Two poker players from Rotorua have triumphed at the main event of the New Zealand Poker Championships in Christchurch tonight, each taking home $70,000.

Long time friends Kuru Whiston and Renae Baker were the last two players remaining in the marquee event of Christchurch's casino's week-long poker series and decided to split the remaining $141,500 in the prizepool and play for the trophy. After a two hour battle, Whiston took home the bragging rights.

202 poker players put up $1650 to enter the tournament, and there were 59 re-entries which generated a whopping prize pool of $391,500.

Whiston, an insurance broker who won a $60 rebuy satellite tournament into the main event, said it was far and away the highlight of his 12-year poker career.


Baker was the 2011 National Women's Poker Champion and also finished second in this year's Women's event.

Whiston held the second shortest stack heading into day two of the tournament, and was the shortest stack when the final table of 10 formed. But he found a way to win.

"I started day two with 12 big blinds and basically only had one decision; wait for a shoving spot," said Whiston. "I got that second hand and doubled up, then played pretty tight, waited for good hands and tried to make good decisions.

"Late on day two when I had built a decent stack I had to lay down aces in one hand and kings on another on the flop, to some action which showed me I was beat and I felt like I was making good decisions.

"Approaching the bubble I had around 25 big blinds and there were probably four or five players who had 10 or less big blinds, so it was just about picking up the odd spot and waiting for the bubble to burst."

Whiston was the last man standing following 28 hours of play over three days, and noted some of his most important hands.

The final table of the main event.
The final table of the main event.

"I raised KQ on the button, Geoff Smith in the small blind was the only caller and the flop came Q92 with two hearts. He led at the flop, I raised, he jammed, I called and he showed me the 94 of hearts. He hit a 4 on the turn to make two pair, then I hit a Q on the river to bust him."

Whiston spent the bubble period dealing with the big stack aggression of Zack Lowrie, one of New Zealand's best players who held the chip lead for majority of the final two days and finished in third.


"I basically decided to stay out of his way and wait for spots. But when play got to three handed I got the best of it. Twice before he opened the button on my big blind and I three-bet him, but both times I had jacks and ace-king suited and showed him. The third time I three-bet with pocket kings and he jammed K3 suited for over 20 big blinds."

Whiston and Baker then found themselves heads-up, with similar sized stacks and decided to make a deal.

"We just sat down and had some fun. She's a good friend of mine. We were always going to chop if we got to heads-up and split it 50-50."

Soon after Whiston won a huge pot when he and Baker both flopped two pair on a K37 flop, with Whiston's K7 beating Baker's K3.

Whiston said the key to succeeding in big buy-in, multi day tournament was to embrace the grind.

Main event champion Kuru Whiston.
Main event champion Kuru Whiston.

"Stay focused, don't get ahead of yourself. Realise it's going to be a long time, you're not going to win the tournament on the first day, but you can definitely lose it. Make the right decisions, get some good sleep so you can keep your concentration."

And how will he celebrate?

"Generally when one of the crew has a good win or good result they tend to put on a bit of a shout for the team, so there should be a good night on the town in the next couple of weeks I would say.

"Tonight, I'm knackered. I just want to go to bed. I might have a few quiet beers with the Rotorua crew who have stayed to rail us, so might just have some dinner somewhere and enjoy it."

The New Zealand Poker Championships were held over nine days and featured 12 different events, with record turnouts.

"Christchurch casino just make it easy. They look after the players, they give you lunch and snacks and make you feel welcome. They run a good tournament with a good crew and it's a pleasure to play at it."

"I need to make special mention to The Ruck 'n' Maul Tavern sports bar, that hosts all the poker nights in Rotorua too. They do a fantastic job supporting poker in the region and are responsible for me, Renae and also Rob Harrison, who finished third in the Christchurch Champs, for doing so well."

Main event results:

Kuru Whiston $70,150
Renae Baker $70,000
Zack Lowrie $40,000
Steve Ahn $32,000
Jordan Wilding $26,000
Rachel Bellard $21,000
Francis Low $17,000
Brady Economu-Barton $14,000
Eli Samwa $12,000
Geoff Smith $10,000
Krishna Oza $8000
Jai Thomas $8000
Shane Foglietta $6000
Simon Thwaites $6000
Angus Hennah $5500
Daniel Burich $5000
Steve Smith $5000
Andy Slater $4500
Hristovoje Pavlovic $4500
David Puniani $4000
Des Hunt $4000
Kenny Frisby $3500
Mark Toelau $3500
Tom Taniwha $3500
John Snook $3500
William Qiu $3500

Christchurch Championships results:
Cameron Robertson $25,000
Rob Harrison $19,000
Jordan Westermorland $13,600
Dennis Huntly $9,000
Jakson Laughton $5400
Manu Luke $4000