Friendship is a funny thing in the world of poker, especially when it comes to tournaments. The same people who you’re battling against for titles and life-changing sums of money are the ones you grab a late-night meal with and talk through hand histories and theories with.
It’s rare in such an individualistic pursuit as poker that two friends can come out of the same event with a significant victory. And yet when it does happen in just the right way, the tense atmosphere that surrounds the endgame of a tournament can become a scene of celebration.
The tableside vibe in the final moments at WPT Cambodia can best be described as joyous, and even as Germany’s Konstantin Held bested Australian Josh Mccully to capture the first-ever WPT Main Tour title contested in Southeast Asia, the considerable Australian rail and Mccully himself were all smiles.
It was the culmination of a five-month adventure during which Held and Mccully became fast friends, traveled all over Asia adventuring and playing poker, and ultimately got to battle for a WPT title as they won a combined sum of over $638,000.
And it all started when Held, a longtime Online Poker player, took his 2023 mission of expanding his horizons on the live poker scene down under.
“I got to know the Australians back in September when I went down [to WPT Australia],” said Held. As it can happen in poker, through an improbable trail of connections – friends of friends of friends – Held, flying solo in Australia, forged his own bond with the crew of Aussie pros.
Among that crew, he met Mccully.
“Joshua was obviously a great player, so we just immediately clicked and started talking hands and everything, and got along very well off the tables,” said Held.
Neither Held nor Mccully did much damage at WPT Australia, but a bond was forged. When a group of the Australians decided they wanted to go to Vietnam in December, Held went along for the ride.
“We spent the whole time in Vietnam together, which was a month,” said Held. “And then, before we were in Cambodia together we all stayed connected, talking here and there remotely.”
After Vietnam, Held went back home to Europe. But the Australians hadn’t had their fill of poker in Asia by a long shot, as they had their eyes on playing the first WPT Main Tour stop of 2024.
“It didn’t really fit my schedule all too well, because I had to immediately go back home afterwards because I had stuff lined up already,” said Held. “I had to go on an 18-hour trip just to get there, for two weeks in Cambodia, which is pretty excessive. But [between their enthusiasm], the big guarantee for the main event, and the schedule with the high rollers, I decided to just go for it. And it was a good idea, I think.”
After spending a little time in Phnom Penh, Held and his Australian friends got down to business at NagaWorld. Mccully bagged chips on Day 1A of the Championship in Cambodia, but Held needed a second bite at the apple after busting out during the first starting session. Day 1B went far better for him, and by the time Day 2 drew to a close with 48 players left, both Held and Mccully were fully in the mix.
Day 3 ended with Held in chip leading position and Mccully not far behind. Both knew two things: they were in a position to do something incredibly special, and their friends would also be having the time of their lives on the sideline.
“He truly was one of the best players in the entire field, and having gotten to know him was just great,” said Held. “Actually having both of us on the final table felt surreal, because we had that massive Australian rail.”
One by one, players fell away until it was just Held, Mccully, and Florent Remi left. With a sizable chip lead, Held negotiated a favorable deal as all three players locked up career-best cashes. Both Mccully and Remi spun up their chips, and when the former eliminated the latter, Mccully was the one holding most of the chips.
“We were, I think, very chill after the deal, even though there was obviously still some important stuff to play for [between the title and the WPT Championship seat], but it felt like the main part was done, and you’re playing with your friend,” said Held. “Both of us would have been happy for the other one to win, which makes it a surreal thing in general. I think it’s almost impossible to win one of these massive events, these great events, and then to be able to directly share it with someone else.”
Held quickly doubled, and the pair battled back and forth to become champion as their friends watched on. When Held eventually put the tournament away, it was smiles all around. In the midst of one of the most surreal nights of his life, he broke through with his first major title after spending most of 2023 falling painfully close to the finish line.
“Over the last year, I’ve had three similar spots,” said Held. “I made my EPT final table [in Paris], where I got sixth. I got 10th [at the Lucky Hearts Poker Open] in Miami in a massive main event. And just back in December at USOP [in Da Nang, Vietnam], I got ninth in that main event, starting third out of nine on the final table.
“It felt like the runs I had were amazing, but it obviously never ended up being all that great, if that makes sense,” said Held. “I had a lot of fire to actually, finally, really get there, so yeah, just ending up top three, then heads up and actually winning, it was completing a very big goal of mine. I had never won a trophy, so having the chance to not only win a trophy, but one with a lot of prestige, and physically a very big one, that means a lot.”
Held’s breakthrough in Cambodia was a fitting ending to the WPT’s first main tour stop in Southeast Asia. He was not the only player to make the trip halfway across the world by any means, either, as in the 760-entry field, players from 51 different countries – none of which made up even 10% of the field – converged on the country to play for the title.
It may well be that an observation that Held has made in recent years is coming to fruition, as live tournament poker numbers continue to surge worldwide.
“I genuinely think the way forward with poker is actually live, with online technology evolving,” said Held. “Last year, I started to travel a lot and I played on every continent except for Africa. I’ve just taken the chance to travel, and I think going forward it will be more like last year, so almost a 50/50 type of mix, maybe a little less live than online.”
Though it’s not yet clear where Held will pop up next on his ever-expanding world travels, there’s one spot he’s almost certain to pop up in 2024 – the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas. For now, following a 19-hour flight back home from Cambodia, Held is all too happy to appreciate the moment at hand.
“I feel incredibly blessed,” said Held. “Super lucky. There’s a lot of people I know that play very well and have never had any of those runs, and for me to have as many and then actually get arguably the most prestigious one feels great.”