Live Poker Events in Asia are a Different Beast

Since 2011 I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel around the world and report on a multitude of live poker events. For the first few years my trips were limited to poker games in Europe.  That began to change in 2014 when I was able to give coverage on poker tournament events at various international locations. While some specific regions; Canada, Scandinavia and South America, continue to escape me for now, others have instantly become run-away favorites for a vacation or poker game.

One of the regions I thoroughly enjoy going to is the Asia-Pacific region. I cherish the experiences I have had in countries such as Australia, Cambodia, Japan, The Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam. Having just concluded another extraordinary poker event in South East Asia, and while my memory of it is still fresh, it is the best time to tell everyone what makes these places, and the poker action you can find in the area, so special.

Poker in Asia

The first thing you should do before visiting to play poker room in the region is to gather everything you know about live poker events, your ideas of how a poker tournament should run, your ideology of what makes poker games good, and toss it out the window. Quite simply, always expect the unexpected because that’s exactly what will unfold once you sit down at the poker table. The atmosphere, behavior and nature of gambling and poker is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. The only thing remotely close in terms of excitement and electricity, in my more than ten years on the international circuit, has been Morocco – which, while the crowds tend to be smaller, they do get louder, especially when switching from French to Arabic. 

The mood borders on hysteria as the live poker events approach completion, and becomes palpable during all-in situations. The din in the poker room reaches the point of explosion and it is not uncommon that sudden screaming in the country’s native language will gather a small crowd around the poker table. The most fantastic scenario I witnessed on the road was during a tournament in Jeju, South Korea when more than two dozen Chinese players jumped behind their poker player friend and started chanting for an ace. The jubilant roar of celebration which exploded from the crowd when the ace appeared and the winning hand sent the last non-Asian poker player to the rail.

The raw mix of emotion discovered around the poker tables in the casinos of South East Asia can perhaps be matched by the drunken British rails in the Thunderdome when one of their own is battling for a WSOP gold bracelet. Or perhaps the Brazilian party from the stands and their impressive support bubble. But none of it is close to the absolute insanity and sheer excitement in the moment during a live poker event in the Asia-Pacific region.

Gambling in Asia

It might sound prejudiced or cliché, but Asian players do love to gamble and not just at poker. When Asian players go to gamble, whether they choose to play poker or participate in any other casino game, they certainly make their presence known. Seeing someone walk around with multiple four-figure re-entries is not unusual; however, to me, one of the strangest phenomena with Asian players is they don’t necessarily mind losing, as long as they are having fun.

When playing in Asia, you won’t face a poker table filled with hoodie-and-sunglasses wearing online professional poker players that try to hide every emotion. Barely anyone in the region will be wearing headphones or listening to music during a poker cash game or tournament as the real entertainment is the constant buzz in the entire poker room and being a part of that is much more entertaining.

Not much can be learned by the bet sizing during any betting round for those who pay attention to that kind of thing. During the hand the bets can be totally random and may not have anything to do with the strength of the poker player’s hole cards. More often than not, the locals, and even expats living abroad, simply want to build a big pot while they play poker.

A raise to five big blinds from under the gun and three callers? Sure, why not. The range of the initial raiser can be very wide and of the 3 callers, as the pot odds increases so do their poker hand ranges. Playing poker with these amazing extremes creates a lot of spicy pots, plenty of surprises and insane action in both poker tournaments and cash games.

Tournaments in Asia

With the exception of the GGPoker sponsored Triton High Roller series, most live poker events in Asia focus on low to mid-stake poker players. The professional poker player will tend to not make the trip for these tournaments which gives poker enthusiasts, poker rookies and part time poker players the opportunity to shine. Carefully navigating the minefield of exhilarating action in almost every hand can, particularly with the unexpected betting style of the region, get very tricky.

The language barrier can also be a burden, particularly if you believe the local players are disclosing hand information while the poker action is ongoing. That is definitely something to keep in the back of your mind, especially when a large portion of the field is on home soil. Often enough, the rail will get very close to the poker table and it is up to every player to ensure their cards are not exposed.

What can I do when not playing poker?

One thing that is rarely thought of but should definitely be considered is turning the poker trip, or at least a part of it, into a vacation. The next time you finish and just do not want to play poker, or cannot find a good cash game, instead of begrudgingly sitting down at the next poker table, go outside and experience the country.

The Asia-Pacific region has seen significant growth over the years and several tours are now established in countries such as Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines and Cambodia.

Now that you have made it all the way to the other side of the planet, or at least to a new country, depending on where you are from. It would be a waste to simply stay in the casino to play more poker, or to immediately return home after the poker game has concluded. There is an entire country and culture to see and explore, often it is just a short walk, or ride on a Tuk Tuk away. Be aware of the currency exchange rate and watch out for your bags and valuables whenever you are in tight environments, but that warning goes with any vacation.

Don’t always accept the first offer from street vendors, drivers etc – negotiating is a game on its own and, as a tourist, you will always be subject to a mark-up. You might not get away with an audacious bluff like you do at the poker tables, but a discount is always in the cards.

While August and September is the rainy season for the region, the monsoon-like showers are generally short lived, and you won’t need a canoe to navigate the streets afterwards. Whether you enjoy relaxing at the beach, exploring local  nature or absorbing cultures different from your own, just about anything you could want is readily available at an affordable price. The same also applies to the local cuisine, which is very rich in flavor but be warned, it can be quite spicy.

About the Author: zedmaster84 is a freelance poker journalist, writer, translator and semi-professional photographer. He has been covering major live poker events all over the world since 2011 and specializes in mixed games with a certain affinity to PLO. He is also heavily addicted to travel, seeing the world and discovering new cultures.