A Marker Has Been Put Down as Darko Svesko Wins Record-Breaking Merit Retro Series Main Event for $567K

  • Darko Svesko defeated Oleg Netaliev heads-up to take the Main Event
  • Hadi Khadra won the Warm-Up Event and Damir Zhugralin won the High Roller
  • Svesko used a big bluff to come back from being the short stack in the Main Event
  • The poker festival bodes well for the October EPT stop in North Cyprus
Champagne bottle popping out cash
Darko Svesko won the record-smashing Merit Retro Series Main Event for $567,000. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

$3m guarantee shattered

A record-smashing field in the Merit Poker Retro Main Event has put down a marker ahead of the highly anticipated EPT in North Cyprus scheduled for October 11-22. For years, this poker venue has been the best kept secret, at the intersection of East, Middle East, and West. Well, the cat is truly out of the bag now after the Merit Poker team led by President Songül Bekem just defied all expectations, annihilating their ambitious $3m guarantee during what was a bumper festival on the Mediterranean island.

the Merit Crystal Cove poker room was at capacity all week

1,223 entrants stumped up the $3,300 buy-in to participate in an extraordinary event that comes at the perfect time with PokerStars bringing its flagship tour to the Merit Resort for the first time. The Merit Crystal Cove poker room was at capacity all week for the Retro Series and many believe that the larger poker room at the Merit Diamond will be bursting at the seams when the EPT comes knocking.

The event was ultimately won by Darko Svesko who defeated Oleg Netaliev heads-up at the end of an engrossing final table that also featured Dominic Panka and David Hu. He took home $567,000 for the win, the largest first prize ever awarded in one of Merit’s in-house festivals.

Khadra and Zhugralin win the Warm-Up and High Roller

Last week, the $2,200 Warm-Up Event was won by Hadi Khadra, who walked away with a career-best $264,600. He outlasted a field of 809 entrants, running well down the homestretch on a table that included the aggressive Giorgii Shkulukhia and veteran Nicolas Chouity.

Then it was the turn of those with deeper pockets to impress as the $10,300 High Roller event drew a field of 153. Unsurprisingly, it boiled down to a final table full of talent and experience with Merit Carmen Main Event winner Maxime Chilaud and Uri Reichenstein in the hunt for glory.

The YouTube audience was treated to a masterclass by Reichenstein who was also blessed by kind card distribution as he navigated his way to heads-up with a huge 5:1 chip-lead. One of the commentators (okay, it was me) proclaimed it a fait accompli, but he unwisely underestimated Reichenstein’s opponent Damir Zhugralin, who just kept winning the all-ins and ultimately overcame the dangerous Israeli.

Debutant Svesko goes from short stack to champion

At every poker festival, it is the Main Event that eclipses everything around it, and it was no different as the Merit Retro Main Event got underway during the second week of proceedings. 1,223 players took their shot, but by Day 4, it was down to just 28, all vying for the biggest piece of the $3.5m prize pool.
It was a somewhat cagey affair, as it took over six hours to get down to the final nine. There were a few small skirmishes and then, in the blink of an eye, two players were eliminated in the same hand by the pocket Jacks of Nenad Dukic, who leapt into poll position. Panka fell to Dukic in seventh. Ruskin Volkov took a savage beat with Aces against Hu’s suited Ace-Queen.

a rollercoaster final table

A protracted period of five-handed play saw the chip lead passed around before a short-stacked Hu busted in disgusting fashion, his Ace-Ten rivered by the King-Deuce of Netaliev. Dukic was next to go, followed by Michel Atallah, both at the hands of a buoyant Netaliev, who had been nine of nine at one point. The only other player with that distinction was his heads-up opponent, the relatively inexperienced Serbian player Svesko, who also had a rollercoaster final table.

For so long it appeared like Netaliev and Merit Main Event maiden Svesko were hanging on grimly, card-dead and maximizing their respective situations by achieving ladders. A late rush of cards for both resulted in the unlikeliest of heads-up contests, ultimately won by Svesko, who pulled off a huge bluff to get back into contention, took down some small pots to take the chip-lead, and then finished off his opponent with Kings versus Ace-Queen to secure a famous victory.

EPT preview

An enormous amount of work has gone into building up the brand with Media & Advertising Manager Ashkan Baghaee assembling an experienced commentary quartet to work alongside the “best in the business” production crew ShareHand. Triton has visited twice and will surely be back again in 2024, but the biggest splash is likely to be made when the PokerStars faithful descend upon the island in October for an EPT stop.

In an industry that can sometimes treat its customers like cattle, the red carpet is always rolled out for players attending Merit festivals and the EPT will be no different. High-end buffets, decadent spa facilities, and all-inclusive bars await the players who decide to spend the middle of October on the stunning North Cypriot coastline.

Merit Retro Main Event 2023 Final Table Payouts

  1. Darko Svesko – $567,000
  2. Oleg Netaliev – $417,900
  3. Michel Atallah – $257,900
  4. Nenad Dukic – $191,100
  5. David Hu – $142,400
  6. Ruslan Volkov – $115,100
  7. Dominik Panka – $95,900
  8. Thomas Eychenne – $76,300
  9. Ara Melkisetian – $56,700

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