This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Although Macau is making big inroads into the tournament poker scene with its rapidly growing ACOP, Macau Poker Cup, APPT and Macau Millions series, the Aussie Millions still holds pride of place as the pre-eminent annual event in the Asia-Pacific region.
With a proud history that dates back to 1998 and a list of former winners which includes the likes of Gus Hansen, Lee Nelson, Alexander Kostritsyn and Tony Bloom, it has long been a popular destination for many of the world’s top players who enjoy Melbourne’s bright summer sunshine and the fact that the Aussie Millions has historically coincided with the Australian Tennis Open played just down the road.
A range of factors have seen player numbers gradually declining in recent years after the tournament reached a high of 780 in 2008, but thanks to its new partnership with the APPT and the wise decision to move WSOP A-Pac from April to October, this little bird was pleased to see numbers swelling again when the 2014 Aussie Millions kicked off in late January.
With 176 players taking part on Day 1a and 153 on Day 1b, all eyes were on the tournament clock early on Day 1c in the hope Crown would reach the extra 301 players needed to improve upon the 629 who played last year. That mark was passed with ease and with nine more players registering on Day 2, the final number came in at 668 – the most since 2011.
As usual the field was a top quality one, boasting the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Antonio Esfandiari, Erik Seidel, Tom Dwan, Joe Hachem, Jonathan Duhamel, Patrik Antonius, Viktor Blom, John Juanda, Jackie Glazier, Liv Boeree and Team PokerStars Asia pros Bryan Huang, Celina Lin, Raymond Wu and Vivian Im. 2013 WSOP Main Event champ Ryan Riess also made the trek Down Under but couldn’t repeat his November success as he was sent to the rail early.
However, a number of big names did find themselves making a run for the final table and as the Aussie Millions ticked over into Day 4, the 36 remaining players included Duhamel, Seidel, Juanda, Wu, Boeree, Jason Mercier, Jeff Rossiter, Scott Seiver and Sorel Mizzi among some lesser known hopefuls.
Seiver and Mizzi would both make the most of their opportunity by reaching the final table, giving the latter an opportunity to make amends for his close call at the 2010 Aussie Millions when he finished third behind Tyron Krost. Seiver was first to fall once the action got underway, but by the time play had reached heads-up it was Mizzi and his fellow Canadian Ami Barer left to fight it out for the title. Unfortunately for Mizzi, he would be left to rue another near miss as he failed to make a dent in Barer’s big stack. Seven and a half days after the first card was dealt, the 22-year-old Barer had claimed one of poker’s most sought after tournaments and the AU$1.6 million first prize.
This year’s Aussie Millions featured a reduced schedule of 20 events, down from 26 in 2013, but it certainly finished with a bang thanks to two High Rollers events – the $100,000 Challenge and the massive LK Boutique $250,000 Challenge.
The $100,000 Challenge shocked even the most hopeful of tournament organizers. Despite providing the opportunity for players to rebuy as often as they wanted during the early levels, albeit at AU$100,000 a pop, the 2012 and 2013 versions of this event both attracted a total of 22 buy-ins, but this year that figure more than tripled with 76 buy-ins creating a huge prize pool of almost AU$7.5 million to be divided amongst the top eight finishers.
Two players in particular made significant contributions to that prize pool with Isaac Haxton buying in a total of six times and Daniel Negreanu doing so on five occasions. Haxton was met with nothing but frustration as he proceeded to burn through his six buy-ins in record time, but Negreanu at least managed to sneak into the money and record a small AU$50,000 profit thanks to his sixth place finish. Also reaching the star-studded final table were Seidel, Antonius, Mike McDonald and David Steicke but standing tall above them all was Yevgeniy Timoshenko who walked away with another trophy and AU$2 million in cash.
Clearly craving more high stakes action, many of those same players returned the following day to try their luck in the famous LK Boutique $250,000 Challenge with the 30 runners buying in a total of 46 times to create a prize pool in excess of AU$11 million. The six who managed to make it to the money provided more than a few interesting storylines. Having busted six times in the $100,000 Challenge, Haxton used up another two in this one to take his total spend across the two events to AU$1.1 million! Fortunately, his luck eventually turned and his runner-up finish not only won him AU$2.82 million but ensured he walked away from these two mind-blowing events with a tidy profit.
Negreanu and McDonald also completed a successful few days by cashing again, however it didn’t surprise anyone to see the one and only Phil Ivey beating them all to the AU$4 million first prize. Ivey had previously won this event in 2012 but the larger field this time around ensured he completed the biggest single cash of his glittering career as well as moving into second place on the all-time money winners’ list, behind only Esfandiari, with more than US$20 million in career tournament winnings.
Ivey’s victory also closed the curtain on the Aussie Millions for another year, but there isn’t time to snooze in the poker world with the next few months seeing the APPT stop in Seoul and the ANZPT head to both Perth and Sydney, while it’s a crazy time back home in Macau where the Macau Millions, ACOP Platinum Series and APPT Macau all follow on from one another in quick succession. Bring it on!