When the special 13th Anniversary edition of the Sunday Million concluded last week, several entries in the history books had to be rewritten.
This was the second-largest Sunday Million ever held, with more than 61,000 entries. And the final five players cut a deal, each walking away from the tournament with more than $500,000 in winnings — a stunning figure for a two-day online poker tournament with a $215 buy-in.
But in the long term, one fact about this tournament will likely have a greater impact than any other: in outlasting the other four finalists, Wang “wangli0402” Li became the first player from China to win the Sunday Million.
A professional manager in the real estate industry by day, Wang has been playing on PokerStars as a hobby for a little over a year. “In China, we don’t have many options for playing poker, and PokerStars is a very important platform for Chinese players,” he told PokerStars Blog by email this week. “I hope that PokerStars will continue getting better and better here.”
Wang had big dreams from the moment he signed up. “My real name is my net name,” he said. “Wang Li in Chinese pinyin is ‘wangli,’ and my birthday is 0402. I chose my real name when I signed up for my PokerStars account because I wanted my name to be displayed the final champion (if I won a tournament).”
That hadn’t happened before last week, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. Wang biggest cash came early on in the Sunday Million 12th Anniversary Take 2 won by Daenarys T, where he finished 1,468th (of more than 56,000 players) for $965. After that he collected a string of modest cashes, including some final table appearances in small buy-in tournaments.
Then came this year’s Milly anniversary.
Maybe it was the experience of running deep in the 2018 version of this tournament. Maybe it was just pure confidence and self-belief. But where some other players would have approached the massive field by focusing on setting a smaller goal and working upward from there, Wang had a solitary focus. He watched videos to prepare himself for the chance he had in front of him. “Winning the championship in such a world competition has always been my dream,” he said. “I have been working hard for this dream. My goal before the competition was to win.”
Things went well from the beginning. Though multiple re-entries were available from the start, Wang only had to fire one bullet. He held the chip lead at one point on Day 1 and finished in 189th place of the remaining 980 players, which allowed him to be more selective with his starting hands the next day.
When Wang returned on Day 2 things continued to go well, bringing him to the final table with a healthy stack. Then he lost with pocket aces, dropping his stack from 230 million chips to 90 million with highly valuable pay jumps coming up. “I spent five minutes to stabilize my mind,” Wang said. “This is especially important for me.”
It was a winning strategy: Wang rebounded and survived until the table was five-handed.
“When there were five people in the end, I firmly believed that I can win the championship,” he said. The topic of a deal was broached in chat several times but Wang held off on the negotiations. Eventually, though, one very big real-world consideration became a factor. “At the beginning, I didn’t want to (make the deal). But I was really tired at the time. My time zone difference was not good in this tournament. (Between that and) the excitement, I only had a short break for two days. (In the end) I finally agreed with their decision.”
Once the deal was locked in, Wang took control of the final table. He took chances on big draws and watched them come home when he needed them most, earning him an extra $50,000 beyond his share of the deal and leaving him China’s first Sunday Million champion.
“I was particularly excited after winning, because the Chinese won the championship for the first time in this competition, which is very important for us in the Chinese poker community,” said Wang. “I want to thank the online video commentary, I have always been playing alone, there is no poker friends to communicate. I learned a lot of professional skills in the video.”
As for what’s next, Wang isn’t sure just yet. He doesn’t have any plans to pursue the game professionally at this point (“Texas Hold’em is very attractive to me, but at the moment it is just my hobby”). But with more than $611,000 in winnings, he can take any approach he wants.