This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Despite the global poker boom of the early to mid-2000s, the game has taken a lot longer to capture the imagination of players in Asia – but there is no doubt poker’s popularity in the region is growing if the record numbers taking part in January’s Macau Poker Cup are anything to go by.
They promised record numbers and even hinted at a Main Event field topping the 1,000 player mark. Well, they fell agonizingly short of the magic 1,000 with 995 taking their seats in the Red Dragon but there is no denying that poker in Macau continues to break down barriers at the poker table with almost 3,500 players taking part across the 13 events of the latest Macau Poker Cup (MPC).
MPC20 stood as somewhat of a milestone figure for the crew at PokerStars LIVE Macau at City of Dreams, having been forced to move locations on three occasions over the years to get to where they are today, and they celebrated in style with huge fields turning out right across the 12-day schedule.
But it was the Red Dragon Main Event that all eyes were focussed on as they looked to break the record 891 players who turned out for MPC18 back in April last year which also happened to be the very first tournament series played in the new room at City of Dreams.
The event started well with 285 players sitting down on Day 1a – the biggest opening flight field in its six-year history. Another 294 turned up on Day 1b to take the total to 579 ahead of the always popular third flight. Needing 312 players on Day 1c to break the previous record, a new record was never in doubt with a single flight record of 416 players converging to take the event total to an impressive 995.
While the figures were pleasing, there was no shortage of familiar faces in the crowd all hoping to take home the highly sought after Red Dragon trophy. MPC18 champion Terry Fan was among the local hopes alongside Team PokerStars pros Bryan Huang, Vivian Im, Raymond Wu and Celina Lin. ANZPT Player of the Year Iori Yogo was an early casualty while David Steicke and WGM CEO Andrew W Scott both failed to progress to Day 2 , the latter falling with just half an hour to go on Day 1.
The fast structure ensured just 223 players progressed past the opening day flights with 117 to make the money. The money bubble was cracked midway through Day 2 with Vivian Im, America’s Lacey Jones and Sixiao “Juicy” Li among those to go deep although none would make the final table.
Instead, it was Fan who was closing in on his own slice of history as he looked to become just the second person after Celina Lin to win two Red Dragons. Fan’s achievement in simply reaching this final table was remarkable in itself given he had won the previous record-breaking Red Dragon just nine months earlier.
Joining him at the final table were Fei Xie, who finished fourth when Fan won at MPC18 and rising Aussie star Victor Teng who has strung together a series of big results over the past two years. In 2012, Teng won the NPL Millions at Sydney’s The Star for around AU$200,000 and already has career cashes totalling almost AU$550,000.
Fan’s dream of another title would end quickly when he was eliminated in eighth. Once down to three-handed a deal was quickly done with each remaining player guaranteed at least HK$1.1 million and it proved a wise decision for Teng who shoved with A-Q soon after only to run into A-A and exit in third. That hand left unknown Mongolian Buyanjargal Bold suffering a 2-1 chip deficit heading into heads-up play but it didn’t last long with Bold quickly taking control.
Bold eventually called off a shove with A-8 and when the board ran out A-4-6-4-2 the tournament was over and Bold was crowned the latest Macau Poker Cup Red Dragon champion.
With 13 events on the schedule for MPC20, the series began with a bang with the biggest ever opening weekend in MPC history. The first three days from Friday to Sunday saw 743 players take part with 332 buying into the HK$6,000 “Baby Dragon” event – more than double the 152 who played the HK$5,500 event at MPC19 in August. Bobby Zhang prevailed in the Baby Dragon, taking home HK$340,800 for his efforts and kick starting a great series for the Australian who enjoyed another final table finish in the HK$5,000 Bounty.
A total of 3,443 players took part in MPC20, creating combined prize pools of HK$21,443,285 to easily smash the previous records of 2,812 players and HK$16,976,762 in total prize pools, both set last April.