With the $2500 buy-in Western Classic Main Event just days away, it would seem that poker has finally arrived in Western Australia.
But the reality is that poker is no first-time visitor to our shores.
For years, the game has led a quiet life on the west coast, taking advantage of the state’s isolation to lead a modest, unassuming existence away from the gaze and hustle and bustle of the Eastern States.
If anyone asks me to name Australasia’s capital of poker, I’ll tell them: “Crown, and it isn’t even close.” It’s a sentiment that many local players share, as evidenced by the West Aussie contingent that regularly heads east for major championships. But without stopping for breath, I’ll also tell you that just because our (perceived) player base may be a little smaller than that of our east coast cousins, card players shouldn’t think that they can simply jump on a plane, catch a cab to Burswood and lazily buttonraise-cbet-any-flop their way to a highly profitable working holiday as if it was 2005 all over again.
According to legend (as a relative poker young’un and self-respecting journo who places his faith in fact rather than speculation, I won’t even try to pretend I was “there when it happened”), the origins of poker in WA can be traced back to the underground card room and gambling dens of James Street in Northbridge. I’d love to sit down with WSOP bracelet-winner Jeff Lisandro and PNW’s Russian connection JK and listen to their stories from this colourful time.
Although Lisandro may be the best known of Western Australia’s international poker exports, the city’s poker honour roll certainly doesn’t end with the Iceman. From a tournament poker perspective, West Australians have achieved much over the years with Jay Kinkade’s main event victory at August’s Victorian Poker Championships the latest addition to WA’s card playing CV.
When all the smoke had cleared from this year’s Aussie Millions, Nino Morata finished fourth in the Main Event for more than $400k; the ever-smiling Michael Pedley made waves by taking out the rebuy event to the tune of $160k; and a year earlier, young Nick Suter won the limit hold’em tournament at the same championship series (quite remarkable considering Nick mainly plays no limit). If we dig all the way to 2006, records will indicate success for Aleks Lackovic and Marcus Collins at the Melbourne Poker Championships and PAPT Philippines respectively.
For those of the “lol donkaments” school of thinking, Perth is no slouch when it comes to cash game specialists either. Before he made a name for himself as a tournament gun, Kinkade was a feared 400NL player and made a living destroying people at 2/4. His pal Magicninja also enjoys similar worldwide online clout and the names of former casino dealers Han and Bernard are never far from people’s lips when it came to naming the city’s most intimidating live players.
But ask about the best and it’s unanimous: Jovan Skekic is undoubtedly Perth’s most ruthless cash game export and regularly terrorises (and destroys) high stakes cash games in Melbourne during major tournament periods. Rumour has it that many high profile players refuse to put any part of their bankroll on the table, lest they want it to flow back into the West Australian economy. Of course, this Famous Five is just the tip of the iceberg with many under-the-radar players paying the bills through multi-tabling online and/or grinding at Burswood likely to play the Main Event in hopes of a big score. Add to this other low-profile yet high-skill tournament experts and you have a field on par with most assembled across Australia. To quote one high profile poster: “gonna be fun crushing everyone who thinks they can show up to Perth and have an easy time against a soft field.”
Everyone who decides to pony up the buy-in for the Western Classic Main Event (plug: $2500+$200 plus however much it costs you to get over to Burswood if you don’t barrack for the Eagles or Dockers) will no doubt be playing to win, but cash won’t be the only prize at stake: Perth’s biggest ever tournament doesn’t just mean home ground advantage and an extra impetus to succeed for players, but is Burswood’s chance to shine. Based on my discussions with poker staff and poker manager Anthony Tetlaw aka Bear, there’s a real excitement and eagerness among the Burswood crew to shine over the next five days when much of the region’s poker attention will be directed westwards.
Best of luck to everyone taking part in the Western Classic series of events, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I not only root for local success, but do so with a quiet confidence that we – as in WA poker as a whole – will get it.
Perth’s popular poker personality, Max Veenhuyzen, was the first Australian to win the PokerStars Sunday Millions. You can read more of his work in Bluff Australasia magazine as well as at his blog www.acehighwine.com.
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Max 'acehighwine' Veenhuyzen - a proud West Australian with a warning for Easterners hoping for a soft field at this week's West
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