WSOP 2014: Dubious analogy yes, dubious talent no

Imagine that you're sole reason for living is wrestling. Ever since you were a kid in small town America, you've dreamed of becoming a wrestler. But not any kind of wrestling. Your passion is for Sumo wrestling, the national sport of Japan. You can't get enough of it.

Somehow you manage to find a few other people in your town who like to wrestle Sumo style. You might even meet up to practice. Perhaps you have even made your own mawashi, that big silk G-string Sumo wrestlers wear, out of your mother's wedding dress. It scares a few club members, and you're forbidden from wearing it, but you want to show others your enthusiasm.

You discuss Sumo on internet forums and soon enough, the lure of a trip to Japan fills your every waking minute, a chance to fly to Tokyo to compete.

Try to stay with me on this.

Then you get to Japan, you've bulked up and from out of nowhere you win a prestige competition, securing your reputation within the Sumo world and being accepted as the only foreign Sumo wrestler of note.

As odd as that might sound, the story of Noaya Kihara's poker experience isn't that far off. Well it is, but the Team Online Pro plays today as one of a handful of Japanese poker players, travelling half way around the world to play in a tournament few people in Japan have ever heard of.

Naoya Kihara_Event 65_Day 2A_B_2014 WSOP_Giron.jpgTeam Online's Naoya Kihara (Photo: Joe Giron/Poker Photo Archive)

"The Japanese poker market is not so big," admitted Kihara at the break, who returned to a stack of 124,000 this afternoon. He's one of fewer than half a dozen Japanese players in the field who reached Day 2. It's a small contingent perhaps, but as Kihara himself said: "The poker craze in japan is growing."

It was helped in no small part by Kihara's own success here two years ago when he became the first Japanese player to win a World Series bracelet in the $5,000 pot-limit Omaha six-handed event.

Kihara was featured regularly in the news, making a splash on television, on radio and in newspapers, although, as Kihara explained, the lack of familiarity meant he was incorrectly introduced to the Japanese public as the World Champion rather than one of 60 bracelet winners that year.

Two years later and Kihara is among that breed of pro who spends seven weeks in Las Vegas.

"I cashed in four events," said Kihara. "I made one final table in the 10k razz, actually he bust me..."

Kihara paused to point at Brandon Shack-Harris, his face covered by a hood, like a boxer on his way to the ring.

"But that's not enough to cover my other buy-in. So I need a big run here!

Attention to poker in Japan may now have returned to ordinary levels but they will shoot up again should Kihara add a second bracelet by winning the biggest tournament in the world. Meanwhile the modest Japanese poker community turn their eyes to the east, following his progress from the other side of the world.

Just like the no doubt passionate Sumo fans of America turns their eyes to the west.

Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.