By Lynn Gilmartin
We recently had our first-ever World Poker Tour event in New Zealand. In fact, it was our first-ever WPT stop in the entire Australia-New Zealand region. I was ecstatic to find out we were heading down to my corner of the world. New Zealand is one of the most magical countries on the planet. Especially at this time of year, during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, when all the ski slopes come alive.
Our event was in Auckland, the country’s capital city, located on the northern island. SkyCity Auckland was our host, and wow did they turn it up! The property is loaded with some of the best restaurants in the country, and they ensured we tried every single one of them. I think I left carrying a few extra pounds, and it wasn’t in my luggage. But it was absolutely worth every bite and every sip.
The record-breaking WPT New Zealand Main Event attracted 360 entries, making it the largest turnout in New Zealand history for a main event. We had loads of players fly in from Australia and beyond to participate, and SkyCity Auckland shared a warm welcome for their international guests with a traditional ceremony from a local tribe at the player party. Joe Hachem and I had the honor of representing “our tribe” and receiving the welcome on behalf of the poker players. While we had been told beforehand about the steps involved, we had no idea the level of intensity we were in for!
The Maori culture really fascinates me, the way they mix together such powerful strength with loving joy in the one performance. Joe carried the full brunt of the experience, with the dancer’s eyes locked on him at all times. It’s not the most comforting feeling when you’ve got a spear pointed at you, but we loved every second of it. By the end of the performance, Joe and I had both broken out in a sweat, and we weren’t even moving! I’m not kidding when I say it was intense. There is a tiny snippet of the ceremony in the video below.
The poker room is really well-run at SkyCity Auckland. It was clear just how welcome the players feel with a real community vibe. I played Day 1b of the Main Event and unfortunately busted in the fifth level. My exit was way earlier than expected, but I got to enjoy a local glass of wine and an Italian feast at Gusto at The Grand instead, and then spend the following day roaming around the gorgeous city of Auckland.
The final table was a great mix of players, particularly with the “Godfather of New Zealand poker,” Jack Efaraimo, in the lineup. Jack eventually finished in second place when Australian player, Nauv Kashyap, defeated him for the title and the NZ$169,200 first-place prize. The final table was streamed on a 30-minute delay with commentators Allen Pave, Patrick Tardif, and TJ Darroch. You can watch the replay in the video below.
After such a successful series, I’m confident the World Poker Tour will return to New Zealand again next year, and I sure hope I get to tag along for the ride once again!
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