The past few years have been witness to a massive poker boom in South Korea with Hold’em poker pubs spreading like wildfire. Today, hundreds of pubs have sprouted, some of which are used as staging grounds to feed players into larger poker festivals held in the country. The popularity of this approach has led to highly successful events as demonstrated by Korean owned brands Asia Poker League (APL) and J88 Poker Tour (J88PT) with well over a thousand Main Event entries composed mostly of local players.
Recently announcing its plan to join this vibrant domestic market is premier regional brand Asian Poker Tour (APT) having sealed a two year partnership with Korean poker organizer IT’S HOLDINGS. The tie up will see a minimum of two APT events per year starting this fall. APT Korea Representative, Gony Cha, stated,
“APT is going to hold an official Korea Tour tournament in the second half of 2021. Looking forward to expanding the base of Texas Hold’em Poker in Korea and change it into a full-fledged sport,”
From international to local
Since 2017, the APT has been one of the few international brands frequenting South Korea and has made it a regular stop in their yearly lineup. All events were hosted at the casinos, however, due to government regulations, participation was limited to international players as locals were prohibited from entering the premises.
To penetrate this divide and gain exposure, the APT teamed up with local Korean poker organizer Korea Mind Game Members (KMGM) with the ultimate goal of exposing Korean players to APT events held outside of the country. To achieve this, satellite events were held at KMGM hold’em pubs, and since players were not allowed to win real money at these pubs, various APT packages were given as prizes. At APT Vietnam in November 2019, as many as 34 KMGM players made the trip with member Kim Kyung Hun finishing 10th at the Main Event.
However, the promise of this working strategy was cut short in 2020 when Covid-19 grounded many land based poker operators, including the APT. Live poker festivals, albeit local or international, were instantly non existent. Fortunately, for poker players in South Korea, live events were allowed to resume later in the year. Hold’em pubs reignited. Satellite events were offered to upcoming homegrown invitationals held at hotels where players were able to win cash. The high demand led to large crowds and large prize pools. In turn, it also gave rise to new local poker organizations such as IT’s HOLDINGS which formed last September.
The new partnership forged between the APT and IT’S HOLDINGS will see the first ever APT Korea festival held outside of the casino. It will also be the first time local players will be able to attend an APT event in their own country. Following the path laid out by previous organizers, satellite events will be hosted at affiliated pubs with APT tournament tickets as prizes. Details have yet to be disclosed.
Looking ahead, it is uncertain whether the APT will continue to host events at the casinos in South Korea but one thing is for sure, with its focus now shifted to the booming domestic market, more local players will be able to experience high caliber international APT events in their country for the next two years.