Queenstown amateurs battle top poker pros

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I have one of the worst seats at this poker table.

That’s not the actual seat, you understand. All the actual seats are the same, and offer an unusually spectacular view for a poker table – the Coronet Peak ski field.

We’re up on the Queenstown peak for a small outdoor poker game organised by Pokerstars and Skycity Casino to publicise the New Zealand Poker Tour tournament taking place in town over the next few days.

It’s a mixture of ten pro players, local celebs and a few journalists.

No, my seat is one of the worst because poker is, I’m told, all about position. So you make most of your money from the player sitting directly to your right, because most of the time you have the advantage of seeing what they will do before you have to act.

The guy sitting directly to my left is Rohit ‘GodlikeRoy’ (that’s his internet name) Bhasin. The Sydney-sider has been a professional player for six years and is sponsored by Pokerstars – the largest and easily the most (possibly only) reputable online poker site in the world.

He jets around the world playing tournaments, with flights, accommodation and $3,000 entry fees presumably taken care of, and makes videos for poker training sites. Looking on his own blog site, he appears to have made somewhere in the region of $75,000 US in May alone, playing 150,000 hands online.

I, on the other hand, generally play $10 buy-in cash games on the internet, at home. Over the 150,000 hands I’ve played this year, I’ve made about $600 US.

So this is what I’m worried about as we sit down to play. He has direct position on me. The other person with the worst seat is TV3’s Leanne Malcolm. Pokerstars pro Bryan Huang is directly to her left.

Leanne, it quickly becomes clear, is even greener than me. She has possibly never played poker before in her life – or at least not Texas Hold’em. She attempts to fold during the first hand, and is graciously told she can just check, so Huang puts in a small bet to take it down.

A few more small bets go in from the pair, and at the end of the hand Leanne turns over three aces – a pretty decent hand which has Huang crushed.

Later on, the two lock horns again. Leanne suffers a rush of blood and pushes all her chips into middle. Huang calls, beating her pair of aces with two pair, but the TV3 reporter catches another ace on the river to leave Huang practically chipless.

He’s gracious in defeat of course. Used to playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions over all, he’s bound to be – although both Huang and Bhasin are genuinely warm friendly guys and a credit to the sponsors.
It’s heating up as former Queenstown mayor David Bradford wins a big pot with a set of fives against another player’s pocket aces.

Matty Yates, local runner up in last year’s main event, makes a few moves and builds a stack of chips. But I am what is known as ‘card dead’. Every time I’m dealt a hand, I stealthily look down to find a jack and a four, or two and three, or some such other pretty much unplayable hand.

I’m patient as possible – there’s a pretty snowboard up for grabs – but we’re getting free coffees and pastries, so I can sit here all day. But as the forced preliminary bets (known as blinds) increase it becomes clear I’ll have to make a move before all my chips fritter away.

Ace-Queen: that will do. Before I can act, Queenstown More FM DJ Henry Youngman sticks loads of chips in the middle. It’s as much as I have to match him but there’s nothing else to do. I’m all-in. He turns over a pair of tens. He will win this about 55 per cent of the time – basically a coin flip.

The five community cards are drawn and when I fail to hit an ace or a queen, I’m out. Beaten by a local radio DJ, the shame – and I was worried about the millionaire pro.

Youngman actually goes on to win the snowboard – bastard! The one saving grace is that he’s too tall for it.

The final two at the table are GodlikeRoy and Bradford. The former mayor, who it’s rumoured is a pretty decent tournament player, takes it down.