International poker festivals are making their way to Hong Kong and steering it in is Ricky Cheung, founder of Hong Kong Game Club. Somuchpoker had a chance to talk to Cheung about his poker room, what it offers, and what players have to look forward to.
SMP: When did you start the Hong Kong Game Club?
Ricky Cheung: Hong Kong Game Club started in 2007 and has been operating in Central for that long. The idea came about when I was running very private games, only one to two tables. I was a poker organizer for different bars, clubs, nice restaurants, for anyone that wanted to have tournaments, so they would ask me to host it. That was the start of my poker career. Then more people joined so I decided to set up my own club. HKGC has already moved three times, each time to a bigger space to accommodate our growing numbers.
SMP: What is the name of your poker room and what does it offer?
Ricky Cheung: The poker room is called Match Poker Esports Arena. We opened in August 2021. We’ve been certified by Match Poker since 2018. Initially we were one street away but needed more space. The room has 9 tables and one livestream table. There is an outdoor area where people can step out and smoke if they want. We have a full bar for drinks.
SMP: Is this the only poker room in Hong Kong?
Ricky Cheung: This is the only legal poker room in Hong Kong.
SMP: Do you have to be a member of HKGC to be allowed to play?
Ricky Cheung: Yes. Just fill up our membership form and you are a member.
SMP: What challenges did you overcome to open up a poker room in Hong Kong?
Ricky Cheung: No problem at all with the government. We work with the police. We apply for any license available that is related to poker in Hong Kong. We always communicate with the police to let them know what we are doing, what our upcoming events are, how it will run. We do this so they know and understand that we are not doing it illegally, that we are doing it within the law. When police come by it is only procedure because we have a liquor license. Any place that has that license, the police will come and random check, every 3 to 4 months.
SMP: I notice you’ve held one international festival, the first ever in Hong Kong. How was that received?
Ricky Cheung: Players loved it. They don’t have to go offshore, they just need to go down the street to play. When I announced the first international event last year in November, the AJPC (All Japan Poker Circuit), players were so happy. They were saying “finally!”. AJPC Hong Kong was the first Hong Kong event listed on Hendon Mob. This is just the beginning. With Hong Kong opened up now, we will have more coming.
SMP: How do the tournaments work?
Ricky Cheung: Right now we are hosting APL Hong Kong. Players win points which they can use towards APL Korea. APL is very big in Korea. What they win is the same as credit to the APL events. So it is sort of like we are hosting satellites to big events outside of Hong Kong.
SMP: Will you be hosting more international festivals?
Ricky Cheung: Yes definitely. More are coming in the future. We will be announcing soon. Already confirmed is China Poker Games. They are the biggest poker brand in China. Same format. Players can win tickets towards the CPG Championships in Sanya. Very big event. Also since borders are now open, Chinese players can come to Hong Kong easily to play.
SMP: What challenges have you faced bringing in international brands?
Ricky Cheung: Compared to other areas in Asia, Hong Kong is not profitable to organizers so they are less willing to come here. But I am sure after a few more international brands come in, they will have more confidence in bringing their brand here. They will be confident that we are equipped to hold an international event. Like in Taiwan, they were very small, now they are very big and they have government support.
SMP: How about your daily events?
Ricky Cheung: Our daily events are very small scale. They are only 350 HKD, you get two drinks and you can join the tournaments for free. Last time we gave away a Rolex watch. Sometimes we give away hotel rooms, airplane tickets for overseas tournaments. Our members travel to play poker at least 3 to 4 times a year, around 30 to 40 of us go together. So we always run satellites to international events and offer packages as prizes. Right now we are also doing the Rolex series. It is about 18 legs, it is league style. The top 17 point leaders go to the finals and fight for the Rolex. These daily events are big because you can win a Rolex worth 100K HKD for just 350 HKD.
SMP: What else do you offer?
Ricky Cheung: We have cash games, and it is legal. Stakes are usually 25 / 25 HKD, we try to keep it not so high. Our members come and play every night. They just buy drinks and then they can play with other members. After that they buy whatever number of chips they want, 2000, 3000 HKD, up to them, and they can win back real money. There is no rake. Rake is illegal in Hong Kong. They just have to buy drinks to enter, that’s how the house makes money, that’s our substitute for the rake. Then they just play as normal. They buy in and win cash. It is like table rental. It is legal because we don’t make money on the table. If they want more drinks, they just go ahead and buy more drinks. It is 450 HKD for two drinks.
SMP: Why haven’t other poker rooms opened?
Ricky Cheung: Because we are not allowed to take rake, it is not easy to survive. We try to do our best to do this legally but it is very difficult. Underground clubs take rake.
SMP: How have you attracted the market to grow from a very small enterprise to a room with ten tables?
Ricky Cheung: We’ve been doing this for 15 years so we’ve built up a big database of players and we just inform them of what’s happening on our Facebook and IG page with our schedules. We haven’t reached out so much in the Asian market but actually we have a very strong base in Hong Kong. We are even making a poker TV show with two of the biggest stations in Hong Kong. They film with celebrities, singers and actors. Everyone in Hong Kong, they know us, they know our poker room, what tournaments we have.
SMP: What is your next big event?
Ricky Cheung: We have the Match Poker Asian Nations Cup at the end of February. Twelve teams from Asia will compete. We are running some qualifiers for the Hong Kong team. We have also invited some celebrities.
SMP: Thank you for your time Ricky! Looking forward to seeing what lies ahead for the poker room!
Match Poker Esports Arena (Home of HKGC)
4/F Silver Fortune Plaza
1 Wellington Streeet, LKF, Central
*All photos by Somuchpoker