PGT Championship Day 1: chip lead for Smiljkovic, instant karma for Lennon

Adam Hampton
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Posted on: January 10, 2024 9:35 am EST

The PokerGO Tour (PGT) Championship finally got up and running last night, playing down to the final table of six which will resume today at noon PST. The $1 million freeroll will award $500k to first place, down to $40k for 6th.

The end-of-year, invitation-only event is traditionally filled with elite players who have earned their way into the PGT top 40 leaderboard via success in the year’s high roller events. This year a number of extra players have won their way in via various ‘dream seat’ promotions, adding an extra layer of unpredictability to proceedings.

Giving lucky players the chance to mix it with the big guns is nothing new in the industry, and might have passed without much comment, had the behavior of one dream seat winner not attracted the wrong kind of attention.

Lennon not in the mood to let it be

Jeff Lennon, a longtime poker player and self-professed daily fantasy sports grinder from California, won a dream seat in November at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort. His conduct in the PGT Championship has gone down poorly with both players and viewers of the live stream.

Jeff Lennon playing poker at the PGT Championship, January 2024
Lennon won his dream seat for just $300 in the RUNGOOD poker series

A possibly inebriated Lennon appeared on the feature table alongside fellow dream seat winner Arden Cho, and directed a number of inappropriate comments at the actress-cum-poker player. These included questions about her sexuality and various other vulgar comments – including the assertion that “poker players are ‘f*cking nerds” – that drew the ire of watching fans and some fellow players.

In the end Cho had the last laugh, however, ultimately making the final table and at least $40k while karma quickly caught up with Lennon, sending him to the rail in 23rd with little sympathy.

Foxen questions effect of ‘dream seat nonsense’

Alex Foxen, who went out in 37th, earned his way into the PGT Championship the hard way, thanks to a year spent grinding his way up to 5th on the top 40 leaderboard.

The high roller, currently 4th on the New York all-time money list, saw the addition of dream seat winners as reducing the prestige of what he felt should have been a showcase event for the top-performing players of the year.

Foxen was quick to add his gratitude to the PGT for giving back to players, but his sentiments around the addition of dream seat winners were echoed by a number of other pros. How much that has to do with Lennon’s over-the-line behavior, we can only guess, but it certainly can’t have helped.

Poker pro Alex Foxen plays the PGT Championship, January 2024
Alex Foxen made the top 5 of the annual leaderboard, but couldn’t find his way to the money in the PGT Championship

Others were more positive about adding new blood to the field in this way, but according to the PGT’s Director of Live Events Tim Duckworth, responding to Foxen’s criticisms, there will be some changes made to the way the dream seat promotions work for 2024.

Smiljkovic takes big lead into the final table

Germany’s Daniel Smiljkovic, who suffered at the hands of Daniel Negreanu’s four-outer in the PGT Last Chance #1 event a week ago, holds a commanding lead among the final six players.

German poker pro Daniel Smiljkovic smiles as he plays the PGT Championship, January 2024
Daniel Smiljkovic has over 40% of the chips in play

With 14 players remaining, Smiljkovic won a huge pot against Ren Lin and Sam Soverel to more than double up. All in with K♠K♦️ against the A♣Q♠ of Lin and Soverel’s A❤️K♣, Smiljkovic rode his luck on a runout of 5♣J♣3♣5❤️3♦️ to claim the lead he still holds.

2023 WSOP champion Daniel Weinman is in second place, with Leon Sturm and Darren Elias also in the money at the final table. Two-time PGT Last Chance winner Artur Martirosyan is hoping to continue his hot streak, having already banked over $400k at the PokerGO studios this week.

Arden Cho is the last standing dream seat winner, and will notch her best-ever result should she finish 4th or higher; her current biggest tournament result is $71k for a deep run at the WPT World Championship in 2022, while 4th place here is offering an $80k payday.

Actress and poker player Arden Cho at the PGT Championship, January 2024
Arden Cho has reached the final table with close to 40 big blinds

The amateur player may be better known to viewers from her acting roles on shows such as Teen Wolf or Partner Track, but in outlasting the likes of Jeff Lennon at the poker tables she has no doubt acquired a new set of fans.

Other notable names Cho has survived in this tournament include: Erik Seidel (50th), Phil Hellmuth (48th), Stephen Chidwick (31st), Adrian Mateos (28th), Daniel Negreanu (22nd), Jason Koon (16th), Chris Brewer (11th), Chance Kornuth (9th) and 2023 leaderboard winner Isaac Haxton, who finished on the bubble in 7th.

PGT Championship final table

1Daniel Smiljkovic2,580,000
2Daniel Weinman1,430,000
3Leon Sturm1,065,000
4Artur Martirosyan755,000
5Arden Cho 580,000
6Darren Elias180,000

Action resumes at 12 noon PST with 14 minutes remaining in level 11 (10k/15k/15k). You can follow the live stream, with a one-hour delay, at PokerGO or the PokerGO YouTube channel from 1pm PST.

Images courtesy of PokerGO