Supernova Elite from the Land of the Rising Sun
At the end of August, Japan won its division for the PokerStars World Cup of Poker, advancing to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure final. The first three players showed impressive results, placing 2nd, 2nd and 3rd. However, Indonesia gave Japan a run for their money, taking two first places in these events.
Only the final event remained and it was up to Japan's winner from the TLB division, "shinbunshi".
But, when the fourth qualifier began, shinbunshi was nowhere to be found. After all the work Japan had done, placing in the top three every time, was the dream over?
Even desperate calls over twitter by this humble blogger proved no avail and shinbunshi was unknown to most of the Japanese poker community. Until now.
Shinbunshi finally took his seat and Japan was back in the running. Japan not only needed to place better than Indonesia in the event, with a seven-point point difference, the specific placings would decide the final results and Japan needed to place at least two places above Indonesia. This was the task set for shinbunshi. Even if he won the qualifier, Indonesia would have to place third or lower for Japan to advance. There were players from all over Japan cheering for shinbunshi in the chat. Something never seen before on PokerStars.
By some miracle Indonesia took third place. The only two players left were Vietnam and Japan. Vietnam had no chance to advance to the final, but the player was on his way to taking down even just this final event. With Vietnam holding a 6-1 chip lead, it looked like Japan was going to lose. Somehow shinbunshi overtook that lead and took down the event. This is what a Supernova Elite does. This is the title held by the best in the world. They play more than anyone. They work harder than anyone. And then, they win more than everyone.
But the puzzle still remained. This Supernova Elite from Japan seemed to be completely unknown by anyone in the community here. How could someone who plays this much and this well fly so far under the radar in such a tight-knit community of players. I couldn't just let this go. I had to talk to find shinbunshi and talk to him.
So at the beginning of September I made it happen. I sat down with shinbunshi and we talked about poker, living overseas and life.
We promised to meet at 2pm and I rushed into a nearby parking lot at 1:59. While I was parking the phone rang. Concentrating on keeping my car between the lines, I didn't answer but my mind was racing, knowing I was making the player wait. I walked nervously to the promised meeting point, giving him a quick call to say I'd be there in another two minutes. Who was this player? The only information I had was his username, his real name and his e-mail address. I wondered how old he was.
At the meeting point there were two guys waiting. The first one was dressed almost like a high-school student.
Could this be the poker genius?
But when our eyes met he quickly looked away.
This guy was not waiting for me.
I looked at the other guy and he reacted immediately. (I had told him that I was blonde, but I wonder what he was looking for before I showed up). Not only was this shinbunshi, the poker genius, but he was also a very good-looking poker genius.
"Are you Mr. Ichinose?" I asked (his name is rare in Japan and it reminded me of a comic book character)
We sat down for coffee and talked for about two hours. (I had to keep reminding myself that this was an interview, not a date!)
Kosei Ichinose is 25 years old and has been in Vancouver studying for the last six years, during which time he polished his poker skills. Before that he attended Asia University in Tokyo and spent a semester at Western Washington University in Washington state. After that he transferred to the university in Vancouver and found poker.
He learned it a little at a time, playing online and at River Rock Casino in Richmond. This year he earned the status of a PokerStars Supernova Elite, an honor granted to only a few hundred players every year. During these 6 years he made lots of friends and learned a lot about the industry.
Kosei spent most of his early years playing Texas Hold'em, but lately has turned to Omaha. "I practice other games, too. Playing a variety of games helps you with your main game and improve overall as a player." He puts in the time, but he also has an incredible drive to win. Ever since the break times for tournaments lined up things have been easier, but before that Kosei wouldn't even take bathroom breaks. This is why he bought a laptop. This is dedication.
While he spends most of his time playing online, Ichinose also made sure to show up to the British Columbia Poker Championship and the World Series of Poker every year. He did say he was not a fan of Las Vegas though, so the trip was planned only around the main event. He finds live play easier to win but too slow for his liking.
Kosei spent the last few years surrounded by his poker friends, mostly players in Vancouver originally from China and Korea. They study together and support each other. I did ask him about his love life (for you, the readers, of course) but after dating a few girls in Vancouver, he is currently single (YES! For our female readers, of course).
It just happened that shinbunshi was in Japan right after the WCP qualifier finished and I was able to interview him, but he left almost immediately for his next adventure. "I feel most comfortable with the guys I learned poker with in Vancouver. The tournament schedules are better for players living in the West and it's hard to get a good rythm while I'm in Japan."
He left immediately, but he has no immediate plan. He'll be at the PCA, of course, for the WCP Final and at next year's WSOP. Other than that he'll be where the online poker world takes him.
With the emerging poker industry in Asia, I, of course, told him about some of the tournaments that we have here. He was surprised to hear about the new Japan Poker Tour and the events at PokerStars Macau. I may have even talked him into coming out for the Macau Poker Cup Championship in October!
But Ichinose doesn't want to play only poker forever. He's saving his money and someday wants to open a business. Spending all his time on the tables he hasn't yet decided what that business will be. At only 25, he has plenty of time to figure that out.