It was a dizzying year of poker in Asia with barely a break in the live tournament scene. Players had plenty to choose from as festivals sometimes overlapped. Vietnam and the Philippines were consistently busy with nonstop events both local and international. Coming on strong was newcomer Taiwan adding more to everyone’s plate. In India, live tournaments also saw a sudden boost with the return of key players. The largest and richest event in Asia continued to be held in China while Macau SAR stayed silent.
Here’s a look at game-changers of 2019 that not only shaped the year of poker in Asia but will also have an impact in 2020.
Vietnamese poker scene growth outside of Ho Chi Minh City
2018 was a breakthrough year for poker in Vietnam with international brands flooding Pro Poker Club in Ho Chi Minh City. The Asian Poker Tour (APT) was first to set foot drawing a Main Event tour record 664 entries. They were soon joined by the World Poker Tour (WPT) and Asia Poker League (APL). Since then, these three brands have become frequent flyers in the city hosting more than one event in a given year.
With events in HCMC set, last year saw the game branch out to new destinations in the country. In early August, Hanoi experienced its first international event hosted by the APL at Loyal Poker Club. The event was a tremendous success with over 500 entries at the Main Event. Then to close the year, two brands made their way to Da Nang, the country’s fastest growing resort destination. Poker King Cup (PKC) hosted a seven-day series at the Golden Bay Hotel followed by APL with a ten-day event at Risemount Premier Resort Da Nang.
For 2020, several events are already lined up. Three events are confirmed for HCMC and two in Da Nang. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see those numbers increase as the year progresses.
Confirmed tours in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam this year:
APT Kick-off Vietnam 2020 – January 10 to 21 (ongoing)
WPT Vietnam – March 13 to 22
APT Vietnam HCMC – June 3 to 14
Confirmed tours in Da Nang, Vietnam this year:
APL Da Nang – February 19 to 28
APT Da Nang – April 7 to 18
An incredible year of poker in Taiwan
APT Taiwan CPT
If 2018 saw poker boom in Vietnam, then 2019 was owned by Taiwan. Prior to last year, only five international events were held in the country all of them taking place at the Chinese Texas Hold’em Poker Association (CTP) in Taipei City. First at the scene was the All Japan Poker Circuit (AJPC) running an event in June 2018 then a second series in October. PPPoker, J88PT, and Global Poker League all hosted one a piece.
In 2019, the number of international festivals doubled as well known organizations joined the bandwagon. Helping spearhead the poker explosion were key figures of the Hong Kong Poker Players Association (HKPPA). This led to the organization’s first major series outside of Hong Kong, the HKPPA Premier League at the CTP in April. Another was held in October.
The country’s richest event of the year was the inaugural APT Taiwan in February paying out US$ 2.1 million over twelve days. The NT$ 5M Main Event guarantee tripled to NT$ 15.2M, equivalent to US$ 494,000. Before the year closed, the APT held two more festivals at the CTP which included the tour’s season finale.
Veering away from Macau and into Taiwan was the PKC with an event in mid-August. This was the brand’s first event of the year. Globally renowned WPT and APPT will soon join the list.
Confirmed tours at the CTP in Taiwan this year:
APPT Open Taipei 2020 – January 31 to February 9
APT Taiwan 2020 – March 4 to 15
AJPC Asian Circuit Taiwan – March 18 to 22
WPT Taiwan – April 1 to 5
Asia Poker League – April 21 to 27
Asia Poker League – August 11 to 17
APT Taiwan 2020 – October 7 to 18
Philippines appeal remains strong; 2020 looks even better
The Philippines continues to be a key destination for poker in Asia. Live tournaments remain very popular and unlike most countries in the region, cash games are allowed.
In 2018, PokerStars put the PSPC Pass into play driving the attendance in Manila way up. Despite the absence of the pass in 2019, the numbers didn’t stumble. Twelve successful poker festivals were held in the country’s capital with players from around the world pouring in.
Hosting a bulk of the games was PokerStars LIVE with nine events held at their hub in Okada Manila. Their events were a mix of the Manila Super Series, Manila Megastack, and two new ones, Okada Manila Millions and Manila Open Poker Tour. At Resorts World Manila, the APT hosted two events. Drawing the largest crowd of 2019 was the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) Manila which took place in late July.
2020 poker action has already kicked off with the highly revered Red Dragon series making landfall in the country for the first time. The Main Event drew 669 players for a wealthy prize pool of US$ 1.2 million. Next month, WPT returns after a three year absence.
Confirmed tours in Manila this year:
Red Dragon Manila 2020 – January 4 to 11 (completed)
WPT Philippines – February 6 to 17
J88PT Philippines – March 24 to 29
APT Philippines 2020 – April 27 to May 10
APPT Manila – July 31 to August 9
APT Philippines 2020- September 10 to 21
China Poker Games continues to make history in Asia
Ever since the departure of WPT and WSOP from the Chinese market, it was thought that live tournament poker in China was coming to a close. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. Poker is a giant in the country as proven by several brands that have hosted events in 2019.
One brand keeping the torch burning red hot is the China Poker Games (CPG). Year after year it remains the flagship brand amassing huge attendance for its main festival – CPG Championship – in Sanya. In 2019, the Main Event drew a raging 3,132 entries at RMB 10M (~US$ 1,400) each for a staggering US$ 4,169,000 prize pool. This was nearly double 2018’s US$ 2.2 million pot with 1,926 in participation. Ever since its first event in 2013, the annual CPG Championship Main Event has consistently produced the largest and richest tournament in Asia with 98 percent of the field comprised of Chinese nationals. The next CPG Championship will take place from August 27 to September 2. To close out 2019, CPG held its first-ever high roller festival coined CPG Masters. An incredible 675 attended for over US$ 2.1M in prize money.
Apart from the CPG, locally run Tiger Poker Cup hosted their first season in Beijing. An impressive 834 turned up for the Main Event for a prize pool of US$ 993,000. International brands APL and J88PT also hosted one event each. APL stopped in Kunming in March for an eleven-day affair seeing 1,043 Main Event entries and a respectable pot worth US$ 752,000. Later in the year, J88PT was in Shanghai for the first time pulling in 860 Main Event entries and a pot of US$ 290,000.
India’s live poker scene sees a spark
Live poker in India experienced a quick burst in 2019 with familiar poker brands igniting the tables once again. The first half of the year witnessed four events by the Deltin Poker Tour. This was two more than their previous year’s schedule. Then during the last third of the year, local brands India Poker Championship (IPC) and Baazi Poker Tour (BPT) surfaced after a three-year hiatus.
Onboard floating ships in Goa, the IPC took place in September at Casino Big Daddy attracting 777 Main Event entries. This generated a prize pool of around US$ 377,000 and set a new country record attendance. In early October, the BPT also produced a similar prize pool with 567 entries while onboard Casino Pride 2. The last major event was WPT India in mid-October. Although the tour had fewer entries than its previous visit it still brought in a healthy 630 for a prize pool of US$ 463,000.
Confirmed events in India this year:
Baazi Poker Tour 2020 – January 2 to 14 (ongoing)
India Poker Championship 2020 – January 14 to 19
Short term, these events in Goa are quite promising for the live scene however for the long term, their future remains uncertain. On October 2019, license renewals for all floating casinos in Goa were denied giving them only until March 31, 2020 to operate.
The thrill is gone in Macau
April 2018, the Chinese government shakedown on all online poker apps and other social apps promoting Texas Hold’em eventually led to the departure of big brands WPT and WSOP from the country. The following month, PokerStars LIVE closed its doors having been in operation in Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) since 2013. Soon after, the International Poker Tour Macau (IPT) and APT also canceled their events leaving PKC holding the faint bit of light alive in the entertainment capital.
However, it simply wasn’t to be. In March 2019, the trend continued. PKC canceled their event at the Venetian Macao just two weeks before it was set to run. Instead of rescheduling, the brand hosted their first 2019 event in Taipei City at the CTP Club in mid-August.
With that cancellation, no live international poker events were held in Macau SAR in 2019 and there is no indication that the situation will change anytime soon if at all. Currently, only cash games are offered.