Everything Clicked For Maksim Shornikau's First Tournament Win in Merit Poker Western Series $5,300 High Roller
After 13 hours of play, the curtain has closed on the 2024 Merit Poker Western Series $5,300 Main Event here at the Crystal Cove Hotel and Casino. It took 13 hours for a winner to be crowned from 30 hopefuls who made it to the third and final day. Maksim Shornikau of Belarus emerged victorious after the dust had settled, outlasting a field of 153 entrants and last defeating China's Shuang Luo to capture the title and top prize of $177,500.
Shornikau started the day third in chips and was seemingly in cruise control for most of the day, coming into the final table with the chip lead and claiming three final table knockouts en route to victory. Before today's win, Shornikau had just over $250,000 in live tournament earnings to his name with a previous best score coming from a 15th-place finish in the 2022 EPT Prague main event for 52,050 ($54,835). Today's score not only triples his previous best but, perhaps surprisingly, is also Shornikau's first time outright winning a poker tournament.
$5,300 High Roller Final Table Results
"Everything is good" Shornikau said when asked how he felt about his first tournament win. "I've had a lot of situations in previous tournaments where it just didn't click for me at the final table but this time everything clicked and I am very happy about it".
Shornikau is good friends with Mikalai Vaskaboinikau, a notable cruher with over $3,000,000 in career tournament earnings who also happens to be from Belarus. Shornikau acknowledged the value of learning the game with Vaskaboinikau years ago, but also mentioned his experience in online events that helped him prepare for today's final table.
"Mikalai and I are friends since we were twenty years old. We started playing together, we learned together. I also play a lot online which really helped bring my game to a higher level".
When asked about his experience playing in Merit Poker Events and what keeps bringing him back, Shornikau touted the player experience that Merit Poker provides.
"I like it here very much. The conditions that they've made for the players, both tournament and cash players, I cannot find that anywhere else. That's why I keep coming back".
Action of the Day
The $5,300 High Roller smashed it's $300,000 guarantee, attracting a total field of 153 entrants to generate a prize pool of $703,800. Of those 153 entrants, 30 players managed to advance to Day 3. With only 20 spots paid the action was slow to start, with many middling stacks attempting to outlast the money bubble. Aleksandr Kirichenko began the day as the chip leader but dropped down the counts after paying off Justus Held, who started the day second in chips and took the lead in the first level of the day. Luo, who began the day sixth in chips, also had a good start after picking off a bluff from Aleksandar Tot in another early highlight.
Bulgaria's Fahredin Mustafov became the unfortunate soul to burst the money bubble after moving all in from the small blind only to run into a dominating hand. From this point the action became fast and furious and Shornikau began to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, scoring three of the first four knockouts after the money bubble had burst to put himself neck and neck with Held for the chip lead.
Other notables who made the money but fell short of the final table include ACR team pro Monika Zukowicz, Milos Skrbic and Held, who was eliminated one spot shy of the final table after getting pipped by Tot.
Tunisia's Maher Achour came into the final table with the shortest stack at just three big blinds and was the first to be eliminated at the hands of Anatoly Nikitin. Achour was quickly followed out the door by Guoliang Wei who found himself on the wrong side of a blind on blind confrontation against Kirichenko.
Estonia's Tarmo Tammel began the day as the shortest stack with just under nine big blinds but did a great job laddering up, even finding himself among the chip leaders at one point during the final two tables. His run came to an end in seventh-place after losing a flip to Kirichenko that cost him most of his stack. Kirichenko would finish Tammel off shortly afterwards. Bogdan Munteanu and Nikitin were next to fall in sixth and fifth place respectively.
Start of day chip leader Kirichenko did a great job battling back after an early setback against Held and came very close to avenging his runner up finish at the last $5,300 Merit Poker High Roller event from the Gangster Series this past October. He would ultimately fall in fourth-place to Shornikau, who held two thirds of the chips in play going into the final three. Although Shornikau's victory seemed like a foregone conclusion from this point, Luo doubled through Shornikau twice in quick succession to leave him short-stacked for the first time since the day began.
With victory seemingly slipping through his fingers, Shornikau hit an incredible run of cards to come back from the brink of elimination. Luo was a 91% favorite to eliminate him after the flop in a blind on blind confrontation but Shornikau hit running cards to make a straight and stave off elimination. He would win a flip against Tot immediately after to leave Tot on fumes. Luo would finish Tot off shortly after and heads-up play would begin.
Luo began heads-up play with nearly a 2:1 chip advantage and almost won the tournament outright after moving in with pocket-sevens and getting called by ace-deuce in one of the first hands of heads-up play. Shornikau would spike the ace to reclaim the lead from Luo.
In the final hand of the night, Luo did an excellent job setting a trap after flopping two pair and checking both the flop and turn out of position. Shornikau had turned top pair and moved all in only to be snap-called by Luo, who was an 80% favorite to secure the double up which would have made the two players nearly even in chips. As fate would have it, Shornikau would make a better two pair on the river to win the final pot of the night, the title and top prize of $177,500.
That concludes our coverage for this event but be sure to stay tuned to PokerNews as we bring you all the action from the 2024 Merit Poker Western Series $3,300 Main Event which is already underway and set to play down to a winner on January 25.