PCA 2013: "He saved Japan," now Nishiyama has eye on MVP

A unique thing about the World Cup of Poker is that it brings together players of various backgrounds and makes a team out of them. Then, to make it easier for them recognise each other they give them a shirt to wear with their countries flag on the breast pocket. Incidentally, while over the course of nine years the rules have continued changes, the shirts have remained the same.

PokerStars legend Lee Jones has been almost like a chaperone for the World Cup, overseeing the momentum of the tournament while leaving the tournament directing itself to the professionals. If Jones is not at a laptop examining numbers (the World Cup is great for anyone who likes numbers), he's giving instructions to the players, usually to sit down and start playing. The WCP is on a schedule, and it's a tight one, and no one wants to accidentally finish playing at 3am.

But there's another competition taking place within the World Cup of Poker that of Most Valuable Player.

Previously the likes of Jan Heitmann have topped this competition, and the German captain is among the leaders this year at the half way stage with 30 points. But in second place on 31, a point behind leader Shamshold Niyatbekov of Tajikistan, is Ippei Nishiyama.

Team Japan (Nishiyama second from right)

Nishiyama is one of those guys having the experience of a lifetime. He's 18, two days away from his birthday, on his first trip ever out of his native Japan and now looking at celebrating his birthday with a cheque for $2,500 in his pocket. Not only that but he qualified for the World Cup of Poker in a freeroll after just six months playing online.

Nishiyama is popular among his team mates, not least for his performance yesterday. His first place in the final round secured their passage into Day 2. "He saved Japan!" insisted his team captain Naoya Kihara, who will no doubt raise a glass with him when he turns 19 on Monday. If the Japan team continue to turn things around they may even be toasting a WCP title.

By the way it's worth noting that should Shamshold Niyatbekov win MVP he will likely become the first "Shamshold" to win any PCA title, although that's yet to be confirmed.

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter