2014 ACOP: Asia Player of the Year Playoffs
Asia Player of the Year.
It's the most prestigious poker award in the Far East that annually ranks the skill, will, and fortunes of those who participate in the region's most high profile tournaments.
Some chase the APOY for the 1-year PokerStars sponsorship. Some want it for the self-challenge. Others, to have their name immortalized onto the permanent gold trophy that sits in the 'PokerStars LIVE Macau' poker room.
Regardless of inspiration, the 2014 season has seen a significant boost in interest and many of those hopefuls have been vocal about their pursuit of topping the leaderboard.
Pete Chen, the current No. 1, is putting together the greatest season since Shaq Lin in 2011. That year, Shaq finished with 6,278 points and that still stands as the single-season record. In fact, no player since has even cracked the 5,000-point mark until Chan (5,571) did it this past August.
Shaq's historic season saw him enter the final tournament series with the race basically down to two other competitors - his brother Aaron and Raiden Kan. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who could honestly say they were still competing for the APOY or thought they had a chance.
However, much has changed in the last three years. Despite having almost a 2,000-point lead over his nearest competitor, Chen finds himself chasing several single-season records while at the same time protecting his top spot from a surprisingly large group of determined individuals.
One of those reasons is clearly the change in the season-ending poker festival. In 2011, the last tournament of the PokerStars Asia circuit was the now-discontinued Macau Poker Cup Championship - a supersized version of the popular MPC series that still runs today.
But the 10-day MPCC has now been replaced by the Asia Championship of Poker which not only has a a 17-day schedule but also significantly larger buy-in events. That translates into a lot of available APOY points that weren't previously available in past grand finals.
The ACOP has truly become the playoffs for anyone chasing the APOY award.
Another change is that it's not just two or three players still gunning for the APOY award but a majority of the Top 20 still believe they can catch the young Taiwanese poker pro.
KC Wong is the nearest rival and has 8 final tables this season - the most in three years and two shy of matching the single-season record. The Hong Kong native hasn't been able to put it together in a major tournament but his consistency to get through massive-fields has been downright scary.
2013 APPT Macau champion Alexandre Chieng has made it known about his intentions to take the top spot and he's amongst the leaders in many APOY all-time lists. He finished at No. 8 last year and that's exactly where he stands right now. After his recent triumph in the ACOP Platinum Series main event, Chieng said, "I want to do what last year's winner did." in reference to Jian Yang who won two key tournaments in the last two months to win the 2013 APOY title.
Speaking of Yang. He truly embodies the rest of the field as he's still trying to become the first back-to-back APOY winner despite his current rank of No. 146. It really illustrates the change of dynamics in the opposition.
History has seen season-long leaders fail to hold their top spot despite only a handful of true hopefuls.
But it's no longer just handful.
While Pete Chen has a big lead and much-deserved praise, having any sense of comfort could be a dangerous thing heading into the 2014 ACOP which begins on October 24.
CURRENT TOP TEN
1. Pete Chen - 5,571 pts
2. KC Wong - 3,617 pts
3. Zhenru Xie - 3,600 pts
4. Mathew Ryan - 3,448 pts
5. Quan Zhou - 3,424 pts
6. Allen Wang - 3,164 pts
7. Victor Teng - 3,152 pts
8. Alexandre Chieng - 2,962 pts
9. Jiajun Liu - 2,957 pts
10. Hao Chen - 2,870 pts