He never knew his Japanese father and he grew up with his grandparents in a poor district of Manila.
Today, Mike Takayama is one of the most celebrated names in Philippine Poker and this twenty six year old is just beginning to tap the potential he never knew he had.
At a young age, Takayama—known as “Tsuke” to his friends—had to battle the hardships of poverty and he never had a complete formal education and was tasked to keep watch of his uncle’s billiard hall and had to sleep on pool tables most of the time.
It wasn’t long before he began establishing himself as a sharp cue artist and began competing in tournaments and winning. It was his first taste of real money and he honed his craft to known among the up and coming pool players of the country, alongside young stalwarts such as Lee Van Corteza, Jeff de Luna and Gandy “Yang Yang” Valle—who eventually became poker pro himself.
“My uncle used to scold me when I started becoming good at billiards, because instead of keeping watch over his place, I kept on playing,” Takayama said, in the vernacular, in a recent chat with somuchpoker.
In 2010, Takayama found himself at the renowned Metro Card Club at the prodding of some regulars, but didn’t have a clue what he was doing at first.
“I was even afraid that they wouldn’t let me in because I was only twenty at the time,” he recalled. “Then I started playing and I lost a lot. Even when I’d win sometimes, I’d end up losing it later on.”
So is the tuition that many poker players undergo, but like most that continue on in the game, science begins kicking in and skills get developed. But unlike in billiards, Takayama found it easier to make money in poker.
“I had been playing billiards for eight years and I never won anything close to one hundred thousand pesos,” he quips. “But in poker, the money came so easy with a lot less (physical) effort.”
After much studying and learning by playing against better players, Takayama began winning tournaments with his first victory actually netting him a car in the Metro Card Club’s “Metro Ultimate BMW Freeroll” in March of 2010.
He followed up that initial success with a twentieth place finish in the 2010 Asian Poker Tour (APT) Philippines Main Event for a cash of $5,500.
He slowly began making the APT his own personal playground and finally copped his first title by bagging a $170 Deep Stack Turbo Side Event in 2013.
After several deep runs in a multitude of APT events, Takayama finally got the distinction of being crowned an Asian champion when he took down the 2014 APT Asian Series Main Event for a payday of $79,041—his biggest cash to date.
Takayama also found success overseas by winning in 2014 the Macau Poker Cup (MPC) Six-Max side event tilt and finishing third in the 2014 NLHE Bounty event of the Asia Cup of Poker (ACOP).
In 2012, he was interviewed on local television and stressed that poker has changed his life and he can’t see himself doing anything else.
With almost $200,000 in live tournament earnings, a consistent online performance and a steady cash game showing, Takayama is now reaping the benefits of his evolution from the aimless kid from the slums of Manila to one of the most recognizable names in Asian poker.
Remember, he’s only twenty six. And if he has achieved so much after only six years in the sport, think of what he can do with the mounting experience he is slowly amassing, especially on the international front.
Article by Noel Zarate