Steven Holloway on Poker

nzherald.co.nz's Steven Holloway blogs about poker

Steven Holloway on poker: Paulie wins battle of the Kings

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Comedian Mike King (left) and Paul Hockin celebrate coming first and second at the NZ poker championships in Christchurch last weekend. Photo / File.
Comedian Mike King (left) and Paul Hockin celebrate coming first and second at the NZ poker championships in Christchurch last weekend. Photo / File.

In the end it came down to "a pair of Kings" in the final deal of the Main Event at the 2012 New Zealand Poker Championships.

After two days of flops, check-raises, big bets and bad beats from a 92-strong field at the Christchurch Casino at the weekend, it was young Hamilton internet sensation Paul Hockin - who trades under the on-line screen name of KingPaulie - who outlasted celebrity funnyman Mike King to claim the throne as New Zealand's number one.

Both players left the final table happy, King satisfied with pocketing $24,000 and improving on his previous best finish of third at the NZ Champs, and Hockin thrilled to have his first live tournament win (and $35,000) added to an already impressive poker C.V.

For Hockin the last two years have been a dream come true. Since winning the Party Poker monthly million for $US200,000 in 2010, he has finished third in the Pokerstars Sunday Million for $US 117,000, won the PokerStars Sunday 2nd chance for $US 47,000 and won enough four and five figure scores to make the average Joe-blow give up his day job.

But not Hockin, who considers himself a semi-pro, only plays one or two days a week online and has recently drifted into a 9-5 community business in Hamilton.

"Some of my friends are heading across to play the ANZPT in Australia, but I have just bought a lawn mowing business for a friend that was out of work, but he's sick and can't do it at the moment so instead of grinding in Melbourne I will be grinding the lawn mowing circuit in Hamilton."

The 25-year old has a cool, composed personality and his ability to absorb information and use it against opponents was key to his success.

Hockin displayed these skills as he described for me "the most crucial hand of the tournament," when action folded to him in the small blind with KQ suited.

"I started the hand with about 26 big blinds and I put in a minimum raise, and he (Sebastian Habicht) just picked up a bunch of chips and threw them in. It equated to about half my stack, but was effectively all my stack because I knew that when I go all in he is never folding.

"So it was a tough decision, because I felt I had a bit of an advantage at the final table and could have easily folded the hand and waited for a better spot to get my chips in good, especially against that guy who was playing really recklessly.

"I think online I would have folded, but I started talking to him and he was saying things which led me to believe I might actually have him dominated."

"I knew 100% that he didn't want me to call but he still might have had something like 33 or Ace-rag so that's why I still thought about folding even thought I knew he didn't want me to call."

Hockin did eventually make the call and became a big chip leader when his hand held against the QT of Habicht.

After the short stacked Habicht was eliminated, Hockin only had one man to beat - unfortunately he was the most popular and recognisable poker player in the country.

"Going heads up against Mike King - you know you're certainly not going to be the crowd favourite, you almost hope that you don't put a bad beat on him or something.

"I played with Mike for a few hours before the final table and it was cool having him there, because sometimes live poker can be quite slow and can be a bit boring but if you've got a few good personalities at the table, like Mike - cracking jokes, it makes it interesting.

"But I was lucky enough to get Aces on the third or fourth hand heads up and that was all she wrote."

Hockin - who has over $US900,000 in online tournament scores, said that a lot of people that aren't associated with the game don't understand the difference between winnings and profit.

"I could go to Aussie and play a tournament series and drop 25k, then come here and win the CHCH champs for 35k and everyone would think I was up 35k, when it reality it might only be 10."

The same is true online, where the top professionals play on multiple sites with different screen names, and often no record is kept of how many dollars in tournament buy-ins are spent, but big wins are screamed from the rooftops for all to see.

Hockin refined his poker skills online through countless hours of playing tournaments and used his experience to his advantage in Christchurch.

"One of the keys to my success was understanding stack sizes, when I could open, when I could shove, and when I could three-bet and fold. Also I picked up on a few peoples betting patterns pre-flop.

"I guess that the biggest part of being good at tournaments - being able to pick up a lot of chips without showdown."

It was the fifth NZ Champs ran by Christchurch casino poker manager and pit boss Warren Wyllie - who worked over 130 hours throughout the nine day series - and he said this year's series was the biggest and best since the poker boom in 2005/06.

"During the poker boom a lot of other casinos didn't have poker, so Christchurch and Melbourne were the only two Main Events, and we got a lot of overseas traffic.

"In the last few years it has dipped, then gone back up and this year was a huge success with all the events selling out over the last four days."

In previous years the NZ Champs were televised and a highlights package was replayed on Sky TV - a first for poker in the country - but Wyllie said it had made it difficult to run the event and was very time consuming.

"This year we ran a shuttle service to and from the airport for anyone visiting, provided food and trophies. We put as much as we could into the tournament and when you film it, it can take away from that."

Wyllie, Hockin and King all left the casino early on Monday morning happy with their performances over the weekend, but the Hamilton lawn-mower left with the biggest smile.

Hockin earned $1400 for each of the 25 hours he spent at the tables but also has a trophy, a memory and a story to last a lifetime.

**************

My personal poker experience at Christchurch was an enjoyable one - although not a profitable one. I lasted eight hours into Day One of the Main Event before busting in 68th place.

I played some interesting hands with some interesting people and will discuss the ups and downs of my live tournament experience, and my Main Event meltdown in a future column.

Next week I will share my interview with New Zealand's most popular poker player, Mike King.

2012 New Zealand Poker Champs Final Table Results
1st: Paul Hockin - NZ$35,000.00
2nd: Mike King - NZ $24,000.00
3rd: Sebastian Habicht - NZ $17,000.00
4th: Michael Tyler - NZ $13,000.00
5th: Jason Graham - NZ $10,000.00
6th: Jack Efarimo - NZ $8,500.00
7th: Jackson Zheng - NZ $7,500.00
8th: Shane Hicks - NZ $6,500.00
9th: Doug Giles - NZ $5,500.00

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