Reporting by Ben Blaschke
Errolyn Strang, who returns to her full-time job as a TAFE teacher this morning, survived a rollercoaster final table and a heads-up battle that lasted an exhausting four hours to score the biggest win of her career and the $119,542 first prize.
Still shaking after finally dispatching of runner-up John Donohue at around midnight last night, Strang (who joins a select group of female players to have captured a major Australian title) described her victory as one of the proudest moments of her life.
“I love playing poker and I’m just really excited – really, really excited. I just felt good today and I had a great heads-up match that went for about four hours. The luck and the cards fell my way.”
Strang outlasted a field of 313 players, including former champions Jarred Graham and Andrew Capelin, to win the Main Event but it was the dramatic final table that will linger on her mind forever.
Playing the patience game early, she found herself short on chips at one stage before a huge double-up set her on her way when she got it in holding 6-7 on a K-5-8 board and rivered a straight. From there Strang was never short on chips and looked set to make light work of heads-up play until Donohue decided to make life difficult.
Three times the Sydney Pizza Hut owner – who also finished third in the 6-handed event earlier in the week – was all-in for his tournament life and three times he doubled up to get himself back in the contest.
The first of those saw him flop a set of 3s against Strang’s A-K all-in pre, while one of the more dramatic hands of the day saw him turn the nut straight to Strang’s on a board that read K-J-7-8-x.
“The adrenalin was just running crazy the whole time,” Strang said when asked how she coped with so many near misses before eventually finishing the job.
“I had to change my game so I limped in with Kings, flopped top set and he turned the straight. I only tried one massive bluff early in the day and that didn’t work so when something wasn’t working I’d think ‘Okay change that’ or ‘What does this mean?’ But heads-up has always been a really weak part of my game so I had to just slow down and think more about the hands.”
Although she is far from a household name just yet, Strang has enjoyed an impressive run of results of late with a sixth place finish at the recent NPL 500 and a second in the Wednesday $440 at Star City in July. Ironically, this latest success comes as she prepares to take a year off work in 2012.
“I’ve got a whole year off… so watch out. The world here I come. It’s been such an exciting week and I’m just so glad that women are coming to the fore in poker. I saw that another lady won the opening event too (Kristina Jeney), which is really good,” she said.
The final table had initially looked set to finish in quick time when Hang Ngoc Nhan ran his top pair into Donohue’s set of 7s early on to become the tournament’s ninth-place finisher and overnight chip leader Tom Motherwell lost his advantage in similar circumstances against Kamyar Ekrami’s set of 4s.
But after the first four players were sent to the rail in a little over two hours, play grinded to a standstill five-handed as another three hours passed before we lost our fifth-place finisher (Graham Hounsell).
There would also be no breakthrough win for final table regulars Michael O’Grady or Ekrami – the latter taking an early chip lead but riding his luck throughout before he ran his A-Q into the Kings of Donohue to bow out in third.
Strang will forever hold a special place in Sydney’s poker history as the last person to win a poker tournament at Star City: this week represents the official relaunch of Star City Casino which will be known as The Star from now on following its spectacular $860 million redevelopment.
2011 Sydney Championships Main Event final table results
1 Errolyn Strang $119,542
2 John Donohue $75,600
3 Kamyar Ekrami $42,525
4 Michael O’Grady $33,075
5 Graham Hounsell $27,169
6 Tom Motherwell $22,207
7 Nick Polias $17,483
8 Narbeh Horsepian $13,703
9 Hang Ngoc Nhan $9923
• PMA would like to thank Ben Blaschke for his daily reports during the 2011 Sydney Poker Championships