THE FORGOTTEN CHAMPION: Q&A with WSOP Online Main Event Winner Stoyan Madanzhiev

December 28, 2020
THE FORGOTTEN CHAMPION: Q&A with WSOP Online Main Event Winner Stoyan Madanzhiev

As the 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event winds toward its conclusion on Dec. 30, one man is notably not part of the action. Stoyan Madanzhiev, the Bulgarian poker pro who won the $5,000 WSOP Online Main Event in September, believes that there’s no reason to continue the search for this year’s world champion.

Because, frankly, HE’S the 2020 world champion and Madanzhiev spoke with USPoker recently about the issue. As it turns out, broader issues concerning transparency and the WSOP brand came to the surface. 

One aspect that stood out was the fact that poker is decidedly not a game for Americans only. Because there are so many non-native and ESL players on the live and virtual felts, it’s becoming imperative tournament announcements are much clearer and careful with their language.

The interview also provides insight into this man and his accomplishment, given he has some argument for poker’s grandest title. He’d also be the first world champion from Bulgaria and had plenty to say about his world record score.

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Life after scoring big in WSOP Online Main Event

Do you still live in Bulgaria? Any plans to move?

SM: I like to live in Bulgaria. I like the country. I have many friends here and don’t think about moving permanently.

However, I need to travel a lot because you cannot play on every poker site. Usually, it’s for poker, but I’m hoping that I’ll have more free time to go on vacation soon.

In other interviews you’ve said that you’re working to make sure that your personal life has stayed the same. Is that still true or are things changing?

SM: Because of COVID, I don’t have many opportunities to travel. That’s something I’d like to do more. 

Before my WSOP win, I had to grind hard because poker was my main source of income and grinding was more important. I have more free time now. 

So, I spend some time with friends or just read or watch videos about stuff that interests me. I don’t think I started living some flashy life or something.

Have you made any significant purchases since the big win?

SM: Nothing big. I’m planning on buying some (virtual reality equipment) to do some gaming. It’s not really expensive, but I tried it, I enjoyed it, so maybe I’ll buy one and spend some time gaming. 

I haven’t bought cars or anything else yet. I haven’t spent enough time thinking about my opportunities. I’ll take some time to re-evaluate my situation, what opportunities I have, and I will probably invest in something or start something or play some high stakes poker. For sure, I’m playing some high stakes poker.

In the US it’s widely known that lottery winners are often flooded with requests from “long-lost” family members and friends. Have you dealt with people doing that? In other words, random people trying to figure out how to get money from you?

SM: There were a lot of people asking for some help … some financial help, basically. Most of them I didn’t know. They were just randoms with all kinds of stories.

Some just wanted a loan, some just wanted money to invest in businesses, some were offering me businesses, like starting a restaurant or hotel or whatever.

“Of course, some people who met me three years ago for a day started trying to be a closer friend, but it’s normal, I guess. That’s how people work.”

I haven’t experienced any unpleasant situations. I think I’m handling it okay. There are ways to show someone you’re not interested, and you can always use the block button.

Is that why your Twitter direct messages are private now?

SM: Actually, I haven’t used Twitter much. I hadn’t really looked at (its) options until the WSOP decided to make another Main Event. Then, I decided I need to talk about that because I was not really okay with what they’re doing.

Should Madanzhiev be the WSOP world champion?

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. When you won the event and received that certificate with your bracelet, did you think that it was a done deal that you were the Main Event champion/world champion for 2020?

SM: I mean, what else could I think? They announced that the World Series of Poker will be online on GGPoker, they announced it as the 51st WSOP, with some classic events like the Millionaire Maker, and for their Main Event, they decided to make it $5,000 with re-entry.

I saw the logic in that because it’s an online tournament, it’s harder to put $10,000 online, and $5,000 is not small money anyway. It was a great event – it got into the Guinness Book of World Records with about 5,800 entries. It had a huge prize for first place – almost $4 million, a decent Main Event. 

At the time I didn’t think many people had problems with the event. Of course, if you are in the US, you have to travel to play, but that has always been true for players in other countries. So, I think it’s fair. 

“Even the field was more difficult. Everybody thought ‘this was the Main Event.” So, same with me.'”

When I look back, probably I wouldn’t play it if I didn’t think it was the Main Event. It was always my dream to play the Main Event, but because it’s a little harder to go to Vegas from the other side of the world, I couldn’t play yet. This year was a lot easier, and 100% I thought that I’m the Main Event champion.

I didn’t know that they were thinking about making a new Main Event. If they’d just announced that (the online event wasn’t the Main Event), everybody would be fine and everybody would know that there’s going to be another one. 

But, they didn’t announce it publicly. They hid it, then, out of the blue, announced it, and that wasn’t a cool move.

Obviously you’re pretty irritated about this “new” Main Event. Has anyone from WSOP reached out to you about it or tried to explain things to you?

SM: Not really. That’s why I opened my Twitter account, because no one really reached out to me. You have to live in a cave and not follow the internet or something not to see that everyone’s talking about me being the World Series of Poker Main Event Champion. 

The WSOP even sent me a certificate showing that, so I don’t find it a fair play that they didn’t reach out to me. But they didn’t.

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Looking for solutions to a tricky poker situation

What, if anything, would you like to see the WSOP do to make things right?

SM: There have been interesting suggestions that I should play three-handed with the winner of Rozvadov and the winner of America so that we can play for WSOP champion, even though I already won it. It’s kind of pointless, but still, it’s something. 

The WSOP was not really interested, though. They just put me aside.

“One of my problems with this is that it’s not just about me and who is the winner of 2020. If you do your marketing like that, and you represent that this is the WSOP Main Event. Of course, many people have dreamed and are risking their money.”

Some people have even found money to play – if this is not the Main Event, what happens to all the people who deposited the money to play the Main Event? 

It’s basically a lie to them. It’s not presented honestly, in my opinion. They say you’re playing the WSOP Main Event, and they say that it’s going to be online.

The Main Event isn’t even the biggest tournament of the year, when I see how (the prize pool is) developing. It kind of makes it less significant than the one in the summer.

I’m open to play some poker with the winner, with whoever they decide. I can play heads-up poker, tournament poker, whatever.

I saw that you played in the international leg of the “Main Event” but busted. What was your mood when you were playing? Was it tough to focus when you thought that you’d already won?

SM: That was a really hard decision for me. I was debating with myself. That’s why I registered on the final day. It’s not right to play an event that I don’t support.

At the same time, everyone I talked to said that I have to play this, you have to defend your title. So, in the end, I like playing poker and the tournament was nice.

It doesn’t really change my opinion. I didn’t really look at it as the Main Event … just some good tournament online.

Has this situation made you not want to play at the WSOP in the future?

SM: For sure, I lost some respect for WSOP because this was not professional at all in my opinion. It looked like the WSOP made so many players play an event which was not what it represented. I don’t like this stuff. 

What could have been done better

USPoker chatted with Stoyan for about 45 minutes. He obviously feels very strongly about the situation and wants to be heard.

The truth of the matter is an argument can be made on both sides. After reading the marketing and Madanzhiev’s certificate closely, some wiggle room left open the possibility of another Main Event.

However, from a corporate and public relations standpoint, this whole affair could be seen as a tremendous failure. Even some native English speakers were confused about the two tournaments, two Main Events, and two champions.

People mostly speaking English as a second language played the summer event. Madanzhiev makes a good point about his irritation not stopping with his lack of recognition. If others also believed they were playing the Main Event, they might feel they were handed a bill of goods.

Furthermore, the old-school stonewalling approach favored by many companies simply doesn’t work anymore in the social media era. Those with a legitimate beef, like Madanzhiev, don’t have to go quietly into the night. Like he said, that’s what prompted him to take to Twitter.

In this case, the WSOP should have acknowledged the confusion. There’s no reason that Madanzhiev should still be getting silence from the WSOP.

While he may not be the “official” WSOP Main Event champion, his accomplishment deserves plenty of recognition. It’s not even about being right – it’s just about being polite.

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