Koray Aldemir has won the 2021 World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in main event, defeating a field of 6,650 total entries to secure his first WSOP gold bracelet and the first-place prize of $8,000,000. The 31-year-old German high-stakes tournament pro became just the third player from his home country to win the main event, joining 2011 champion Pius Heinz and 2019 winner Hossein Ensan.
“It’s the biggest tournament, the one tournament family and friends that aren’t into poker know of. It does mean a lot to me to win it,” said Aldemir when asked about adding the main event to his already impressive resume.
The career-best payday he earned in this event increased Aldemir’s lifetime earnings to more than $20.3 million.
Aldemir held the lead for much of the final few days of the tournament. He bagged up the biggest stack at the end of day five and entered the first day of final-table action sitting atop the chip counts. After knocking out the second-largest stack at the table and two other opponents to narrow the field to three, Aldemir sat with roughly two-thirds of the chips in play heading into the final day of the largest poker tournament in the world.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Aldemir, though, as 49-year-old payments industry executive George Holmes put on an impressive display, overtaking the lead multiple times in a back-and-forth heads-up battle for the championship bracelet.
“He put us in spots, me and the other players, he made good bluffs, made good folds. I had the chip lead to start with and he grinded me down. I had to try really hard to beat him,” said Aldemir of his heads-up opponent. “I was pretty stressed, to be honest. After 10 days of poker, especially the last five or six days [which] were all super stressful. Not a lot of sleep, like five hours a day. All those people watching me play. It’s not easy. Respect to all the other players too, who all played great. Crazy experience.”
Card Player asked Aldemir if his monster chip lead to start the day, and his clear tournament experience advantage as a high-roller regular with more than $12 million in prior earnings, might have added a bit of extra pressure on him to close out the title.
“I know a lot of people were kind of expecting me to win, because of what you said,” replied Aldemir. “It would’ve been a little bit disappointing at first, especially because the money jump is so huge between second and first in this tournament. So, of course I really wanted to win and it did add some extra pressure. I tried to not look into social media too much, but I know that I got a lot of like very nice messages from people that I played with throughout the tournament. I know that a lot of them texted me and also family and friends, so I’m very grateful.”
The final day began with just three players remaining and Aldemir well out in front. The early action on the saw the two shorter stacks battle back and forth, with Holmes beginning in third place but eventually opening a considerable lead over Jack Oliver.
Oliver managed one double up after falling below 15 blinds, with his A-5 making a straight to beat the K-9 suited of a surging Holmes. Around 25 hands later Oliver was all-in again, this time open shoving for just shy of 18 big blinds with A8. Holmes called from the big blind with QJ and the board ran out 875J9 to give him a winning pair of queens. Oliver was sent home with $3,000,000 for his third-place showing.
“I feel amazing about how I played,” said Oliver when asked if the grueling schedule of the main event led to any plays he regrets down the stretch. “There are a few hands I would change, but there are very few, and thinking about how many hands I’ve played in the past nine days… I think I played very well and wouldn’t change too much.”
This was by far the largest live tournament payday secured by the 26-year-old from Markyate, England. His biggest previous cash came when he won a $400 buy-in event at the Venetian in 2019 for $27,047.
With Oliver’s elimination, heads-up play began with Aldemir holding 261,900,000 to Holmes’ 137,400,000. Holmes won a big pot early on in the match without showdown, betting Aldemir off small pair with his even smaller pair on the river to close the gap considerably. Holmes took the lead not long after that, making a full house with pocket sevens to win another healthy pot.
The two went on to battle for nearly four hours in total, with multiple lead changes along the way. A few moments after the two got all-in with the same straight for a chopped pot, Aldemir edged into a slight lead just in time for the final hand of the tournament.
With blinds of 1,200,000-2,400,000 with a 2,400,000 big blind ante, Holmes raised to 6,000,000 from the bottom with KQ. Aldemir defended his big blind with 107 and the flop came down 1072 to give Aldemir top two pair. Aldemir checked and Holmes bet 6,000,000 with his two overcards. Aldemir check-raised to 19,000,000 and Holmes made the call. The turn brought the K to give Holmes top pair. Aldemir went into the tank before deciding to make a bet of 36,500,000. Holmes made the call and the river brought the 9. Once again, Aldemir took his time before acting. He eventually checked to his opponent. Holmes thought a bit before moving all-in for 133,000,000, which was more than the size of the pot.
“On the flop, I kind of have the nuts,” said Aldemir when asked about the final hand after the fact. “On the turn, still happy. My plan was to check-call on the river because he showed he was capable of making bluffs, but I had to think about it. It’s a big moment obviously, it was for all the chips basically. If I lose the hand I don’t have much left. I’m glad I made the call.”
Holmes earned $4,300,000 as the runner-up finisher. This was only his second recorded tournament cash, with the other also coming in the WSOP main event. Holmes finished 213th in 2019 for $50,855. He primarily plays his poker in a weekly home game, and represented the ‘home game heroes’ of the world incredibly well in this event.
In addition to the title and the money, Aldemir also earned 3,300 Card Player Player of the Year points as the champion of this event. He had only one POY-qualified score prior to this win in 2021, earning 27 points for an 11th-place finish in an $800 buy-in event earlier in the series. But his monumental win in the main event was enough to catapult him into 18th place in the 2021 POY race standings, which are sponsored by Global Poker.
Aldemir was also awarded 1,900 PokerGO Tour points, enough to move him into ninth-place on the tour’s leaderboard.
Here is a look at the payouts and rankings points awarded at the final table: