Just prior to the victory celebration at the Metro Card Club, Somuchpoker sat down with Mike Takayama, the first Filipino WSOP bracelet winner. Rank 3rd at the Philippines All Time money list, Takayama’s first-ever visit to the world stage saw him cash in three events, which included a victory at the NLH Super Turbo Bounty. In this interview, Takayama gives us a glimpse on his experience, sharing his best moments and lowest days.
(*Interview assisted by Grace Takayama)
Somuchpoker: You are the first homegrown Filipino to win a WSOP bracelet. How were you feeling the moment you managed to put your hands on that coveted bracelet?
Mike Takayama: Siyempre masayang masaya kasi lahat ng mga player doon talagang nangangarap makakuha ng ganun lalo na saming mga pilipino kasi first time namin. Ako, first time ko pumunta doon atsaka para narin para sa kanila siguro. Masayang masaya ako kasi first filipino, nakakuha tayo ng gintong medalya para sa ating bansa.
[Translation: Of course, very very happy because all of the players there dream of this. Especially for us Filipinos, it is our first time. For me, it is my first time to be there so I guess it is also for them. I am very happy because I am the first Filipino, I was able to win a gold medal for the country.]
SMP: How did you feel after having achieved this?
MT: Hindi nga ako nakatulog nung nanalo ako, sabi ko, “tutuo ba ito?” Tapos nakikita ko sa facebook, puro mukha ko nakikita ko, nanalo pala ako. Kasi hindi ko rin nakalain e. Late register pa ako nakapasok. Halos pumila ako ng 60 players pagdating ko doon sa registration, wala pa akong card. Last level ako nakapasok. Pag dating ko, all in agad ako. Kinall ako agad ng babae. QJ clubs ako tapos siya pocket nines. Double up agad ako.
[Translation: I couldn’t sleep after winning, I kept asking myself “is this real?” Then in Facebook, I saw my face everywhere. It hit me, I won. I never thought this would happen. I was even a late registrant. When I lined up, there were 60 players ahead of me at registration. And I didn’t have a player’s card. I was one of the last ones to get in. When I got to the table, I was all in on my first hand with QJ clubs and a woman called me with pocket nines. I immediately doubled up.]
SMP: The event you won was a one day bounty tournament with a huge field and a fast structure. How many bounties did you earn?
SMP: Wow that’s a lot! We also heard you had a couple of suck outs?
MT: Ya, two times. I had QJ against KJ. I rivered the straight. The board was A-10-7-10-K. I also had A4 clubs against pocket queens. I hit the ace on the turn.
SMP: Before that you finished 32nd at the double stack event. That was another big field. You had one of the biggest stacks at Day 1B. Was that the first WSOP event you entered?
MT: Oo. First ko. Nung una kinakabahan kasi siyempre first time ko doon, excited na medyo kinakabahan ako, sabi ko “wow nandito na ako ngayon, pinapangarap ko lang ito dati, ngayon nandito na, makakalaro ko na sila. Ganun. Masaya ako pero sabi ko ilalabas ko lahat ng best ko, ilalabas ko para lang mauwi ko ang tagumpay sabi ko sa sarili ko.
[Translation: Yes. It was my first event. At the start, I was nervous because it was my first time there. I felt excitement mixed with nervousness. I said to myself “wow, I’m here. This was a dream of mine before, now I’m actually here. I’ll get to play them.” I felt good. I also told myself that I would bring out my best so I can bring home the glory.]
SMP: Congratulations. That was another big accomplishment with 5700 entries in that event. Let’s talk about your Main Event journey. This tournament is the dream of all poker players. It is the biggest freezeout event in the world. Can you tell us about your experience in this tournament?
MT: Talagang mahirap. Mahirap yung Main Event. Di natin masasabing madali kasi lahat na nandoon na e. Lahat na ng magaling talaga sa buong mundo nandoon nakasali na atsaka hindi rin papayag na ma-out basta basta kasi walang re-entry. Talagang magaling lahat sa mesa, walang hindi marunong. Iba talaga ang Main Event. Pag champion ka talagang hindi na makalimutan ng tao yan. Parang legend ka na nun.
[Translation: The Main Event was very difficult. I can’t say it was easy because everyone was there. All the good players around the world were there and they won’t just bust out easily because there is no re-entry. Everyone at the table was very good, all of them knew how to play. The Main Event is really different. If you champion that event, everyone will know who you are. By then, you’d be a legend.]
SMP: This was the biggest buy-in tournament you’ve ever played, $10,000 entry. How did that affect your game?
MT: Siyempre may sponsor naman ako pero mahirap rin. Pag sariling pera parang mahirap ilaban yung mga gusto ko, lahat piling pili. Pili yung hand na.
[Translation: I had a sponsor but still it was difficult. If it was my own money, I would play tighter, be very picky on which hands to play.]
SMP: You finished 421st. Having played other events there with big fields, did you have a strategy coming into the Main Event especially realizing the caliber of players?
MT: Iniibaiba ko ung laro ko. Una muna sa umpisa kasi tight muna ako, pinapakiramdam ko muna yung mga kalaban para nalalaman ko ung mga moves nila kung ano ung mga igagalaw. Tapos pag alam ko na ung mga strategy ng mga laro nila, yun na, laro na.
Pero parang sa akin kasi, mahirap at matagal. Two hours yung per level. Nakakainip. Siyempre sabi ko first time lang ito mangyari sa isang taon kaya sabi ko sa sarili ko pagbubutihan ko atsaka pangarap ko talaga makapunta ng Vegas, matagal na, makapunta lang ako sa WSOP. Kaya pinagbutihan ko talaga. Talagang di lang binigay e. Nagkamali lang ako. Maganda yung stack ko nun. Top 10. Isang mali lang nanyari sa akin. Talagang bumaba yung stack ko nun.
[Translation: I always adjust my game. At first, I play tight to get a feel of the players and to understand their moves and choices. Once I’ve gotten the information on their style and strategy, I play.
But for me, it was difficult and long. Two hours per level. I was restless. So I told myself this was my first time here and it only happens once a year, I have to make sure to play well. It has been my dream for a long time to be in Vegas, to be able to attend the WSOP. So I really must play my best. But it just wasn’t meant to be. I made one mistake. I had a very big stack, running top 10. Just one mistake and from there, my stack went down.]
SMP: How would you compare the event and the players to the ones you’ve faced here in Asia?
MT: Mas malayo. Malayo ang pagkakaiba kasi nandoon lahat. Sa Vegas, nandoon lahat ng mga magaling. Magaling din yung players dito pero mas konti lang. Doon ang dami naglalaro, sa Main Event 7,000. Talagang mahirap. Buti sana kung hindi marurunong, hindi e. Lahat magagaling. Nandun lahat.
[Translation: Very different. It is leagues different because in Vegas, everyone is there. All the good players. The players here are also good but less in numbers. Over there, there are so many players, the Main Event had over 7000. It was really difficult. It would have been okay if they weren’t that good but not the case. Everyone was good. ]
SMP: So Grace tells us that at one point you wanted to give up? Not primarily because of the WSOP. Can you tell us about it?
MT: (Laughs) Parang na-tilt ako sa sarili ko, sa ibang casino. Naglaro rin ako sa Aria, Venetian, cash game, tournaments. Yung araw na nanalo ako sa Aria, nag quit na sana ako. Nagenpake na ako. Tapos parang nahimasmasan ako na oo nga tama sila kuya Marc kasi malayo nga ito, atsaka si Boyet, pinapayuhan nila ako na “magisip isip ka kasi malayo itong lugar na ito, hindi lang ito diyaan na para uuwi ka ng bigla bigla.” Nag isip ako ngayon, sabi ko “oo nga o, kasi mahal ang pamasahe.” Yun, pumunta kami ng Aria, nag tournament ako, na chambahan ko.
[Translation: I tilted, from the other casinos not the WSOP. I played at Aria, Venetian, cash games, and tournaments. The day I was ready to quit, I already packed. Then I calmed down realizing that Marc and the group were right. This place is far. Boyet, he gave me advice to really think this over because I couldn’t just go home all of a sudden. I live so far away. So I thought about it and realized they were right. It is also expensive to just leave. After that, we went to Aria. I played a tournament. I got lucky.
*Mike won the Aria $240 NLH tournament with 172 players
SMP: You went to the WSOP with a small filipino contingent. Do you think that the group / team contributed to your success? If yes how?
MT: Malaking bagay sila kasi hindi dapat ako manalo, uwi na sana ako, kasi wala na akong gana. Hindi ko alam ginagawa ko kasi puro badbeat ako sa mga casino pinaglalaro ko. Naglalaro ako tournament, puro badbeat ako parang dinadaya ako. Sabi ko “uwi na tayo”. Pero sabi nila laro lang ako kung anong kailangan mo, kaming bahala. Sinuportahan din nila ako. Nagpapasalamat din ako sa kanila.
[Translation: They were a big reason for my success because I wasn’t supposed to win. I was already set on going home. I lost my drive and desire to play. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore, I had so many badbeats that I felt I was being cheated. I told Grace, “let’s go home”. But the group, they encouraged me to continue playing and they watched over me. They supported me. I am so thankful for them.]
SMP: Did you get to meet any of your idols?
MT: Yes but I was starstruck. I only had a picture taken with Daniel Negreanu and Eli Elezra. I did get to watch Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth play.
SMP: Your success this year didn’t start with the WSOP. You claimed several trophies including a Platinum Pass. How can you explain this breakthrough year?
MT: (Laughs) Hindi ko rin alam e. Hindi ko nga alam. Hindi rin ako nagbabasa ng libro ng poker. Videos lang. Pinapanood ko yung mga magagaling, yung mga pro. Kung ano yung style nila, strategy nila. Pero hindi ako nagbabasa sa poker. Sa akin lang, pagumupo ako, kung ano yung igagalaw ng kalaban isasaulo ko lang.
[Translation: (Laughs) I don’t know. I don’t even read poker books. I just watch videos. I watch the pros. I review their style and strategy. Once I sit down at a table, I just memorize my opponent’s moves.]
SMP: Now that you’ve experienced the WSOP, what are your future goals? Are we going to see you play more in the international circuit?
MT: Gusto kong ma-experience ang Aussie Millions in Australia. Doon ako mabibigyan ng break sa mga ganun event katulad ng WSOP. Gusto ko mabigyan ng break ng ganun. Kasi pag puro dito lang, wala e. Parang paulit ulit na lang ang nanyayari. Di katulad doon, talagang nandoon lahat.
[Translation: I’d like to experience the Aussie Millions in Australia. Those are the events where I will get my break. Just like the WSOP, I’d like to get my break there. If it’s just here in the Philippines, I feel it is just a repetition so nothing happens. Unlike over there, everyone is there.]
SMP: Now that you’ve tasted the mother of all poker events, has that diminished your drive to play in smaller events in Asia?
MT: Hindi. Ganun pa din. Hindi mawawala yun. Siyempre doon tayo galing. Kailangan maging humble ka. Kung saan maliit o ano, parang practice mo na rin yan sa sarili mo.
[Translation: No, not at all. That will never go away. That’s where I started. I have to stay humbled. If the event is smaller, it is like practice for myself.]
SMP: The poker community in Philippines massively followed your WSOP odyssey and Filipino Mainstream media covered your victory. Did you expect such a big support?
MT: Hindi ko nga na-expect. Ang daming nag-chachat sa cell phone ko. Hindi ako nagpo-post kasi minsan nauudlot pag po-post ako. Kaya sabi ko laro muna ako, hindi muna ako mag po-post ng kung ano ano. Tapos nagulat nalang ako ng pag bukas ng facebook ko, puro mukha ko at puro congratulations.
[Translation: I didn’t expect it at all. So many of them were chatting on my cell phone. I wasn’t posting because sometimes things don’t work out when I post. So I focused on playing first. Then when I opened facebook, I was surprised to see my face everywhere and everyone congratulating me.]
SMP: Poker is currently not recognized as a big mind sport in the Philippines. With your recent success, what’s your perspective on that?
MT: Oo nga. Kaya nga pinagbubutihan sa sarili ko na para makilala yung poker. Para rin mabigyan ng break yung mga mababang level. Gusto ko lahat mabigyan ng break. Kasi dito sa poker, madaling kumita basta marunong ka lang. Para sa akin, dati nung nag bibillyard ako, ako ko ok na ok. Mabubuhay ko na pamilya ko. Pero mas ok sa poker, lakas kumita at mabilis pa ang pera kung marunong ka lang.
[Translation: Yes, that’s why I continuously try to do well so poker will be noticed. Also, it would give the aspiring players something to look forward to. I’d like to see everyone get their break in poker. I used to make a living playing billiards. I thought it was enough to raise my family. But when I discovered poker, it is much better. Money is bigger and faster if you know how to play well.]
SMP: How was your return to the country?
MT: Masaya kasi namimiss ko na yung anak ko. Tagal ko na hindi nakikita.
[Translation: I was so happy because I really missed my baby. It’s been a long time.]
SMP: Any message you want to extend to your fans and friends and railbirds?
MT: Unang una nagpapasalamat ako sa panginoon sa mga blessing binigay nya sa akin. Atsaka kay boss Ron Singson kasi unang una dito ako nagmula sa Metro. Dati gusto ko na mag-give up dito sa Metro akala ko para akong dinadaya. Pero hindi pala. Masasabi ko lang, pagpatuloy nila atsaka gawin nila akong inspiration para umunlad ang poker community dito sa Pilipinas.
[Translation: First, I’d like to thank God for the blessings I was given. I’d also like to thank Ronald Singson because this is where I first started, here at the Metro. I remember before, I wanted to give up, I thought I was being slighted. But that wasn’t true. All I can say is keep on playing and make me an inspiration that can make the poker community attain success in the country.]
SMP: Thank you Mike and congratulations!
Interview By Tricia David