PAGCOR Chairman's CUP: Binh Nguyen wins Chairman's Cup
We already liked this place before the final table began. But bias aside the PAGCOR Chairman's Cup got the final table it deserved today, and not only for the quality of its new champion.
There was the local interest, local heroes and a last Filipino. There was the PokerStars player with internet honours looking to add a live victory to his resume. There were a couple of guys playing their first live event, and a couple more who were roommates for this Manila trip and now sat two seats apart. Add in "Mr Macau", a bunch of cameras, a load of spectators and a TV set built in the middle of a gaming Expo, and you had something about one rung below Christmas.
PAGCOR Chairman's Cup winner Binh Nguyen
A short while ago Binh Nguyen from the United States won it all in a thrilling finale to an equally gripping tournament, defeating Gordon Huntly of Scotland in a roller coaster heads-up match.
It was easy to predict that someone like Bin Nguyen would do something special today. Always displaying a confident control of his stack, the American, who came second at the WPT LA Poker Classic in 2009, showed particular class and dominated the closing stages against the rookie Gordon Huntly and 'Mr Macau' Charles Chua.
As his advantage with the big stack grew bigger he dispatched first Choon Kwang Lim then Sunny Jung, and then Chua (who'd played the cursed short stack as best he could) to take a more than three to one advantage into the heads up against Huntly.
Huntly, though, was up for the fight, doubling up flush over flush to seize the lead and then hammering away at Nguyen who at times looked like he had lost his way, rubbing his eyes and forehead as Huntly, patient, waited him out, at one point reaching the three-to-one advantage Nguyen had started with.
But Nguyen regrouped, won back the chips he'd lost and in the last hand saw his pocket sevens survive a race with king-queen to bag his first major title.
Huntly had learned fast over four days of play. Among the chip leaders back on day one Huntly never lost the sheer sense of fun being here. "It's been a blast," he said before taking his seat for the heads-up and looked no different as runner-up, graciously leaving Nguyen to the limelight, the trophy and a cheque for $260,700.
This has been the record breaking week. Not only was the Chairman's Cup the largest event in Filipino poker history but it set new records for player numbers across Asia, its 430 players creating a prize pool of $1,042,750.
The day had got off to a shaky start. As President Efraim C. Genuino welcomed the players and the introductions were made, Manila was struck by an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale. The city escaped damage but the set wobbled for a few moments, delaying the start and emotionalising a few out-of-towners.
'Jackal' Lee departed first. He moved in behind a Huntly raise with eights. Lee's ace-queen was put to bed by a set on the flop for Huntly, sealing Lee's fate in ninth.
Local hero Kirby Te, the last of the vast army of Filipino players to contest the Chairman's Cup on home soil, was busted in eighth place when his flush draw failed to materialise against the two pairs of Sunny Jung.
Chang was next out after the first break, getting unlucky when he shove with ace-king was trumped by Gordon Huntly's ace-eight, the eight first on the board to eliminate the American.
Choon Kwang Lim, playing his first major tournament, fell next when he attempted an audacious shove with ten-five that ran into Nguyen's queens.
Sunny Jung's demise was written after he lost most of his stack in a massive hand against Binh Nguyen. Down to 570,000 he lumped it in with eights only to find Huntly with kings.
Terrence Chan would depart in fourth place. At gifted player, with WCOOP and a same day double SCOOP victories online, Chan fell just short of a live tournament title when he shoved with his last 840,000 with pocket nines. Charles Chua called with ace-jack and caught the all important jack on the flop.
Chan, experienced at the bitter realities of a tournament business end, seemed to know no help was coming. Looking truly disappointed at his exit was not the only sign we saw from Chan today of a truly excellent player.
Chan's exit left three very different players. Huntly, a Scotsman now living in Asia, was playing his first final table, but despite one or two hiccups, and some luck against Victor Chang, he excelled under the lights, focusing only on the table in front of him and remaining oblivious to the cameras, the rail and the vast noise of the expo beyond the curtains.
But three handed this looked like Nguyen's tournament to lose and the man from Las Vegas, who onl came here on vacation with some friends, was not going to let it slip away.
"I wanted to have fun," said Huntly. "I didn't play great throughout but I watched them very closely but not close enough. A worthy champion."
Nguyen couldn't contain his excitement. "This might be the best vacation I've ever had."
Congratulations to both players for a great final.
That then brings our coverage to an end. Recap on all the excitement of the day by clicking through any of the links below. You can also find all of the coverage from the PAGCOR Chairman's Cup in Manila here, start to finish, on the PokerStars Blog.
Barry Greenstein, on his arrival in Manila to play day 1a, said he'd received one of the warmest welcomes he'd ever had anywhere. The same goes for us too - a last minute trip to see poker played at almost supersonic speed by some great people in a great location.
We can't leave this place and head out into the midnight humidity until we thank a few people. Thanks first to our photographer Luis Cruz, who acrobatically dodged cameramen and booms to get the pictures today. Thanks also to everyone who helped out on the Manila coverage this week, including tournament director Danny McDonagh, his staff and the locals, lots of them, who told us to stop worrying about the outdoors and go outside. We're glad we did and will likely to do so again in about two sentences from now.
That's your lot. From Marc Convey and myself, it's maganda gabi from Manila.