APPT Seoul Day 2: The rise and rise of poker in Japan

Considering Japan's proximity to South Korea, it's probably not too surprising that they were the most represented country to partake in the Season 8 APPT Seoul Main Event. Of course, this is when taking into account that South Korean nationals are unable to enter casinos in their home country.

Exactly 55 players from Japan hit the felt over the first two Day 1 flights, which equates to 21.5 % of the entire field. That's a massive portion considering 30 countries were represented overall in the 256-player field.

The Asian poker scene has featured tremendous growth in the Japanese market over the last couple of years, which is not only evident here at APPT Seoul, but also in tournaments over at PokerStars LIVE Macau.

I recently had a chat with APPT Media Coordinator, and one of the main men in Macau, Fred Leung and he recalled how back in 2009 there was very little interest in poker from the Japanese market. Leung claims that the real turning point came in July of 2010. That seems very specific, but that's because it was the Macau Poker Cup Red Dragon of that month that would really put poker on the radar in Japan.

Prior to this Macau Poker Cup, the victors had all hailed from either Hong Kong, China or Chinese Taipei - the three countries which are most often the highest represented at every major poker tournament in Asia.

Then a Japanese player by the name of Kenichi Takarabe came along and defeated the 295-player field and from there, the Japanese market has never looked back, embracing poker to the extent the Leung tells us Japan is always in the top 3 most well represented countries at all the events in Macau. And now, here in South Korea, the Japanese players are once again out in full force.

Although Takarabe and the boom of poker in Macau in general have certainly played a big role in the growth of the Japanese poker numbers, it would be silly to downplay the fact that in 2012 Japan's Naoyo Kihara won his country their first WSOP bracelet. Since then Kihara was named a member of PokerStars Team Online member and has clearly been a great ambassador for the game.

Kihara was at the felt at the beginning of Day 2 of this year's APPT Seoul Main Event.

Considering we used the word "was", you can probably guess what we are going to say next.


Day 2 of APPT Seoul was not Naoyo KIhara's day

Kihara first lost a big portion of his chips when he held pocket jacks and doubled up a short-stacked opponent who held pocket kings. Then Kihara was short stacked himself and got his last remaining chips in preflop holding J♠8♠ and was racing against Daniel Belov's 7♦7♥. The board brought Kihara no help and he was sent home, which also means his filming crew entourage also made their way out of the Paradise Walkerhill Casino.

While it was disappointing to see Kihara eliminated, with such a strong contingent of Japanese players at the felt for APPT Seoul, there are plenty of players travelling strongly and representing the Flag of the Rising Sun.

One such player is Takao Kazuta.

Case in point, Kazuta's chip stack: 222,000.

That puts Kazuta at the top of the chip counts and in a good position to survive Day 2 and secure a place for tomorrow's final day of action.

Some of the other Japanese players alive and well I the tournament include Masato Yokosawa with 175,000 and while he doesn't have quite as many, prominent Japanese online player Akira "Clutch Hero" Ohyama is doing pretty good with 75,000 in chips.


Hopefully Akira Ohyama can be a hero in the clutch moments of Day 2

There are plenty of players from around China, Hong Kong and even Australia who will be trying their hardest to ensure a Japanese player doesn't win APPT Seoul, but with the odds in Japan's favour, it's going to be a tough ride.

Joshua Bell
@PokerStars in Asia Pacific Poker Tour