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10 Years of Sydney Championships at The Star Sydney

The Star Sydney Championships

An article by Ben Blaschke.

Reporting on poker is fascinating, boring, insightful, tedious, and invigorating – all within the one day. It means long days on the floor, many kilometers of walking and the need to stay aware the whole time in wait for that one key hand that could take place on any table at any time.

But it also brings with it an emotional investment, a unique perspective which sees you riding the emotional highs and lows that the players themselves experience in a tournament with so much at stake. And it’s why, looking back over the past 10 years of the longest running homegrown tournament in NSW, the Sydney Championships, so many vivid memories remain.

It was 2009 when the inaugural Sydney Championships was hosted by The Star Sydney, the $1,650 buy-in main event attracting a field of 324 players. Long before the Star Poker room began its nomadic journey to all corners of The Star, the room was at the time located in the middle of the main gaming floor outside what is now the 24/7 Sports Bar and the lively atmosphere worked well for high roller specialist Jarred Graham, who picked his way through the field to claim the maiden main event. For the record, this was also a period that saw Jarred and Sydney local Daniel Neilson dominate the Sydney scene.

Only a few months earlier, Jarred had taken down the High Roller event at APPT Sydney for a $222,000 payday – a result he not only defended with another win at APPT Sydney in 2009 but almost made it a three-peat with a runner-up finish in the 2010 version! Of course, it was Neilson who denied him the trophy on that occasion.

The "Jarred Graham Flipfest" in 2010

It was August 2010 when the Sydney Championships returned for the second time and, at the risk of gratuitous self-promotion, with it came one of my personal career poker highlights.

I clearly recall two players shoving as I looked down at aces.

In order to promote the Sydney Championships main event and add variety to the series, Star Poker added an event called the “Jarred Graham Flipfest” to the schedule which basically ran backward with blinds that began high and actually went down as the tournament progressed. It was also decided that, as the resident poker reporter, it might make for an interesting article if Star Poker bought me in! A small field of 49 players took to the felt in the $550 event and after a rocky start, I suddenly found myself sitting at the final table alongside Jarred Graham himself, his now wife Connie, and of course Daniel Neilson.

Thanks to being spectacularly hit by the deck – I clearly recall two players shoving as I looked down at {a-}{a-} – and knocking out both Jarred and Connie along the way, it came down to Daniel and myself for the title. Due to the unusual nature of the blind structure, we also reached heads-up play with stacks of around 400 big blinds each! But determined not to play all night for the $10,000 top prize, we soon enough got it all in with my {a-}{k-} holding on against Daniel’s {a-}{j-} for a very unexpected win!

"I just won the Sydney Championships"

Fast forward 24 months and perhaps the most memorable main event of all eventuated as Wollongong amateur Errolyn Strang defeated a field of 315 players to become the first – and to this day the only – female winner of The Sydney Championships.

My two enduring memories of Errolyn’s success are the epic heads-up battle with John Donohue that lasted a good five hours and her wonderful reaction after the final card was dealt, as she repeatedly said to herself, “I just won the Sydney Championships. I just won the Sydney Championships.” It was a wonderful moment.

In 2012, the final table was memorable for the quality of the assembled field, which included popular Malaysian pro Bryan Huang, a young Kahle Burns, Dave Allen and the great David Borg – fresh off a runner-up finish in a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event at the 2012 World Series of Poker. In the end, it was Yuen who held his nerve to take the title.

Kahle Burns, having come so close to victory four years earlier, produced a crushing final table performance.

Martin Kozlov prevailed in 2014, who would become the second Sydney Championships winner to claim a WSOP bracelet.

In 2016, Kahle Burns, having come so close to victory four years earlier, produced a crushing final table performance to top a record field of 428 players. Burns also had to overcome one of the strongest final tables in Sydney Championships history with Matthew Wakeman, Andy Lee, Stevan Chew, and Jarryd Godena among his rivals.

In 2017, the Sydney Championships was introduced in the refurbished Star Poker room. The world-class Star Poker room boasts 40 tables and can seat 400 players at a time. Henry Tran lifted the trophy after a memorable run to victory.

Today, The Sydney Championships is the third largest Poker tournament in Australia with a $3,000 ($2,800 + $200) buy-in.

No doubt the 10th anniversary Sydney Championships will bring with it some lifelong memories of its own.

Sydney Championships Main Event winners

YearWinnerPrize
2009Jarred GrahamA$121,500
2010Andrew CapelinA$136,942
2011Errolyn StrangA$119,542
2012Dean YuenA$127,133
2013Daniel LaidlawA$165,000
2014Martin KozlovA$171,080
2015Ben JeeA$200,634
2016Kahle BurnsA$297,203
2017Henry TranA$300,000

For more information on The Sydney Championships, visit starpoker.com.au/SC18.

The Star Sydney Championships

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  • Kozlov, Burns, and eight others have won one of Australia's most prestigious events.

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