World Cup of Poker: Kiwis prepped for finals debut

Team New Zealand had to, quite literally, top the rest of the world to win their way into the World Cup of Poker finals. Competing in the "Rest of the World" division, the Kiwis topped teams from Armenia, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, the Philippines, South Africa, and Taiwan to take the division title and move on to the live finale in the Bahamas.

This year marks the first time New Zealand has made a trip to the World Cup finals and representing the island nation are a varied bunch including a poker pro, a banker, a photographer, and an economics student.

Nick "bismillahno" Webb is a World Cup of Poker veteran, having captained Team New Zealand in 2006. Now a college graduate and an interest rate trader, Webb began playing poker while he was working as a blackjack dealer back in 2004. He discovered PokerStars a short time later and made a small deposit. Webb was one of the lucky few who would never have to reload, having parlayed those few initial dollars into a full-fledged bankroll. Concentrating on multi-table tournaments, Webb topped the New Zealand TLB in 2006 and 2007, earning him a spot on his country's World Cup team.

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Winning the World Cup of Poker would have a "major stoke factor" for Webb. "It would...be very nice to call myself a world champion. We're a small country that tends to punch above its weight in a number of sporting areas; I'd love to carry on that tradition," he told us.

Richard "rjmgrace" Grace may hail from New Zealand, but he's currently hanging his hat in London on an extended European holiday with his wife. A top Magic: the Gathering player, Grace recently transitioned into poker and has been playing professionally for the last nine months. Grace is also the most experienced live player on Team New Zealand, having played in the World Series of Poker for the last four years.

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A huge fan of the "team" tournament format, Grace hopes that the World Cup of Poker will get more players on board with it. "It's just more exciting for everyone involved, and makes for much more interesting viewing and playing, and getting people away from the selfish nature of tournaments would be cool. Imagine a five-person team format at the WSOP with a $50k buy-in? That would be awesome!" he said.

Jordan "Jubinator" Bryant played in the New Zealand national qualifiers not expecting anything to happen, but once he found himself among the final 25 players, he finally believed that he could actually make the top 9 and move on to the next round. Indeed he did, and ended up with one of the two spots for freeroll qualifiers on Team New Zealand. Bryant recently finished his second year at Victoria University of Wellington where he is studying economics and finance. He has been playing on PokerStars for about two years, primarily $3/$6 limit hold'em and $0.25/$0.50 no-limit hold'em.

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Fellow Wellington resident Wayne "El Wayneo" Lo also qualified for the World Cup via freerolls. The 25-year old photographer has played poker for 18 months and is looking forward to picking up some tips from the Team PokerStars Pros while in the Bahamas.

"The idea of representing your own country is exciting itself, but I think the most exciting thing is playing with pros and having the opportunity to learn from the very best" Lo related.

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Lo also hopes that a win by New Zealand in the World Cup will bring more Kiwis to the poker tables. "I pray that a win in the World Cup would have a Moneymaker effect and attract more New Zealanders to the game," he said.

"I'm just going to take this opportunity to relax and enjoy the Carribean all thanks to
PokerStars. The cards dictate the outcome so I will just be playing my best and (will) try not to let my teammates down."

Kristin Bihr
@PokerStars in World Cup of Poker