2016 ACOP: Yuan Li rises through the ranks to claim Super High Roller title

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Yuan Li: A super Super High Roller champion

Several players held the chip lead throughout three days of the $500,000 Super High Roller event at the 2016 Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP), but two of them used it more spectacularly than all the others for long periods of an intriguing tournament.

Yuan Li was the boss throughout Day 1 and much of Day 2, when his dominant towers of chips made a mockery of his apparent amateur status. But after Justin Bonomo took a chunk out of him to assume first place, the seasoned pro seemed set to ride it all the way to the title.

It was only fitting that when two players were left to go heads up for the trophy, it was those two. And following a pattern established in recent high profile events, it was the fearless rookie who prevailed.

Twenty-seven-year-old Li, who was sixth out of six coming into today's final, barely lost a pot through the three-and-a-half-hour duration of the last day. He blew away even Bonomo, who had seemed destined to steam-roller the event, and picked off a huge bluff on the tournament's final hand to triumph.

Li revealed later that he is a high-stakes cash-game player and not overawed by a $500,000 buy-in (about US $64,000). It certainly showed in the way he played. The 33 players in this event (who added another 12 re-buys between them) featured some of the best in the world. But none of them could cope with Li.

"I was very confident I could win the Super High Roller," Li said. "I believe this is strategic. I am very aggressive, but not always. I can play tight as well, just like the moment that I was the short stack at the beginning of the final table."

He added: "I will never give up, even I only have one big blind, I will keep going. I can control my emotions. I just try to make the best decisions."

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Final table players (l-r): Paul Newey, Tobias Ziegler, Justin Bonomo, Mikita Badziakouski, Yuan Li, Shunu Zang

This was one of those final tables that you think can't really exist. In the first hour of play, there must have been no fewer than ten called all-in bets, with the net result being a massive lead for Bonomo and all of Mikita Badziakouski, Shunu Zang and Tobias Ziegler on the rail.

Badziakouski was the most active player for the first orbit, but then smashed A♠5♠ into Bonomo's aces in a battle of the blinds. No luck for the Belorussian player, whose great recent run has now extended from Monaco, through Malta and into Macau.

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Mikita Badziakouski: Sixth for $1,497,000

No luck too for Zang, who got his last chips in with A♥6♦ and was racing Bonomo's 5♦5♣. He seemed to take an unassailable lead after a flop that contained both an ace and a six, but Bonomo went runner-runner for the straight, and that sent Zang out.

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Shunu Zang: Fifth for $1,925,000

Ziegler still had a decent stack at this stage, but two pots against Bonomo accounted for it. His final move was to get all his chips in with A♣T♣ but to lose out to Bonomo's A♠J♥.

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Tobias Ziegler: Fourth for $2,459,000

As all this went on, Paul Newey and Li had been clinging on with short stacks, but finding double ups at crucial times too. However, the three-handed stacks revealed a profound imbalance:

Justin Bonomo: 15.8 million
Yuan Li: 3.8 million
Paul Newey: 2.4 million

But that's when Li got busy. He doubled through Bonomo with A♣K♦ to Bonomo's A♥7♣. Then Bonomo took another hit as Newey got queens to stand up against Bonomo's sevens. The counts soon levelled out to this:

Yuan Li: 8.39 million
Justin Bonomo: 7.32 million
Paul Newey: 6.79 million

Arguably the decisive hand of the day occurred at around 4:25pm, when Newey found pocket kings at the same time that Li found pocket aces. Predictably they got all the money in and Newey was sent packing in third.

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Paul Newey: Third for $3,208,000

It left Li with a chip lead significant enough heads-up that Bonomo and he quickly agreed a deal. They would leave $400,000 to play for, but locked up $6,300,000 (Li) and $5,595,000 (Bonomo). And then in keeping with this boom-and-bust final, they ended things very hastily indeed.

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Justin Bonomo and Yuan Li go heads up

Bonomo bet every street on a board of 8♦J♠5♦4♥3♦. The last was an all-in shove for a little more than 3 million. Li snapped him off with K♠8♥ and the eights were better than Bonomo's Q♣T♦. Li shook Bonomo's hand and hugged his vanquished adversary before heading to his rail to celebrate.

"The day before I joined the Super High Roller, I promised my girlfriend that I will give the trophy to her after I win the event," Li said. "Now I did it, and I knew I could."

If you ever want to know why Macau -- and specifically the PokerStars LIVE card-room at the City of Dreams -- has become a poker hot-spot over the past few years, you need only look at this tournament, and this winner.

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Yuan Li: The ecstasy of victory

Take a read through three days of coverage, starting with the blow-by-blow action from today.

The ACOP Main Event plays on today, and for the rest of the week. Stay with us in Macau. There's plenty more where that came from.

2016 ACOP Super High Roller

Dates: November 5-7, 2016
Buy-in: $480,000 + $20,000
Players: 33 (plus 12 re-buys)
Prize pool (after deductions): $21,384,000

(All amounts in HKD)

PlaceNameCountryPrize
1Yuan LiChina$6,700,000*
2Justin BonomoUnited States$5,595,000*
3Paul NeweyUnited Kingdom$3,208,000
4Tobias ZieglerGermany$2,459,000
5Shunu ZangChina$1,925,000
6Mikita BadziakouskiBelarus$1,497,000

*denotes heads up deal

Howard Swains
@howardswains in PokerStars Macau