Learn some more about the seven players who will return on Sunday to the final table and play to a new Main Event winner in our EPT Cyprus player profiles.
1. HALIL TASYUREK, 42, ANKARA, TURKEY — 7.825m chips
Every night for the past 13 years, Halil Tasyurek has dreamed of something like this — an opportunity to play on one of poker’s biggest stages for staggering sums.
It’s fitting that opportunity has come at a PokerStars event because that’s where the 42-year-old from Ankara, Turkey first started playing back in 2010. Turkish laws unfortunately now prohibit him from the virtual felt, but he enjoys live poker just as much as is a regular here in Cyprus. “You can count me as a local,” he says. “But this is not a biased comment. In my opinion, this is by far the best EPT I have ever attended. The tournaments, the food, everything is great.”
For years, Tasyurek only played poker for fun while working in finance. Over time it led him to play semi-professionally, and two years ago he left work entirely to pursue poker full-time. He’s been travelling the poker circuit ever since, including visits to the EPT in Prague and Barcelona, as well as a stint at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas.
The biggest score of his poker career so far — at least before this EPT Main Event — happened right here in Cyprus, a fifth-place finish in a Merit Poker tournament.
But he’s never had an opportunity quite like this one. “I am in the dream spot,” he says.
2. YANNICK SCHUMACHER, 26, GERMANY (LIVING IN VIENNA, AUSTRIA) – 6.05m CHIPS
Yannick Schumacher discovered poker when he was a student in Sheffield, in the United Kingdom, in 2017. Then he used the long layoff of the Covid pandemic to further improve his skills, gradually moving up the online stakes. By November 2021, he was ready to explore the tables of Las Vegas and picked up a few small scores during his first World Series.
Before this trip to Cyprus, Schumacher had only modest results in Europe, but he has truly come out of the shadows with this Main Event performance. Despite being a short stack for a long time on Day 5, he took the lead during seven-handed play and consolidated the position with some tricky big-stack play, including a huge bluff with 3♥ 2♥ on an all-club board. Only a cooler against Tasyurek pegged him back again later on.
Schumacher has already secured his biggest live score, comfortably surpassing the $70,700 he earned for finishing 53rd at the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) in the Bahamas in January.
In common with a lot of German poker pros, Schumacher now lives in Vienna, Austria, only leaving his computer to attend some poker live events from time to time.
3. BJORN KOZENKAI, 25, BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — 2.575m chips
Formerly a football referee, Bjorn Kozenkai picked up poker in high school and played for fun. When he was 18, he started playing for real money. Now the 25-year-old from Budapest is a coach and shareholder at BitB, one of the most renowned poker stables.
Kozenkai used to compete in multi-table tournaments until two years ago when he felt he needed a change. He opted for Spin & Gos, but now he’s ready to dive deep into the tournament fields again.
With just less than $70,000 in cashes, Kozenkai’s live resume may seem modest. But he claimed he’s only fired about 70 or 80 entries to live events so far, with an impressive one in four ratio when it comes to cashing. Here at EPT Cyprus, he’s guaranteed to pick up his first six-figure prize.
Kozenkai says he is enjoying live poker. “These trips feel more like a recreation, or holiday,” he says. “I’m a professional player, so it’s of course serious, but it doesn’t feel like work.”
And when he can, he combines work with a hobby — Kozenkai likes fishing not only at poker tables, but also in lakes, rivers, and seas. “I caught a swordfish when I was in Mexico for SCOOP,” he says.
4. NIKITA KUZNETCOV, 28, FROM RUSSIA, LIVES IN MONTENEGRO – 7.475m CHIPS
The 28-year-old professional player Nikita Kuznetcov is known as “Ebaaa11” on PokerStars – and it’s under that screen-name that he has won two one SCOOP and two WCOOP titles, in addition to landing a seven-figure score in another online tournament.
Kuznetcov started playing when he was 18 and gradually improved to become one of the best tournament players from Russia. “I play only MTTs, no cash games,” Kuznetcov said.
He has amassed more than $1.4 million in cashes in the live arena and is now at his second EPT Main Event final table. He made the final eight in Sochi, in October 2020, but bowed out in seventh place. He’s already topped that result here in Cyprus.
Kuznetcov claims he doesn’t have any hobbies; it’s all about poker for him. “No poker, no life,” he says. His next focus will be on the Winter Series, which he says he will probably play from Bosnia & Herzegovina.
5. GILLES SIMON, 24, VALKENBURG, NETHERLANDS – 8.075m chips
As the winner of PokerStars’ first Dare to Stream competition, we were all able to witness Gilles Simon’s first foray into professional poker back in 2019. Back then, when he was predominantly known by his Twitch handle, “Ghilley”, Simon’s average buy-in (ABI) was a modest $10 – a far cry from the $25,000 buy-in PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) he’d just won entry to.
Fast forward to 2023 and Simon (“TaxationIsTheft” on PokerStars) has enjoyed a breakout year in online poker, first cashing a $215 online event for a staggering $257k, then taking down his first World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) title with a $109 Phase win for $115k.
But what about those years in between? The reason we don’t know as much about that period in Simon’s career is by design. “I was like, OK, I’m young and with this Platinum Pass, I have an opportunity to keep on growing and building myself as a poker player,” he says.
So Simon left Twitch behind and threw himself into studying and playing poker. He was taken in by a group of experienced players who not only coached him but backed him, rocketing his ABI up to $200. He moved to the poker hotbed of Vienna. And for the next two-and-a-half years he grinded until the big scores arrived (and arrive they did).
But Simon is yet to capture a breakout live score, something he’s hoping to change here at EPT Cyprus. He says it would be “an insane win” to have on his poker resume.
He has another goal too, and that’s to overtake the French former professional tennis player who shares his name. “My goal is to have more winnings than him,” he says, before reconsidering (tennis’ Gilles Simon has $16 million in career earnings). “Well, no. My goal is to be the most Googled Gilles Simon!“
6. JOSE GONZALEZ, 36, ADEGO, SPAIN – 4.7m CHIPS
Jose Gonzalez was born in Santander in the north of Spain, but he grew up in the Canary Islands and still calls Adego, located in Tenerife, his home. Now an EPT Main Event finalist, the last 19 months unfolded much differently than he’d expected.
Always a passionate but not professional player, Gonzalez was ready to take a break from the game in March 2022. He traveled to the EPT Prague spring edition with that on his mind, thinking it would be his last poker trip for a while. Gonzalez was planning to open a bar after that. “I have two daughters, I need to be responsible with money,” he explained.
But he’d become a Eureka High Roller champion and bank a whopping €343,750. Gonzalez’ poker career only took off from there. He surrounded himself with some of the smartest brains in the Spanish poker community, who helped him improve. He singled out Gerard Rubiralta as the most important figure in his development — Rubiralta is providing him with valuable advice via WhatsApp calls during breaks in the EPT Cyprus Main Event.
Gonzalez is confident he’s a much better player now than he was a year and a half ago. Since then, he has won numerous other tournaments, including CEP Barcelona for €90,000 and last month’s Estrelas Malaga Main Event for another €91,960.
“It’s surreal, I’m just enjoying this,” Gonzalez said about his incredible run. But he still realizes how different his story could have been. “It’s amazing to be in these venues, seeing these places, and thinking that this is your life,” he said. “I’m never going to open the bar!”
Now a full-time poker pro, the game occupies most of his time. But Gonzalez is also very much into music. With his crew, he makes rap. They’re known as Latin Hydro.
7. ANDREA DATO, 44, ROME, ITALY – 2.875m CHIPS
From Italian Poker Tour to European Poker Tour, Andrea Dato has a long history with PokerStars events. He cashed his first back in 2010 on the IPT and was in the money in the last EPT Barcelona Main Event in August, finished 60th. He has now set a new mark with his final table appearance here in Cyprus.
Dato came to poker via Magic: The Gathering, and gave up a career as an engineer to focus on poker, more than 15 years ago. Since then, he has become one of the best-known Italian players and has more than $1.8 million in live tournament earnings.
Having formerly played mostly cash games, Dato, who is also a poker coach, says, “Nowadays, I consider myself a live tournament specialist. He was tournament chip leader at the beginning of Day 5 and sits in sixth place heading into the final day. He is aiming to outperform his previous best, a fourth-place at EPT Barcelona in 2014, which earned him €362,000.
“I’ve obviously gained a lot of experience since that EPT final table,” he says, stating that he has played at almost every EPT stop since then. “But the game has changed so much in 10 years, particularly with solvers. Before, poker was played with instinct and ego, that’s less the case today – but live events are still beatable. I’ve been here before and I really like Cyprus, the location and the field.”