Winning a tournament in Beijing for $100,000: The amazing story of Selim Oulmekki

You think you’ve read about unusual poker games? The story of Selim Oulmekki, a Frenchman who just won a tournament of the Beijing Red Bull Poker Tour for a gain of nealry $100,000, will prove you wrong. This story will also show you how poker is encountering incredible success in China, mostly at the borders of legality.  You are wondering, how is it possible to get financial gain in a country where gambling is theoretically banned? This is what Selim kindly explained in detail to Club Poker a French poker forum.

Poker in Beijing: Tournaments in Poker Clubs

Selim has been an expatriate in Beijing for six years now. He occasionally goes to Macau to play one or two tournaments there, but it was in Las Vegas in 2011 that he got his best result: 4th place at a World Series of Poker event for $ 251,000. Since the young man plays poker games in China that share little in common with those of Nevada. Rules are the same but it is the local customs that require an adjustment period: “Gambling is strictly prohibited here. But we must satisfy the appetite of our Chinese friends for gambling, and there was obviously  a lot of money to be made for the organizers given the number of players when poker began during the last two years. Then they found ways around the rules. All over China, the number of players has exploded with the advent of poker clubs, which are organizing mainly sit’n’go. Players are collecting redeemable points which can be exchange mostly against Apple products. If I had to estimate, I would say that a Chinese who plays poker today have an average of 2.5 iPhones.”

Does this system at the limit of legality create risks for the players? “From time to time, there may be overflows. Sometimes players play Cash games in the back rooms. Several clubs have seen the police shut down and everything. But overall, this club system still works well for those who remain confined to sit’n’go. ” Occasionally, a new a little crazy game format even makes an appearance: “The last time I wanted to participate in a sit’n’go, I was offered a very funny structure. It was a mix between cash games and SnG,  ten players compete for a sit’n’go where you can rebuy no limit. After two hours of play, each one keep his chips and again, they are entitled to redeemable points. In other words, the degree of excitement in the room skyrocketed in the last five minutes! “

Playing the Red Bull Poker Tour

Last week, however, Selim took part to a bigger tournament in Beijing: Red Bull Poker Tour, an event “organized by a small company and sponsored by, as the name suggests, Red Bull.” This more formal appearance has not prevented the organizer of using a system he calls “rather amusing” “The idea is that you can theoretically not register with money. Each player must buy a gift bag of branded products from Red Bull. A bag costs 1,000 Yuan, or about $160. For the Main Event, you must buy six of them. I personally do not really like this drink. I also forgot to keep the gift bags with me at the end of the day. But the important thing is that with these purchases the participant is allowed to take part to the tournament. Presented as a pure entertainment, the tournament was offering a guarantee of 4 million Yuan (about $650,000), regardless of the number of participants. In the event, 838 players showed up on the starting line. I would say 90% were Chinese, but there were also some Taiwanese, as well as players from Hong Kong and other Asian surroundings. And then three guys like me who do not really look Asian. Theoretically, the prize pool should, therefore, have been up to five million Yuan. But the organizers are not allowed to go beyond the limit, at the risk of the tournament being compared to pure gambling. They nevertheless were very legit, adding in the prize pool as compensation forty tickets for the next edition.

Winning the tournament in an electric atmosphere

Once through the course of registration, the competition is more familiar. Even in China, nothing looks more like a poker tournament that another poker tournament. Selim’s stack then fluctuated consistently between the average and the top rankings. An easy game? Not quite, as the day of a foreign player in China is often dotted with small inconveniences: “From day 2, I found myself with a racist-nationalist Chinese that wanted only one thing: see me out of the tournament. He systematically called the cards against me. This type of situation is common in clubs, where all the Chinese are hoping for a quick exit from foreigners. But in the case of this tournament, this particular guy was really rude. I must admit that everyone else played pretty fairly. ” “Ironically, it was in the face of this player that I found myself heads up. He also proposed a deal of leaving him the victory in exchange for a small financial bonus. Curious to see how far his concessions could go for that, I asked him to make me an offer. At this point, he had two thirds of the chips in play, but I was convinced that I would have an edge. He offered me a smile. He just offered me 50,000 Yuan in addition to the expected gain for the second, or 350,000 Yuan, while the winner was assured of a gain of 600,000 Yuan. I obviously refused, and the duel took place in an electric atmosphere. My opponent was accompanied by twenty friends of his club, Tianjin, systematically calling cards. There were some interesting moves: an All In bluff on the river that I paid with the second pair  and an all-in confrontation with the four against three, with all the room who calls the three, which ends up falling … “

Selim Oulmekki won $100,000 in a tournament organized by Red Bull

Cashing for nealy $100,000 in gift vouchers

After a few twists, Selim was fortunate to win the tournament. His story does not end there. Due to the particular circumstances of the registration system, it was time for him to learn about the local characteristics of the prizes payment: “We come to the crucial of the matter: The cash prize pool is almost never revealed clearly the organizer because they must juggle the local regulations in order to pay cash players while avoiding the qualification of gambling. On the promotional material of the tournament, it is reported that the first prize is worth 600,000 Yuan. The words have their importance. I had, early in the tournament, interviewed one of the officials to see if they were paying cash players. He then gave me a very evasive answer that had almost made me fear that I would be paid in Red Bull cans. In reality, things are a little more complicated than that. The 600,000 Yuan of the first place, took the form of travel agency vouchers. These vouchers can theoretically be used to play globetrotters, but they can also be exchange in cash after a 10% tax deduction, which to me is very reasonable. The actual gain is 540,000 Yuan, or nearly $100,000. In addition, you get two tournament entries, one for the next stage of the Red Bull Poker Tour in Tianjin in May (worth 6000 Yuan) and another for the final circuit planned for the end of the year in Beijing (worth 50,000 Yuan) ».

The tournament was overall well organized and inspired to our French participant the following conclusion to his story: “For a competition held in China, I was expecting to get screwed and I ended-up winning $100,000”

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Louis Hartwell

Graduated in Media Communication at the University of Lausanne, Louis Hartman is a co-founder of He began his career in Cambodia as freelance journalist. In same time he was making his living by playing poker every night at that time. Intense learner, he read dozens of poker strategy books to improve his skills during many years. With a strong interest about poker "behind the scene" in Asia and his communication skills, Louis launched Somuchpoker in 2014.

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