Champion: Sam Grafton!
The inaugural Coin Rivet Invitational tournament reached a thrilling finale in Northern Cyprus tonight, with the final stages of this unique $200,000 buy-in event providing a perfect crystallisation of what’s so appealing about the Triton Super High Roller Series.
This prestigious tour brings together the world’s elite tournament pros and pits them against high-rolling recreational players, who may not have the same level of skill, but who have fearlessness born from bottomless pockets. For the first half of a high-octane final table, with a $5.5 million first prize in everyone’s sights, the pros were powerless to stop the charge of the hyper-aggressive French financial trader Karl Chappe-Gatien. He said he likes to play poker like he does his trading: high on risk and full of gamble.
But after Chappe-Gatien’s incredible steamroller eventually veered off the road, two top poker pros were lying in wait to pick up the pieces. Switzerland’s poker royalty Linus Loeliger and the British scrapper Sam Grafton ended up heads up for the title, with the momentum finally favouring Grafton. He completed his sensational rise through the poker ranks in emphatic fashion.
Grafton KO-ed Loeliger at around 10.30pm local time, earning the biggest win of his tournament poker career. Grafton first appeared on the poker scene playing tournaments with buy-ins of around $5. But tonight he walked away with a winner’s cheque of $5.5 million. It was a brilliant triumph for the 42-year-old, whose star continues to rise.
Heads up between Sam Grafton and Linus Loeliger
“It was so much fun,” Grafton said. “Playing against some of the most remarkable entrepreneurs and businesspeople in the world…It was played with a special spirit. On the day the two lanes merged, players were smiling like it was Christmas or their birthday. Everyone had a skip in their steps.
“Tournament poker is just amazing. Playing this format is very special.”
Grafton also gave special mention to the two players he defeated after a remarkable three-way battle. On Chappe-Gatien, Grafton said: “He played with so much heart and swagger. It was so much fun.” Grafton added about Loeliger, “Obviously Linus is remarkable. To beat him heads-up, he’s probably the best in the world in the heads up format.”
Karl Chappe-Gatien rides the big stack
Loeliger, long established as one of the world’s greatest players, particularly in high stakes online cash games, took $3.9 million for second. Both the final two earned more from their single win in this tournament than they had in documented tournament cashes in their careers to date.
It took some doing to finally get past Loeliger, who twice hit river cards to survive heads-up, forcing Grafton to regroup and play harder. But after three days, he wasn’t going to let this chance slip through his fingers.
The 90 players who played the Coin Rivet Invitational were divided into two camps at the beginning of play. One one side were the recreational players, typically businesspeople with various finance, crypto or real estate connections. They were each permitted to extend one invitation to a pro to compete in the other half of the field. The two sides merged on Day 2 and stayed as one until the end.
Grafton’s partner, his friend and Coin Rivet co-founder Dave Nicholson, also made the money in the event, busting in 16th. Grafton approached Nicholson at the conclusion of the tournament and said, “Thanks for the invite, bruv. I wouldn’t have come if it hadn’t been for you. I didn’t have my name on the list.”
He then looked to another friend and said, “How have I done this?”
“It was destined,” the onlooker replied.
Sam Grafton is embraced by his rail
Ninety players began the event all the way back on Saturday, each parting with that $200,000. Over the course of the registration period, there were 25 re-entries, putting $23 million in the prize pool. The first elimination went in Loeliger’s favour, when he eliminated Phil Ivey in Level 1, and never looked back.
The tournament only really got serious on Sunday, day two, and for long periods yesterday, as the tournament moved slowly towards the money, Fedor Holz was making hay. He had a big stack and had all the skills to make the most of it, continually applying pressure to everyone at his table and asking them whether they wanted to risk busting, or simply give him their chips without a fight. He became a hugely dominant chip leader as a result.
However, after play resumed on Day 3 with 16 players left, Holz found resistance, chiefly in the form of the Dubai-based French trader Karl Chappe-Gatien. In one pivotal pot, Chappe-Gatien found kings when Holz had ace-king, and it all went in pre-flop. There was no ace and Chappe-Gatien scored an enormous double, slicing Holz’s stack to ribbons.
By that point, they were already in the money, of course. Chris Brewer became the bubble boy late on Sunday, losing most of his stack when he doubled up Ebony Kenney (kings staying good against ace-jack). It was an emotional moment. Brewer had made a slight blunder in failing to notice an opening raise before Kenney’s shove, and made a call that perhaps he otherwise wouldn’t, going on to compound his error by accidentally exposing his hand. He lost the pot and wept, crestfallen, into his baseball cap. “I’m out, I’m out,” he said, as if trying to come to terms with it.
Emotion on the bubble from Chris Brewer
Brewer actually survived that hand as he had the covering stack by one big blind, and he then managed a couple of doubles. He was still the short stack though and ended up being sent to the rail by Chappe-Gatien, finishing on the stone bubble.
The American author, trainer and entrepreneur Eric Worre also bust late on Sunday, but at least he was in the money. It left 16 coming back for the third and final day.
The recreational side of the draw was well represented on the last two tables. Eight of the final 16 were not professional players, exactly half the field, despite the supposed disparity in talent. However, the push to the final was particularly cruel on those so-called amateurs, with Dave Nicholson, Leon Tsoukernik, Horace Wei, Theis Vad Hennebjerre, Vadzim Godzdanker and Tony G all departing before the final.
Tony G busts to take them down to nine
The only pro to be knocked out was the American great and part-time Poseidon Daniel Cates, whose time in the jungle was ended by Seth Davies. It was a cutoff shove from Cates with , picked off by Davies’ .
Tony G’s bustout took us to the final, with Chappe-Gatien an comfortable leader. The stacks heading to the final were as follows:
Karl Chappe-Gatien – 9.5 million
Linus Loeliger – 7.175 million
Seth Davies – 4.825 million
Ebony Kenny – 3.425 million
Sam Grafton – 2.575 million
Tom Vogelsang – 2.250 million
Fedor Holz – 1.925 million
Elias Talvitie – 1.775 million
Aleksejs Ponakovs – 1.050 million
Coin Rivet Invitational final table players (clockwise from top left): Seth Davies, Ebony Kenney, Aleksejs Ponakov, Linus Loeliger, Elias Talvitie, Tom Vogelsang, Karl Chappe-Gatien, Sam Grafton, Fedor Holz.
Chappe-Gatien already had an advantage, and it quickly widened. The next player to get sucked into his vortex was Tom Vogelsang, who got it in good with against Chappe-Gatien’s , but then looked on impotently as Chappe-Gatien rivered a queen.
Vogelsang earned $620,000 for ninth, but obviously would have been hoping for more.
Tom Vogelsang was first out from the final table
The same most certainly applied to Seth Davies, who came to his third final table of the week in scintillating form, but whose run good had run out at the crucial times. That miserable pattern continued at this final table, as he became Chappe-Gatien’s second victim in short order.
First, Chappe-Gatien’s made a flush in a huge pot to beat Davies. And on the very next hand, they got it all in pre-flop with Chappe-Gatien’s making a straight to oust Davies’ . Davies, silent and stoic as ever, made his way to the payouts desk where $770,000 awaited him. But he must have been burning up inside.
Gritted teeth only for Seth Davies, who suffered another unfortunate elimination
Next up to the chopping block, Elias Talvitie. The Finnish real estate mogul was a proud recreational player, joking that his previous proudest moment in poker was hitting a bad beat jackpot in a Helsinki casino, winning €5,500. He got another bad beat here to end his participation in the Coin Rivet Invitational, but when his pocket sixes lost to Chappe-Gatien’s , all-in pre-flop, there was a $1,050,000 consolation prize waiting for him.
Talvitie did not seem unduly hurt by the turn of events, wishing his table-mates good luck as he departed in seventh.
Elias Talvtie breathes his last
Aleksejs Ponakovs also seemed perfectly at ease with his departure in sixth. The World Series bracelet winner from Latvia had been a tournament short stack from before the bubble period, but had eked into the money and then got to celebrate his 31st birthday at an enormous final table. He had been under threat on numerous occasions, and survived them all. Until he didn’t.
This time, in a break from tradition, it was Holz who applied the killer touch. First up, Holz doubled through Ponakovs with beating . Ponakovs was exposed with a short stack then and Holz then found to beat Ponakovs’ . That ended the tournament for Ponakovs and started the birthday party instead, with $1.375 million behind the bar.
No hard feelings from birthday boy Aleksejs Ponakovs
One of the best subplots to this entire Triton festival, and certainly the one that was attracting the most media attention, was the run of the American pro Ebony Kenney. Kenney was the first woman ever to play as a professional in a major invitational tournament such as this, the guest of Phil Nagy, and had clearly repaid the faith.
She had a film crew for an upcoming documentary following her every move, and excitement was beginning to reach fever pitch that she was going to do the unthinkable and actually win it. Having also been under threat during the bubble period, but survived, the Kenney dream was real. But then Chappe-Gatien intervened.
Both players found pocket pairs — jacks for Kenney and nines for Chappe-Gatien — and the chips all went in. Chappe-Gatien spiked a nine on the turn and faded straight outs, snuffing out Kenney’s hopes. She won $1.7 million, a huge increase on her previous highest career score, which she had secured only a couple of days ago when she was also fifth in the $25K curtain-raising tournament here. It’s an incredible start to a high roller career, and a fairly excellent opening chapter to a movie too.
Ebony Kenney’s thrilling ride comes to its conclusion
Kenney gave every opponent a hug on her departure, and the embrace seemed especially warm for Holz, the player next to whom she had spent a long period yesterday as he had put on his pre-bubble clinic. Holz, however, blessed as he is, turned out to be the next player out of this one, swept away in the Chappe-Gatien tsunami.
As before, Chappe-Gatien came from behind to score the knockout, with his hitting a flush to oust Holz’s . The jack on the flop gave the outdraw a particularly dramatic feel, but the hands played themselves with the stack depth, and certainly Holz didn’t seem to bear any grudges.
Although he missed out on his hat-trick of Triton titles, he added another $2.1 million to his ledger.
Fedor Holz shakes hands with his assassin
It turned out that Chappe-Gatien had hit his peak. Although it had looked for all the world as though his name was on the trophy, the whisky-quaffing Frenchman could get nothing further going his way. The big stack is obviously required to be the one to either double up the short stacks or knock them out, but he now began the process of doing the former, repeatedly, as both Grafton and Loeliger took chunks from his stack.
Loeliger doubled with against Chappe-Gatien’s . Then Grafton won a race with to Chappe-Gatien’s . Chappe-Gatien battled on with a short stack but it hardly suited him after the fireworks of the first couple of hours.
He was eventually forced in with and this time there was no outdrawing Grafton’s . Chappe-Gatien had proudly announced earlier that he didn’t really feel anything when gambling in poker, proudly announcing an absence of emotion. But something truly seemed to crackle as he gave Grafton a goodbye hug. They had become firm friends, and Chappe-Gatien was sorry to say goodbye.
Grafton and Chappe-Gatien bid farewell
The elimination, however, left us with just those two — and a hefty lead with Grafton. It was approximately 70 big blinds to 16, but Loeliger won the first all-in pot, with beating Grafton’s thanks to a king on the river.
The second all-in, call, also went to Loeliger, and this time the river saved him again. Grafton had to Loeliger’s . There was a king on the flop, but Loeliger had a flush draw on the turn and spiked a five on the river to survive.
When they got it in for a third time, Grafton had the advantage once more, but nobody was counting any chickens. Grafton had to Loeliger’s , and there was a flop of . It should have been over, but then the came on the turn and everyone held their breath.
Linus Loeliger refused to die
The river finally allowed everyone to exhale. We were done, and Grafton was the inaugural Coin Rivet champion. He has come a long way.
Event 6: $200,000 NLHE Coin Rivet Invitational
Dates: September 10-12, 2022
Entries: 115 (inc. 25 re-entries)
Prize pool: $23,000,000
1 – Sam Grafton, UK – $5,500,000
2 – Linus Loeliger, Switzerland – $3,900,000
3 – Karl Chappe-Gatien, France – $2,600,000
4 – Fedor Holz, Germany – $2,100,000
5 – Ebony Kenney, USA – $1,700,000
6 – Aleksejs Ponakovs, Latvia – $1,350,000
7 – Elias Talvitie, Finland – $1,050,000
8 – Seth Davies, USA – $770,000
9 – Tom Vogelsang, Netherlands – $620,000
10 – Tony G, Lithuania – $485,000
11 – Vadzim Godzdanker, Belarus – $485,000
12 – Daniel Cates, USA – $440,000
13 – Theis Vad Hennebjerre, Denmark – $440,000
14 – Horace Wei, Hong Kong – $400,000
15 – Leon Tsoukernik, Czech Republic – $400,000
16 – Dave Nicholson, UK – $380,000
17 – Eric Worre, USA – $380,000
Sam Grafton with his partner David Nicholson
Photography by Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive