If you want a long tactical battle with a draw at the end, try cricket. If you want big men hitting other big men in helmets and pads, try football, and if you like to carry a club and whack things there's always golf. But if you want undiluted madness, adrenaline, craft, guile and drama you simply cannot beat the World Cup of Poker. Just ask a team from Chinese Taipei, who just completed their adventure by beating Croatia to be crowned the 2010 World Cup champions.
Wen-Hao Pen celebrates
"I'm so proud of my team mates," said the team captain, Raymond Wu, who pointed out that some of his team-mates had only been playing poker for a matter of weeks. "I think they think it's just a dream."
At least one of them took some convincing that it wasn't in the post victory interviews.
"It's like a dream," said Yen Ming Chen. "I don't want to wake up."
"You can wake up though," said the presenter Michelle Orpe, "It is real!"
"It's real?" asked Chen in mock wonderment. "Whoa!"
Cue madcap celebrations that will probably go on into the night.
Their victory came after a brief but thrilling heads-up finale, against the team that had lead the tournament coming into today, Croatia. Sitting opposite Taipei's Wen-Hao Pan, the Croatian captain Denis Kelemen had 79,000 to Pan's 461,000. There was only room to shove - and shove they sure did. Croatia went first with J♥9♣, Taipei calling with A♠2♠. This was to be no ace-high whimper. Croatia flopped bottom two while Taipei got a flush draw that hit on the turn. Only on the river, when Croatia missed their house, were Taipei able to jump up and down like kids on treat day.
It brought to a close an electric event, one that took nearly ten hours to complete despite a structure that promised knife edge drama all the way. Not the quick-fire eliminations some cynics had predicted, instead a cagey and tactical slugfest. This was thanks to the intricate, often zany format - a tag team system with players rotating every 20 minutes, with substitutions and time outs allowed, even in the middle of hands.
It was four full hours before the Chilean team departed first. Having struggled in yesterday's heads up preliminaries, Chile began with only 20,000 chips. Despite desperate defensive efforts they were seen off by Taipei. Two hours later Norway, led by the Team PokerStars Pro Johnny Lodden, followed them to the rail, then Finland an hour after that.
Norway's captain, Johnny Lodden
After suffering in hands against the USA and Canada, the Italian team was unable to survive until the dinner break, their leader Luca Pagano, who had done well to keep spirits up from the rail throughout the event, unable to prevent their elimination in sixth. Then came Germany.
If there was a player invented for the World Cup of Poker it is Jan Heitmann. From the moment the Team PokerStars Pro cheered heartily his team's second-hand-of-the-day walk, through to the Mexican wave he choreographed and an unfortunate if unintentional time out slow roll, Heitmann was the Cup's unofficial ring master. Was it going to be his show? Not quite.
Jan Heitmann celebrates a small but vital first pot
Despite starting second to last in chips they built a stack that at one point put them in the lead, the defending champs fell short of spinning the fairytale into a back to back win. Worthy champions became gracious fifth place finishers shortly after the dinner break.
Even before Taipei busted the USA captain, Wu's teammates were already making a hero of the Team PokerStars Pro who had played substitute twice to lift his team's fortunes. The USA were among the favourites, boasting some strong players, not least their determined captain Vanessa Rousso. But with a once mighty stack now reduced to all-in or nothing, Rousso had to act, opting to flip with pocket fours against Wu's K♣J♣, although admitting she'd have preferred to have conferred. The board delivered Taipei's flush on the river and their relief could have fizzed the lights. But it was nothing compared with what would come next. For what stood before them was a Canadian team equal to them in both talent, and in luck.
Led by Darus Suharto, Canada had romped along on day 1a and finished well in the heads-up on day 1b, always within sight of the leaders, reaching the final table today with 80,000 chips. Their team had been a mixture of poker newbies and veterans, all with a deep will to win, fuelled by a Canadian rail and a couple of cold ones. They'd had their luck, catching a seven in a massive hand against their southern neighbours USA that almost put them in the lead. Then they'd eliminated rivals Germany, who they'd beaten in the heads up round.
But then the slip sliding began: doubling Croatia before a final hand against Taipei, whose pocket kings could not be toppled. It sent them out in third place and gave Taipei that insurmountable lead.
Within minutes it was over. Croatia had come within a place of the title, but reluctantly settled for second. For Taipei outright joy, disbelief and a World Cup title.
So close for Croatia
This will be the story you read when the World Cup of Poker is brought up over the next 12 months. You'll read it when qualifying events start for World Cup VII in a few months, and you'll read this in about 11 and a half months before a new gaggle of teams tackle some pretty weird but entertaining rules. But the 2010 was the World Cup of Poker's best advert yet for what is poker for poker's sake, played with unparalleled heart.
That's enough sentimentality. Congratulations to Chinese Taipei; to Wan Hsan Lai, Wen-Hao Pan, Tsu-Chi Wang, Tseng Wei Ming and their captain Raymond Wu, the new World Cup of Poker champions.