Sean Callander reports for PokerStars on the last day of the PokerStars.net APPT Macau...
APPT Macau main event champion Eddie Sabat
Macau is considered the hottest gaming destination on the planet, and with good reason. Since the opening of the Sands in 2002, the big Vegas operators have been clawing over each other to grab a slice of this exclusive but lucrative pie.
The pressure to keep up is immense. New Vegas-style hotels and casinos are popping up at an astounding rate as the eyes of the gaming world turn to the east for the first time since gambling was legalised in the former Portuguese colony more than 150 years ago.
So it was only natural that poker, the game that has taken the world by storm, should eventually sweep into the Special Administrative Region of Macau like a typhoon from the South China Sea.
Less than 12 months ago, the Grand Waldo Hotel and Casino in Macau (the first one-stop hotel and entertainment resort to open here) hosted the first no-limit hold’em tournament ever played in the People’s Republic of China. The champion was a player with heritage that, like Macau, bridged East and West – Vietnamese-born Dinh Le, who now resides in the UK.
The APPT returned to Macau in 2008 and set a standard for poker comparable to the image and success of Macau as the world’s premier gaming market.
Preceding the 2008 APPT Macau main event was the opening of PokerStars Macau, the first live poker room to open in a Macanese casino. Then over the past six days, the APPT rewrote every record in Asian tournament poker history with the biggest field (538 entrants) and biggest prize pool (HKD $12,643,000 or USD $1,620,897) ever offered on the continent.
Players came from the across the world to experience Macau and the APPT – from world champions like Johnny Chan to Team PokerStars Pros Joe Hachem, Lee Nelson, Isabelle Mercier, Chad Brown, Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier and Vanessa Rousso to many of the world’s most accomplished pros – all representing a total of 73 different nations.
Importantly, more than 15 per cent of the field was made of players from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, representing the future of the game in this fledgling poker market.
The eventual winner bore an eerie resemblance to the player who took out the first event of the tour in 2007. Like APPT Manila champion Brett Parise, Eddie Sabat is a young college graduate from the USA. But unlike Parise, Sabat brought some solid experience to Macau despite his relative youth.
The youngest player at the final table, the PokerStars player had compiled some impressive results over the previous 12 months, including third in the WSOP Circuit Series event at Harrah’s Rincon in San Diego, worth $70,680, back in February.
He also cashed in the PokerStars.net LAPT event in Brazil last month, and finished in the money twice at the 2008 WSOP. The 22-year-old recently completed his accountancy studies at USC but his poker education continues in the card clubs of LA.
Sabat’s road to victory took more twists and turns than the Great Wall of China: “It was such an up and down day for me. I bled chips early and got aggressive when I need to. I suppose it was meant to be in the end. It’s such an unreal feeling, and it was great to share it with my friends, who were great supporters all day,” Sabat said.
After three day one flights that featured a who’s who of poker, the field of 538 was slashed to 208 for day two with Germany’s Andre Wagner (109,700) leading the field from PokerStars qualifier Mark Walsh (95,000) and Australian (now living in Hong Kong) David Steicke (87,700).
Day two was a remarkable day of poker with the rate of eliminations not letting up all day with just 39 plays still standing amid the ruins. The man on top of the pile was 22-year-old Eddie Sabat, a PokerStars player from California with 379,5000. He led Charles Chua, a Malaysian-based Aussie (369,500) and another PokerStars player, Canadian Keith Wintermans (358,000).
The pace continued unabated on day three with the 39 players whittled down to the final nine in less than six levels.
The final table line-up was a fitting tribute to the APPT Macau main event and the development of tournament poker in Asia, featuring a Macau resident (Will Cheong), a Beijing local (Tian Chen), a Singaporean (Diwei “Bryan” Huang) and a Korean (So Myung Sim), plus Chua, Sabat, a pair of Scandinavians (Mikael Rosen and Jeppe Drivsholm) plus Englishman Javed Abrahams.
Huang and Sabat held the only stacks of more than one million – Sabat’s chips coming mainly thanks to a massive pot late on day three when his pocket aces took out two opponents.
After two days of chaos, the final table provided a dramatic contrast with players carefully picking their mark until the short stacks began to tumble.
The chip lead was swapped among Sabat, Chua, Huang and Drivsholm until Chua (who’d been down to just 245,000 earlier in the day) went on a charge late in the evening to take the lead into the heads-up battle against Sabat.
Eddie Sabat and Charles Chua go heads-up
The end came after the pair had swapped the lead on three occasions, with Chua opening for 150,000. Sabat called and the flop came 6c-Qd-6d. He checked, Chua bet 275,000, Sabat check-raised to 550,000, Chua pushed in and Sabat called.
Sabat showed Kd-Jd for a flush draw, while Chua’s Qs-3c gave him two-pair. The turn (Ac) brought more outs, but the 2d on the river sent Sabat into the arms of the poker buddies who’d railed him all day. He collected HKD $3,540,040 (USD $453,851) for the win.
Less than a month after the world’s athletes farewelled China after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, it’s appropriate that the PokerStars.net APPT Macau main event followed so soon after. So it’s gold to Eddie Sabat (USA), silver to Charles Chua (Malaysia) and bronze to Bryan Huang (Singapore).
PokerStars.net APPT Macau main event
1 Eddie Sabat (USA) HKD $3,540,040 (USD $453,851.28)
2 Charles Chua (Malaysia) HKD $2,275,740 (USD $291,761.54)
3 Bryan Huang (Singapore) HKD $1,201,080 (USD $153,984.62)
4 Mikael Rosen (Sweden) HKD $847,080 (USD $108,600.00)
5 Jeppe Drivsholm (Denmark) HKD $632,150 (USD $81,044.87)
6 Will Cheong (Macau) HKD $442,500 (USD $56,730.77)
7 Tian Chen (China) HKD $328,720 (USD $42,143.59)
8 Javed Abrahams (UK) HKD $240,220 (USD $30,797.44)
9 So Myung Sim (South Korea) HKD $177,000 (USD $22,692.31)
All photography © Joe Giron/IMPDI