This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2013 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Could the WSOP main event crown be on its way to Asia?
When the world’s most prestigious tournament reached its final table of nine players in late July – officially known as the November Nine because they return to Las Vegas in November to play down to a winner – it was Vietnamese-born poker pro JC Tran who held the chip lead with the 36-year-old in prime position to go all the way and claim the US$8.35 million first prize.
We don’t want to say “we told you so”, but hey, “we told you so!” We here at WGM love JC Tran and we’ve variously described him as “incredible”, our “best Asian poker player” and a “freakish talent”. In our May/Jun issue we said, “it could be argued that the best is yet to come from this amazing card player.” Let’s hope JC can go all the way and prove WGM right!
Asia boasts a proud history when it comes to the WSOP. From Johnny Chan’s back-to-back victories in 1987 and 1988 to Scotty Nguyen’s famous 1998 success and the little known Jerry Yang in 2007, Asian players have certainly made their mark over the years.
But should Tran add to that list of winners in November, his will be a proud moment given his widespread popularity. With the likes of Phil Ivey and Michael Mizrachi coming close in recent years, the WSOP is crying out for a decorated player to go all the way in the main event and Tran certainly fits that bill.
He already boasts two WSOP bracelets, having won a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event in 2008 for US$631,170 and a $2,500 PLO event the following year for US$235,685. He is a WPT champion having claimed the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic in 2007 for US$523,075 – the same year he won the WPT $5,000 World Poker Challenge for US$683,473 and finished second in the L.A. Poker Classic for his career best cash of almost US$1.2 million.
His live career earnings are already over US$9 million yet what an accomplishment it would be if he were to just about double that come November.
Tran enters the final table as chip leader with 38 million in chips – eight million more than his nearest competitor – but it didn’t all go his way and at one stage early in the event he found himself down to less than seven big blinds. He made it through Day 1 with only a touch over his starting stack but after grinding his way through the first few days he made his move on Days 6 and 7 to find himself with the chip lead.
Known as one of poker’s nice guys, let’s hope he can go all the way and add the prestigious WSOP main event title to his already glittering resume.
We very nearly had a former WSOP main event winner joining Tran on the final table, with 2001 champion Carlos Mortensen the final table bubble boy. Joining Tran instead will be Amir Lehavot (29.7 million), Marc-Etienne McLaughlin (26.5 million), Jay Farber (25.9 million), Ryan Riess (25.8 million), Sylvain Loosli (19.6 million), Michiel Brummelhuis (11.2 million), Mark Newhouse (7.3 million) and David Benefield (6.3 million).
The other big story for the Asia-Pacific region was the deep run of Australia’s Jackie Glazier. Much like Joe Hachem’s 2005 success prompted the poker boom Down Under, the prospect of a woman reaching the final table for the first time since Barbara Enright finished fifth in 1995 remains a key frontier. To this day, Enright remains the only female to have ever reached the WSOP final table and every year all eyes are inevitably glued to the last woman standing with the poker world almost universally cheering for a deep run.
Unfortunately Glazier also fell short, eliminated in 31st for US$229,281, although along the way she showed why she is Australia’s top female tournament player (and one of the best of either sex).
Another Aussie who made his mark at this year’s WSOP was Jarred Graham, who claimed his maiden WSOP bracelet in the $1,500 PLO Hi-Lo 8-or better for US$255,942. Graham boasts an impressive tournament resumé, having won the inaugural Sydney Championships main event in 2009 and multiple High Roller events in the same city although he is best known as a high stakes Omaha cash game player.
He certainly put those finely tuned Omaha skills to good use, coming from the short stack when play resumed on the final day to overcome the likes of Barry Greenstein and Marco Johnson on his way to victory.
However, this year’s WSOP proved a quiet one for Asian players in general so victory for Tran in the main event would at least give the region something to cheer about – even if he does consider himself American!
This was the second year APT Macau has been held at StarWorld since the APT could not find a home for its Macau tournament in 2011. While the excitement of the tournament’s eventual return to Macau last year saw 268 players turn out, this year’s event saw a significant drop in numbers with only 193 forking over the HK$23,000 entry fee.
Nevertheless, it was a high quality field with the likes of Joe Hachem, 2012 Aussie Millions champion Oliver Speidel, Praz Bansi and Sam Ravazi all taking part.
However, none of them would enjoy particularly deep runs, with Norway’s Henrik Tollefsen eventually prevailing to take home the HK$981,700 first prize.
The rest of the year sees plenty of tournament action taking place with the APT visiting both Korea and the Philippines and the APPT holding events in Melbourne and Macau, but as we say here at World Gaming, too much poker is never enough.