ANZPT Sydney: Dream debut as Hamataj tames "The Tank"

The opening paragraph was already penned, spruiking the success of the old guard, and the "Empire Strikes Back" headline ready to post. Surely this major tournament debutant Angelo Hamataj couldn't outpoint Mike Ivin, a player with more than 40 years of experience, especially once he held a big chip lead heads-up.

But that's the great thing about poker - on any given day, dreams can come true. And today, it was Hamataj's turn as he celebrated victory in the ANZPT Sydney Main Event for a first prize of AUD $219,432.

Another ANZPT event is in the bag after five days of action (and a 10-day preliminary schedule) at Star City Casino in a balmy autumnal Sydney. This was the fifth APPT/ANZPT event played here, and again players voted with their feet, creating capacity fields and deep pools throughout the entire schedule.


Unseasonably warm autumn weather created an enduring memory to ANZPT Sydney, 2010

Angelo Hamataj enters the ANZPT record books as the winner of the second biggest event in tour history. A field of 446 players created a prizepool of AUD $892,000 and drew a field of the region's finest including the full complement of Team Australia Pros, three Aussie Millions champions and numerous winners of past ANZPT events.

Back on day one, amid the forest of big names, then-unknown Angelo Hamataj was seated immediately next to the media desk, where we witnessed first hand his aggressive style, endless fidgeting and elaborate celebrations. Not everyone was endeared to his celebration dances, but his intentions were pure. A guy who loves the game, and loves winning.


Party time: Angelo Hamataj celebrates his ANZPT Sydney triumph with friends

Hamataj, who emigrated from Albania as a teenager and now makes his home in Melbourne, didn't bring much of a tournament CV to this event. He'd played some cash game but was making his first major tournament appearance.

That was one of the stories of this event - of the top 26 finishers, only one (Jimmy Tran in 11th) had played in an ANZPT event, let alone cashed in one. That wasn't to say that there weren't some accomplished players entering the final three tables, but one name stood out.

Aussie poker veteran Mike "The Tank" Ivin has won titles home and abroad. Facing such an inexperienced final table line-up, one suspected that he's have a major say on who'd be crowned champion, and it proved to be the case.


Mike Ivin celebrated a career high tournament cash with second in the ANZPT Sydney Main Event

Ivin trailled by more than 5:2 margin when heads-up play started, fought his way to a big chip lead before Hamataj returned serve and derailed The Tank's charge. It took him 90 minutes and every last weapon in his arsenal.

Tony Hachem celebrated his third successive cash on the ANZPT this season, making it a total of seven in-the-money finishes in the eight ANZPT events played so far. After winning the first ANZPT Player of the Year title in 2009, he leads the 2010 points race on 151.65 ahead of Peter Aristidou (88.3), Chris Evans (86.05), Dale Marsland (83.55) and Angelo Hamataj (82.5). Lee Nelson also marked his second ANZPT cash and first for the year.


Well played: Team Australia's Eric Assadourian congratulates Angelo Hamataj

Amid the backdrop of ANZAC Day, we're about to log-off for the last time from Star City Casino and the 2010 ANZPT Sydney Main Event. Thanks to Deb Rillo and everyone in the Star City Poker Room for making us welcome over the past five days. Special mention to Nick Porta for his work capturing all the action from the floor, and to our final table photographer Marcus O'Brien. Thanks also to the support and assistance of the local PokerStars and ANZPT teams.

We'll be back in about six weeks for the next event on season two of the ANZPT in Canberra from June 11-14 while our next destination is the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino for APPT Macau, with the Main Event running from May 18-23. Good evening from Star City Casino in Sydney.