Daniel Smiljkovic Wins PGT Championship: Isaac Haxton Named Player of the Year
Last Updated: January 12, 2024
It was a big week for the elite group of high stakes poker players who regularly play PokerGO Tour events, as another season of the prestigious Tour reached its climax with a $1,000,000 PGT Championship event, a freeroll tournament designed to reward the best and most loyal participants.
The 2023 PGT Championship saw a total of 54 players come down to the PokerGO Studio at the Aria, with a mix of top PGT performers and Dream Seat winners who won their seats via one of the Dream Seat routes introduced by the Tour.
In the end, it was German high roller Daniel Smiljkovic who came out on top and won $500,000 in cash, defeating a final table that included the likes of Darren Elias, Artur Martirosyan, and 2023 WSOP Main Event champion Daniel Weinman.
Ultimately, the event came down to a heads up battle between Smiljkovic and acclaimed actress Arden Cho, who was one of the Dream Seat winners and who showed incredible resilience to reach the heads up as the only female player in the field and one of the least experienced players out there.
Cho won a consolation prize of $200,000 after being unable to get the best of Smiljkovic despite holding the chip lead and having multiple opportunities to bring the German pro down and walk away as the overall champion.
Smiljkovic and Cho Dominate Final Table
Action in the PGT Championship was stopped when the event came down to six players, who would return the next day to play for the trophy and half a million dollars in cash.
All players at the final table were guaranteed a payout, but the structure was quite top-heavy, with half of the $1,000,000 prize pool reserved for the champion.
This gave everyone in the field a lot of reason to play aggressive and try to build up a stack, but the two chip leaders at the start of the day managed to ride their chip leads all the way to the end.
As expected, the final table was stacked with big names, even though the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Brewer, and Stephen Chidwick were all eliminated during Day 1 action.
A number of highly recognizable players made the top six but did not last very long, as Darren Elias, Artur Martirosyan, and Daniel Weinman all made their exits relatively fast, with Smiljkovic and Cho continuing to build on their chip leads.
After the reigning WSOP Main Event champion was eliminated, Leon Sturm was the last player who remained to battle the two chip leaders, while Cho managed to win as many as 70% of the chips in play at one point.
Eventually, it was Smiljkovic who took out Sturm when his J♥9♥ stood up against the 10♦2♠ of Sturm, who had gone all-in for his last remaining chips.
As the heads up match started, Arden Cho had a chance to put the match to rest and become the PGT champion as she was on the winning end of a trips-versus-trips situation.
However, despite holding the best hand, she decided to just call the river bet instead of shoving all-in and possibly cost herself a lot of money, as it was likely she would have gotten it all given the situation.
Instead, the match went on, and the German pro managed to regain his footing when he flopped trip Fives with 8♣5♠ on a 5♦7♥5♥ board against Cho’s 6♥4♠.
Cho decided to turn her hand into a bluff on the turn and moved all-in over the top of Smiljkovic’s bet. The river bricked out and Smiljkovic was able to move into chip lead for the first time during the heads up match.
The match came down to a hand that Cho overplaying a single pair on a 9♣8♠J♣5♠ board. The actress moved all-in over the top of a 500k bet of Smiljkovic on the turn and ended up running into the nuts, as the pro held Q♣10♣.
The hand left Arden with just a couple of big blinds and it did not take very long for Smiljkovic to win those too and come out on top, earning himself the PGT Championship trophy and $500,000 in cash.
Here is a full look at all the final table results at this year’s PGT Championship event:
Dream Seat Winner Causes Controversy
PokerGo Tour events typically tend to be a very classy affair, as the players attending these are some of the very best and most reputable in the game.
It was for that reason that everyone in the field and thousands of viewers watching the event were somewhat shocked by the behavior of one PGT Championship entrant whose shenanigans stood out in the worst way possible.
Dream Seat winner Jeff Lennon went into the event either drunk or otherwise intoxicated and acted in a rude and brazen way towards other players in the event throughout.
Lennon made inadequate remarks towards Cho, the only female contestant in the field, which caused a ton of backlash and instantly turned the Dream Seat winner into a villain in the eyes of most fans.
Poker pro Alex Foxen took to his Twitter account and posted about the incident, calling out the PGT for introducing the Dream Seat in the first place and bringing players who did not deserve a seat in the Championship event into the fold.
Foxen’s remarks were supported by many of the world’s top players, including quite a few PGT regulars and other industry insiders, all of whom agree that behavior like Lennon’s has no place at the highest level poker tournaments.
Isaac Haxton Snatches the PGT Player of the Year Title
It was quite a year for Isaac Hexton in 2023, as he managed to win more than $16 million in poker tournaments overall, $7.2 million of which came from PokerGO Tour events alone.
Haxton’s 2023 started off with a win at the $50k PokerGO Cup Event #8, good for $598k, followed by another trophy in the $25k US Poker Open Event #8 worth $432k.
Over the summer, Haxton added a WSOP bracelet to his trophy case in the $25k NLH High Roller, a win worth $1.7 million, before being crowned the Super High Roller Bowl champion in September, a dominant performance worth $2.7 million.
A number of other PGT cashes along the way and an 8th place finish in the Championship event, were all a part of Ike’s amazing run on the Tour in 2023, which saw him win the overall Leaderboard by just under 400 points.
The likes of Chris Brewer and Stephen Chidwick, who have had an amazing year in their own right, came close to the title, but were unable to overcome Haxton, whose performances put him at the very top of the most elite tournament poker tour in the world.
Haxton was awarded an extra $50,000 in cash for his victory, along with the PGT Player of the Year Golden Plate, a unique piece of poker memorabilia representing an achievement that few poker players out there can boast.