By Sean Chaffin
It was Ace-King versus Ace-King on Day 4 of the WPT Seminole Rock ‘N’ Roll Poker Open. Milen Stefanov shoved for more than 3 million chips and was called by Francis Anderson. Both players flipped up Big Slick. With versus Anderson’s , Stefanov raking the pot seemed very unlikely.
Just under a two percent chance to be exact.
Milen Stefanov reacts to winning Ace-King versus Ace-King.
But when the board played out , the unlikely became reality and Big Slick paid off in a big way. What seemed a likely chopped pot instead gave the Bulgarian more than seven million chips and would propel him to chip leader when the final table commenced on Wednesday. When the final table got underway, the 25-year-old went on to complete the mission – capping a field of 988 entries for $545,070.
“It feels amazing,” he said after the win. “It’s almost like you’re catching me off guard. The emotions are running rampant, even more than when I was playing. The WPT is something that I’ve loved for a couple years now and to be a WPT champion finally, it just feels amazing. That’s an understatement.”
Along with the cash, Stefanov adds his name to the WPT Champions Cup, earns a $15,000 entry into the season-ending WPT Tournament of Champions, and secures 1,200 points in the Hublot WPT Player of the Year race. Looking back, that river heart with Ace-King had a massive impact on the tournament for Stefanov.
“It’s a hand that probably hasn’t happened to me in at least a couple of years,” he says. “And for this hand to happen in such an important moment was an absolute game-changer. The odds of that are not that high, and when it happened I was just raising my hands and couldn’t believe it.”
The win now moves Stefanov’s live tournament winnings from just over $129,000 in live events to almost $675,000. He plays mostly in Europe and his previous biggest tournament score came in November in Barcelona. He finished fourth in a €1,100 No Limit Hold’em event for $41,044. The Seminole Hard Rock has been part of his travel plans for a while and he’s grateful he made the trip.
Stefanov also becomes the first-ever WPT Champion from Bulgaria.
“I generally wanted to experience the U.S.,” he says. “This was my first time coming here for poker, so this is my first WPT festival in America. I loved pretty much everything including the organization throughout the tournament. I’ll definitely be back – I have to defend the title.”
How does it feel to now have his name among so many great WPT champions? Stefanov recognizes the poker elite that he’s now joining.
“The difference between first and second is this,” he says pointing to the Champions Cup. “I’ll just say, it’s good.”
For his part, runner-up Fabian Gumz takes home $353,380. Gumz faced an uphill climb when the two players got heads up. Stefanov held more than a 5-to-1 chip advantage. Gumz found some early doubles and even took the lead for a brief while, but the new champion was able to eventually finish him off.
At the final table, Stefanov ran well and picked up pocket Aces several times. He’s now listed among on the WPT Champions Cup among some of the greatest players in poker history. He’s already planning on more WPT events over the next few months and is excited to head to Vegas at the end of the season for the WPT Tournament of Champions.
“With this trophy and this win, I think there’s a desire inside of me to compete even more,” he says.
Back in Bulgaria, Stefanov is a full-time player and a regular online. Away from poker, he enjoys fitness and nutrition. Now with a nice six-figure score, what will he do with some of his winnings? No major splurges are planned, but the newest WPT champion believes the win and the cash that goes with it are big beyond just poker.
“I don’t have any plans to be honest,” he says. “Even up to now I haven’t had anything that I couldn’t really afford. I’m probably not going to buy anything bigger than an apartment. But the financial stability gives me even more confidence in real-life situations as well. Even if I don’t buy anything immediately, it’s going to change me hopefully for the good.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
Photography by Joe Giron / PokerPhotoArchive
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