Interview with Guo Dong on the state of poker in China

On April 20, the Chinese poker community was shaken by the news of a government shutdown on all online poker apps and any social apps that promote the game of Texas Hold’em. This ban is to be in effect starting June 1, 2018.

With not much information on this ban circulating out of China, Somuchpoker reached out to Chinese poker player Guo Dong for his perspective on the situation. Guo Dong is recognized as one of China’s leading players today.

Dong Guo – Photo PokerStars Live Macau

Somuchpoker: Can you explain to our readers what is currently happening in China?

Guo Dong: April 20th was Black Friday for poker in China. On that day, the Ministry of Culture Department and related officials ordered big online gaming companies to attend a meeting. At the meeting, a conference note / document was passed around and it stated that one, the government would be regulating the Chinese poker industry, and two, all online Texas Hold’em platforms were to shut down before June 1st. Although this note has yet to be confirmed by officials, no one has also proven it to be fake.

SMP: You reacted very quickly to the news with very strong words “ I just want to cry…”. Can you tell us what was going through your mind at that moment and why you decided to speak out publicly?

GD: I felt very sad because I’ve been guiding young players to move away from cash tables and focus on tournaments instead. By teaching them poker logic and skills of MTT, it effectively minimizes the gambling elements of this game and turn it into a cunning competition of the mind. The players that have joined my WeChat group to learn about tournaments through my teachings have exceeded 1500 players.

The intentions of eliminating gambling from China is understandable but the act of banning online poker shows that some people might have a big misunderstanding of this game, especially tournaments. They define Texas Hold’em as a completely luck based game, equal to baccarat and black jack etc., a gambling game. This is the part make me sad. I try to explain, I posted on Weibo wishing to help with this dilemma, I wish for a better solution.

SMP: Can you describe us the Chinese poker scene prior to the announcement? What was the place in China situation of these poker applications targeted by before the ban?

GD: The poker industry in China has grown very quickly within the last few years. According to “Chinese Local Game Development Report”, the estimated value of the Chinese online chess industry in 2016 was 5.86 billion Yuan, and by 2017, this number skyrocketed to over 8 billion, and the player count at that time was 258 million. Research shows that according to the past 2 years, there has been a 50% increase in player count each year. However this sprung problems, and they can be categorized like this:

1. The rapid development of online organizing softwares birthed many clubs and platforms that were engaged in pumping. With online payment technology becoming more and more efficient, it was also easier to trade virtual currency with real money or vice versa. This trading and pumping of real currency into these platforms caught the eye of the government.

2. Some online platforms created newer and more exciting ways to play, increasing the amount of luck in these games.

3. Some players who were less rational or lack skill lost a lot of money even resulting to bankruptcy. These people then sue the companies and attract attention, serving as a trigger for this banning.

SMP: According to you what will be the consequences of this ban in China (if enforced as it is)?

GD: By simply banning and shutting down online poker platforms won’t solve the problems instead it will have the three following consequences:

1. After large companies shut down their servers, smaller companies might find ways to keep on operating. For example, a well known poker platform was asked to shut down last month, but it changed its name and began operating again last week because they put their servers outside of China. If the ban drops hard, these situations are imminent.

2. If all Chinese platforms are shut down, players will begin to rush to foreign platforms such as PokerStars, granting not only them but the small illegal companies a chance to thrive.

3. With the sudden call off of live tournaments such as VPL at Hangzhou, seems the live tournament will be affected as well. This will cause the fans of tourneys to surge to Macao or surrounding countries. Then the young people will face the real gambling games in casinos, that is the opposite of what the government wants, which is to keep people from gambling.

SMP: Are Chinese players trying to organize themselves to campaign against this ban?

GD: Not that I’ve heard of. I state my opinions merely as an experienced player, and didn’t try anything to campaign against it because a small group can’t affect a policy too much in China, and it may even backfire.

SMP: From a more personal point of view, what are you planning for yourself as player in the coming month?

GD:  Of course the most important thing in the coming month will be the WSOP in United States. I have participated in this tournament for four years in a row. I spent more than a month in Las Vegas last year and played more than 20 golden bracelet games, that was exciting. I wrote a poker blog everyday after each game on Weibo. I had thousands and thousands of viewers checking on me daily, It was bittersweet.

Unfortunately this year I will probably cancel this trip because things have changed. I don’t play poker for living and used to fight for honors, I want win the first golden bracelet for China in order to play the Chinese national anthem in the stadium. But if my country really defines this game as gambling, all this will lose its meaning.

Now, the only thing I hope for is for the management department to extensively listen to opinions and suggestions, define the Texas Hold’em from a more professional point of view, and at least allow the continued development of poker tournaments in China.

More: Crackdown on online poker applications in China

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