This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of WGM.
It’s been a peculiar little period for poker in Asia. Rewind just a few years and the huge fields turning out for the local Asian Poker Tour (APT) and Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) had global giants like the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour scrambling to get in on the act.
But much of that momentum has halted in recent times, the April 2015 raid of an APPT event in Nanjing by Chinese authorities quickly putting poker’s expansion on ice – not to mention the increasing reluctance of Macau’s casino operators to have poker tables gobbling up their table cap.
We couldn’t help but notice, therefore, that something special seems to be brewing once more with three hugely significant tournaments rounding out 2016. They included a record-breaking Asian Championships of Poker (ACOP) at City of Dreams Macau that saw more than 300 players take part in the HK$100,000 buy-in Main Event for the very first time and record numbers across most side events.
But the bigger announcement for Macau was the return of the APT. More than three years since it last visited these shores, APT Macau finally found a new home at Casino Lisboa in October – then returned again in December for its season finale.
The finale proved particularly notable. Won by Korea’s Soojo Kim, the Main Event field of 273 represented the APT’s biggest of 2016 while the nine-day festival attracted a total of 1,200 entries from 450 unique players representing 23 countries. The other big winner was Japan’s Iori Yogo, who ended Sam Razavi’s four-year reign as APT Player of the Year. Yogo’s impressive season saw him win eight individual events, including his first APT Main Event in Okinawa, and notch 34 in-the-money finishes.
Yet all of those figures paled into insignificance compared with happenings in Sydney, where the newly renovated Star Poker Room welcomed the WSOP International Circuit to Australian shores for the very first time. The sell-out field of 1,200 players that turned out for the Opening Event alone was a preview of what was to come as each and every one of the 10 side events attracted a full house. Staff were eventually forced to remove the cap on entries for the AU$5,000 High Roller event due to demand and then did the same with the Main Event itself, which attracted a huge field of 1,097 starters and a prize pool of almost AU$2 million.
Ironically, the man who would top them all, Joel Dodds, only decided to play at the very last minute after a friend sent him a message about the size of the mammoth field. As luck would have it, Dodds happened to be in the area for a work Christmas Party and was the third last person to enter after narrowly beating the final flight cut-off.
Two days later, the former tournament pro was sporting a WSOP Circuit ring and a first prize of AU$360,000, not to mention entry into the US$10,000 buy-in 2017 Global Casino Championship in the United States.
For both Dodds and the Asian tournament poker scene, it was a truly spectacular way to finish the year.