On August 23 to 30, China Poker Games delivered the biggest and wealthiest live poker event in Asia with 3,132 Main Event entries and a prize pool spilling over US$ 4.1 million. The festival took place at the Howard Johnson Resort in Sanya, Hainan Island, China’s up and coming prime tourist beach destination.
Somuchpoker was on-site and was able to chat with Mr. Li, President of the Hainan Poker Association, on the CPG brand and its incredible success in China.
SMP: You are a well known figure in the Chinese poker industry. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and how your journey started?
Mr. Li: In 2012 the government authority called the Culture and Tourism Department of China formed the Hainan Poker Association. This association is in charge of all the “mind sport tournaments” such as poker, bridge, chess. I was asked to join HPA because of my experience in operating international tournaments. It is my specialty. I used to train athletes and I was also one of the managers for Yao Ming’s team. At that time China was seeking ways to build the image of Hainan Province as an international travel destination. One way to attract people and increase revenue of the tourism business / industry was by organizing tournaments in all different forms such as biking, sailing, and through mind sports. The China Poker Games was given the approval of the HPA to host poker tournaments in Hainan Island and through the years their popularity has grown tremendously.
SMP: Yes, the China Poker Games festival is officially the biggest poker event hosted in Asia but few players outside of China know about it. Can you introduce the China Poker Games festival to our international readers?
Mr. Li: China Poker Games is a poker tournament brand. This year, the brand hosted five CPG Satellite events in different cities around China as well as daily online satellites leading up to the CPG Championship festival held in Sanya, Hainan Island. The CPG Championship is the brand’s biggest event held during the last week of August at the Howard Johnson Resort. The festival schedule offers a variety of poker games. They have been hosting this event in Sanya since 2013. This year the CPG produced a very large Main Event field of over 3100 entries.
SMP: The festival is hosted in Sanya every year. Can you explain why this location and why it is instrumental to the Chinese poker scene?
Mr. Li: Hainan Island welcomes everyone to visit. It is designed to become an international tourism destination and is a place where everyone can have a wonderful time. There are a multitude of attractions such as swimming, diving, snorkeling, surfing, enjoy the beach, good restaurants, shows, travel around and explore the island. It is also a free trade zone which makes it cheap for shopping. The government has already expressed it is keen on building up international tournament brands in the island and CPG is designed to become an international brand. There are many hotels next to each other as well with plenty of space to be able to support big events such as the CPG Championship. Another advantage, and this applies mainly to international players, Hainan Island is visa free for 59 countries. For CPG international players, all they have to do is book through an accredited agent. They can also book through the CPG who will eagerly assist them.
SMP: Thousands of players join the festival every year. How does the CPG manage to create such a massive field? Also what options are offered to players in order to qualify for the Main Event?
Mr. Li: First, there are five CPG Satellites leading up to the CPG Championship. These satellites take place in different cities around the country. These events feed players into the CPG Championship. Players that reach the money in the satellite events also win a CPG Championship Main Event package. Around 600 – 800 players come from these live satellites. CPG also has online satellites which produces around 1500 to 2000 players. This year the CPG had over 1900 players that won packages online on the CPG App. Online satellites begin as soon as the Main Event completes. It runs everyday. This process runs smoothly. Players win a package and it is immediately credited on the app. The app was launched in 2015. Anyone can join. It is in english. Players can also register to the next live CPG Satellite via the app. Next satellite / stop is at the end of October in Zhuhai, right next to Macau, and one hour drive from Guangzhou.
In addition, poker is still relatively new in China so security is a big concern. With CPG, players are guaranteed they will get paid when they win. CPG management is highly trusted. They have a hard-working professional team seeking ways to continuously improve its services. Through the years players have had challenges with other brands. They get defrauded or sometimes payment is delayed for quite a long time. But for CPG, they deliver. Because of this, the brand has gained players’ trust. Their brand is recognized for delivering good results. CPG follows the local regulations which in turn grants them the permit and support by the government.
The brand is also building up a smooth operating system. As I mentioned earlier, the CPG App is highly efficient in pulling big numbers but it is also very player friendly. Players can easily register to tournaments remotely, they can track the progress of events and get details. You can even watch the feature table. The app has plenty of features and they are continuously developing it. For the Main Event, everyone was required to sign up through the CPG App. When they were ready to be seated, all they needed to do was head to registration, have their QR code scanned, and their seat assignment was immediately printed out. They seated over 1000 players and not one player waited in queue.
SMP: CPG has built a very trusting relationship with the Chinese players but how does it apply to international players?
Mr. Li: It has taken a while for CPG to achieve this for the locals and it will also take time to create this sense of security for international players. This is why the CPG has not promoted to the international market. The event can’t even be found in Facebook or Twitter. The CPG website only has the logo but that will soon change. Through the years we’ve been trying to understand what the government wants for this new business.
One of the steps the CPG has taken is to invite and bring in international players. Even if the brand takes a bit of a loss by extending packages to them, what is more important is to gain feedback on how to improve their experience while abiding by the local regulations. The CPG aims to address all their challenges. International players should be aware though that in China there is a 20 percent tax. By law, CPG is required to collect this however they are not allowed to take rake or staff charge. It is possible for international players to get a tax return of up to 30% on the 20% paid tax. And because of the discounted package value offered by CPG, international players end up paying a 9% raked game.
Also for players that win packages via live or online satellites, the CPG is not allowed to turn that into cash. However, players are allowed to sell their seats if they want but that would be at their own risk. For online satellites, it is totally rake-free so the credits MTT is the most valuable and +ev game offered.
SMP: International players sometimes have the wrong impression that only locals can participate in the event. What do you have to tell them?
Mr. Li: Everyone is welcome. The CPG team is very patient and understands it will take time before more international players attend their event. As I mentioned, the government has opened Sanya to many countries. There are 59 countries that can enter visa-free. This year the CPG brought in players from the Australian Poker Tour. There were around 50 international players that attended from different nations. One positive feedback from international players was that it is a pure poker experience and relaxed. Poker and holiday at the same time. Unlike when it is in a casino where they lose more by playing casino games.
SMP: What would the CPG like to accomplish in the near future? How do you see their festival in 10 years?
Mr. Li: The CPG is confident of its capability in continuously developing and providing a good event with top service. Despite their continued success in the Chinese market, they’ve decided to open up to the international market to eventually establish themselves as an international brand. CPG recognizes their brand as a new era of poker tournaments. They are a pure poker tournament brand. For players that enjoy traveling and having fun while playing poker, they offer the best combination at the CPG Championship in Sanya. With all the professional services provided and the brand building, they believe in 10 years the CPG will be the second biggest brand in the world. In numbers of similar buy-ins they’ve already achieved this however they haven’t yet reached worldwide recognition. They are confident it will be achieved in ten years. If you look at their prize pool and entries each year, it has been rising quite rapidly. Last year the Main Event had nearly 2000 entries and US$ 2.26M prize pool. This year was 3,132 and around US$ 4.1M. Their fast growth only means their biggest challenge will be manpower and venue.
SMP: The poker landscape in China is changing quickly and it is not an easy environment to evolve in. We have seen brands like WPT stopping their events in China. How do you explain the longevity of the CPG?
Mr. Li: Through the years, the CPG has survived by understanding and adapting to the local regulations. They follow the regulations and aim to provide the best service. It is that simple.
SMP: More generally speaking, what is the view on the Chinese poker scene? A lot of actors are now pessimistic about the future of the game in the country.
Mr. Li: Poker has been booming in China for the last decade. China has the biggest population in the world. People are wealthy. The government sees this and they are eager to support the brand and the sport even more. The CPG is the leading poker tournament brand in China. The government encourages the CPG to attract more international players to Hainan Island. Opening up to the international market will only add to an already booming poker scene. There are actually other local poker brands hosting events in China and they are growing slowly but not nearly as large as CPG.
Interview by Tricia David