APPT Seoul: Rail thin

A few hours ago I mused that, although the players in the 2012 APPT Seoul Main Event may reside in 37 different countries, they're all really citizens of the same country - the country of poker. Yet as I wandered the floor during the last hour, I was struck by a very notable regional difference here in Korea.

In mid-February I traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the LAPT Seaon 4 Grand Final. A few months before that saw me in Medellin, Colombia for the LAPT's first foray into that country. At both events, the rail of spectators swelled as we moved deeper and deeper into the tournament. In Medellin in particular, the rail at the money bubble was sizable.


The rail was thick with spectators in Colombia.

Here in Seoul, on the other hand, there is no rail to speak of. Granted we're still 22 players (almost three full tables) away from the money. But there's no palpable spectator excitement about the tournament. The baccarat tables and the poker cash games are hopping. Some players have the glazed look of people who have been sitting at poker tables for days (and in a few cases that's probably not far from the truth).


There's little support behind Tsuyoshi Ishibashi or any of the other remaining players here in Seoul.

But the rail so far today has consisted of basically a few people wandering by and casting a semi-curious look at the remaining players. I asked my blogging partner, Heath Chick, what the rail is like in Macau these days as Heath is often found in Macau blogging for PokerStars. He said that, come bubble time, spectators are two and three deep.

We pondered what the difference could be here in Seoul. The best deduction we could make is that there are no locals in the casino whose curiosity can be piqued by the unusual spectacle of a big buy-in poker tournament playing out in front of them. By law, the only guests allowed inside the Paradise Casino are foreigners. Sure, there are expat locals who are here - American Ron Kluber is a long-time resident of Seoul. But they're the exception to the rule.

The baccarat tables here seem to have attracted more attention than the poker tables, due to the antics of the baccarat players (lots of shouting and pounding). I'm not advocating for a return to that style of poker play; that's better left in the dustbin of 2006. Rather I'm just noting another unfortunate side effect of the peculiarities of Korean gaming law.

If competitive StarCraft can spawn a whole cottage industry of television shows, media coverage and excitement here in Seoul, then surely poker can do the same. But that will only happen if and when locals can get in on the action themselves.

Until then, Koreans inside the borders of Korea will be second-class citizens of the "country of poker". And that's a damn shame.

Dave Behr
@PokerStars in Seoul