Cyprus Opera-Season Reaches Crescendo as Merit Poker Carmen Series Crowns Champions

  • Three televised final tables played out on the live stream for the Cyprus Merit Poker Series
  • Arie Kliper won $206,800 on his anniversary as his wife watched on from the rail
  • Online crusher Hirs claimed victory among a massive field in the $5,300 Highroller
  • Frenchman Maxime Chilaud reigned supreme in the $3,300 Main Event, claiming $376,800
Merit Poker Series
The Merit Poker Series in Northern Cyprus saw three worthy winners crowned on the event live stream.

A rebellious bird 

“…a rebellious bird that no one can tame, and if you call for it, it’ll be quite in vain for it’s in its nature to say no.”

In The Habanera, Carmen’s most enduring aria, the eponymous character sings about the fickleness of love but she could just as easily have been ruminating on the nature of luck in poker. It was opera-season in North Cyprus for the past fortnight as the dealers and staff of the Merit Crystal Cove poker room donned costumes evocative of Georges Bizet’s opera comique. 

the biggest prize of the festival went to Maxime Chilaud

Three televised final tables played out on the livestream and much like in the fourth act of Carmen, some of the cast fared better than others in the ultimate reckoning. Arie Kliper and Aliaksandr Hirs were the recipients of handsome pay-cheques but the biggest prize of the festival went to Maxime Chilaud who left the Mediterranean island with $376,800. 

I joined baritone Ali Nejad, spinto tenor James Dempsey and impresario Vytautas Milbutas in the booth for eight days of live-streaming, calling the action on the Warm-Up, Highroller, and Main Event as well as two high-stakes cash games. The action came at us thick and fast but not as thick and fast as the references to opera that I unrelentingly peppered into my ‘basso continuo.’ 

Happy Anniversary Arie Kliper 

If you’re going to play live poker on your anniversary, you better win some money. That is exactly what Israeli poker player Arie Kliper did in the $2,200 Warm-Up Event. With his wife on the rail, the popular poker veteran rose to the occasion, putting on a big-stack bully masterclass to take down the title and take home the $206,800 first prize. 

a heroic call in the face of Kliper aggression

There was a lot of talent on show with WPT winner Dmitry Gromov, EAPT winner Eduard Barsegian, and WSOP runner-up Julien Loire all making the final table. In the end, it boiled down to Kliper and the reigning Merit Poker Retro Series Highroller champion Koray Korkmaz. The pair had clashed earlier in the day in what was the most interesting hand of the final table, with Korkmaz producing a heroic call in the face of Kliper aggression:

Korkmaz may have gotten the better of that particular fracas but it was Kliper who emerged victorious from their topsy-turvy heads-up encounter, much to the delight of his family and friends in the Merit Poker livestream chat-box. In his post-victory interview with Ali Nejad, he was quick to acknowledge his exuberant rail: “When you have support, nothing can stop you,” he said. 

$2,200 Warm-Up final table results

1. Arie Kliper $206,800

2. Koray Korkmaz $152,400

3. Cenk Nigbolu $93,300

4. Julien Loire $69,000

5. Eduard Barsegian $51,800

6. Gurcan Gungoren $41,500

7. Mikhail Zamyatin $34,600

8. Boris Angelov $27,600

9. Dmitry Gromov $20,700

Online crusher Hirs wins his first live tournament 

The $5,300 Highroller drew a massive field, with 187 entries battling it out for another guarantee-busting $860,200 prizepool. The final nine were an interesting mix of experience and new blood with the likes of WSOP bracelet winner Simeon Spasov and Irish Poker Open champion Ryan Mandara squaring off against poker newcomer Egor Romaniuk. 

Once again, Eduard Barsegian was in the shake-up, his third consecutive final table in live-streamed featured Merit Poker events. The Russian finished fifth in the Western Series Main Event last January, fifth again in the Carmen Series Warm-Up, and had to once again settle for fifth in the Highroller. 

After an engrossing final table contest, it ultimately boiled down to a heads-up between Belarusian online crusher Aliaksandr Hirs and Bulgarian high-stakes beast Fahredin Mustafov. Five times the bridesmaid at Merit events, the latter desperately wanted to get the monkey off his back but after a ding-dong battle, he would have to once again settle for second place. 

Hirs was concentration personified until the moment of victory

The win was a first on the live felt for Hirs who oozed class throughout the final table as he found the right lines and perfect sizings for every spot. Technically-gifted and in the zone, Hirs was concentration personified until the moment of victory, at which point he let his guard down and allowed himself a smile. He walked away with a hefty $204,700 and the trophy. 

$5,300 High-Roller final table results

1. Aliaksandr Hirs $204,700

2. Fahredin Mustafov $143,800

3. Ryan Mandara $92,700

4. Simeon Spasov $68,900

5. Eduard Barsegian $51,900

6. Anton Ionel $41,750

7. Carlos Aoun $34,800

8. Egor Romaniuk $28,050

9. Lev Kydatov $21,250

MPO reigned supreme in the $3,300 Main Event  

The final day of the $3,300 Main Event was the perfect cadenza for the Merit Poker Carmen Series as 19 of the 765 players returned to flaunt their poker skills. With $376,800 on the line, the eclectic cast of poker characters devised and extemporised strategies and counter-strategies in pursuit of a coveted final table appearance. 

four players who could fairly be termed MPO disciples made the final five

On commentary, I coined the phrase MPO (Merit Poker Optimal) to describe a breed of poker deployed by the more discerned players in the room. Understanding the looser tendencies of some of the regulars, the exponents of MPO sit back, edge-pass, avoid murky spots and allow the game to come to them. It was noteworthy then when four players who could fairly be termed MPO disciples made the final five. 

Inexplicably, Barsegian finished fifth again, suggesting that the man deserves his own leitmotif, a musical warning to his opponents that their chips are under threat, at least until the sixth elimination. In another curious coincidence, WSOP winner Simeon Spasov booked his second fourth-place finish of the festival. In what was a stunning bit of laddering, short-stack sensei Yuksel Savsa made it all the way to third, despite being in last position throughout the final table. 

A gracious bow

In the final shake-up, the grand finale if you will, Frenchman and MPO maestro Chilaud participated in a short-lived duet with PLO cash-game specialist Michael Magalashvili. The latter won eight of the first nine hands but crucially not the tenth as the two men committed stacks with a flush draw. Chilaud was ahead with King high and a King on the turn sealed the deal. 

I always have a good time here… and I feel lucky.”

The Merit Poker room has been kind to Chilaud of late, his $600,000+ in winnings since last November making up over half of his lifetime live winnings. “Cyprus is really good for me,” said Chilaud in his post-gave interview with Nejad, “I don’t do many live tournaments, but I go to Cyprus every time. I always have a good time here… and I feel lucky.”

And with that, Chilaud took a gracious bow. Carmen said “…the bird you thought you had caught by surprise beats its wings and flies away.” Well I guess not always. 

$3,300 Main Event final table results

1. Maxime Chilaud $376,800

2. Michael Magalashvili $277,500

3. Yuksel Savsa $170,300

4. Simeon Spasov $125,900

5. Eduard Barsegian $94,300

6. Atanas Pavlov $76,200

7. Fausto Tantillo $63,000

8. Walter Treccarichi $50,200

9. Denis Kapustin $37,700

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