The final table of a major poker event is an exciting place to be. It's where dreams are made, and then shattered, all with the fall of a single card.
We started out today with nine talented players who had safely navigated their way through a field of 218 entrants to earn a coveted seat at the PokerStars.net APPT Auckland final table. It was an international affair with five different countries represented and six PokerStars qualifiers flying the flag, but in the end the title remained on home soil as 40-year-old music mogul Danny "Brotha D" Leaoasavaii carried his overnight chip lead all the way to claim a memorable victory. Father, husband, entrepreneur, artist, activist, businessman, pioneer; New Zealand hip-hop icon, Brotha D can now add APPT Champion to his list of accomplishments.
The day started out with a flurry of action, with Noah Vogelman picking up A♠A♣ on the very first hand of the day and Leo Boxell busting out of the tournament moments later with the very same hand. Boxell has a habit of getting his money in good, but in poker that's only half the battle, as the poker Gods favoured the A♠K♠ of Danny Silk when the board ran out K♦6♠5♠K♣3♣ to eliminate an unlucky Boxell in 9th place.
PokerStars qualifier Noah Vogelman had put his Day 1 chip lead to good use to reach the final table, but he was next to go when he went with A♦5♦ on an ace-high board in a battle of the blinds with Tom Grigg. It proved to be a key hand on the final table, as Grigg's A♣Q♥ held up to take the pot. Grigg jumped out to a significant chip lead, sending the dangerous Vogelman to the rail in 8th place.
The locals were catching some cards and with the support of their huge crew on the rail, it was always going to be a tough ask for an international to take the title overseas.
Australian Danny Silk was doing his best as he got lucky again to cripple Spaniard Santi Soriano Ramos. It was Silk's A♠9♠ up against the K♦K♥ of Soriano Ramos, but the board ran out Q♠J♦A♦6♠9♥ to give Silk two pair and the pot.
"Could I get it in any worse?" sighed Silk with a touch of relief. "I should be home!"
But he'd have to stick around a little longer to see Soriano Ramos depart in 7th place, before Kiwi Ropati Toleafoa followed in 6th. Toleafoa made a move with a flush draw against Srdjan Mitrovic who made a big call with his pocket jacks. The river bricked and Mitrovic surged into contention with five players remaining. However it was Brotha D out in front after he took big pots off Tom Grigg and Tamas Lendvai.
It would be Grigg and Lendvai who would clash in the next major pot of the final table. It was Lendvai's pocket nines against the K♥Q♦ of Grigg and when a king hit the flop, Grigg thought he was set to eliminate his opponent, but a nine on the river gave Lendvai the double up. It was another devastating two-outer blow for the young Aussie after Brotha D had done the same to him late on Day 3.
However Grigg got his revenge when Lendvai shoved from the small blind with K♥3♣ and Grigg made the call with A♣8♥. The board fell 2♦T♦6♦Q♣A♦ to give Grigg a virtual double up and eliminate the Hungarian in 5th place.
Brotha D remained in the lead as he successfully three and four-bet preflop, and then flopped a set to take control of the contest four-handed. Brotha D was then responsible for the elimination of Danny Silk who made a move preflop with K♦6♣ as Brotha D called with A♣7♣. A king in the window was followed by an ace behind it as Silk fell in 4th place.
One of the key flips of the tournament came when Tom Grigg was all in preflop with Q♦Q♠ against Brotha D's A♣K♦. If Brotha D could spike an ace or king then he would take a commanding lead into heads-up play, but it wasn't to be as Grigg's queens held and he doubled up.
Grigg then put his new chips to good use as he caught Srdjan Mitrovic making a move from the small blind. Mitrovic had shoved with 9♠8♣ but Grigg called with a dominant A♥8♠ which held up to eliminate Mitrovic in 3rd place and give Grigg the narrowest of chip leads entering heads-up play.
By 7:00pm when heads-up play began we thought we were going to be able to wrap things up and go and enjoy a nice dinner in Auckland, but Grigg and Brotha D had different ideas as an epic four-hour heads-up battle ensued.
It was a trans-Tasman battle of New Zealand versus Australia as the room was divided in two like the middle of a rugby scrum. The railbirds certainly got their fix of entertainment with every pot cheered for like it was worth its weight in gold.
The lead was exchanged back and forth with regularity, with Brotha D managing to survive to come back from the brink of elimination on several occasions.
Brotha D found two key double ups that Grigg will be having nightmares over. The first was on a 5♦J♥4♦ flop when Grigg's A♣J♠ was outflopped by Brotha D's J♣5♣. The second saw Brotha D make a gambling call preflop with 7♦6♥ against Grigg's A♦5♠ with the board running out 3♥T♥9♥5♥8♥. Twice Grigg had chances to win it, and twice Brotha D survived.
As the night wore on fatigue started to set in and it became a battle of physical and emotional endurance. Grigg started to fade, and when his all-in shove was snap-called by Brotha D, Grigg knew he was in trouble. Grigg tabled J♥T♠ for live cards against Brotha D's A♠K♠ but the board bricked out 3♣4♦9♦6♠Q♠ to give Brotha D the pot and the title.
For PokerStars qualifier Tom Grigg it was a bitter-sweet moment. After being very short on day one, Grigg turned things around in remarkable fashion on day two to grab a huge chip lead which he carried all the way to the final table. Grigg will be disappointed to miss out on the elusive trophy but he'll be comforted by the thought of turning his $22 rebuy online satellite win into NZ$107,900 in prize money.
"He (Brotha D) played really, really well I think," commented Grigg following the final table. "I kind of felt like I could wait for spots and get it in. I didn't have to bluff, really, to win. That was my thought process. In the end, obviously it didn't work out, but he played really well."
For Brotha D, his win capped off a remarkable week in the SKYCITY Auckland Poker Room. Brotha D had qualified for this event for the second year in a row via the SKYCITY Celebrity Challenge, and after four days of intense poker he'd pocketed the title and NZ$170,000 in prize money.
"This is awesome, you know," said Brotha D following his victory. "This is the ultimate competition for us in New Zealand. We look forward to this every year. SKYCITY is an awesome place, you know. We come here regularly just to play and work on our craft."
For the third year in a row the APPT Auckland title remains on home soil as New Zealand once again proves that it can match it with the best in the world on the poker felt.
Final Table Payouts
1st: Danny 'Brotha D' Leaoasavaii (New Zealand) - NZ$170,000
2nd: Tom Grigg, PokerStars Qualifier (Australia) - NZ$107,900
3rd: Srdjan Mitrovic, PokerStars Qualifier (New Zealand) - NZ$60,500
4th: Danny Silk, PokerStars Qualifier (Australia) - NZ$49,050
5th: Tamas Lendvai, PokerStars Qualifier (Hungary) - NZ$40,900
6th: Ropati Toleafoa (New Zealand) - NZ$34,300
7th: Santi Soriano Ramos, PokerStars Qualifier (Spain) - NZ$27,800
8th: Noah Vogelman, PokerStars Qualifier (United States) - NZ$21,250
9th: Leo Boxell (Australia) - NZ$16,350
And that wraps up our week here in Auckland, and what a week it was! We've enjoyed our time here, both in the poker room and seeing the sights of Auckland, and we highly recommend that players consider Auckland on their list of poker destinations for next year, especially when the 2011 Rugby World Cup will be in town.
Many thanks to Ejaaz Dean, Toni Quedley and their SKYCITY Auckland staff for their wonderful professionalism and hospitality throughout the week as they cement Auckland as the premier poker destination in the country.
Also thanks to the hard-working team at PokerStars, including the tireless efforts of my fellow reporter James Bernard, the brilliant photography of Phil Crawford and the talented video crew Ash Koek and Kirsty Chick.
The next stop on the PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tour takes us to the five-star resort facilities of the Shangri-La Mactan Resort & Spa in Cebu in the Philippines from November 12-16. We look forward to seeing you there!