A lot of attention gets paid in journalistic circles, in forum posts, at major live-poker festivals and in online-poker front offices about the participation of females in the game of poker. There’s never been any doubt that females can become as equally phenomenal poker players as males can. For a great and recent example of female poker success, look at the resume of Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst. Ability has never been the issue. The issue is that the vast majority of poker players are male, making it much less likely that a female can break through to the winner’s circle in any given poker tournament.
In the four-year history of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour there had only been one female to even make a final table. Liz Lieu took 7th place at the APPT Macau Main Event in Season 1. Japan’s Wooka Kim came close in Seoul during Season 2, bubbling the final table when she was eliminated in 10th place. And that was it. No other female had come closer than Young-shin Im’s 15th-place finish in the Season 3 Macau Main Event, and certainly none had ever won an APPT title.
All that changed tonight in Cebu when Im took down the APPT Season 4 Cebu Main Event for PHP 5.81 million. And perhaps even more impressively, Im got there by playing hard against the player at the table she knew best: her romantic partner, Kim Gap Young.
We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. We should rewind to the start of the day, when the last nine players reconvened to play out the tournament. Three of them would be eliminated in the first 90 minutes.
TD Danny McDonagh informed all the final-table players of the relationship between Kim and Im and told them that he reserved the right to look at either player’s cards at any time in order to preserve the integrity of the game. All players acknowledged this to be an equitable solution to the problem that the players might collude.
With that out of the way, the eliminations began. The first to go was Raymond Lapitan. He shoved his short stack right into the pocket kings of Mikael Rosen and couldn’t improve to the best hand. He was soon followed by Richard En, who flipped with Kim for his tournament life. Kim started the day on a massive heater, so it was no shock to anyone in the room that Kim won the flip to send En to the rail in 8th place.
Im, who came into the day in excellent chip position, was biding her time. She caught her first back break when she flopped a set of 4s against Jukka Juvonen’s top pair of aces. Juvonen committed his stack of about 450,000 on the flop and couldn’t overtake Im. He bowed out in 7th place.
After Juvonen busted, the rest of the table started playing back at Kim, who seemed to be playing 75% of his hands. Fabiano Michael and Mikael Rosen were both especially active and helped force Kim to slow down.
Just before the first break the sole American at the final table, Basilios Diakokomninos, was short on chips. It was a story that had been true for Diakokomninos since early on Day 3 but he had always managed to find a double-up when he needed it. At the final table, he moved all in with A♠8♦.
“I only saw one,” he admitted after being calld by Kim’s A♥Q♠. The queen kicker played at the river to send the American to the rail in 6th place.
Daren Yoon was the sole torcher-bearer for Malaysia at the final table, but he was never able to get much going. Ground down to 250,000, he moved all in after Michael opened with a standard raise. It was bad timing for Yoon as his K♦J♠ was absolutely crushed by Michael’s pocket kings. It was too tall a mountain for Yoon to climb. He left in 5th place.
Kim Gap Young and Young-shin Im were 1-2 in chips with four players left. Not only was it shaping up to be an all-Korea heads-up battle, it was shaping up to be an all-family heads-up battle. That was even more true after Sweden’s last hope, Mikael Rosen, immolated himself in the same way that Juvonen had. Rosen flopped top pair of aces with a strong kicker against Im’s flopped bottom set. The chips went in and Rosen went out in 4th place.
With three players left, Michael was the decided short stack. It seemed reasonable to expect the two big stacks, Kim and Im, to stay out of each other’s way until Michael hit the rail. But a strange thing happened: Im started playing very hard against Kim.
Kim’s stack went south in a hurry until a huge pot against Michael. Im opened with a standard raise from the button that Kim three-bet to 250,000. Michael then moved all in for 417,000 more. Kim made a daring call with pocket 3s and found himself up against pocket aces. Kim couldn’t pull out the suck-out and was crippled.
A few hands later Kim shoved a severely short stack with jack-four and ran into Michael’s pocket 9s. It was the end of Kim. Michael was looking to play the spoiler for Im’s hopes of becoming the first female champion on the APPT.
The two played for more than an hour with little change in the stack sizes. After a break, Michael became more aggressive with his three-bets, often putting himself all in and putting Im to the test. Each time she folded, allowing Michael to almost level the stacks and energizing his supporters.
Two hours into the heads-up match, Im did something she hadn’t done all tournament: she wound up playing a huge pot with all of the chips in pre-flop. Michael opened with a button raise to 150,000 that Im three-bet to 250,000. Michael then moved all in for about 2 million. Im, perhaps tired of seeing Michael repeatedly move all in, finally made a stand with A♦6♣. She was racing against Michael’s pocket 5s.
The race was pretty much over after an ace flopped. By the time the board blanked out, Im was the new Cebu champion. She was the second Korean in a row to win Cebu and walks away with PHP 5.8 million, a trophy, and a spot in the history books.
The APPT Cebu Main Event may be over, but there are plenty of other great PokerStars.net-sponsored events to follow. Tune in later today for Day 4 of the NAPT Los Angeles Main Event. The EPT will return early next week with its annual Barcelona edition.
Farewell from Cebu!
All photos provided courtesy of Luis Cruz.