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2021 WSOP Champ Koray Aldemir Shares His Main Event Tips

German Poker Pro Reflects On $8 Million Score

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Jun 29, 2022

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During this series of columns, I have been interviewing 2021 WSOP bracelet winners. These champions have been providing observations, tips, and strategies for you, the readers of Card Player, about the specific poker game in which they captured their bracelet.

The Event: $10,000 WSOP Main Event
The Winner: Koray Aldemir
The Prize: $8 Million

Over the past decade, Germany has laid claim to a few WSOP main event champions. In 2019, Iranian-born German pro Hossein Ensan captured the title over Italy’s Dario Sammartino for $10 million. But back in 2011, then 22-year-old Pius Heinz shocked the world, coming back from seventh in chips to become the first German ever to win the main event, taking home over $8.7 million.

Heinz made an impact on the young Koray Aldemir, who went on to win last year’s main event for $8 million.

“It was kind of a dream to win the [WSOP] main event. I remember watching Pius Heinz winning. That is when I got into poker more seriously. I watched the whole thing in the middle of the night in Europe. I couldn’t imagine winning the tournament 10 years later,” recalled Aldemir.

This year, as the WSOP begins a new era on the Las Vegas Strip at Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas, Koray Aldemir will enjoy the shortest reign as WSOP main event champion ever, since the 2021 main event was completed in November.

Nevertheless, Koray will be remembered for having one of the most dominating performances during a main event. The German was among the top five stacks for the last three days prior to the final table, and entering the final table, he had almost double the next player and triple the player in third place.

Koray had previously cashed in the 2015 and 2016 WSOP main events, while also finishing in seventh place at the 2018 WSOP Europe main event, earning €130,350. The high roller also finished third in the $111,111 buy-in One Drop event in 2016 for $2,154,265 and has wins at the Triton Manila and U.S. Poker Open, giving him a total of $20.1 million in career tournament earnings.

“It wasn’t a great series heading into the main event,” Aldemir admitted. “I just didn’t run well in the big events. But I felt I was playing well so I was ready for the tournament.”

I spoke with Koray for my radio show. You can watch the full interview on my YouTube channel (BernardLeePoker) or listen on iTunes.

Bernard: Congratulations on winning the 2021 WSOP main event. What a dream come true.

Koray: Thank you so much. It is super surreal and still pretty crazy to think I won it.
Bernard: How did you get started in poker?

Koray: Poker got popular in Germany a little later than the United States, around 2005 to 2007. The first time I saw poker, I actually wondered why they were showing card games on television.

Then, I started playing in 2007 with friends. I got lucky and won my first tournament with them. I continued to play and get better. I went to study business administration in Germany and I met a professional poker player. I thought he was so good, and he helped me to get more into the game.

Then, I moved to Vienna to continue my schooling and met other professional poker players like Rainer Kempe and Fedor Holz. After Fedor’s success, we felt maybe we could be successful as well. (Kempe would go on to rack up nearly $22 million in live earnings, while Holz has won an incredible $35 million.)

Bernard: You currently play in high roller events. How do you feel your game has changed and progressed?

Koray: I definitely made a big jump in 2016 and 2017 when I started playing in high rollers. I absolutely feel I have gotten better playing with these players. But, I would also recommend to watch the live streams. I love to watch the live streams as I learn so much from watching them play, especially when you can see the hole cards.

Bernard: Well, let’s talk about some key strategies playing in the WSOP main event. What would your advice be to players playing in the main event, especially during the early days?

Koray: I would say you should focus on just playing well. So many players are focused on building up a monster stack during day 1. While that would be nice, let the game come to you.

In 2021, I had a pretty bad day 1 and even almost got knocked out. I ended the day with around 35,000 (starting stack is 60,000), but I was actually happy after the day because I felt like I played well.

The WSOP main event is such a marathon. You will have bad days. You have to survive those days so you can hope to have a great run to build up your chip stack.

Bernard: That is kind of what happened to you, right?

Koray: Yes absolutely. The second day didn’t go that well either as I ended with a little over starting stack (73,300). Then, on the third day, I didn’t start out well again and I actually had less than starting stack. In fact, during the second level of the day, I even told a friend that I would probably be out soon.

But then, the run began as I doubled up a couple of times and I was suddenly a big stack heading into the money bubble. From that moment on, I didn’t lose a big hand for the rest of the tournament. It’s pretty crazy.

Bernard: What would your advice be to players playing in the main event around the bubble?

Koray: I was able to chip up on day 3 and I was the chip leader on my table so I could raise a lot of hands. It was a great position. Even though all the players knew what I was doing, they couldn’t do anything back. If you are fortunate to be in this position, don’t be afraid to raise with basically any two cards if there is no push back from your opponents.

But then, (top pro player) Jason Koon came to the table. He was seated two to my left and had more chips than I did. He was not afraid to battle so I had to slow down and couldn’t raise so much anymore. So, if there is someone who is willing to battle in position, you may just need to slow down.

Bernard: Getting deep in the main event means playing many days in a row. Do you have any advice for players if they are fortunate to get this deep?

Koray: Yeah, it is definitely a different experience than the high roller event because you don’t play so many days in a row. So, I would tell people try to get as much rest as possible because you are exhausted playing 10 to 12 hours in a row. It is not so easy to do because it can be very hard to sleep after the adrenaline during the day. But try to get as much rest as possible.

Also, try to eat well to help you stay focused and mentally sharp which is super important, especially as you get closer and closer to the final table.

Bernard: What advice would you give if anyone would be fortunate to make the final table?

Koray: The money jump from tenth place to ninth place was massive ($585,000 to $1 million) compared to the next few spots. Actually, this jump was more than the difference between ninth all the way to sixth place ($1 million to $1.4 million). So, on the final table bubble (10 players left), with such a big stack, I could literally open any two cards as everyone so badly wanted to make the final table.

But, once you got down to nine players, even the short stacks were never going to fold a good hand early in the final table because the money jumps were relatively smaller. So, you kind of have to play normal. But remember, it still is the main event final table, and no one wants to look foolish. I could open a little wider than normal, but nowhere near as much as I did on the money bubble.

Bernard: Thanks so much for sharing your insight on playing the main event!

The 2022 main event, of course, is starting soon, and many of you dream of playing in the most anticipated tournament of the year. If you choose to try and win your way into the main event via satellite, you might want to check out my latest book, Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-Ins Into Shots At Winning Millions. It’s available now on Amazon or D&B Poker Publishing.

I hope you enjoyed this series of interviews with 2021 WSOP bracelet winners. Along the way I spoke to players such as Ari Engel, Brian Yoon, Scott Ball, Josh Arieh, Anthony Zinno, Adam Friedman, and Jeremy Ausmus. In future issues, I will be talking to winners from the 2022 series. Good luck to everyone playing, perhaps I’ll get to interview you! ♠

Bernard Lee broke into the poker world after a deep run in the 2005 WSOP main event. He has two WSOP Circuit rings, and is an author, having written for Card Player, the Boston Herald, Metrowest Daily News, and ESPN, where he was a host of the show The Inside Deal. His radio show and podcast, The Bernard Lee Poker Show, recently celebrated its 14th anniversary, and his latest book, Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-Ins Into Shots At Winning Millions, is now available on Amazon as well as D&B Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @BernardLeePoker or visit his website at BernardLeePoker.com or YouTube channel at Youtube.com/BernardLeePoker.