Not long ago, PokerStars made a curious move when they signed Japanese online poker legend Kosei ‘shinbunshi’ Ichinose. The most-interesting part of this deal is that playing poker for real money in Japan isn’t technically legal. So PokerStars’ latest decision to hold a land-based tournament in Tokyo is yet another move that inspires some thought. This being said, let’s discuss this tournament along with what Stars may be prepping Japan for in the future.
Due to Japan’s strict laws against casino gaming, you won’t find a poker room or casino anywhere within the Land of the Rising Sun. So how in the world did Stars hold a land-based tournament here? They awarded seats to the Japan Open through online qualifiers and offered non-monetary prizes. Regarding the latter, top finishers won seats in various tourneys around the world, including the Asian Championship, Asia Pacific Poker Tour and the Macau Poker Cup.
Another intriguing aspect of the Japan Open is that both Ichinose and Vanessa Selbst took part in the event. Selbst is especially a big name here because she’s largely regarded as the best female player of all time with $10.6 million in winnings and three WSOP gold bracelets. It certainly sounds like Selbst enjoyed herself in the tourney too as she tweeted,
“Tokyo is already 1 of my fave cities ever.”
Back to our original discussion about how poker is illegal in Japan, this tournament certainly doesn’t look to have any immediate impact on the poker scene. But it’s obvious that Stars didn’t just hold the Japan Open to give Tokyo residents something cool to do on the weekend. Instead, they’re trying to popularize the game ahead of future gaming legislation.
It was hoped that Japan would legalize casinos in 2014, when serious discussions took place on the matter. Going further, the new ruling party in Japan is more progressive and has no problem with casino gaming, as opposed to the traditionalists of the past. Unfortunately, casino legislation died out when there wasn’t enough time to vote on it. But given the huge strides that were made last year, it’s reasonable to think that poker rooms and casinos could be legalized within the next 3-4 years at the latest.
Assuming this is the case, a country of over 127 million people will suddenly have the ability to play poker as they please. Thus PokerStars’ early forays into Japan should pay off in some way or another.
Ever since early 2014, when Joe Hachem’s rant about recent WSOP champs not being good poker ambassadors surfaced, there’s a feeling among some that today’s young stars lack personality. Whether this is indeed the case, or if it’s just the way poker TV shows and media present the players, it’s apparent that the days of centering the game on big personalities has faded away.
Still, it’s always nice to see one of the ‘old’ stars resurface in today’s game. And Ilari Sahamies is doing exactly that after going on an online poker heater in early 2015. That said, let’s briefly discuss his recent online results along with why this is exciting for the game.
Sahamies off to a hot start
2009 was definitely Samahies’ year since he made over $6 million in online poker profits and established himself as one of the most-entertaining players in the game. One look at some of the Finn’s profanity-laced chat logs, full of light-hearted jabs against fellow pros, proves that he’s fun to watch for multiple reasons.
Unfortunately, Sahamies hit a big downswing in 2010/11, when he lost most of his profits at Full Tilt Poker. What ensued were occasional forays into the mid and high stakes world, followed by lengthy layoffs.
But so far in early 2015, Sahamies has gotten off to a blazing start under his ‘Ilari FIN’ name at PokerStars. According to his HighStakesDB graph, Sahamies began 2015 with $1.77 million in profits, and has taken that amount to $2.53 million in mid February. In all, he’s netted a $760k profit on what’s his best upswing in years.
Why this is great
Obviously the fact that Ilari FIN is playing so good these days isn’t going to start a global poker boom – not like when that chubby accountant from Tennessee won the WSOP Main Event back in 2013. But it should certainly spark a little more interest in the game, both from young and older poker players.
After all, Sahamies is still regarded as one of the more-amusing players to have ever taken the felt. So we can only imagine that his continued success is good for online poker. This being the case, keep paying attention to Sahamies’ results and hoping that he does well in the future.
Few poker players have experienced the highs and lows that Erick Lindgren has over his career. For years, it seemed that he was one of poker’s golden boys, with lots of tournament success and a sponsorship deal from Full Tilt that reportedly paid $250,000 a month. Then his world suddenly came crashing down when Black Friday struck, Lindgren lost his sponsorship deal, and he was outed for not paying back large sports gambling and fantasy sports debts.
The icing on the cake was when the Rational Group, which had recently purchased Full Tilt Poker, sued Lindgren for $2.5 million in 2012. So the poker pro simply declared bankruptcy to avoid paying it, along with diminishing the $4.8 million in debt he had and another $3.8 owed in back taxes. But as recent events have shown, not all of Lindgren’s problems have gone away.
Despite three years having gone by and Rational being purchased by Amaya Gaming, the company refuses to forget the $2.5 million. And the Rational Group recently sued Lindgren for over $2.5 million in another effort to recoup their money.
$2 million of the amount comes from April 2011, when the old Full Tilt management accidentally sent Lindgren a double $2m loan; they never received one of the $2m loans back after asking for it. The other $531k comes from money that was given to the ex-Full Tilt Pro for tournament buy-ins. This is a problem now, though, because Lindgren and other pros lost their deals after Black Friday and technically shouldn’t have used the buy-in money.
Early 2013 saw Lindgren check into the Morningside Recovery center in Newport Beach, California to help curb his gambling addiction. The plan was for the long-time pro to get out of Morningside, stay away from sports betting, and concentrate on using his poker skills to take care of his family.
Well, everything seemed to be going as planned when Lindgren took second in the WPT Championship ($660k) and won a 2013 NLHE Six-Max tournament ($606k). But as they say, you can’t run from your past, and it looks like Lindgren’s has caught up with him again. And this time, rather than a bunch of fellow players leaning on him to repay debts, Lindgren could have actual courts ordering him to repay the $2.5 million debt that he avoided three years ago.
Well over a decade after beginning his poker career, Patrik Antonius still remains one of the best high stakes players in the world. And he definitely proved it last year, winning $1.68 million in online poker. Even still, Antonius isn’t winning much in live poker games these days because, well, he’s being shut out. Let’s discuss why this is the case as well as how badly the Finn wants to play in a high stakes TV show again.
In a recent interview with PokerNews, Antonius discussed how the high stakes cash world is largely changing. “A lot of casinos, they’re allowing players to have private games where if there’s a seat open, you can’t just go and take the seat and play,” Antonius said. “This has been the trend for all over the world now.” The famed poker pro can still find juicy games to sit in…for a while anyways. However, he says that eventually, players with connections will grab the “players you want to play with” and go to a private table.
One thing that really made Antonius a poker celebrity was his appearances on High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. But unfortunately for he and poker fans, these TV shows have largely died off.
“The most I miss is the high stakes TV shows, High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark,” the Finn said. “I mean I would love to play for big money and be involved in some big hands. And so, they just need to get this going, find sponsors, come on let’s get a game. I mean people wanna play, there’s a lot of people who are playing for big money.” Antonius added that there’s still plenty of high stakes action around the world, however, they have drifted to different parts of the globe. And many of those who participate in these games would love playing in TV shows.
It doesn’t appear that any big-time poker programs are on the horizon right now. And seeing as how Antonius can’t get in any major live games, he’s been up to other things. First off, he’s spending a lot more time with his family and playing sports. Antonius is also playing online poker when he finds good action as well. It looks like things will remain this way too, unless some big sponsors throw their money behind a good show in the near future.
One of the biggest driving forces behind the Poker Boom was the influx of college students who found online poker. Sure, it’s often believed that middle-aged people and retirees with too much money and time on their hands willingly took their bankrolls to the slaughterhouse – all while dreaming of becoming the next Phil Ivey or Doyle Brunson. But university students were every bit as much a part of the Boom as anybody else.
Obviously it would seem like this trend stopped long ago, given that internet poker growth has slowed. However, according to a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania, online poker still has major appeal. That said, let’s discuss the study more along with some players’ thoughts on the matter.
The University of Pennsylvania study reveals that over 20% of college students play online poker at least once a month. Given that there are about 150.7 million students attending universities worldwide, that’s around 30.1 million who are simultaneously hitting the books and cyber felt. And some young players are leaning a bit more towards the latter than they should.
“Sometimes if a lecture is boring the life out of me, I find myself loading up and playing poker on my laptop,” Luke Fern, a British semi-pro, told PokerrPlanet.wordpress.com. “In one lecture, after 45 minutes, I was $240 up, and my mate sat to my right just couldn’t get his head round it.”
Fern adds that he doesn’t like his university courses and dedicates about 70% of his time towards poker, while also admitting, “I usually miss my 9am lectures, it annoys me but sometimes the financial drive of poker keeps you up or out late.”
Other poker players/students have done a good job of keeping in mind why they’re in college in the first place. “If you get into poker with the express ambition of making lots of money, you are going to be a losing player,” Will Shillibier, a student at the University of Canterbury, explains. “Especially while at University. You learn a lot whilst at University and I don’t think people can afford to devote their lives at that early stage to poker.”
Chevron Latty, who’s attending Birmingham City University, also believes that it’s important to put the books above poker. “I think in terms of a percentage the split is 80% university work and 20% poker, it takes a lot of work and effort to be a winning poker player and I think it would be a bit of a challenge for me to improve at the rate I would like to at poker without my university work suffering,” Latty said.
While some view poker as a hobby, it’s hard for others like Fern to do the same. This is especially the case when one considers how students like Alex Spencer are winning big with the game. Spencer, who’s studying accounting and finance management at the University of York, won the Sky UK Poker Championships along with £125,000. Overall, he’s won $280,680 in live tournaments and plenty of money in the online game too. Nevertheless, he’s also of the thought that balance is best.
“I think its definitely very manageable so long as you allocate your time well, try putting in more hours playing when workload is low but recognize regardless of whether you’ve won or lost recently that you still need to do your uni work when exams or assignments are due,” Spencer said.
It’s plain to see that there are different schools of thought on how one should view the combination of their studies and poker. But no matter how students are divvying up their time, plenty of them will continue dedicating at least some time to the felt.
Not long ago, the World Series of Poker decided to drop the $10 million top prize for the 2015 Main Event. They’d heard from plenty of poker pros on the matter and decided that a “flatter” payout structure will be better for the long-term growth of the tournament. Now, 1,000 players are guaranteed to earn a minimum payout of $15,000 in the Main Event. This obviously is a good thing from the perspective that an extra 300+ players can look forward to making money. But will this truly appeal to the average recreational player who tries to win their Main Event seat through online poker satellites?
Attendance rose from 6,352 players to 6,683 entrants in the 2014 ME. Not coincidentally, last year was the first time that a massive guaranteed prize was offered to the winner. We can only surmise that the $10 million payout had a positive effect on how many players were entering WSOP satellites.
Despite a large increase in the number of players, the WSOP decided to cave in after a number of pros pointed out the flaws in a $10m guarantee. The question now becomes whether the average recreational player will be as engaged and motivated to keep entering 2015 WSOP Main Event satellites. After all, having the opportunity to win $10m is definitely exciting for amateur players.
One marketable quality that will arise out of dropping the $10m guarantee is that there stands to be more millionaires from the November Nine. In 2014, seventh-place finisher Dan Sindelar ($1,236,084) was the cutoff point for millionaires. Assuming the amount of entrants were to remain the same, nine players would become millionaires through the Main Event.
Daniel Negreanu, who was among the most-critical of the guaranteed $10m prize, pointed out that this would be better overall for the tourney. Negreanu tweeted, “‘Make the WSOP final table, become a millionaire.’ Better tag line then ‘Beat 8000 players, win $10 million.'” Online poker sites might be wise to push this idea to get more players in satellites.
As alluded to before, the goal here is to help the WSOP Main Event’s long-term appeal. More players cashing and extra millionaires could certainly accomplish this agenda. But on the other hand, the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” could apply here. A 331-player increase from year to year isn’t something that can be ignored. And it’s surprising that the WSOP would disband their $10m guarantee experiment so quickly after a year of success.
In the end, though, it could be some time before we know if removing the $10m prize and creating a flatter structure is better than keeping the huge payout in place.
For the past seven years, former cricket star Shane Warne has served as an 888poker ambassador. And over this lengthy span, both sides have benefited from the fruitful relationship. However, Warne recently broke the news through Twitter that he and his sponsor have parted ways:
“Sydney today for the test match, then Aussie Millions poker -exciting. FYI I’ve parted ways with 888.”
The 45-year-old didn’t elaborate on his departure from 888poker. But whatever the case may be, he certainly doesn’t plan on quitting poker any time soon. As his tweet above indicates, he’ll be playing in the upcoming Aussie Millions. But it’s kind of strange that Warne would continue taking the felt, given that he hasn’t experienced much success in tournaments over the years. Through his 7-year poker career, the Aussie has earned just $71,528 in live tourneys.
It’s very possible that Warne may already have a new sponsor that he isn’t telling the poker world about yet. While he doesn’t offer much appeal from a playing perspective, Warne is still a very marketable figure to cricket fans. And given that he still plays poker, it only makes sense that another room would want to pick him up.
There’s been quite a bit of discussion in recent years about PokerStars moving away from the sponsored player model. And it looks like 888, the world’s second-biggest online poker operation, is doing the same thing. Just a few months ago, two-time WSOP champion JC Tran and 888 went their separate ways. And the poker site also had the embarrassing signing/quick firing of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who was dropped after biting an Italian defender during the 2014 World Cup. To date, Team 888 is down to just five players, including WSOP November Niner Bruno Politano, Sofia Lövgren and Xuan Lui.
Not long ago, Daniel Negreanu raised an issue about the WSOP choosing to again offer a guaranteed $10 million prize to the Main Event champion. Negreanu’s issue is that he believes flat (more) payouts do more for bringing players back to the Rio every year, rather than a massive first-place prize. Here’s a look at some of Negreanu’s tweets:
“I’ve yet to hear either a pro player or an amateur that is in favor of a $10 mill first prize. It truly doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest”
“Extreme example: if only 1% of players made the money, how many players would show up? Paying more spots attracts more players. That’s fact.”
“‘Make the WSOP final table, become a millionaire.” Better tag line then “Beat 8000 players, win $10 million.” Easier sell guys it’s not close”
“The richest tournament in poker history is about to create 9 new millionaires. Could you be one of the 9? Only one way to find out.”
Taking a closer look at Negreanu’s argument, it’s easy to see his point about flatter payouts being better for the long-term growth of poker. If the WSOP were to take $2-$3 million from the top payout and spread it out to pay more players, you have a lot more people at least doubling their $10k buy-in. What’s more is that dozens of players will be encouraged to return to the Main Event the following year because they previously cashed.
Another point that KidPoker makes is that a better tagline would be creating 9 millionaires, rather than one $10 million winner. Here he again makes a solid case because the mere term “millionaire” has proven to be really effective in the Millionaire Maker tournament, drawing 7,997 entrants in 2014. So when you’re pushing this tagline times nine, it could convince more people to pay the large $10k Main Event buy-in (or at least seek backing).
Obviously the 2015 WSOP Main Event wouldn’t be offering another $10 million guaranteed prize if it was a flat-out terrible decision. And one could certainly argue that last year’s massive payout is the reason why attendance rose from 6,352 players in 2013 up to 6,683 players in 2014.
The key thing to love about a $10 million payout is that it appeals to the recreational (and pro) player’s dream. Main Event winners hauling in multi-million dollar prizes was a big catalyst in the Poker Boom. And while there’s likely never going to be another true boom for the game, offering a huge payout for first place can certainly provide a temporary boost to the world’s most-prestigious poker tournament.
Will it ultimately prove to be a great move that continues drawing players to the ME? Only time will tell, but if the $10 million payout doesn’t help boost long-term growth, then it could turn out to simply be an experiment for a few years.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about just how big of an edge one can gain in online poker, especially at the higher limits. After all, many previous stud online players have seen their profits take a dip such as Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan and Viktor Blom. But one player who’s certainly had no trouble continuing his success is Dan ‘Jungleman12′ Cates, who’s coming off a huge year in 2014.
In 2010, Jungleman came from out of nowhere to win $5 million and best every other player that year in terms of profits. Now, five years later, he can boast of the same feat after earning $3.43 million overall. His profits were split between Full Tilt Poker ($2.73m) and PokerStars ($700k). The next closest competition was a Macau-based player named ‘punting-peddler,’ who made $2.57 million overall – not even as much as Cates’ Full Tilt total.
According to HighStakesDB, Cates opened the year fifth on the all-time winnings list. However, his big year boosted his winnings to $11.43 million, which moved him ahead of Phil ‘OMGClayAiken’ Galfond and Di ‘Urindanger’ Dang and into third place on the list. The only players whom Jungleman now trails are Phil ‘Polarizing’ Ivey ($14.17m) and Patrik ‘Finddagrind’ Antonius ($17.11m). Speaking of the latter, Antonius also proved that he can still play in 2014 after netting $1.68 million on the cyber felt.
This past year was perhaps the roughest of all for Gus Hansen on several fronts. First off, he lost $5.86 million throughout the course of 2014, dropping his all-time losses down to $20.7 million. Things spiraled further downward when his sponsor, Full Tilt, dropped him. Without a lucrative sponsorship deal behind him, it’s a wonder if Hansen will continue grinding in the poker world. for much longer.
Ivey ($2.37m) and Blom ($1.7m) were the second and third-biggest losers respectively. Ivey was once the biggest winner with over $19.2 million, however, this past year dropped him behind Antonius. As for Blom, he continued his swingy play with both huge winning and losing streaks, only to ultimately end up in the red.
One of the more-interesting rumors floating around the poker world right now is that PokerStars is pondering a move into the Bitcoin market. Supposedly, the world’s largest poker site is in the “advanced stage” of adding Bitcoin to their payment solutions. If true, this is great news for US players who’ve been prevented from playing at PokerStars ever since Black Friday.
Accepting Bitcoin would also help Stars out in many respects. For one, they wouldn’t have to deal with the regulated US poker market, which is currently moving at a snail’s pace. Another good point is that they’d avoid having to pay transaction fees to banks and payment processors with Bitcoin. In turn, players might get to enjoy reduced rake since Stars would be cutting costs. But the only question to all of these rumors is if PokerStars would really consider using the controversial cryptocurrency.
Following Black Friday, PokerStars has played by the rules in an effort to get back into the lucrative American market. They were even purchased by Amaya Gaming last June, a move that brings more credibility to the poker site. But despite paying $731 million to the US Department of Justice in fines/Full Tilt purchase fees, Stars has been met with nothing but rejection so far.
First, there was Nevada denying them for 10 years due to the “bad actor” clause. New Jersey, although more likely to accept Stars sooner, has also delayed review of their iGaming application. And California can’t seem to present an online poker bill that doesn’t limit or completely dismiss PokerStars’ chances of getting in their state.
But if Amaya Gaming hopes to get into any of these states in the near future, their chances of doing so would be smaller by opting for Bitcoin. After all, US Congress has already had discussions about how Bitcoin can be used for money laundering and all sorts of other crimes. That’s because this cryptocurrency is completely anonymous and isn’t regulated by governments or a central bank. So the potential to jeopardize their relationship with the US online poker market is definitely something that Stars has to think about – especially when Americans started using bitcoins to play on their site.
We already hit upon some of the benefits that PokerStars would enjoy by offering Bitcoin. But one that we haven’t thoroughly discussed is how this poker room could position themselves as a leader in another market.
Right now, SealsWithClubs, Breakout Coin (BRO) and GetLuckyPoker are heading up the Bitcoin sector. And this market figures to grow as bitcoins become more popular and US players grow tired of waiting for state-by-state regulation. So Stars could be at the forefront of this movement, rather than waiting and adding Bitcoin later.
Of course, as mentioned before, everything right now is just rumors. And judging from everything that we’ve discussed, there are a lot of factors that must be considered before Stars makes the Bitcoin leap.