APPT8 Macau: Jiajun Liu makes it back-to-back for China
The collective ears of the PokerStars LIVE Macau poker room are bleeding.
Never in almost five years of covering tournaments around the world have I heard such a deafening roar of celebration. That's just the passion of the Chinese poker community and it's a fair response considering their own Jiajun Liu has just been crowned the latest victor on Season 8 of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour.
Liu's journey to this very moment began five days ago. Back then he was just one player in a sea of 494 tournament entrants. Now he holds a beautiful trophy, is HK$2,776,000 richer and will go down in history as the APPT8 Macau Main Event champion.
Liu came to the attention of us in the poker media early in the tournament. He was hard to miss considering his immense celebrations after winning big pots.
These celebrations continued throughout the final table and of course, the last hand of the night.
Liu and his opponent Cyril Andre had started heads-up with similar chip stacks and both were playing deep. However, that didn't stop Liu from employing an ultra-aggressive style that saw him often three-bet shoving for upwards of 50 big blinds.
Liu's style would see him go from big chip leader to short stack several times during the heads-up battle. In fact, not too long before Liu was crowned the champion, he found himself all in and at risk preflop holding K♥3♥ against Andre's A♦4♠. The A♣4♥7♠ flop gave Andre two pair and Liu looked dead. But then he caught running threes to win the pot and see the stacks evened out.
With his second life, Liu chipped away at Andre, building a three-to-one lead before the eventual final hand of the night played out. At this point Liu employed the all in or nothing strategy, putting Andre to the ultimate test.
Eventually Andre had to do something, opting to shove all in himself from the button with Q♠8♥. Liu made the call with 7♣7♠ and was five cards away from winning the tournament.
The trend of the final table so far was excitement and that wasn't going to change with the final hand. The Q♦Q♣T♣ flop gave Andre trip queens and he was looking good to double up. Then a dramatic 7♦ spiked on the turn to give Liu a full house and this is when Liu's rail first screamed in joy.
The cries only got louder still as the 9♠ river was safe, meaning Andre was the runner-up and Liu was crowned the champion!
When the final table began it was Scotland's Thomas Mcgarrity who had the chip lead with a stack of 2,865,000. Australian poker hall of fame member Billy Argyros was at the other end of the spectrum with the short stack.
Argyros was joined by quite a few other players with relative short stacks, so the first couple of levels of the final table were always going to be fast and furious. We just didn't know to what degree that would ring true, but it turned out that three players would find the rail within the first half an hour of play.
It was Hong Kong's Sailesh Verma claimed ninth place for the minimum payout at the final table (HK$198,140). His tournament life was lost when he was all in preflop holding J♣J♠ and he was unable to stay ahead of chip leader Thomas Mcgarrity's A♦8♦.
Verma was followed quickly out the door by Yat Wai Cheng in eighth place, which netted him HK$273,000. Cheng had found himself very short when he desperately moved in with K♥7♠ and ultimately couldn't improve against Cyril Andre's A♦8♥.
It was then Andre's fellow Frenchmen Jean-Marie Peyron who completed the triple threat of fast-paced eliminations. Peyron's final hand saw him unable to find the cards he needed holding A♣T♣ against Billy Argyros' J♥J♣. Peyron picked up a HK$355,000 for that seventh-place effort.
So, nine had become six in a flash and six would become four just as quickly.
It was Taiwan's Carlos Chang who would find the rail next and he was followed out the door by the only other Taiwanese player at the final table, Yen Han Chen.
Both players were eliminated at the hands of Cyril Andre.
Chang claimed sixth place for a HK$464,000 score when his pocket nines couldn't compete against Andre's pocket queens, while Chen was eliminated in fifth place with HK$575,000 when he couldn't improve holding A♠6♣ all in preflop against Andre's pocket tens.
Having sent two players to the rail in quick succession, Andre was easily the chip leader at this point, but start-of-day short stack Billy Argyros was starting to rise up the leader board.
Then Argyros sent start-of-day chip leader Thomas Mcgarrity to the rail and stole the lead for himself.
Mcgarrity's final hand began when he looked down at A♠K♣. He then got into a raising war with Argyros and eventually got all his chips in, only to find Argyros holding A♣A♥.
Mcgarrity wasn't able to improve his hand and with that, was sent home in fourth place for a HK$737,000 collect.
Argyros had the chip lead now and all the spotlight was on him. Not only because of his flamboyant personality and his immense poker record, but also because he was in with a chance to become the first two-time APPT champion.
It was looking like the fairy tale ending for Argyros, and story-wise for the poker media, but a couple of bad hands for Argyros and it was all over in third place.
Argyros first lost a massive pot when he got creative with 8♠2♠ on a J♠K♥3♠ flop, putting Andre all in, and not being able to find the flush he needed against Andre's K♠J♦.
Not long after this hand there was a bit of déjà vu when a two-spade flop would see Argyros once again getting aggressive with a flush draw. Argyros was the at-risk player this time and was up against Andre's pocket aces. For the second time, no spade came for Argyros and so he was sent home with HK$940,000 for his time.
He may not have made APPT history, but that six-figure USD score brings Argyros' lifetime tournament earnings very close to US$1.5 million and solidifies him as one of Australia's all-time great poker players.
Once Argyros was out of the way, Liu and Andre would fiercely battle until only one player remained. When Liu eventually sent Andre home in second place, Liu became the second Chinese player in a row to win this event after Alexandre Chieng from last year.
When Liu was asked how it felt winning, he told us that it was "very tiring to get to this stage" and that he "hadn't had time to think about what he would do with the money."
Well, Mr. Liu, you have earned yourself a good night's rest. You can worry about the money in the morning.
1st: Jiajun Liu (China) HK$2,776,000* (~US$360,000)
2nd: Cyril André (France) HK$1,693,000 (~US$218,000)
3rd: Billy "The Croc" Argyros (Australia) HK$940,000 (~US$121,000)
4th: Thomas Mcgarrity (UK) HK$737,000 (~US$95,000)
5th: Yen Han Chen (Chinese Taipei) HK$575,000 (~US$74,000)
6th: Carlos Kuo Chang (Chinese Taipei) HK$464,000 (~US$60,000)
7th: Jean Marie Peyron (France) HK$355,000 (US$46,000)
8th: Yat Wai Cheng (Hong Kong) HK$273,000 (US$35,000)
9th: Sailesh Verma (Hong Kong) HK$198,140 (US$25,000)
*includes HK$100,000 ACOP Main Event seat
Congratulations to Liu on being crowned the APPT8 Macau champion. For that effort Liu claims $HK$2,776,000 (~US$360,000), which includes a HK$100,000 seat into the ACOP Main Event.
What a great series! I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Danny McDonagh, Fred Leung and the rest of the PokerStars LIVE Macau team for hosting such a fantastic tournament. The APPT Macau Main Event increased to just under 500 players after a 388-player field last year and all the side events saw record numbers.
If this is the trend, I can only imagine how big the Asia Championship of Poker will be this coming October. Before then though, the APPT returns to Manila for the first time since 2010. This tournament takes place from July 2nd - 7th at the Metro Card Club and is sure to be a great event. You can find more information over on the APPT website.
I would also like to thank Kenneth Lim and Long Guan for their great photography throughout the week. Always a pleasure to travel to Macau and work with such great people!