Through six-and-a-half seasons of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, there had never been a winner from China. It seems impossible that a country of more than 1.3 billion people couldn’t find a champion on the tour that skirts its borders, but the game remains in its infancy in the People’s Republic.
However, the poker players of the world’s largest nation may have found themselves a new hero tonight as Alexandre Chieng, a 33-year-old CEO of a cosmetics company from Shanghai, has just broken China’s duck on the region’s premiere tour.
“I feel great, it is like a dream come true,” Chieng said as he grew acquainted with his new silver trophy.
If China is the most significant emerging market for poker’s promotors, then we may have ourselves an Asian Chris Moneymaker. Chieng’s HK $2,165,000 (US $279,355 approx) victory may be a degree less than anything won at the World Series Main Event, but its repercussions for poker in China could be equally seismic. Chieng said he didn’t realise that he was the first Chinese winner, but immediately hoped his victory may change the face of gaming in the country.
“For me, poker is a sport,” he said. “It is not about money. I hope that more people start playing tournaments, more than just cash. It’s great to win over people and it’s great to win in a healthy way; too many people in China play too big, which is not healthy. I wish to tell them that you can be just as happy when you win this kind of tournament than any other game.”
He added: “The tournament is all about competition. You have to believe until the end.”
Chieng beat a field of 388 to claim the prize, and prevailed from a final table of some of the region’s best known players in a little more than four hours. He managed to crack Kenneth Leong’s aces with 6♦7♦ on the last hand of the night to secure his first career title from his 13th final table.
It was only the sixth hand of heads up play when Chieng hit the board hard in a three-bet pre-flop pot. The flop came 5♦7♠10♠ and the turn was 7♥, with Leong moving all in for more than two million chips. Leong, 38, from Hong Kong, who was the first ever Macau Poker Cup Red Dragon champion in 2009, wandered from the table and into the arms of his wife as Chieng pondered whether to make the call.
Eventually Chieng called and Leong knew he was in trouble. The river did not bring the ace he would have needed to claim the double up, and the title was Chieng’s.
“I had great opponents on this table, it’s just unbelievable to beat all these people for whom I have very great respect, especially Kenneth (Leong), who I have played with before,” Chieng said. He raised both arms in the air to celebrate his momentous achievement.
Despite the levels being wound back one hour, the final table got off to a typically explosive start. Three players were eliminated within the first 45 minutes. First, Khac Trung Tran’s pocket tens couldn’t hold up against Nan Hong’s suited over-cards. Hong made a flush. Then Jay Tan found paint K♠Q♦, but couldn’t out-draw Tong’s A♠K♦.
Tian Hao then found pocket jacks at precisely the wrong time. Tong had black aces, and flopped a boat. Hao wandered away from the table with a big grin on his face, by which point Tan was already chatting to friends without a care in the world either.
“I’m over it already,” Tan said. “I enjoyed it. I’m a very lucky girl.”
The only notable slow down of the final occurred six handed, but all things are relative. After about an hour without any eliminations, during which Dinesh Alt and ShuYang Yu found their stacks dipping below a million, a pot brewed between the two of them that would light the fireworks once again.
Alt had jacks and Yu had sevens and they got it all in pre-flop. Alt’s hand held, taking us to five, with some remarkably even stacks. But Alt then went on a tear, chip, chip, chipping away, mostly at Nan Hong’s patience, who ended up shoving pre-flop one too many times.
He ran A♣7♠ into Leong’s jacks and that was the end of Hong’s tournament.
Danny McDonagh took over microphone duties to allow his tournament staff a short break. And if ever there was a cooler on the mic, it was McDonagh today, whose tenure lasted three hands, but oversaw two eliminations.
Alt and Leong were the two chip leaders when they got embroiled in a classic pre-flop raising war. It was A♥K♦ for Alt and J♦J♠ for Leong and the conspired to get it all in pre-flop.
Jacks had been running exceptionally well at the final table, and once again they stood up. Indeed, Leong flopped a set and turned a boat and the tournament officials were brought in to count down the stacks. Leong had marginally less than Alt, so the Swiss player survived with about four big blinds. But they were all in on the very next hand behind K♣9♣ and against Chieng’s A♦2♥.
There would be no outdraw. The ace-high took it, much to the delight of Ling Tong, whose short stack has him thinking his name was a lock for fourth place. The delight bubbled over on the very next hand as he got his chips in. But his A♠Q♦ couldn’t beat Leong’s pocket fours (they flopped a set, of course) and we were heads up within the blink of an eye.
That brought us to the heads up battle between Leong and Chieng, which started with approximately equal chips. However it was one way traffic until the huge pot that would end it. Chieng flipped up his shades and punched the air.
One suspects it will take some time for this to sink in, by which time he may well be the newest celebrity in China.
Congratulations to all the final table players. The APPT reconvenes in Queenstown, New Zealand, at the end of July. See you then.
APPT7 Macau Main Event – Final Table Payouts
Date: June 12-16, 2013
Buy in: $25,000 ($23,000+$2,000)
Prize Pool: $8,656,280
(Place, prize HKD, prize USD)
1 – Alexandre Chieng, China, PokerStars Player, $2,165,000 ($279,355)
2 – Kennth Leong, Hong Kong, $1,390,000 ($179,355)
3 – Ling Tong, China, $779,000 ($100,516)
4 – Alt Dinesh, Switzerland, PokerStars Player, $606,000 ($78,194)
5 – Nan Hong, China, $476,000 ($61,419)
6 – Shuyang Yu, China, $389,000 ($50,194)
7 – Hao Tian, China, $303,000 ($39,097)
8 – Jay Tan, Hong Kong, $238,000 ($30,710)
9 – Khac Trung Tran, Australia, $173,180 ($22,346)
Thanks, as ever, to the work of Kenneth Lim and Long Guan of Kenneth Lim Photography for the excellent pictures here in Macau.