Bulgarian champion Stoyan Madanzhiev’s poker career took a 360-degree turn when he clinched the first ever 2020 World Series of Poker Online Main Event for $3.9M. In this exclusive interview, the 30-year old shared with Somuchpoker a few insights on his life-changing victory, how he got there and his upcoming poker career goals. Additionally, Madanzhiev talks about his views on the second WSOP Main Event that happened later in the year.
Interview by Gaelle Jaudon
Somuchpoker: What is your background in poker? How did you first learn about the game, and did you consider yourself a pro player before last year?
Stoyan Madanzhiev: I first saw the game back at school when one of my schoolmates organised a tournament, which was being played on three tables. After this experience, I started reading about the game and followed all the TV shows. I started to make a living out of poker very early, but I was not spending all my time playing poker. I started to make more serious money with the game when I started to play and study Spin&Go, and then I tried to teach other players to be successful too. My tournament game and understanding of the game improved so much too.
SMP: You won the first ever $5,000 World Series of Poker Online NLH Main Event with a massive field of 5,802 entries and a record-breaking $3.9M first prize. Before that, your biggest tournament cash was $10,800. How do you handle such a big win and also the spotlight that comes with it?
SM: $10,800 was my biggest registered live cash. I had some bigger ones but not something massive. This tournament was more than a dream one for me and totally changed my life. I’ve never been under the spotlights so much, and it felt like some kind of pressure because now everyone looked for my attention and admired me. I tried to stay grounded and have a realistic view of the situation, not to hype myself more than I should, because with so much attention and admiration, it’s very easy to become delusional, lose connection with reality, and make big and expensive mistakes all around. Instead, I try to keep it calm, study, and explore my opportunities.
SMP: Would you say it changed your life on a professional and personal level?
SM: Definitely. Obviously, now I can compete easily in higher stake games and tournaments. It was nice to have the appreciation of many other successful players and their openness to work with me. Also, I have a lot more free time to look and explore different opportunities and paths in life. My whole view of life and the world expands a lot just by knowing the fact that I am protected financially. The negative sides are that a lot of fake and negative people are attracted to you, but I think I am doing a good job of protecting myself from those. My family and friends are also very happy for me, which is one of the best things. 🙂
SMP: It was your first ever WSOP event too. What does a WSOP bracelet mean for you? Especially for the biggest online event in history?
SM: Yes, finally, I had the chance to play some WSOP. Only if I knew what was coming with it! 😀 I remember how I watched the WSOP episodes after school or on the train while traveling to the city I used to study in. I was following every action and turning the video back if I missed something, and I was trying to find the logic and mistakes in people’s hands. It was very emotional for me to win this tournament and a bracelet, and I felt a huge dose of fulfillment. On my Instagram page, there are videos of the first moments I see the bracelet and the party I organised for the occasion.
SMP: How did you feel when the HU started? The difference between first and second place was more than 1 million dollars, and you were both quite even in chips. It must be difficult not to feel a lot of pressure.
SM: Well, first of all, I was very happy that I made an $800k pay jump entering the HU. 😀 But I was confident I had the advantage because I have played and studied a lot of heads up in my life. My mind was in a zone isolated from emotions, or at least they were heavily controlled. It’s a place where you are fully focused and aware of both the ongoing action and your psychological and physiological processes. I think many people put themselves into this state of mind in intense situations where crucial decisions have to be made. If you manage to control all the chemical reactions your body makes, you can use it to your advantage. The other spectrum is panic and emotional decisions. My preparation for the final day included yoga, meditation, and visualisation, and I think this helped me achieve the optimal state of mind. The moment after the last hand, I exploded in pleasure and ecstasy.
SMP: Sometimes, players who had big victories, or even athletes after winning a medal would say that after the celebrations and excitement of the victory, when life returned back to normal, they went through a difficult period and felt some sadness or emptiness. Is this something that you can relate to or that you felt yourself?
SM: Can’t really say that for myself. The saddest part was when they decided to make the new Main Event and kind of removed all my willingness to be poker ambassador and chase WSOP glory. But I have enough things I want to do and try out in my life and poker, so it’s not like I lost my excitement in life.
SMP: There was a big controversy after the WSOP organized another Main Event with a $10K buy-in and a live final table. You had strong words against the WSOP organization, even calling it a scam. What did you feel at that moment, and did WSOP reach out to you?
SM: At this point, it is all said and can be followed on Twitter. I got really confused when I read the news about the new Main Event. Seeing how wrong that was on many levels, I decided not to stay quiet about it and state the unfairness of this whole thing. They claim they were always saying they have a plan to do a $10k freeze-out Main Event. In fact, no one knew about this before November. Daniel Negreanu also acts as if this is something that was always clear, but in fact, even the team running his podcast was confused when he announced it.
If it was clear, there wouldn’t be any confusion. Even if they had this plan, their actions were not right. They advertised it as the Main Event of the 51st World Series of Poker, generating 5800 entries and a Guinness record. Everyone played it believing it’s that. Commentators talked about it as it is. They gave me the certificate stating this. So no matter if they had plans or not, their actions were wrong, and they never apologized for the confusion or contacted me. Even though, at that time, all the media was interviewing me, and everyone was treating me as the WSOP champion, they didn’t say anything about it to bring clarity.
So it looked like at the end of November, they just decided to take this risky move, which came with its own problems and drama, and if they hadn’t decided to take this risk of running another tournament, they would just leave it like this.
Looking back, If I had known I wasn’t playing the “actual” world series of poker, I probably wouldn’t have reentered. Or maybe even played. It worked well for me but I wonder how many others fell for this false advertising trap? #wsop #scam
*interview for @CardPlayerMedia pic.twitter.com/85MyF1ivHF
— Stoyan Madanzhiev (@Stoyan_Mad) November 17, 2020
SMP: It created a real debate in the poker community and some Twitter feuds between players. Did many people support you and contact you about it?
SM: Yes, many people supported me, connected me with influential people. Some even told me that I should sue WSOP. All I wanted is to bring awareness and not let WSOP brainwash all the poker community with its unfair acts. They still haven’t said anything about it and act like I don’t exist. But the important thing is everyone saw the situation, and all the polls that I saw out there with thousands of people voting in them took my side and agreed this is not right. I want to thank everyone for their support, and I am happy that the love of the game unites us together, and we care about fairness and integrity as it should be in a developed and intelligent community. This is a very important thing for the poker industry and the image of the game.
SMP: How is the Bulgarian poker scene? Is there a community there?
SM: Yes, of course, there are many successful poker players in Bulgaria in all the poker formats. Different groups of players working together in their own way, and also everyone’s communicating and sharing important information with the other ones. Unfortunately, the live poker scene is not so well developed here, but we have nice big casinos in attractive destinations, which are very cheap too. So I think there’s a good potential for bigger events and series in this area.
SMP: What are your goals now in poker and the projects you’re working on?
SM: I haven’t set strict goals. But I really liked the feeling of winning a major tournament. I feel very comfortable even in the high stake fields, so I am looking for some more trophies. Other than that, I am also working on a video series about my WSOP Main Event performance last year, which will be released for the “Upswing Lab” soon.
SMP: How do you work on your game, and what are the main skills you would like to improve?
SM: I am doing all the normal stuff every good player is doing nowadays, like studying different solutions using tools like PioSOLVER, GTOTrainer, etc. I think it’s very important not to just memorise those strategies and patterns but also to understand the reasons behind those so you can develop a more profitable unique strategy that you can apply against the unique players you face. I also follow high-stakes streams and replays to keep myself fresh with the trends and strategies being used. There are also some other personal ways for me to train my game and condition. Maybe I want to work a bit on understanding body language patterns, talking, and behavior in live games.
SMP: And outside of poker, you’re working on a charity project. Can you tell us more about that? How important was it for you to give back to the community?
SM: Sure. It is not outside of poker but a bridge between poker and the world we live in.
Eightofhearts.org is a platform where you can find a poker room or a club you can play online poker in, taking advantage of a great deal. But also, all the benefits and commissions we gather from your grind will be transferred to charity campaigns listed on our site, or you can make a direct donation if you wish. Our reports of collected money and donations will be visible in our discord group and on the site. This way, every single hand or tournament you play will contribute to something good. We started with Dimitar Berbatov’s foundation, which helps talented kids to develop better in life. Soon players will be able to choose what campaign they would like to support with their rake from all the different ones listed on the site. Exciting races and promotions are upcoming for our players too.
I always felt like I wanted to contribute to society and the people in need. It is difficult to do such a thing with poker because of the high variance in the games nowadays. You never know when a big downswing will happen, and you need to be prepared for these moments. With EightOfHearts model, the player is not sacrificing his winnings or rakeback, and he can still contribute a significant portion.
SMP: Do you plan on going to Vegas this autumn for the WSOP? And would you have a big schedule of events? What does Vegas represent for you?
SM: Unfortunately, no. The USA embassy suspended their visa procedures due to COVID, so I will not be able to get a visa in time and enter the USA. But I will probably go for it in Rozvadov if the situation is good for traveling. You never know these days. I know Vegas is one of the best places for poker, but I ran badly even before the tournaments with the visa procedure. Who knows, it might have been better this way. 😀