APPT Auckland: Celebs hit the red carpet for a taste of the high life

By James Potter

The Pokerstars.net APPT Celebrity Poker Invitational, hosted by Team PokerStars Pro Lee Nelson and Brooke Howard-Smith, was the perfect way to kick-off a big week of celebrations culminating in the APPT Auckland main event here at SKYCITY Auckland later this week. Some celebrity events lack that x-factor, but this was certainly not the case with a well structured tournament that went well into the night.

Howard-Smith, who co-hosts the ultra-popular Celebrity Joker Poker on New Zealand TV with Lee Nelson, is excited about the prospect of hosting some of the world’s best poker players into his “home” poker room.

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Celebrity Invitational co-hosts Lee "Final Table" Nelson and Brooke Howard-Smith.

“Poker’s growing so fast in New Zealand and this tournament is exactly what’s needed. It’s a chance for promising New Zealand poker players to test themselves against some of the world’s best. In the past, with the exception of the National Champs, Kiwis had to fly to Australia, the US or Asia to play a large multi-day tournament,” Howard-Smith said, before joining his celebrity cohorts at the SKYCITY tables.

The unofficial religion in New Zealand is Rugby. Whenever the All Blacks (the NZ rugby team, aptly named as they wear all black jumpers, shorts and socks) lose, the country goes into mourning. Ali Williams and Sean Levine showed how good a rugby players they are at the event as did their fellow Rugby League internationals Benji Marshal and David Kidwell

There was also a bevy of local radio, television and media personalities as well as premier jockey, New Zealand's own Shane Dye, who rode in and showed what he was all about as a poker player. Unfortunately the line up of pros were all early exits with Lee Nelson unable to show of his skills to his adoring fans as he was one of the first to hit the rail (but managed to sign a few copies of his books on the way out).

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PokerStars Sponsored players Grant Levy and Eric Assadourian were quick to sample the hospitality: Auckland style.

The winner was a local businessman who beat a very competitive final table and won himself a main event.

“It was such a thrill to play with not only the celebrities but the poker pros as well. I haven’t been playing poker that long and it was great to have a win and especially beat a few of my mates from my local home game,” the lucky winner said.

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Just the way to settle the nerves after a long, long flight to New Zealand.

The bubbly was flowing as was some of NZ’s finest wines and arguably the world's most awarded beer: the national icon Steinlager. It was a good night all-round, and a great way to welcome NZ's biggest celebrities to the world of tournament poker.