It wasn’t long ago that the number of casino-based poker tables in New Zealand’s could be counted on one hand, the country’s most famous poker player spoke with an American accent and the country’s North Island was a tournament poker wasteland every bit as barren as the volcanic plateau in Tongariro National Park.
Slowly but surely, New Zealand has caught up with the rest of the world. The nation’s largest casino, SKYCITY Auckland, is now home to one of the region’s finest poker facilities that regularly hosts tournament series catering to players of all budgets and levels of experience.
The man with the American accent who helped put New Zealand poker on the global map, PokerStars Player Lee “Final Table” Nelson, now shares the local spotlight with numerous players of international standing. And with pub and club competitions feeding the demand for tournament poker throughout the country, the numbers playing the game have never been higher.
The new guard of NZ poker players were again out in force in the 2009 PokerStars.net APPT Auckland Main Event, where they went head-to-head against the region’s best, including PokerStars.net Team Australia Pros Grant Levy, Tony Hachem, Eric Assadourian, Emad Tahtouh and Team Asia’s Celina Lin. Among the field of 263 players were most of the country’s new guard – guys like Josh Egan, James Honeybone, Neil Stewart, Shaun Goldsbury and defending champion Daniel Craker.
Another name can now be added to that list – 26-year-old software developer Simon Watt from the North Shore district of Auckland. After qualifying for this event via a $22 rebuy event on PokerStars, Watt quietly picked his way through the field and by day two, he was among the chip leaders and entered the final table mid-field, but confident of a good showing.
Fellow PokerStars Qualifier Gerome Guitteau did most of the damage at the final table, but Watt waited patiently and pounced when the opportunity arose. Watt was level in chips with the Frenchman when the heads-up duel started, and dispatched him within 15 minutes.
For the second year, the PokerStars.net APPT Auckland is staying on New Zealand soil and with so many polished young players coming through the ranks, it’s unlikely to be leaving anytime soon.
The next stop on season three of the PokerStars.net APPT is a familiar country, but a new venue. We’re off to the Shangri-la Mactan Resort in Cebu, Philippines (after two years at the Hyatt in Manila) for the 100,000 PHP (approximately USD $2150) buy-in APPT Philippines tournament, which will run from November 11-15.
On behalf of my PokerStars blog partner Landon Blackhall, local photographer Phil Crawford and the APPT and local PokerStars teams, farewell from Auckland, New Zealand and the 2009 SKYCITY Festival of Poker.