Five Outstanding Poker Players From New Zealand
The first casino in New Zealand opened in 1994 in Christchurch. Simply known as Christchurch Casino it is where many Kiwis first learned the game of poker. The Christchurch Casino is also home to the New Zealand Poker Championships. The event, which was first held in 2001, attracted 238 entries in its most recent running in 2020.
New Zealand also has the SkyCity casino in Auckland. Host of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) this casino has also held the Australia New Zealand Poker Tour (ANZPT) in the past. In 2018, SkyCity hosted New Zealand’s first-ever event on the World Poker Tour (WPT). This event, which returned in 2019, has put New Zealand firmly on the map as a poker destination.
New Zealand may be famous for its beautiful scenery, its All Blacks rugby team, its white wine, and its wool but it has produced plenty of notable poker names as well.
Let’s now take a look at some of their standout players.
With over $2.5 million in earnings, retired doctor Lee Nelson is far and away New Zealand’s most successful poker player. With almost double the winnings of second place in the all-time money list, it’s only natural that Nelson is the first player we mention.
A winner of the main event at the Crown Australian Poker Championship, Nelson has also won a ANZPT main event in Melbourne. He’s won TV poker tournaments too like the World Open. He’s even won an Omaha event at the Aussie Millions and, in 2009, he was inducted into the Australian Poker Hall of Fame.
Nelson has written a book on prostate cancer entitled “Prostate Cancer Prevention and Cure.” He also built a wellness retreat in New Zealand. His park concentrates on food, exercise, and meditation, all areas of medical interest to him.
Nelson has written books on poker too. He co-authored the popular “Kill Phil” and “Kill Everyone” poker series. These books were designed to help amateurs take on and beat the best poker players.
With almost $1.5 million in tournament earnings, former investment banker Sosia Jiang is second on the New Zealand all-time money list.
Her first big win came in 2017 in Macau when she won a championship high roller event for almost $500,000. She has since won a high roller event at the Sydney Championship as well as a third-place finish in the 2018 WPT New Zealand main event.
With a degree in commerce and a career in finance, Jiang has used her mathematical abilities to forge out a successful career in poker. She also used her experience from navigating a high-pressure trading floor with the ability to stay focused in the moment.
Now a schoolteacher, Jiang has always balanced working a regular job alongside her poker activities. Nicknamed the “silent executioner”, this is one lady you don’t want to take lightly when she sits down next to you at a poker table.
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With the World Series of Poker (WSOP) moving online in 2020 as a result of the global pandemic, Thomas Ward had to use his online poker skills to secure a 4th place finish in the main event.
The result, which earned him $1.3 million, catapulted Ward into the upper echelons of Kiwi poker players. Having made a deep run in the 2014 WSOP main event in Las Vegas, Ward used his previous experience to help him land the biggest result of his poker career.
Having had runner-up finishes in both the APPT Macau and the APPT Auckland in recent years, his recent big win has come as no surprise.
The 31-year-old from Wellington, who plays mainly on the Asian poker scene, has several tournament cashes in the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and in particular Macau.
As live poker resumes, expect to see Thomas Ward’s name continue to climb the ranks of New Zealand poker players.
Winner of the WPT Vietnam in 2019 for $160,000, Hamish Crawshaw is a young poker player from New Zealand to keep an eye on.
It wasn’t his only big win that year either. He also won a record-breaking main event at the Star Sydney Championships for over $240,000 too. That was the biggest win of his poker career so far.
The man from Manawatu has also won an Asian Poker Tour main event in Taiwan in addition to a shot clock event at the Aussie Millions in Melbourne.
With over $1 million in career earnings already, Crawshaw has amassed a lot of wins in a short space of time since his first cash in 2014.
Of his 47 live cashes to date, 29 were final table appearances and nine were victories. This has all the hallmarks of a great poker career to come.
Heads-up cash game specialist from Auckland, Simon Watt remains the only winner of a WSOP bracelet from New Zealand.
The win, which came in 2010, saw him beat none other than poker superstar Tom Dwan into second place! Not only did Watt win the bracelet, he also earned himself a $600,000 plus-change payday.
Not his only tournament win, Watt also won the APPT Auckland in 2009, his first big poker success. The $209,000 prize was a gigantic improvement on his only other previous cash to that point which was for less than $500!
His bracelet win will secure Watt his place in New Zealand poker history forever. It would be remiss not to continue to mention him as he remains the country’s only current winner of a WSOP event.
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