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Poker Gold Rush in China

THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2012-09-02, by Ozone

Ever since Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker nearly ten years ago triggering a "poker boom" in the U.S., observers have been wondering where the next big poker boom might come from. It now appears there could be an answer to that question. But only the game's elite are poised to profit from this latest influx of cash into the poker economy.

Poker phenom Tom Dwan, typically a fixture at the WSOP in Las Vegas, this year only showed up barely in time to register for the $1,000,000 buy-in Big One for One Drop. As Dwan explained in an interview with QuadJacks, he had better places to be. The man known as 'durrrr' had just spent the previous several months in Macau playing in the biggest poker cash game in the world. Some rumors existed at the WSOP this year that Dwan had won as much as $50 million during his stint in Macau.

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If this seems difficult to believe, consider that Macau's gambling revenue was five-times that of the Las Vegas Strip last year. There is a lot of money changing hands in Macau. But unlike the Moneymaker boom from a decade ago, this poker boom does not seem to directly affect more than just a few of the game's wealthiest players.

High-Roller Haven

The Chinese economy does not consist of a substantial middle-class taking family trips to Macau so Dad can sneak away to the baccarat table at night. Macau is different from Las Vegas in this way. If you're in Macau, you have a lot of money and are probably somewhere in the top 1% of wealthiest individuals in China.

What Dwan and so many other high-stakes poker pros have figured out is that these Chinese businessmen love to gamble. And if you believe the rumors coming out of Macau, they're pretty awful poker players. There's a reason Dwan spent consecutive months of his life there recently to the point that he told QuadJacks that he wasn't sure if he enjoyed being away from home that long.

Recently, Dwan had some friendly company in Macau. A Macau Super High-Roller event with a buy-in of HK$2,000,000 ($257,000) enticed 73 players to the felt 21 of whom exercised an optional single rebuy. That generated a prize-pool of $23.5 million, more than half of the size of the Big One for One Drop prize pool.

Here are the names of five of the top six finishers from the event. Count how many of them you recognize: Stanley Choi, Zhu Guan Fa, Nicholas Wong, Tang Zheng, and Lap Key Chen. Also at the final table were usual suspects Sam Trickett, Phil Ivey and John Juanda. Several other recognizable names from poker were also in attendance mixed in among numerous Chinese men of whom the poker world knows little about.

Stanley Choi emerged with $6.4 million, the tenth-largest first-place prize in poker history for a tournament that almost no one outside of poker's wealthiest players even knew was taking place.

Haves and Have-Nots Economy

The Macau poker boom is one of the "rich get richer" variety. Since the only people playing poker in China are those wealthy enough to play it for high-stakes, a sea of grinders are left to watch from the sidelines as the likes of Dwan, Ivey and Gus Hansen add even more to their net worth.

While one does now on occasion see a player from China sitting in lower-stakes online games at PokerStars, they are few and far between. The Chinese poker boom people have been hoping for has arrived, but it's not what anyone expected. Piles of money are being infused into the poker economy from China, but to get your hands on it, you'll have to go to Macau and buy-in to some of the largest games in the world. It's a much different movement than the Moneymaker boom which made thousandaires out of seemingly every bright, 20-something kid in the U.S.

The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.

 


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