The last hour of the ANZPT Sydney Main Event has been some of the most exciting and interesting poker we have witnessed in recent memory. Not only did the bubble burst far sooner than expected, but play of the entire tournament was halted for almost 30 minutes while a dispute was resolved over on Table 4.
Firstly we will tell you about the bubble. It all started when we looked at the tournament clock which was displaying that there were 58 players remaining. With the top 54 players guaranteed some cash, that meant we were four eliminations off being in the money. Bracing ourselves for hand-for-hand play and bursting the bubble, we left the media desk and wandered into the tournament area. At this point we watched Sebastian Pagana be eliminated when he was all in for his last remaining 500 in chips holding pocket nines. Pagana's opponent held King-Queen and with a king on the board, sent Pagana to the rail.
"Ladies and gentlemen you are in the money!" said the tournament director.
It seems there was some sort of error as hand-for-hand play never occurred. The players were just as baffled as us in the media. But nonetheless, with 54 players in their seats following Pagan's elimination, we were in the money and the remaining players were guaranteed $3,680.
Now, this is when the interesting part of the day occurred. Not long after the bubble, dozens of players and tournament officials had gathered around Table 4 as what seemed like a routine dispute was occurring. How wrong we were. This dispute would go on for so long that it was deemed the entire tournament would have to pause their play until a decision was made. Like the floor staff and ANZPT head honcho Danny McDonagh, we only had the information and explanation given by the players involved, along with the players at the table and the dealer.
We heard dozens of variations on the story, but the most common story apparently had the two players involved in the dispute getting all their chips in on a 4♠A♦9♦ flop. Instead of turning their cards over as what would usually happen, both players held onto their cards. The dealer then quickly tabled the 8♦ turn and the J♦ river. At this point the at-risk player tabled A♣Q♠, while the other player mucked. The cards clearly hit the muck, but at the insistence of Gary Benson, he wanted to see the other player's cards. The dealer retrieved the cards and tabled 5♦5♣ - this was a flush and the better hand than the pair of aces.
Once the tournament director was called over, it was looking like the verdict was that the lesser of the two hands - the pair - would take down the pot and therefore the at-risk player would be staying in the tournament. Gary Benson, who has certainly played in hundreds of poker tournaments, wasn't so sure and even stated that this could be a form of collusion. With Benson and several players at the table, along with the TD, still arguing the decision, Danny McDonagh was called over to consult on the call. At this point, on McDonagh's advice, The Star TD obliged that the only way to decide would be to get out the official casino rule book and make a decision based on the rules therein.
After deliberating on the decision, the TD had returned with the answer, deeming that the at-risk player - the one with the worst hand - would be taking down the pot. This was because in The Star rule book, there is nothing that says players must show their hands when all-in, and that because there was "forward motion with the intention to muck" from the player with the better hand, his hand was deemed dead. A collusion ruling was not given due to the state of the tournament, the situation and not having sufficient evidence that the players knew each other, along with the fact that the hand was easy to misread.
Following the above situation, McDonagh got on the microphone, explained the situation and the ruling to the players in the room and everyone seemed to at least understand that this was the most correct situation that could be made given the rules here at The Star and information available during the incident.
"This is poker," McDonagh told the room. "And unfortunately there isn't a specific answer to every situation possible."
With that, play goes on as eliminations continue happening in the money. Right now there are around 45 players remaining in the ANZPT Sydney Main Event.