sits in third place in the 2022 POY race standings.

Petrangelo now has 18 tournament titles on his poker resume and has been among the most consistent high roller performers since breaking out in 2015.

“Every time you win, it feels great,” said Petrangelo when asked by PokerGO reporters if winning ever gets old. “I was looking forward to this series, and I’m looking forward to playing a lot of live [poker] in general this year. So no, the short answer is that it never gets old. It’s awesome. I’m really happy and fortunate that I’m running well.”

Petrangelo’s domination of this series saw him increase his lifetime earnings to just shy of $23.5 million, enough to put him in 24th place on poker’s all-time money list. Peters’ career earnings grew to $41,385,778 as a result of his runner-up finish. He remains in fourth place on the all-time money list after the score, sitting just less than $3 million behind third-ranked Daniel Negreanu ($44,338,983).

Petrangelo had already worked his way into the lead in the PokerGO Tour points race ahead of his win in the series-closing event. The 400 points he earned as the $100,000 buy-in champion increased his total to 845 points, giving him a 491-point lead over second-ranked Michael Wang.

Stairway To Millions – Aria Casino Resort – Las Vegas, NV

Event #1 – $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY
1 Daniel Sepiol $28,500 336
2 Rich Dixon $19,000 280
3 Joseph Cheong $15,200 224
4 Justin Saliba $11,400 168
5 Qing Liu $9,500 140
6 Mehdi Anooshahr $7,600 112
7 Lee Alejandro $7,600 84
8 Joshua Willard $7,600 56

Event #2 – $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY
1 Chance Kornuth $51,600 264
2 Eric Baldwin $36,120 220
3 Jovan Santiago $28,380 176
4 Joelle Parenteau $23,220 132
5 Brock Wilson $18,060 110
6 Jeremy Ausmus $12,900 88
7 Jacob Perry $10,320 66
8 Vikenty Shegal $10,320 44

Event #3 – $4,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY
1 Chance Kornuth $80,640 288
2 Joseph Cheong $57,120 240
3 Nathan Zimnik $40,320 192
4 Mitch Halverson $30,240 144
5 Daniel Weinand $23,520 120
6 Jesse Lonis $20,160 96
7 Victoria Livschitz $16,800 72
8 Philip Shing $13,440 48

Event #4 – $8,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY
1 Salim Admon $138,880 240
2 Jesse Lonis $89,600 200
3 Chris Brewer $58,240 160
4 Jeremy Ausmus $44,800 120
5 Nick Petrangelo $35,840 100
6 Bill Klein $31,360 80
7 Shannon Shorr $26,880 60
8 Michael Lang $22,400 40

Event #5 – $15,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY PGT
1 Michael Wang $219,300 360 219
2 Larry Greenberg $135,450 300 135
3 Bill Klein $90,300 240 90
4 Vikenty Shegal $64,500 180 65
5 Stephen Chidwick $51,600 150 52
6 Sean Winter $45,150 120 45
7 David Coleman $38,700 90 39

Event #6 – $25,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY PGT
1 Jake Schindler $287,500 252 173
2 Nick Petrangelo $175,000 210 105
3 Alex Foxen $100,000 168 60
4 Sean Winter $62,500 126 38

Event #7 – $50,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY PGT
1 Nick Petrangelo $567,000 306 340
2 Ali Imsirovic $315,000 255 189
3 Chris Brewer $168,000 204 101

Event #8 – $100,000 No-Limit Hold’em

Place Player Payout POY PGT
1 Nick Petrangelo $1,026,000 240 400
2 David Peters $570,000 200 171
3 Sean Perry $304,000 160 91