16 October 2016 (Monaco) – The latest poker millionaire was crowned Sunday night at the world’s most glamourous casino. The third and final day of the biggest buy-in poker tournament in history – the €1,000,000 Big One for One Drop – concluded at the Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco. Thirty-five year old Elton Tsang of Hong Kong emerged as the winner, earning €11,111,111 and a special bracelet fashioned by jeweler Richard Mille for his victory.
Tsang took his victory in stride, enjoying the moment with both poise and humility. “I was pretty confident,” he said after the presentation of the bracelet and check. “But you still need cards to hit in tournaments.”
This is a unique event in the poker world. It’s primarily a charity event, and €111,111 from each entry goes to One Drop to support their global water access projects. With 28 entries, the tournament raised €3,111,108 (approximately $3,484,440) for charity.
The tournament was also structured as an invitational event. It was aimed primarily at recreational players or amateurs, rather than players who make their living playing poker.
Tsang was in the middle of the pack throughout the first two days of the event, but truly dominated Sunday’s final table. He took the chip lead from Andrew Pantling on the second hand of the day, and held it for the rest of the tournament. In fact, on the third hand, he won more chips from Pantling, and finished the hand with roughly 47 million in chips. At no point did any other player surpass that mark.
“I was feeling good, feeling comfortable, getting cards,” he said of his final table performance. “My bluffs were working, [I][was] getting a good read on the table. It was just going my way.”
Throughout the day, Tsang had a small crowd of supporters sitting behind him, the most boisterous of whom was tournament veteran Mustapha Kanit. Kanit also acted as Tsang’s coach. “He gave me a lot of good advice. I don’t play tournaments that much. I used to. I kind of know some strategy. Someone to talk to in between hands helps.”
The final table of the 2016 Big One for One Drop began just after noon on Sunday amidst celebratory introduction festivities. A couple musicians flanked the stage, blasting guitar music as tournament director Jack Effel introduced each player. Once the players, most of whom were dressed in tuxedos, took their seats, Effel, One Drop founder Guy Laliberte, and jeweler Richard Mille (who fashioned the winner’s bracelet) each made a few opening remarks, and then cards were in the air and the final table was officially underway.
Eight players returned for the official final table, but two would have to leave empty-handed as only six players made the money. The first elimination occurred on the eighth hand of the day when professional sports bettor Haralabos Voulgaris, who started Sunday with the shortest chip stack, busted out. That created one of the biggest money-bubbles in poker tournament history. Six players would earn at least €1,500,000, and seventh place would get nothing.
All remaining players avoided elimination for about two hours, but three of them saw their stack dwindle substantially during that time. After two full levels, three players had fewer chips than they started the tournament with. And on the fourth hand after the break, Brandon Steven was eliminated when his king-queen ran into Cary Katz’s ace-king. Andrew Pantling was eliminated in 6th place (€1,500,000) just two hands later, and Katz finished in 5th place (€1,750,000) about half an hour after that. This was the second time Katz has made the money in a tournament with a seven-figure buy-in. He also finished in eighth place in the 2014 Big One for One Drop event.
Four-handed play lasted about an hour. Then James Bord busted out in fourth place (€2,100,000). Then it took about two and half hours until the next elimination. Rick Salomon busted out in third place (€3,000,000). Like Katz, Salomon also cashed in the 2014 Big One. He finished fourth two years ago, slightly bettering that finish today.
On the third hand of heads-up play, it looked like Tsang might make short work of his lone remaining opponent, Anatoly Gurtovoy of Russia. Tsang flopped two pair against Gurtovoy’s one pair, and all the chips went in the middle on the flop. But the turn and river put a straight on board, and they split the pot.
Despite that setback, Tsang continued his dominating performance, and about 90 minutes later he had all the chips, officially securing his victory. Tsang, a Canadian-born resident of Hong Kong, is an entrepreneur with investments in IT, travel agencies, and internet firms. But he can now add poker tournament champion to his resume, and he has and additional €11,111,111 to invest.
This is the third Big One for One Drop tournament in history. It’s been held every two years since 2012.
The tournament began on Friday with 28 entries, generating a prize pool of €24,888,892. At the end of the day, 24 players remained. They returned on Saturday and very quickly played down to the official final table of eight. Day 2 played so quickly that it took under five hours to reach final table. The final eight players returned Sunday at noon, and Tsang secured his victory at about 8:30 p.m.