Thu, Oct 20, 1:33pm by Jonathan Zaun
Elton Tsang, a Canadian-born entrepreneur based in Hong Kong, just vaulted into 21st place on poker’s all-time tournament earnings list by virtue of winning an event with the largest buy-in ever posted.
Played amidst the extravagantly appointed Casino du Monte-Carlo in Monaco, the third edition of the biannual Big One for One Drop charity poker tournament required a €1,000,000 (AUD$1,421,222) entrance fee.
For the first time, the Big One for One Drop was played outside of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) umbrella, following One Drop founder Guy Laliberté’s recent overall of the event’s structure and format.
Originally intended to provide well-heeled businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and independent philanthropists with a venue to compete against elite poker professionals, the original $1,000,000 buy-in Big One for One Drop tournament was designed by Laliberté – former CEO of Cirque du Soleil. His intention was to generate charitable donations for One Drop by directing $111,111 of each buy-in posted to the One Drop, a global organisation dedicated to providing sustainable water sourcing solutions to vulnerable populations.
The debut event made history in 2012 by generating a $42,666,672 prize pool. That’s still the largest ever prize pool for a non-WSOP Main Event, and the $18,346,673 prize won to pro Antonio Esfandiari still stands as the largest payout in poker history. Pro Daniel Colman won the event in 2014 for $15,306,668, and while the charity received nearly $10 million in distributions from the two tournaments alone, Laliberté found that recreational players – even billionaires – didn’t enjoy getting dominated by world-class competition.
This year, Laliberté announced that the third Big One for One Drop would not be an open event, as only non-professionals would be permitted to enter.
As a result, Tsang joined 25 other players on October 14th to begin the tournament, a much smaller field than the 48 and 42 runners counted in 2012 and 2014, respectively. This year’s field included the usual cast of anonymous businessmen, along with regular high-rolling recreational players like Dan Shak, Brandon Steven, Haralabos Voulgaris, David Einhorn, Cary Katz, James Bord, Rick Salomon, Talal Shakerchi, and of course, Laliberté himself.
Laliberté pressed the action early on but found himself short-stacked early and ultimately eliminated. He bought back in for another €1,000,000, as did one other player, creating a field of 28 runners and a total prize pool of €24,888,892 (AUD$35,372,658) which would be divided between the final six finishers.
The winner’s share of was set at €11,111,111 (AUD$15,791,363) – making it the third largest prize ever awarded to a tournament winner.
The sum devoted to One Drop charitable causes was €3,111,108 (AUD$3,414,689).
Only two players were eliminated on Day 1, and Tsang found himself sitting in fifth place overall after running his 5 million chip starting stack up to 7,920,000.
Following Day 2 action only eight players were left in contention, including Andrew Pantling (37,775,000) and Salomon (26,900,000) ahead of Tsang (23,550,000). Anatoly Gurtovoy (16,775,000), Katz (9,550,000), Steven (8,000,000), and Voulgaris (5,375,000).
The action went according to chip stack on Day 3, with Voulgaris bowing out in 8th place and Steven eliminated in 7th place to burst the money bubble. But before anybody busted out, Tsang traded chip stacks with Pantling by beating the former CEO of online betting platform Matchbook out of two early pots.
Once the final six were assured of a cash, Tsang went to work and eliminated Pantling in 6th place, followed by Katz in 5th place. From there, he cruised on the power of an overwhelming chip lead before defeating Gurtovoy in just three hands in an abbreviated heads-up match.
In an interview with PokerNews reporter Frank Op de Woerd, Tsang talked about his background, his longtime interest in poker, and the importance of having a helping hand on the rail:
“I run different businesses. I invested a lot into various IT [companies], travel agencies, internet firms and some money lending [firms]. I have a bunch of various businesses.”
Before, I used to play much more. For the last one or two years, I haven’t been playing as much and I’ve just been focusing more on my businesses. I’m pretty used to playing high stakes so it’s OK. It’s kind of normal for me. I don’t play tournaments that much these days, but I used to.
I knew some strategies, but it was good to have someone to talk to in between hands. I think it helped a great deal.”
That “someone” in this case was poker coach Mustapha Kanit, an Italian pro who has dominated the ultra-high roller tournament circuit during the last few years while accumulating nearly AUD$10 million in lifetime earnings.
Tsang, like many of the players in the field, recruited pros to serve as one-time coaches, prepping them on advanced strategies, opponent-based reads, and other lessons ahead of the event. Laliberté was coached by Daniel Negreanu, real estate mogul Bob Safai contracted former winner Esfandiari, and French Canadian singer Garou (Pierre Garand) worked with countryman and 2010 WSOP Main Event winner Jonathan Duhamel.
Speaking with Op de Woerd of PokerNews, Tsang described his thought process as the final table progressed.
“I was feeling good, feeling comfortable. I was hitting cards, my bluffs were working, I was getting a good read on the table and everything was just going my way. I made some good plays and everything seemed to turn out my way, so I was very happy.”
The final placements for the six final table members, along with their respective prizes, are shown below:
2016 Big One for One Drop Final Table Results
PLACE PLAYER PRIZE
1st Elton Tsang €11,111,111
2nd Anatoly Gurtovoy €5,427,781
3rd Rick Salomon €3,000,000
4th James Bord €2,100,000
5th Cary Katz €1,750,000
6th Andrew Pantling €1,500,000
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