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Inaugural WSOP Paradise Series Kicks Off In The Bahamas

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jan 10, 2024


The first-ever World Series of Poker Paradise is ongoing at the Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas (Dec. 3-15). The new winter WSOP festival was just shy of halfway through its 15-event schedule at the time this issue went to press, and there has already been nearly $38.6 million in total prize money awarded.

The first seven events have attracted over 10,740 total entities, with three of those tournaments drawing multiple thousands. While Poker Hall of Famer Erik Seidel stole headlines with his 10th bracelet win (read more on pg. 18), here we will take a closer look at the other stories from the first half of the inaugural WSOP Paradise.

The series first kicked off on Sunday, Dec. 3 with the $5 million guaranteed WSOP Paradise $1,500 no-limit hold’em Mystery Millions event. It ultimately attracted 3,446 entries by the time registration closed, surpassing the sizable guarantee by $169,000.

After five starting flights and two more full days of combined-field action, it was Korea’s Jin Hoon Lee who ultimately walked away with the bracelet and the lion’s share of the prize money. Lee earned $420,000, plus bounties, and his first WSOP gold bracelet.

While Lee secured the largest share of the main prize pool, there was one larger payout awarded in this event. Jeremy Lavi Dan opened the mystery bounty that contained the $500,000 top payout. The American pro used his ‘one time’ before opening the envelope, and then proceeded to run around the room in celebration after seeing what was inside. He also earned $9,600 plus bounties for finishing 47th overall.

Several big names fell on the way down to the final table, including 17-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth (30th), bracelet winner Mikita Badziakouski (18th), bracelet winner Sam Greenwood (17th), two-time bracelet winner David Peters (14th), and recent World Poker Tour Rock ‘n’ Roll Poker Open main event runner-up Rayan Chamas (12th).

Maria Ho scored several key knockouts at the final table, including busting three-time bracelet winner Davidi Kitai (8th – $64,000) and bracelet winner Kartik Ved (7th – $80,000). While it looked at one point like she might run away with the title to secure her first bracelet, Ho eventually lost a few big all-ins during short-handed action to slide down the chip counts. She eventually finished third, earning $200,000 to increase her lifetime earnings to nearly $4.5 million.

Lee entered heads-up play with the lead and extended it thanks to a preflop cooler that saw his pocket kings best the pocket nines of Max Pinnola. That hand saw Lee take more than a 3:1 lead, which he was soon able to convert into the title. Pinnola earned a career-best payday of $257,100 as the runner-up.

The second event also featured a $5 million guarantee. The hybrid live and online $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em Millionaire Maker event had drawn 3,496 entries, surpassing the guarantee by $233,000.

This event actually ended up finishing before the first tournament on the schedule, making its champion officially the first player to earn a WSOP Paradise bracelet. That distinction will always belong to Brazil’s Allan Mello, who closed out the win for the hardware and $1,000,000.

This was by far the largest score of his tournament career. Prior to this win, his top payday was a 10th-place finish in the 2023 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event for $112,600 back in January.

This event began on GGPoker as part of the 2023 WSOP Online festival. The final 100 players from the sea of thousands that turned out all made the trip to the Bahamas to face off in person for the seven-figure top prize and the bracelet.

Samuel Mullur’s largest live tournament cash prior to making the trip to Atlantis was a $20,000 payday for a 45th-place showing at the 2022 Mediterranean Poker Party. The Austrian blew that score out of the water when he topped a field of 533 entries in the $25,000 buy-in WSOP Paradise GGMillion$ High Rollers Championship. Mullur was awarded $2,726,300 and his first bracelet for the win.

This event ran from Dec. 5-8. The huge turnout saw the ambitious $10 million guarantee easily surpassed, with $13,325,000 ultimately paid out among the top 80 finishers. As one would expect, plenty of the biggest names in the game made deep runs in this tournament, including six-time bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu (26th), two-time bracelet winner Aleksejs Ponakovs (23rd), bracelet winner Jason Koon (22nd), nine-time bracelet winner Erik Seidel (19th), two-time bracelet winner Daniel Dvoress (18th), and bracelet winner Artur Martirosian (11th).

The most accomplished live players at the final table both fell before the final three was set, with Adrian Mateos placing seventh ($349,400) while 2020 WSOP main event champion Damian Salas finished fourth ($856,800).

Mateos has now made 17 final tables this year. The Spanish superstar won two titles along the way, accumulating nearly $8.7 million in POY earnings. His 5,918 POY points were good for 11th on the overall leaderboard heading into the final weeks of the year.

Smiljkovic cashed for $1,192,300 as the third-place finisher. This was the second-largest payday of his career behind the $1,450,000 he took home for another third-place in a high roller earlier this year at a Triton Poker festival in Vietnam. The bracelet winner from Germany now has nearly $5.2 million in recorded cashes.

Heads-up play began with Mullur holding a nearly 2:1 advantage over American bracelet winner Frank Brannan. The final two battled for more than three hours, with plenty of swings along the way. Brannan was out in front when the penultimate all-in confrontation of the tournament took place.

The chips went in on the turn with the board showing 10Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 2Diamond Suit JClub Suit. Brannan, who had check-raised the flop with JSpade Suit 4Spade Suit, had improved from air to top pair, but was still trailing the pocket kings of Mullur. The 7Spade Suit completed the board, giving Muller the double up and a huge lead, which he quickly converted into the title.

Brannan earned $1,684,500 as the runner-up finisher, which was far and away his biggest live tournament score yet. He now has more than $2.2 million in recorded earnings.

Nikolaos Lampropoulos was the last player standing in the $25,000 pot-limit Omaha high roller event. The Greek player bested a field of 140 entries to earn his first bracelet and $871,600. This score more than doubled Lampropoulos’ career tournament earnings.

The event played out over two days, with only 21 set to make the money. The strong turnout for this event resulted in a $3,500,000 prize pool. Among those who earned a share but fell short of the final table were two-time POY award winner Stephen Chidwick (20th), Sean Winter (19th), three-time bracelet winner Chad Eveslage (15th), Ren Lin (12th), Biao Ding (11th), and Matt Glantz (10th).

Second-ranked 2023 POY contender Isaac Haxton fell in ninth place ($83,100) when he ran into the pocket aces of four-time bracelet winner Nick Schulman.

Lampropoulos scored the next knockout, rivering two pair to eliminate four-time bracelet winner Yuri Dzivielevski (8th – $104,700). World Poker Tour champion Matthew Wantman soon followed in seventh place ($133,500).

A three-way all-in spelled the end of two-time bracelet winner Michael Moncek’s run. His single-suited rundown was up against the single-suited pocket kings of Dan Shak and the single-suited aces of Lampropoulos. Shak spiked a king on the river to win the pot, knocking out Moncek in sixth place ($172,300).

Schulman was not able to crack the pocket aces of 2023 WSOP Mystery Millions champion Tyler Brown with his A-Q-8-7 double suited and was knocked out in fifth place ($225,000). He earned 420 POY points to climb to 34th place in the standings. He has made 16 final tables this year, with three titles won along the way.

Heads-up play began with Lampropoulos holding nearly a 3:1 lead over Shak. The chips went in on a 9Diamond Suit 6Heart Suit 4Club Suit 2Club Suit board with Shak holding ADiamond Suit 9Spade Suit 6Spade Suit 5Club Suit for top two pair with a gutshot straight draw. Lampropoulos held QHeart Suit QSpade Suit 9Club Suit 6Club Suit for the same two pair with a flush draw and an overpair on the side. The 7Club Suit completed the board, giving Lampropoulos a flush to earn the pot and the title. Shak took home $537,900 as the runner-up, growing his career earnings to more than $14.2 million.

Martin Raus earned $334,380 and his first gold bracelet as the winner of the $1,000 buy-in Mini Main Event at this series. He outlasted a field of 2,234 runners to earn $334,380.

This was just the second recorded tournament win for the Canadian, who now has nearly $1.4 million in lifetime earnings across 69 in-the-money finishes.

Previous bracelet winners that made a deep run in the event included Renji Mao (32nd), Yuequi Zhu (49th), Anthony Zinno (67th), Will Jaffe (74th), Chris Brewer (85th), and Weiran Pu (93rd). 2014 Aussie Millions main event champion and bracelet winner Ami Barer finished sixth, while Modern Poker Theory author Michael Acevedo placed third.

Boris Kolev became just the second multi-time bracelet winner from his home country of Bulgaria, taking down the $3,000 six-max no-limit hold’em event for his second piece of hardware. The victory saw Kolev pocket $424,550 from the prize pool while entering into a tie with fellow two-time bracelet winner Yuliyan Nikolaev Kolev for the most WSOP wins by a Bulgarian player.

Kolev now has more than $3.4 million in career tournament earnings after taking down this event, placing him seventh on Bulgaria’s all-time money list.

This event drew a field of 755 entries, more than doubling the $1 million guarantee to create a final prize pool of $2,265,000. The top 114 finishers cashed, with six-figure paydays for the top four.

Notable players that fell on the way to the final table included two-time bracelet winner Erick Lindgren (22nd), two-time bracelet winner Yuval Bronshtein (14th), three-time bracelet winner Georgios Sotiropoulos (12th), bracelet winner Rafael Reis (11th), bracelet winner David Miscikowsi (10th), bracelet winner Alex Keating (9th), and recent Mystery Millions champion Jin Hoon Lee (7th).

There are still eight events left to finish at the 2023 WSOP Paradise, including the $15 million guaranteed $5,000 main event. Check back in the next issue of Card Player for all the results. ♠

*Photos by WSOP