Looking around the SKYCITY Auckland poker room during these early stages of the ANZPT Auckland Main Event gives us a slight sense of déjà vu. The players are much the same, the chips and cards remain unchanged and the tournament staff are familiar faces. However, there is one major difference between this year’s event and the last time PokerStars came to Auckland. The entire room is brand new.
When we say “brand new”, what we mean is new for poker. In reality, this room that I humbly type in right now has a huge amount of history. It’s known as the “The Nation’s Club Rooms” and just a short while ago, it was crowded with some of the biggest names in New Zealand sport. Big name players from the New Zealand Breakers NBL team, the New Zealand Warriors Rugby Club and the Auckland Blues of the Super Rugby competition would pile into this room to enjoy a celebratory drink after a victory or to host their official team functions.
Right now the room is filled with a different sort of person. Perhaps they aren’t sporting stars like the Breaker’s Captain Mike Vukona or the Warriors’ Simon Mannering, but plenty of them are stars in their own right. Some of the players who have recently proven their worth at the poker tables, and can be seen in today’s field, are Michael Guzzardi and Ashley Warner. These two players recently chopped the ANZPT Melbourne Main Event three-handed, with Guzzardi eventually finishing in 3rd and Warner in 2nd.
Some of the other stars of poker that are at the tables include Australian Poker Hall of Fame member Leo Boxell, Jesse “On The Mac” McKenzie, Liam “RAWKZ” O’Rourke and local notables Jackson Zheng, Cole Swannack and Graeme “KiwiG” Putt. While it may be taboo to talk about how much money people earn, it could easily be argued that some of the above players have pocketed just as much cash as some of New Zealand’s elite sport stars.
Is poker a sport? It is an often debated topic that seems to split the poker community down the middle. But let me tell you, if poker was a sport, then it is here in The Nation’s Clubrooms that the players would enjoy a beer or two after binking an elusive tournament. This coming Sunday will see one player do just that. Will it be one of the players in tonight’s Day 1a field? We will just have to wait and see!