Interview: APL CEO Judic Kim walks us through the Korean online and live poker scene

A strong passion for the game, Judic Kim entered the business side of the poker industry roughly six years ago with a goal to engage the Asian market with the whole poker scene. With more than 30 years of experience being a player himself, Kim eventually ventured to creating a poker community called Pokerlife and later on, established Asia Poker League. Within the last four years, APL has grown to be a widely recognized brand in the region, having hosted successful festivals in many locations.

Apart from its competitors, APL’s success in the live field is brought on by close partnerships with local poker communities. While the recent global health crisis may have slowed down its presence this 2020, its debut in the online poker scene just over a year ago provides its players another viable option to engage in some exciting table action. In this interview, Judic Kim, CEO of APL gives its readers an overview of the challenges it faces and its approach towards an eventual Covid-free world.

Judic Kim2
Judic Kim

Somuchpoker: It has been a long way since you established Asia Poker League back in 2016. From hosting dozens of successful events across Asia to launching your brand’s own mobile application APL Poker, what do you think are the two most memorable moments/ milestones you have experienced throughout this journey?

Judic Kim: I would say perhaps the two most memorable moments were the first and second events we hosted back in 2016. Being a new poker business, the first event held in Beijing, China took me about a year and a half to make it happen. Numerous obstacles took us longer to launch than expected, but the toughest challenge was actually finding the right partner location. This was also the time when the PokerStars Nanjing tournament just recently got canceled by the government, which made me really anxious for our festival up until the end of the last event. Fortunately, the guarantees were filled and the event went well without problems.

As for our second event in Shanghai, China, the decision to cancel all events beginning the first day was inevitable and now serves as a really painful lesson. Despite receiving and proceeding with a license obtained from the government, I received an order from public security officials to stop the competition right on Day 1. We decided to compensate for all players’ buy-ins, hotel fees as well as flight costs which brought a lot of concerns on our side. This decision however, paid off as we gained trust from our players and had close to 1,000 entries for our Main Event the next series. Up to now, I think it was the best choice we ever made.

SMP: The Covid-19 crisis has massively impacted the whole Asian poker scene. How did APL adjust to the current situation?

JK: The Covid-19 situation was a direct hit for APL, restricting our capability to host overseas tournaments for much of the year. Similar to other international brands, we shifted our focus to the online poker scene and held an online series in line with our local partner communities across Asia. Unfortunately, the effect was insignificant because the overseas sales channels were immediately blocked after the Covid situation was met. I think only online operators which have already established themselves in the market, received preferential treatment during this time. For us, we found a breakthrough in the domestic market, having recentered our schedule mainly around South Korea.

SMP: Several festivals hosted by APL in South Korea were met with a great turnout this year. How did you make this happen?

JK: Recently, we saw that poker pubs were booming in Korea and business for tournaments was in high demand. The market posed the need for well-organized and top-notch tournaments which is where APL comes into play. However, in order to resolve the legal issues, only ticket holders through satellites at the poker pubs can participate rather than direct buy-ins collected from the players. This started invitational tournaments where our first event recorded 1,000 entries with a prize pool of US$ 360,000. The following tournament exceeded 1,400 entries, generating a prize pool of roughly half a million dollars. Players who intend to join can qualify from multiple locations, with starting flights happening throughout more than 20 poker pubs in the country. This set-up has been running every weekend since the second week of October and has been received greatly every time.

APL event Korea
APL in South Korea

SMP: A key part of the success of these festivals was your ability to accept locals in these events. Traditionally, international poker festivals hosted in Korea did not accept locals but it seems that things are changing this year.

JK: This is absolutely true. In the past, tournaments were held only in casinos which unfortunately, was limited for foreign participants. Nowadays, a lot of poker organizations have been created paving the way for local players to join in on the action. Additionally, with over 700 active poker pubs in Korea, the market has the ability to handle larger fields as well as bigger prize pools.

SMP: Can you elaborate more on the factors that made the organization of such kinds of events possible?

JK: First thing to note is that in order for such a big event to proceed, the demand for it must initially be met. The last several years have seen a huge poker boom in Korea with the majority of its poker population, relying on poker pubs for their gaming needs. More than 700 small and medium-sized tournament pubs spread out across the country have popped up, becoming incubators of tournament players.

However, due to the legal situation in Korea which enforces strict regulations against gambling, local players are still limited to winning APL Main Event tickets through our associated poker pubs in order to participate in said events.

SMP: What can you say about the current situation of poker in Korea? Do you think that the progress made this year is opening the doors to a better recognition of poker as a game of skill by the Korean authorities or do you remain cautious on that topic?

JK: I think poker is slowly getting recognized as a game of skill in Korea, an issue widely common within the Asian region. However, in order to fully legalize tournament poker in Korea, APL is focused on adding a competitive and mind-game element to the relative scene. We are working closely with a number of trusted sponsors, forming nonprofit corporations to carry out a sporting form of competition for the games. Through this, we believe tournament poker will continue to flourish in the nation and perhaps, see a less-restricting situation in the near future.

SMP: Since the launch of your app, you have been offering players the chance to qualify in certain live events on APL Poker. APT, WSOP and WPT have also hosted major events online this year. What is your view on the synergy between live and online poker?

JK: Personally, I think online and offline players are somewhat different. Ultimately depending on how the current Covid situation unfolds, it is most certain that the direction will turn towards online poker due to accessibility, space-time constraints and non-face-to-face contact needed for games. In the long run, I think the two scenes will continue to progress in a cooperative manner.

APL Debut Judic KIm
Judic Kim

SMP: The Covid pandemic has been a challenge for the whole community, you on the other hand, have been likely preparing plans for when the situation returns back to normal. What can we expect from APL Poker in a Covid-free world?

JK: Currently, the line-up of events for next year have already been scheduled. However due to the uncertainty of the whole situation, we do not really know when we can face a Covid-free world and thus, will have to adjust appropriately. What I can say for now is there will be more tournaments in Korea this coming 2021 and once the road for international tournaments opens, many Korean players who were not previously expected will begin to venture out and participate in these overseas events.

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Janette Dee

Graduated from De La Salle University, Janette works as a full time teacher in Manila, Philippines. She has long joined the local poker community as a recreational player for the last decade. Having a natural love for the game, she decided to branch out into a different avenue of poker. Currently, Janette works for Somuchpoker as a content writer reporting local and international news for the site.

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