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Stoyan Madanzhiev Discusses Winning WSOP Online Bracelet And $3.9 Million

Bulgarian Poker Pro Discusses His Start In The Game, Being Mailed A Bracelet, And More


It was the middle of the night on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. Stoyan Madanzhiev stared intently at a computer screen in a rented apartment, knowing that each and every click of his mouse could be the difference between poker glory and falling just short, with millions of dollars on the line.

The 29-year-old poker pro from Haskovo, Bulgaria was at the final table of the first-ever World Series of Poker Online $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event. The field of 5,802 had been narrowed to two, leaving the lion’s share of the record-breaking $27,559,500 prize pool up for grabs. Madanzhiev was heads-up against Chinese tournament regular Wenling Gao for the championship bracelet and a top prize of more than $3.9 million.

This would be a huge moment for even the most seasoned poker player, of course, but Madanzhiev’s largest previous recorded tournament cash in the live arena had been for just $10,800. Now he was playing heads-up for the WSOP championship bracelet and a pay difference of more than $1.1 million between second and first place.

Gao had knocked out Tyler Rueger in third place to enter heads-up play essentially even in chips. Less than half an hour later, Madanzhiev had taken the lead and extended it to more than a 2:1 chip advantage.

He was dealt 7Diamond Suit6Heart Suit in the big blind and called a button min-raise from Gao. The flop brought the 5Club Suit4Heart Suit3Spade Suit to give him the nut straight. Madanzhiev bet 1,700,000 as the first to act, only to have Gao raise to 3,944,000. He called and the 8Heart Suit appeared on the turn. Madanzhiev checked with the nuts and Gao fired 5,644,000 into a pot of just less than 11.3 million. Madanzhiev check-raised to 15,040,000, and Gao moved all-in for slightly less than 81 million.

Stoyan Madanzhiev after receiving his WSOP Online championship braceletMadanzhiev made the quick call, and Gao revealed pocket aces, drawing completely dead. The inconsequential 8Heart Suit on the river made it official, Madanzhiev had won the 2020 WSOP Online main event for $3,904,686 and his first gold bracelet.

Card Player recently spoke to Madanzhiev about his title run in the biggest tournament of the year, how he found poker, receiving a bracelet in the mail, and more.

Card Player: Can you tell me what you were thinking when the hole cards were turned over in the final hand and you saw that your opponent was drawing dead, that you had officially won the WSOP Online main event?

Stoyan Madanzhiev: When she went all in, I realized how huge this pot was considering the money and the win on the line. Obviously, it was a great situation for me holding the nuts. But I was a little nervous about what she would show up with, like a set or some sort of draw. And considering how enormous the pot was, I was unconsciously preparing my body and mind for the sweat.

She turned up the pocket aces and for two seconds, I had to [figure out] if she had some outs or not. Once I realized I was winning 100 percent, my body was full of emotions and adrenaline. I couldn’t stay in one place. It was early in the morning and all the neighbors were sleeping, but I still jumped and screamed for a few minutes. And at some point, I pulled out my phone, and [recorded an] Instagram story which minutes later was all around the world.

CP: Had you ever played in any live WSOP events before this online series? Was winning a bracelet on your poker bucket list?

SM: One of the first poker shows I watched was the WSOP. I remember one of my favorite things was to come home from school, lay in bed, and watch the WSOP. At that time, I was not so experienced. I considered the guys playing to be very talented and serious people. I was trying to understand their plays and was comparing my logic with theirs. Back then, a dream for me was just to participate and compete in an event like this. I avoided dreaming and thinking of winning a bracelet because I don’t like to dream of things that do not depend entirely on me, but deep inside there was a desire for a big score and significant win.

For some reason, I haven’t been to Las Vegas yet. Most of my poker friends have been. I’ve always been a little more careful with my bankroll. You need to get a visa a few months [ahead of time], so you kind of have to plan it, to optimize your expenses. Also, summer in Bulgaria is great, so I always put off the WSOP. I was sure I would play it at some point.

CP: How many bullets did you fire in this event? Did you buy-in directly, or did you satellite in?

SM: First, I busted a $500 buy-in satellite five places before the bubble with 50 entries to be awarded. I shoved A-J suited 10 big blinds from the hijack against bigger stacks who had guaranteed entries, but the cutoff had a smaller stack and he snap-called me with pocket kings. I was playing for the dream to play the main event there, not for the $5,000 value. When I busted it was so painful that I had to go out and take in some fresh air and deal with the frustration.

Madanzhiev plays online pokerOne week later the starting flights began. I was observing it in the lobby and knew I needed to be in this tournament and that my skills were more than sufficient.

I decided I would take a little gamble. It wouldn’t really change my financial situation if I burn $5,000. Then I thought to myself that playing with two bullets gave me a way better chance of cashing. So, I decided to invest two bullets in the main and sell a little action. And it turned out to be a good decision. I busted my first bullet in the first three hours. A few hours later I re-entered into the evening flight, and I won the tournament.

CP: How did that second bullet experience go? Did you get off to a quick start, or just survive and slowly build?

SM: A little bit after busting the first entry, I saw there was an evening flight and decided that it was best to play on a Saturday. I refreshed my mind for a few hours and jumped into it with the second bullet. I built a big stack early, and the chips kept growing until the end. I finished the flight second in chips.

CP: You then went on to play day 2 and continued to cruise. You ended up in third place out of 38 left and had to sweat for several days before the tournament wrapped up. What was it like waiting to play, knowing you were in such a great position with so much on the line?

SM: It was challenging. It was already a big cash, as 38th place would get around $40,000-$50,000. I rented an apartment alone the next day to isolate myself from people, because people were inviting me for dinner or walks. But all I wanted was to study poker. I was literally just eating, sleeping, and studying for a week. I played a few more events, but I didn’t waste any time at all. On the final day, I made sure my workspace was perfectly organized. I bought all the food I would need for my best performance. I did a yoga session before the game, and I tried to stay away from [day] dreaming too much throughout the week. I tried to keep myself calm, and it wasn’t easy at all.

CP: Can you tell me about your experience of playing the final table?

SM: On GG poker (the online poker site that hosted the international leg of the WSOP Online), the final table starts with everyone choosing their seat starting from the lowest stack, and the chip leader chooses last. I didn’t know this and wasn’t prepared. I picked a seat that seemed fine, but then the chip leader, Tyler Rueger, picked the seat directly on my left. Of course, this would block my aggression from the late positions significantly. But fortunately for me, he lost a medium-sized pot, and I was in the chip-leading position after that.

Madanzhiev at his bracelet partyI managed to win a lot of pots and kept my stack up. Pay jumps were huge, but I stayed calm and focused on the game until the last hand. The preparation before the final day was helpful, and I could feel the benefits of it the most at the final table. There were a lot of situations that I had explored and prepared for beforehand that I saw at the final table.

CP: Heads-up started with the stacks very close to even, but you were able to take control and build a lead. What are your thoughts about how heads-up against Gao went?

SM: I have played many, many hands of heads-up in my career, and I could feel Gao was not so experienced in this form. She made some moves and tried to put me in some difficult situations. Luckily, I made the right decisions in most of the medium pots, and I tried to stay away from big and marginal pots. I expected this strategy to lead to a very long heads up with us being so deep, as we had more than 150 effective big blinds.

I thought if we played 30-40 big blinds deep, later on, I would be able to win a lot of pots without showdown and that would put me in a very good position. Of course, she could have adjusted her strategy then. She seemed to try to change her style and confuse me. The last hand obviously went the best way it could flopping the nuts on 5-4-3 rainbow board. We both took the aggressive lines in the hand and the size of the pot escalated fast. I was lucky that there wasn’t a cooler situation like two pair against a set, or a set against a straight, that went against me.

CP: What is your background in poker? How’d you first learn about the game, and what got you interested in playing?

SM: I learned the rules in school. At the time, card games were popular among kids at this age. I always liked games when I was younger. I played different computer games, chess, and sports, but I had the impression that cards were just luck, so I stayed away from it. One day someone organized a poker tournament in my town, and I saw a bunch of boys playing no-limit hold’em. They were totally focused and thinking throughout the hands. I realized this game is special, so I went back home and learned the rules.

I saw that I could play freerolls online without having to deposit. This immediately became my new passion. I started thinking about poker day and night. Over time I built my bankroll, which I never lost, from freerolls.

CP: How did you decide to become a professional poker player?

SM: I was passionate about the game. I was dreaming a lot about competing at the high stakes. When I started playing more heads-up cash games, I started earning a very good amount of money for my country. I decided I would focus all my time on the game and approach it in a professional way. I was always interested in multi-table tournaments and was regularly taking shots in that format as well.

CP: How has this massive win changed your life?

SM: My personal life hasn’t changed much so far in the first month. I am staying in the same places and cities, meeting the same people. I spent some days with my parents to share this moment with them. Of course, many people want my attention now. I try to [be mindful of] that and to make my choices carefully. But I feel fulfilled. This is the best thing that has happened in my life so far.

CP: You received the bracelet in the mail, weeks after you had won the event. What was the anticipation like, waiting for this coveted trophy to arrive? How did you celebrate when it finally came?

SM: I felt like a child waiting for Christmas. It took about a month for the bracelet to reach me, and I had planned a big celebration for the occasion. I invited close friends to share my joy. I didn’t allow myself to look at the bracelet before the planned time. You can see a video on my Instagram profile @stoyanpoker when I first saw the bracelet. It was a magical moment and a great joy. There were fireworks, champagne, and many people there who were happy for me.

CP: What are your professional goals as a poker player moving forward?

SM: It’s kind of hard to set goals after winning the main event. I still enjoy playing and I hope I will continue to have good performances in some more tournaments, live or online. I will look for some cash games too. Meanwhile, I still grind some jackpot spin-and-go’s to stay sharp, as it’s the game I practiced the most in the last few years. I am also trying to think more outside of poker as I have some financial freedom now but haven’t made any moves yet. Follow me if you are interested in my upcoming steps.Spade Suit