After the usual introductions, the final table is under way in Macau, surrounded by the low walls of the PokerStars Live card room and a pretty sizeable rail.
I was interested to discover who the spectators were supporting and waited to hear which player got the biggest ovation after his or her introduction. But apart from a whoop from Kenny Wong for his girlfriend Jay Tan, there was nothing beyond a polite smattering of applause for each of the nine players.
That suggests quite clearly that these are not fans of any player in particular, rather they are just fascinated by the game of poker itself and know they have a rare chance today to watch it close up. We’ve talked a lot over the past couple of weeks in Asia about the fresh appetite for the game in the region, and the steadily increasing size of the rail is further indicative of the growing curiosity.
I remember in something like 1999 heading to the poker room of the Victoria Casino in London for the first time and standing the other side of the rail where some of British poker’s luminaries were playing. (Some of the faces were familiar from Late Night Poker in the UK, which started airing in 1998.) Sufficiently intrigued, I plucked up the courage to play some poker in another London casino, then gradually started visiting the card rooms of the world for work, obviously dipping into the online game which was only just starting to grow.
We may be more than ten years along modern poker’s exhilarating road, but looking at the rail here reminds me of what is used to be like in Europe.
Most spectators are young but are clearly focused on the game and I’m guessing that each of them has a PokerStars account and are playing either with play money or for low stakes. They probably intend at some point to enter an APPT event–possibly qualifying online. I also think it’s a pretty certain bet that someone on the rail here today will be on a final table at PokerStars Live within the year, and maybe even at an APPT event.
The avenues into poker are more numerous and smoothly paved these days and there are hundreds of tournaments every hour, both online and in facilities like PokerStars Live at the City of Dreams. And even if ambitions for a poker career go belly up, there’s usually a spot in the press room.
My media colleague Mat Pater predicted this morning that Jay Tan would not be the first player out today, despite her short stack. And within about half an hour of play starting, he was proven right as Khac Trung Tran, the second-smallest stack at the start of the day, was the first to trip up.
Tran’s pocket tens lost a race to Tong Ling’s K♥J♥ when the overcards turned a flush draw and then rivered it. The Aussie pro took HK $173,180.
Tan couldn’t cling on much longer, however, and she was eliminated in seventh, for HK $303,000. And no sooner had she hit the rail than Tian Hao followed her, unable to get pocket jacks to outdraw Tong Ling’s A♣A♠.
“If he’s all in and wins, you’ll know about it,” said Danny McDonagh during Hao’s introduction today, and even though he couldn’t win his first all in, he still had a good old shout in the attempt to call in the jack.
But the flop was very unkind: 6♥A♦6♦, which gave a full house to Ling and left Hao drawing to running jacks. The 3♦ turned, which was a flush draw (pointed out by Alexandre Chieng), but it was a totally pointless one given Ling’s boat.
Hao was suddenly silent but with a huge grin, he shook everyone’s hand and walked away clearly delighted with his week’s poker. The place will be quieter without him, but also somewhat less interesting.
We are six handed already.
A reminder on how to follow our coverage from Macau. There is hand-by-hand coverage at the top of the main APPT Macau page, which includes chip counts and a list of eliminated players via the “Payouts” tab. Feature coverage will filter in beneath the panel. All the information about the Asia Pacific Poker Tour is on the APPT site, and PokerStars Macau also has its own home.