Mike Kim, the American poker pro and acknowledged godfather of poker in Korea who has been recently rocking the Philippine Poker Industry, has been quiet. After making headlines in 2013, when he opened the Solaire Poker Room; in 2014, when he brought the first WPT National Event to Manila; and in 2015, when he partnered up with PokerStars; the hyperactive promoter started the year 2016 with no fireworks. Mike Kim quietly ended his engagement with PokerStars at the end of 2015, leaving all competitors and supporters wondering: What is he up to now? Somuchpoker caught up with Mike, who was willing to shed some light on recent developments.
Mike answering Pokernew’s questions during APPT Manila
SMP: You’ve been in the Philippines for many years, and you are now a bit of an emblem in the Philippine Poker Scene. What made you – a pro from the other side of the world – set up shop here?
MK: Next to USA, I always saw that the growth of poker is biggest here. The government supports it, poker is legal, and the venues are accessible to all the countries. Asian neighbors have direct flights to Manila. I started with the first APT in Makati, and that was a challenge then because Makati has never allowed poker ever, but we pulled it off. These days, having entertainment city now makes it an even bigger destination. The Philippines is now a regular stop for all the tours – WPT, APPT, APT, IPO, you name it, they will come here.
SMP: Why did you disengage from PokerStars?
MK: After opening Solaire Poker Room in 2013, we were instantly the number one poker room in the Philippines in terms of revenue. We moved to PokerStars in 2015 and helped them become the number one room overnight. In doing that, I think we proved that our group’s strength was real, and that we weren’t just lucky. So after six months at PokerStars, I just started to think of what other things our team could do for poker in the Philippines. We enjoyed being number one, of course, but we were also looking for ways to grow. I made a decision that it was time to do something new, so in November I wrote them a 30-day notice. Danny McDonagh was very graceful about it, we shook hands, and here we are.
SMP: How is your relationship with PokerStars now?
MK: I’ve always had a great relationship with PokerStars. Danny was always there for me, and in 2015 when we were looking to make a deal, he and his team found a way to work with my guys inside out. In fact, after we left, they hired one of my promoters. My guys still play there, and even have events there, so there’s no issues whatsoever. Some people ask me if I left because they weren’t paying me, but that had nothing to do with it. Besides, I can’t really say that they owe me money, because these things take time and I am sure that whatever is due to me will get to me. Since they went public, PokerStars is a very different company now, so you have to expect that they move a little different from what stand-up guys like Danny and I would like, but I also would like to believe that they are not out to stiff a little guy like me.
Mike Kim playing
SMP: So what’s next for Team MK?
MK: I put up a new company called MKGAMING. We are still going to be very active in the poker industry, of course, but we are thinking of going a little bit more international. Maybe we keep working with a strong international brand, maybe we also build our own brand. One thing is for sure, we will be building some games, and the players will be there.
MK: Well that’s one thing we learned and we proved from running those two rooms: There is no such thing as automatic. They think that when I take a break, they automatically get to keep all the players. It’s funny. These days I just play at some smaller clubs – all I’m doing is playing – and you hear rumors that I own the place because it is suddenly dominating the market. It looks automatic – well it is, but it isn’t, because we earned it – when they see me, players think “oh, that must be where the games are” and they follow. So where are the players? They’re still around. I’m one of them.
SMP: Are you planning to open a poker room? There is a buzz in the local community about “Mike’s Room”
MK: People think that any room I play in is “Mike’s Room” – I guess that’s what the buzz is all about. Players want to know what I’m gonna do next, so when I’m playing in a room every day, they start wondering if this is going to be “Mike’s Room” – and when I say “no, I’m just playing” they start naming other locations and asking me “what about this place?” or “you should do that place.” Right now I’m enjoying my freedom. I’ve been working 18 hours a day for the last three years – playing, promoting. Now I have a chance to step back and just enjoy the game. I also get to travel again – and not for business. I’m going to visit family in L.A. and Korea, maybe catch up with some friends in other places. When I get back, maybe I’ll be ready to tell you where “Mike’s Room” is going to be.