Shabelnyk, Buckley, and Romanello Pull Big at the WSOP Mystery Millions

  • Event #5 of the Mystery Millions was the first big field tournament of WSOP 2024
  • Ukrainian Valentyn Shabelnyk pulled the first of the $1,000,000 bounties
  • DJ Buckley ripped open his envelope to reveal the other $1,000,000 prize
  • Welsh Poker great Roberto Romanello was next up, claiming $500,000
Cash in envelope
WSOP 2024 is well underway, with three players winning big in the Mystery Bounty. [Image:]

Canary in the coal mine

Is poker still booming? Is the World Series of Poker (WSOP) going to break records in 2024? A few commentators have suggested that poker has finally peaked after three consecutive years of sustained growth. The online game is hard to measure as it is restricted, fractured, ring fenced, and plagued by black and grey market apps and sites. The live game is certainly alive and well, with new high water marks being set annually on flagship events. 

a prizepool of $16,199,920 from a field of 18,409 entrants

For the WSOP 2024, Event #5 of the Mystery Millions was the first really big field tournament, the canary in the coal mine, testing the appetite of the weekend warrior. With the event generating a prizepool of $16,199,920 from a field of 18,409 entrants, 221 more than it did last year, it seems that the bird is singing louder than ever before. 

Someone who isn’t chirping, however, is the man who pulled the first of the $1,000,000 bounties. Ukrainian pro Valentyn Shabelnyk had ice-water running through his veins as he unfurled the sheet of paper to reveal seven digits. A wry smile followed but it was noteworthy how composed he remained as host Jeff Platt announced him as the tournament’s first millionaire. 

Millionaire Shabelnyk calm and collected 

With around 550 players left, Shabelnyk was called to the stage as is customary if the Random Number Generator/Poker Gods decide that you are worthy of one of the larger bounties. It means missing a few hands, something which clearly bothered the Ukrainian who is all business. Keen to expedite the process, he wasted no time on ceremony, ripping open his envelope in an equanimous and insouciant manner. 

For many, he displayed the comportment of a man who had just been given free dinner vouchers or discovered he had won the minimum prize on a scratch card. World Poker Tour’s (WPT) Director of Media and Player Communications Lance Bradley also recognized the expression:

Shabelnyk’s reaction was in contrast with that of Matt Glantz who famously binked the big bounty in 2022 but, while much is being made of his understated outward demeanour, it is important not to misinterpret calm and collected for nonchalant and blasé. His poker resume might be peppered with excellent results, including a victory on the Card Player Poker Tour, a runner-up finish in the $1,600 event at last year’s WPT World Championship and an European Poker Tour (EPT) Prague final table but undoubtedly this bounty pull makes this his largest result.  Either that or $1,000,000 just isn’t what it used to be:

Buckley and Romanello pull bigly

Shabelnyk rushed back to his table where he was congratulated by the other players. One more $1,000,000 bounty was still in play as were several of the other top prizes. Four sweaty hours passed before Mid-Stakes Poker Tour legend DJ Buckley took to the stage where he met the always enthusiastic Jesse Fullen. Ten $25K+ prizes were left but crucially one was the $1,000,000 and another was the $500,000. 

Buckley slow-peeled his envelope to reveal that the first digit was a one, at which point he ripped it open to reveal the $1,000,000 prize: 

Moments later, it was Welsh Poker great Roberto Romanello’s turn to grace the stage. He also teased himself by sweating the envelope: 

Shabelnyk bust in 528th place, Buckley finished in 90th place and Romanello came 77th for €3070, $8170, and $11,450 respectively, plus those huge bounties. At the time of writing, Swiss player Pei Li is the overnight chip-leader, joined by 17 other players all vying for that one remaining million dollar payday bestowed upon the tournament’s first place finisher. 

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