Poker gurus go all in for growth of game in Asia

The Texas Hold ‚Em poker craze that has swept the West is set to take the region by storm.

„There are some very talented poker players from Hong Kong but not many as of yet,“ Asia Pacific Poker Tour president Jeffrey Haas said.

Players need mathematical, psychological and data analyses skills in the card game that involves players trying to make the best five-card hand from five opened shared cards and their two face-down cards.

„At its core it’s player to player, whereas in table games it’s you versus the gods of gambling and luck,“ he said.

Describing the growth of poker in the territory as purely organic, president of the Hong Kong Poker League Kelly Flynn said he hopes to steer what he called a viral but untapped market.

Brought to the city by expatriates and returning overseas students four years ago, a collection of home games for poker players without an outlet was eventually coordinated by Flynn and the APPT into the fledgling homegrown league, where cash is replaced with points, prizes and the chance to compete in international tournaments.

Just a ferry ride away at Macau’s Grand Waldo Hotel and Casino, the secondAPPT Macau stop started yesterday and will run until September 9, with over 400 players signed up so far.

With the chance to compete for a guaranteed prize pool of HKD 10 million, competitors will be able to enter tournaments with prizes ranging from HKD 4,000 to HKD 150,000 until registration ends tomorrow at 1.30pm.

With over 1,400 players entering last year’s tour circuit that now includes Macau, Seoul, Manila, Auckland and Sydney, Haas expects this year’s attendance to at least double. He also said HKD 200,000 will be donated to Caritas Macau by the week’s end.

„I’ve got over 3,000 players in my database for Hong Kong and that number will easily double or triple in the next 12 months,“ Flynn said.

Among those competing in the APPT Macau is Shanghai-born poker pro Celina Lin Pei-fei, 25, who said the game would appeal to mahjong and big- deuce players because of the similarities with mathematical odds and strategy.

„I think Asians can be great contenders in the game because of their fearlessness and math skills,“ Sydney’s first ever poker millionairess said.

Another entry, Johnny Chan, a former Hong Kong resident and back-to- back World Series Poker main event champion, said: „You can make a living playing poker. You can’t make a living playing any other casino games.“

With over HKD 32 million in winnings from tournaments, Chan, also known as the „Oriental Express,“ believes the game has a huge potential to become the region’s most popular sport.