Qing Liu has won the 2021 World Poker Tour Venetian $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event, defeating a massive field of 937 entries to capture his first WPT title and the top prize of $752,880.
Liu has been on an incredible in the early months of the new year. Before taking down this huge event, he had already made five final tables with one being a title run in a $600 buy-in event during the DeepStack Extravaganza held at Venetian in February. Liu’s wild ride is not yet done, either, as he is among the final six players at the delayed final table from the 2020 WPT Gardens Poker Championship that was scheduled to play out the day after this WPT Venetian main event final table. Liu will enter the final table in sixth place with a shot at winning two WPT titles in as many days.
Liu was awarded 1,824 Card Player Player of the Year points for his victory in this tournament. Combined with the 907 points he had already earned, Liu has vaulted into the outright lead in the 2021 POY race, which is sponsored by Global Poker. He currently sits 1,111 points ahead of second-ranked Ilyas Muradi, and is already guaranteed to add at least 340 POY points to that advantage, even if he were to finish sixth in his upcoming final table.
This event began with two starting flights that were held on Mar. 5-6. By the time registration officially closed, 937 entries had been made to set the record for the largest $5,000 buy-in main event field in WPT history. It took two more full days of action after the starting flights to narrow that sea of players down to a final table of six.
The chip leader to begin the final day was 2015 World Series of Poker main event winner Joseph McKeehen. The 29-year-old from North Wales, Pennsylvania has been one of the most successful main event champions of the post-boom poker era, having cashed for more than $9.3 million in tournaments outside of his win in the big dance. McKeehen has also won two additional WSOP bracelets in recent years. This was his fifth WPT final table finish, with his first WPT main event title remaining elusive.
The final table was supposed to begin at 2:00 p.m. local time on Tuesday, Mar. 9, but there was an hour delay due to a health scare for one of the final six. Austrian Roland Rokita was reportedly taken to the hospital earlier in the day, according to a social media post from two-time bracelet winner and high-stakes star Fedor Holz. While it initially seemed that he would not be well enough to play, Rokita was eventually able to return to play out the event. Information about the resolution of his health issue has not yet been made public.
Trace Henderson was the first player eliminated at the final table. He got the last of his short stack all-in preflop with pocket nines and was racing against the Q10 of Liu. The pocket pair failed to hold up and Henderson hit the rail in sixth place ($155,865). Kou Vang was the next to be eliminated, with his AK being unable to outrun the pocket eights of McKeehen. Vang took home $204,430 as the fifth-place finisher.
Jack Hardcastle was looking for his second WPT title of the year, having won the WPT Montreal Online $3,200 buy-in main event in January for $447,859. He had entered the day as the shortest stack, but managed to survive to the final four. His run came to an end when McKeehen moved all-in from the small blind with K10. Hardcastle called off the last of his seven big blind stack with Q8 from the big blind. Neither player improved and Hardcastle was sent home with $271,050 for his fourth-place showing.
McKeehen had more than twice as many chips as his nearest opponent when three-handed play began. Roland Rokita’s run in this event came to an end when his pocket fives failed to hold up from the big blind facing a small-blind shove from McKeehen, who held J8. McKeehen turned a jack-high straight to leave Rokita without any outs heading into the river. Rokita cashed for $363,235 as the third-place finisher.
With that McKeehen took just shy of a 2:1 chip lead into heads-up play against Qing Liu. On just the fifth hand of heads-up play, Liu took down a sizable pot without showdown to edge into the lead. He never looked back from there. By the time that the final hand was dealt, McKeehen had slid to just 11 big blinds. Liu moved all-in from the button with K4 and McKeehen called with K7. The board ran out 64296 and Liu made sixes and fours to secure the pot and the title.
McKeehen took home $491,960 as the runner-up finisher, increasing his career tournament earnings to $17,478,840. The 1,520 POY points he earned in this event were enough to see him climb into third place in the 2021 POY race for the time being. Rokita and Hardcastle also joined the top twenty as a result of making the final table.
Here is a look at the payouts and POY points awarded at the final table:
Liu and Rokita photo credits: Joe Giron / WPT.