On April 2015, Somuchpoker was the first media outlet to announce that the Poker King Club was opening its poker room in Manila, and with it, the possible arrival of the Big Game, the biggest cash game in the world. During the WPT National Philippines 2016, the President of the Poker King Club, Winfred Yu, sat down with Somuchpoker to share what the Big Game is all about, where it is held, the participants, the stakes involved, the origin of the game, and its arrival in Manila.
Poker King Club venue in Manila
Poker King Club is handling two specific areas for poker inside Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila: a designated area on the ground floor and the rooms at the VIP area on the 3rd floor.
The ground floor location has 4 low-limit tables plus 2 tables for higher limits.
The VIP area is located on the third floor of the casino, where 3 tables are owned by PKC. This is where the High Stakes poker games are held. These games have the prior approval and authorization to run the currency in Hong Kong dollars.
For an event as big as WPT National Philippines and the Triton Super High Roller Series, the grand ballroom was used as the venue.
The Games during the WPT National Philippines festival
The high stakes games began on December 29, 2015, with some VIPs and a few pros arriving before the start of the WPT National Philippines poker festival. Players were eager to participate in the Triton SHR Series and wanted to get a head start by playing in the cash games. Before all the major players arrived, games were already up and running with stakes of 1K/2K HKD (US$ 128/US$ 256). This is the lowest stakes offered in the VIP Area. The table was a mix of Asian players from the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, and a young aggressive player from Malaysia.
Talking about the biggest game running during the festival, Winfred Yu explained that “the biggest game was a 20K HKD Ante Only (US$ 2,560). The game was built around the Chinese VIP. The hosts of the game were “The Chairman” and professional participants included Richard Yong, Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, Andrew Robl, and Jean Robert Ballande.”
A “middle game” was also running, stakes of 10K/20K HKD (US$ 1,280/US$ 2,560), with players such as Brian Rast and Daniel “Jungleman” Cates at the table.
The High Stakes Cash game Scene in perspective
The High Stakes games from Macau revolved around two key figures, Richard Yong and Paul Phua. These two businessmen have been very active in the high stakes scene and are instrumental to its growth in Macau. They enjoyed the game so much that they were available to play any time of the day. Through time, they encouraged other businessmen and friends to join them at the table. Yu explained, “they exposed high profile businessmen from Macau and Hong Kong to the game. Their involvement in the junket industry also helped them to connect with players willing to play for high stakes.”
Phua and Yong also managed to make the game take on a more social atmosphere. For example, they would invite a friend / a high profile businessman to a casual dinner, maybe discuss business or watch sports, and then invite him to the high stakes poker game. Since the businessman / friend knew Paul and Richard, and started playing poker because of them, he would join the table, especially with the comfort of knowing that it had a more social element to it.
In regards to the stakes involved in these games, Yu shared, “the Ante Only game stakes are 20K HKD (US$ 2,560) with a minimum buy–in of 10M HKD (US$ 1,2M). The minimum buy-in is dependent upon the request of the VIP. Some players can request for games with a minimum buy-in of up to 20M HKD (US$ 2,4M) to 30M HKD (US$ 3,46M).“
Pros in the Game
The first few pros who have been part of the Big Game since the onset were Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, and John Juanda. Brian Rast has also been following the games for a very long time. According to Winfred Yu, for the past 2 years, Phil Ivey spent more time in Asia than in the USA.
Access to the Macau Big Game
Being a pro does not necessarily mean a seat at the table. According to Winfred Yu, “the higher the stakes, the harder is it for a pro to find an open chair. Most often, they are invited to play at the request of the VIPs. The VIPs are not afraid of the skill of the players, in fact they welcome it, however, they are not happy to play with pros who have only 5% or 10% of themselves. The psychological aspect of poker is important and money pressure is a part of it. When playing with only a few percentages of themselves, pros remove this edge that the VIPs can have on them.”
Transiting from Macau to Manila
Since the opening of the PKC room in Manila, Yu stated that “for the 10K/20K HKD and 20K/40K HKD games – these games run more frequently in Manila compared to Macau.”
When VIPs request games, they are offered a choice, to go to Macau or Manila. In the past, VIPs were only able to play in Macau. At the start, VIPs were unfamiliar with the Philippines and had heard of it being unsafe in certain areas. There was also the language barrier. In order to ease the concerns of the VIPs, PKC arranges for VIP hosts to make them comfortable, and to allow them to enjoy their stay. The VIP hosts assists them with shopping, exploring the country, etc…; often acting as personal assistants for the VIPs.
Today, the VIPs have gotten used to the Philippines and they also feel more comfortable in Manila. There has been a lot pressure in Macau lately, with VIPs experiencing more scrutiny. In closing, Yu expressed that “some of the VIPs feel more comfortable nowadays to come to the Philippines than to play in Macau, which explains the progressive transition of the games from Macau to Manila.“