APPT Manila: Poker fever sweeping the Philippines

When the schedule was being drawn up for the first PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tour last year, the Philippines was an immediate choice. As one of the few Asian nations where western-style Texas Hold’em games were being spread in casinos and dedicated poker rooms, it made perfect sense to include Manila in the first year of the APPT.

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Overlooking Manila Bay towards the Hyatt Hotel and Casino, venue for the PokerStars.net APPT Manila main event.

What an event it turned out to be – the first event on the fledgling tour. The focus of the world’s poker media turned to the Hyatt Hotel and Casino where the world best players, including Team PokerStars Pros Joe Hachem and Daniel Negreanu, were on hand to handle the myriad of questions from curious local reporters.

A field of 254 players eventually took their seats and three days later, 22-year-old student Brett Parise from the USA accepted the honour of being crowned the first APPT champion. Parise, who won his seat to the tournament via a freeroll on PokerStars, collected a life changing USD $180,000.

Since then, this adolescent poker nation has matured into the strongest poker market on the continent. Over the past 12 months, the PokerStars.com Filipino Poker Tour has helped hone a new generation of emerging local players. In the wake of last year’s APPT Manila, the FPT was established with the support of PokerStars with the Metro Card Club in nearby Pasig City acting as the hub for the tour.

The final event on the five-event tour will be the APPT Manila/Filipino Poker Tour: Philippine Championship, meaning the Philippines’ best players will be taking their seats along side the top poker players from across the Asia-Pacific region.

Parise will be back this year, along with scores of international players eager to pursue the 2008 crown, and to experience one of the world’s most diverse cultures.

The influences of Spanish and American culture are easy to spot in the Philippines, as are the indelible mark left by the strong Islamic and Christian influences that date back more than 500 years. The population of 90 million people is spread over more than 7000 islands.

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The UNESCO World Heritage-listed walled city of Intramuros is one of the most important sites in the Philippines.

But there’s no need to travel outside Manila for an authentic Filipino experience. Despite the issues that come with a metropolis of 14 million people, the city is a warm, exciting and diverse place that is ripe for discovery by any adventurous tourist. English is widely spoken, prices are cheap and you get more than your fair share of sunshine. And the people couldn’t be friendlier.

Just a short walk from five-star hotels like the Hyatt (again the venue for this year’s event) are several restaurants offering not only an astounding array of seafood but a seaside seat for one of the best nightly shows in town: sunset over Manila Bay.

But while the visitors check out the sights, the locals are steeling themselves to ensure the APPT Manila title stays on home turf.

Already, a core group of Filipino players have started to make their mark on the regional poker scene. Filipino-born players like WSOP bracelet winner and 2003 US Poker Champion Alfredo “Toto” Leonidas have forged a reputation in the USA, but now local players like Derick Hernandez, the only local player to reach the final table at last year’s APPT Manila, are showing that success is possible on home soil.

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Derick Hernandez: leading the local charge.

Joining Hernandez in this year’s field are a swag of PokerStars Sponsored locals including Neil Arce, Ronald Singson, Wally “The Dream” Sombrero plus poker-playing celebs like models Priscilla Meirelles and Sunshine Samson, plus world pool champions Alex Pagulayan and Efren Reyes.

However, they’ll face a stern test against the likes of Team PokerStars Pro Lee “Final Table” Nelson and PokerStars Sponsored players Celina Lin, APPT Seoul heads-up combatants Hidenari Shiono and Yoshihiro Tasaka plus Singaporeans Ivan Tan and Bryan Huang. Player of the year contender John Phan and WPT Ladies Night IV champion JJ Liu complete an impressive line-up of internationals who’ve converged on Manila.

Six of the 24 players who cashed last year were Filipinos, but the hometown contingent will be hoping to go one better this year. Play starts at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino from 12.30pm local time (GMT +8hrs) tomorrow with the first of two day 1 flights.