Sundays for Victor Antoci usually start at 5am and finish whenever the last online poker tournament ends. The 31-year-old is a pastry chef at a bakery in Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock, who gets up early to provide tasty baked goods to residents of the Irish capital, before morphing into a poker player towards the end of the Sabbath, ahead of his day off on Monday.
This Sunday started in familiar fashion, but it ended with a spectacular, platinum-gilded bang.
Antoci is the latest winner of a Platinum Pass, that delicate sliver of precious metal that secures him a seat in the €25,000 buy-in PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) to be held in Barcelona next August. He earned it for winning the €175 buy-in Moneymaker Road to PSPC tournament at the Bonnington Hotel, Dublin — and did that without adjusting his work schedule at all.
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That meant building a stack of 127,000 on Saturday’s Day 1B and grabbing some sleep, before heading to work by bicycle at 5am on Sunday. He scurried through his tasks “and tried to finish faster than I should” before rushing back to the Bonnington for Day 2. He was 20 minutes late for the noon restart and had lost 10 big blinds. But his toil was nowhere near over for the day.
From a starting field of 809, there were 196 players left as Sunday began, and still three at the table — Sia Browne, Tomas Flanagan and Antoci — at 1.30am Monday morning. They then struck a deal for the prize pool and played on for the Platinum Pass. Finally, at around 2.30am, Antoci managed to knock out Flanagan, his final opponent. Twenty three hours after he got up, Antoci could consider it a very good day’s work.“I’m feeling very good,” Antoci said, revealing that he is the latest big winner who does most of his poker study via online masterclasses and by watching the likes of Lex Veldhuis, Fintan Hand and Spraggy play on Twitch. “I’m feeling very good that I get to [go to Barcelona], meet them and chat about poker.”
He also had €12,770, by far his biggest tournament poker score, which represented his share of the three-way deal.
Antoci was born and raised in a rural area of Moldova, around 40km south of the capital Chisinau, but moved to Dublin 12 years ago, as a slightly directionless 19-year-old, not long out of high school. “My parents were both here,” Antoci said. “One day my dad called me, that was a Tuesday, and he said on Friday you have to be here because I have found a job for you.”
Twelve years on, and Antoci says he has no plans to leave his adopted home, where he is settled into his life of baking and poker. His father was a huge fan of card games, playing principally the French national game belote, but young Victor first got into poker playing on Facebook. After growing out of the play-money games, he deposited $10 online and never looked back. He dabbled with online cash games, but focuses mainly now on online tournaments, particularly on Sundays when he knows he can sleep in the next day if he goes deep.
Antoci said he has probably only played around 10 live tournaments this year, one of which was a €40 buy-in satellite to the Moneymaker Tour event at the Fitzwilliam, Dublin, on the Thursday before the tournament proper. He said he ran particularly well in the early stages and was then able to sit and wait to secure his seat. It meant he parlayed that €40 into the five-figure payday — and then a shot at the potentially life-changing sums of the PSPC.
“It was very good,” he said of his Main Event. “I wasn’t trying to think too much of pay jumps, because it didn’t matter to me. I was just focused on the final table. And then I was always focused and paid attention to the stack sizes…After we made the deal, I wasn’t that much afraid of busting. At that point, there wasn’t any point in waiting. You had to get more aggressive. The blinds were growing very fast.”
Flanagan took €16,560 and Browne €16,260, representing their bigger stack sizes at the time of the deal. But neither has the Pass that Antoci now has.
The tournament will be remembered in particular for this three-handed phase of play, in which Antoci played a deliberately less conspicuous game than his opponents. Browne had been the dominant chip leader from about four tables out, carrying an enormous advantage to the final. Meanwhile Flanagan was one of the only people in the room who had been up longer than Antoci, having opted to play cash games all night after bagging on Saturday, irrigated by the free-flowing black stuff from the Bonnington bar.
“When we were 16 left, I thanked god that I didn’t get them at the same table,” Antoci said of the two players he eventually squared off against. “They were the only players that I was kind of afraid of. He was drunk and she was a maniac.” Antoci went on to explain that he saw Browne play a hand from early position when she bluffed through the streets and backed into an invisible straight, winning a huge pot.
Antoci said that he had a moment of insight looking at the chip stacks of the final table, realising that there weren’t enough big blinds for the number of players left. “I couldn’t believe that I was actually fourth in chips,” he said. “I was like: ‘I’m fourth. I just have to wait a bit for players to bust.’ Slowly but surely they started to bust.”
One of those was Moneymaker, the man who lent his name to the tour and the inspiration for a generation of poker players. Browne sent Moneymaker packing in seventh, one of her four final table victims. Antoci was the only other player at the final who claimed any scalps, knocking out the other four.
By the time they got three-handed, the blinds were enormous and during an intriguing couple of hours, each of Antoci, Browne and Flanagan were chip-leader and short stack, seeing fortunes fluctuate wildly. Antoci was keeping a close eye on both of his opponents.
“Mostly I paid attention to [Browne]’s body language,” he said. “There were times when I knew she had it or she didn’t and I tried to play accordingly…[Flanagan] was the only one I couldn’t have a read on. When he doesn’t know what he’s doing, I don’t know what he’s doing either.”
During heads up play, Flanagan commented more than once that he felt outclassed by Antoci. “Victor’s a sicko,” Flanagan said, still seeking the Guinness that seemed to be keeping him awake. “I’ve just got to gamble, gamble.”
Eventually, after a series of double-ups for both players, Antoci extracted the maximum from a rivered set of nines, and then closed it out when he flopped top pair with K♦5♦ and Flanagan bluff-shoved.
A relieved and delighted Antoci accepted his Platinum Pass from Moneymaker and gave a prepared speech, which he said he had prepared when they were six-handed, to the hardy crowd in the Bonnington, as well as the viewers on Twitch. He thanked PokerStars for putting on the event, and the Raise Your Edge online coaching school, revealing later that he is only halfway through the tournament masterclass.
He vowed to upgrade his subscription and learn more about tournament play before he heads to Barcelona. If he is this good half trained, imagine what he’ll be like when he has completed the course!