While everyone waits for the big Phil Ivey v. Manig Loeser and Tom Dwan v. Doug Polk matches at the World Poker Tour Heads Up Championship in Cabo tomorrow, the biggest match today was two non-poker pros: Rumay “Hafu” Wang and Alexandra Botez.
The two amateur poker players went up against each other in round one of the event.
In the end, the victory went to Botez in a 2-0 sweep.
Heads up format
The format for the WPT Heads Up Championship is pretty high variance. It is a best-of-three heads-up match. Starting stacks are 100,000 with blinds starting at 400/800 and increasing every seven hands.
Although the games are all played on-site in Cabo, the players were up against each other on the Poker King app. Webcams were set up in hotel rooms, with players seated across from each other and the tablets on reading stands between them.
Doug Polk was in the commentary booth with Jamie Kerstetter. He dressed up for the occasion in a T-shirt with sleeves. Before the games kicked off, he also generously gave Hafu some pointers. Luck was definitely on his side if his Twitter post on the subject is anything to go by.
Polk swapped out of the booth for the Botez match, with Dan Smith taking his place. Dan Smith coached Alexandra Botez before the match.
While Wang and Botez duked it out at one digital table, Olivier Busquet and Linus Loeliger were playing at the other. Most poker fans were probably giving Busquet v. Loeliger more attention. But with the chess and gaming community on their side, the audience for Botez v “Hafu” was larger.
The start time was delayed when the Steve Aoki v. Dan Smith match overran. Then coverage was delayed further when the main match switched at the last minute from Botez v. Wang to the Busquet v. Loeliger match. For a WPT production, the entire thing felt oddly jury-rigged.
Frenemies on the felt
Both Wang and Botez play a little poker from time-to-time. But in this field, they are plucky underdogs.
Botez and Wang met up before their event and seemed to get on well. Wang tweeted before the game “Finally got to meet @alexandravbotez in person and she’s the loveliest ever.”
Their friendship even seems to have survived the cross-felt combat.
During match one, the pair had some trouble with the wonky software controls. But things started to run a little more smoothly once they got into the flow of play. Botez ran hot in the first match, picking up ace after ace and hitting a full house versus straight to knock her opponent out early on.
Hafu was down one-nil after just a few levels of play, and in a must-win situation for match two.
During match two, nerves started to catch up with the amateur players. “My hands are actually shaking,” Botez said, adding: “My dad is actually watching, which is really cute.”
Botez’s play was sharp and aggressive for a relative amateur. And the cards kept falling her way. Hafu fell behind quickly and never managed to pull ahead.
The final hand came when Botez picked up K♦8♦ in the big blind and called called Hafu’s bet.
The flop came K♠8♠Q♥, giving Botez two pair. It’s a wet flop though with draws aplenty. Botez bet, Hafu called.
The turn was 5♥, creating another flush draw. Botez made a half-pot sized bet of 9,600 in the 19k pot. Hafu moved in over the top for 52,200 total. Botez called.
Hafu flipped over the A♥9♥ for a backdoor flush draw.
The river came the K♥ completing Hafu’s flush draw, and filling up Botez’s house.
Hafu conceded gracefully after the game on Twitter. “Lost versus @alexandravbotez but I had a ton of fun and there’s no one I’d rather see make it far in the tournament!!!” she wrote.
“Luck of the cards!!” Botez replied magnanimously.
Featured image source: Screencap from Twitch.tv/worldpokertour