Before this week, one of tournament poker’s great injustices was that few fans outside of Asia knew of a 30-year-old player from Hong Kong named Alan Lau. But that will change immediately.
Lau, who was Asia Player of the Year in 2015, was already well on the way to securing the accolade for an unprecedented second time when he came to the PokerStars LIVE! card-room at the City of Dreams Casino, Macau, to play the region’s flagship series: the Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP).
Then today, after the 308-player field had been been reduced to its final six, Lau showed the world what Asia has known for years. He is a boss. Lau outlasted one of the toughest international fields ever assembled in the continent and claimed victory in the ACOP Main Event.
Lau takes HK$5,500,500, plus the coveted gold Spadie trophy, and needless to say wraps up this year’s Asia POY race in some style. But even more than all that, Lau has proved beyond any doubt that he is a force to be reckoned with by anyone’s standards. He has stepped boldly out of the shadows and into the global spotlight.
Lau secured victory here after a heads-up battle against the American online professional Aaron Been. Been and Lau were almost evenly matched when the tournament was reduced to its final two and, clearly fatigued from a marathon four days prior, they agreed not only to an almost even split of the remaining prize money, but also to shorten the levels to a 15-minute duration.
It certainly sped things up. They had 100 big blinds apiece at 7pm. At 8pm half of that. And even though there were at least three short stack double-ups, with the chip lead ding-donging between the two of them, at 9:15pm it was all over.
“I feel unreal,” Lau said, adding that he “never thought it could happen”. He said: “I played ACOP Main four years in a row and it’s always such a tough field.”
Lau described Been, his beaten opponent, as a “beast”. But Lau turned him into a has-Been.
There was no such thing as a short stack when play resumed at 2pm, only a little more than 10 hours since it paused at the end of a marathon Day 4. But this tournament has the slowest structure outside of the World Series and there was still more than 300 big blinds in play.
That said, the shortest stacks sat with David Laka and Brian Altman, and after some tepid early skirmishes, the first two significant early pots sent those two to the rail.
Firstly, Laka was trapped by Nitsche in a blind-on-blind battle. Nitsche slow-played his pocket tens from the small blind and caught Laka when the Spanish player jammed with K♣6♦. There was no king to save Laka.
Nitsche also accounted for Altman, when the better hand again prevailed in a A♦Q♠ vs. A♥J♠ pre-flop confrontation. Laka and Altman took HK$1.29 million and HK$1.58 million, respectively, but it left Nitsche with a commanding chip lead.
That’s a position Nitsche had held for long periods in this tournament, but with only four players left–all of them among the best in the world–absolutely nothing was certain. In fact, it was Lau who now came to prominence, demonstrating to the wider world precisely why he is regarded as Asia’s finest.
He moved into the chip lead after winning two huge pots from Stephen Chidwick, both times barreling the river and persuading Chidwick to fold. That left Chidwick on a downturn, especially after he doubled up Been, and he wasn’t able to push back into the hunt.
Chidwick doubled his short stack more than once, but every time was eroded again. He then played his last in another pot against Been. Chidwick had pocket nines, but Been’s A♥Q♥ flopped top pair and turned a flush and Chidwick was out in fourth.
Nitsche also couldn’t hang around much longer. Lau and Been were the only two who had really been able to make chips stick in their stacks and Nitsche went from chip leader, to short stack to out.
He three-bet jammed over another Been open, and this time Been had pocket tens. Nitsche flopped a wheel draw with his rag ace, but whiffed. “Good enough, Dominik,” shouted Shan Huang, playing the high roller event on a neighbouring table. It was not immediately obvious if Nitsche agreed.
That left two players heads up with almost precisely equal stacks. Been had 100 big blinds to Lau’s 92 and the situation set in motion a remarkable series of events.
First, they decided to look at the numbers and discuss a deal. They quickly agreed, essentially chopping the prize money and leaving HK$100,000 on the side, plus trophy and 2018 ACOP seat.
Soon after, they talked about shortening the levels from the scheduled 90 minutes to 15. Again, they agreed on that. And then they even decided to scrap the idea of a dinner break and essentially play a turbo heads-up sit n go for the lot.
It lasted into Level 36, which would have taken us way into the early hours without the structure adjustment. And after a decisive hand when Lau’s A♣Q♠ held against Been’s A♥J♥, the last of the chips went in.
Lau’s 3♦3♠ stayed good for him to secure the biggest title in the region, the biggest of his career, and for Lau to become a major breakout star.
ACOP 2017 Main Event ($25 million Guarantee)
Dates: October 23-28, 2017
Buy-in: HK$100,000 ($95,000+$5,000)
Prize pool: $28,674,800
|1||Alan Lau||Hong Kong||$5,400,500*||$692,115*|
|4||Stephen Chidwick||United Kingdom||$2,142,800||$278,564|
|5||Brian Altman||United States||$1,571,700||$204,321|
*denotes heads up deal. Winner also gets HK$100,000 buy-in to 2018 ACOP Main Event.