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Menikos Panagiotou makes triumphant return to poker with WSOP win

25 Jun 2022

Menikos Panagiotou

Menikos Panagiotou (photo by WSOP)

Menikos Panagiotou could feel it all start to slowly come back.

The Cyprus native hadn't played much poker in the last few years. He retired from being a professional poker player to open his own Mexican restaurant back home. Panagiotou only jumped back into the game in the last six months, with small No-Limit Hold'em tournaments in Cyprus. He hadn't played mixed games at all for four years.

But, as the hands went on in Event #48: $1,500 Eight Game Mix at the 2022 WSOP at Bally's - Las Vegas and Paris Las Vegas, the levels came and went, and the days went by, Panagiotou started to remember everything he once knew. "I was playing every hour by hour, every orbit, it would start coming back to me," he explained. "It was like when you have 20 years on a bicycle. In the beginning, you're not sure enough to remember, I can drive without my hands on the wheel."

Now he's the first-ever bracelet winner from his island home country, prevailing over a starting field of 695 to win $180,783.

"It means a lot. Although we are a small country with a small population, we have a lot of poker players actually. So it means a lot," Panagiotou said after defeating Nick Yunis heads-up. "I can't wait to go back to see all my friends because they've already started sending me messages, congrats and everything. It's amazing."

Panagiotou admits he didn't have much recent experience playing mixed games, but he came into the tournament on a sort of hot streak. He won a tournament just on Monday, a $250 H.O.R.S.E. Daily Deepstacks event. He entered Day 3 in the middle of the pack of the 16 returning players, but, as bracelet winners like Adam Friedman (10th) and Robert Campbell (9th) came up short, Panagiotou took the chip lead into the final table.

Jake Liebeskind would be the first to fall at the official six-handed final table, eliminated by Yunis in a hand of Razz. Jason Stockfish, with five WSOP final tables and four runner-up finishes including in this event back in 2016, came in fifth place after failing to outdraw the nine-eight-six of Eric Buchman in 2-7 Triple Draw.

Panagiotou was at the bottom of the leaderboard as four players remained at the dinner break, but he would make a big leap up when he called a 1,000,000 bet from Yunis on the board in Omaha with a straight to beat Yunis' two pair.

He and Yunis would exchange the chip lead over the next few levels as former November Niner Buchman would fall in fourth place. Panagiotou busted Joon Park in third with trip queens in a hand of Stud 8 or Better to take a narrow lead into heads-up.

Either Cyprus or Yunis' native Chile would have their first-ever bracelet winner, and for the first stages of heads-up play, it looked like the WSOP title wouldn't be making the trip across the Atlantic. Panagiotou fell down to just over 3,000,000 before two big hands of Stud 8 propelled him back up to 10,000,000.

He and Yunis would remain virtually tied until Panagiotou made a six-five to beat Yunis' seven-six in Razz. The end came in a hand of Omaha, with Yunis down to his last 160,000. Panagiotou called and flopped a wheel on the board. Yunis was already drawing dead by the turn.

With the bracelet in hand, surrounded by supporters waving a large Cypriot flag, Panagiotou explained his plans for the money: invest in his restaurant. "With the money, I'm going to make it even bigger," he said. He's already planning a return trip to the WSOP next year to play more mixed games.

While he's not a poker pro anymore, Panagiotou does hope some good comes from his win back home. "I'm more glad if someone there wants to learn the games because they don't play too much mixed games in Cyprus," he said. "So now maybe it's time to start."

Final Table Results
1 Menikos Panagiotou Cyprus $180,783
2 Nick Yunis Chile $111,724
3 Joon Park United States $75,938
4 Eric Buchman United States $52,621
5 Jason Stockfish United States $37,188
6 Jake Liebeskind United States $26,814

(Article courtesy of World Series of Poker)
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