Kiwis apply the heat in Queenstown

Queenstown is a truly amazing place. It's one of the most remote towns in the world, but before the plane had even kissed the tarmac, we had already grown very attached. On the left there were snow-capped mountains as far as the eye could see. On the right was the most beautiful lake and quaint town that was copied straight from a postcard.

Since that first glimpse of its beauty, our fondness has developed into a love affair as we've fallen head over heels for the relaxed local charm, the pretty cobblestone streets and the adventure-filled activities that are sprinkled throughout the region.

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It was easy to confuse this week-long poker assignment with a winter wonderland vacation, but we shook ourselves from our fantasy to arrive at the SKYCITY Queenstown Casino for what they call "work" as the 2011 PokerStars.net APPT Queenstown Snowfest Main Event kicked off this afternoon.

Arriving to see a small room with just five poker tables setup, one may have thought that we were in for a quiet day in the office. Boy, were we wrong! Much like Queenstown, today's Day 1a field of 40 entrants might have appeared petite, but the flight packed plenty of punch and more adrenalin-pumping action than one tournament reporter could handle!

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Without a doubt we have the locals to thank for that as the Kiwis flexed their considerable poker muscle with an entertaining, and largely fruitful, display of power poker. Whether it be cricket, rugby, netball or basketball, the trans-Tasman rivalry between Australia and New Zealand is always fierce and the "All Blacks" are always tough to beat on their home soil. That theory also applies to poker where the Kiwis have proudly defended their home-town APPT title, ever since Daniel Craker broke through for an historic victory in Auckland in 2008.

Today it was a new breed of young Kiwi talent on display as Jackson Zheng, Koray Turker and Cole Swannack dominated play throughout. Early on, it was Zheng who flew out of the blocks when his set of threes cracked the pocket aces of PokerStars qualifier Stephen Moon for our first elimination of the day.

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The cracking pace didn't slow as Aaron Benton was another early casualty. After losing almost half of his stack with second nut straight versus nut straight, Benton committed his last chips with 7♦6♦ on a board of Q♣5♦J♦Q♦. Only problem was Koray Turker held A♦4♦ and the 2009 APPT Sydney champ was quickly sent off to the ski slopes.

With chips in hand, Turker and Zheng started their ruthless attack on their opponents with plenty of three, four and five-betting, to defy the logic of a deep-stacked and well-structured tournament.

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Brett Chalhoub was on the wrong end of Turker's aggression when a five-bet pot developed preflop with Chalhoub's A♣K♥ failing to get past Turker's creative T♥9♥ on a board of T♠5♥3♠Q♦Q♠.

Turker soon followed that up with a preflop four-bet with 4♦2♥ and after the chips were in on the flop, Turker turned a wheel straight to better the top pair of Michael Davy. PokerStars sponsored John Maklouf was another victim as Turker made a backdoor flush to storm to up over 100,000 chips - over one-eighth of the chips in play which is a staggering amount on day one of the tournament.

Meanwhile Cole Swannack was quietly accumulating and applying some heat of his own. A very nice river check-raise bluff against Semesa Brown was eye-catching, before his flush holding Q♥5♥ to eliminate Trung Tran put him amongst the chip leaders.

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It wasn't until Koray Turker finally lost a hand late in the day that he also lost the chip lead. Turker was again getting frisky preflop, this time with J♦9♥ against Jacky Wang's A♦Q♣, but get couldn't connect on board, as the chip lead edged narrowly in favour of Swannack when the players bagged and tagged after six levels of play.

The dynamic trio of Kiwis grabbed the trifecta in the chip counts as half of the Day 1a players survived to see Day 2 on Friday.

Top ten chip counts
Cole Swannack, New Zealand - 86,050
Koray Turker, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 85,075
Jackson Zheng, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 80,125
Semesa Brown, Australia - 43,125
Wayne Bell, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 40,125
Rachel Bellard, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 37,525
Gareth Dale, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 36,800
Werner Soames, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 34,175
Joseph Allis, New Zealand (PokerStars Qualifier) - 32,875
Harry Kyriacou, Australia (PokerStars Qualifier) - 32,500

Click here for the End of Day 1a chip counts

While today's survivors will enjoy a few days of leisure in the adventure capital of the world, a fresh batch of adrenalin seekers will enter the SKYCITY Queenstown Casino tomorrow for Day 1b of the 2011 PokerStars.net APPT Queenstown Snowfest Main Event.

Join myself and my sparring partner Landon Blackhall again tomorrow at 12:30pm (GMT+12) as we bring you all of the live updates exclusively on the PokerStars Blog. And if this wrap was a little wordy for you, then check out the video highlights of today's action with Landon and video presenter Lynn Gilmartin:


Photography © Joe Giron | Joe Giron Photography | PokerStars.net

Heath
@PokerStars in Queenstown