PokerStars is celebrating its 20th Anniversary: 20 years as the best known and most trusted online poker site. To join the celebrations here at PokerStars Blog, we are looking back year-by-year on those two decades, noting the landmarks and remembering all the remarkable moments, fitting them into the wider landscape of poker’s sensational development.
Today we look back to 2015. In this year, PokerStars signed up Team Pro players from across Asia to represent a growing international player base. Meanwhile, the popularity of online poker in Latin American nations continued to grow, particularly in Brazil.
In actual fact, poker has long been a global game, especially since the dawn of online poker which, by the end of (WCOOP) 2007, had brought together players from 107 countries to compete for nearly $25 million in prize money. That same year, the Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) brought televised poker to mainland China for the first time.
To demonstrate how poker’s popularity spread around the globe, we’ll be focusing on Asia and South America. Let’s delve a little deeper into the rise of the global game.
Asia has an interesting relationship with poker. In many countries, poker, live or online, is illegal or banned. In China, which has a population of over 1.4 billion, poker is considered “gambling” and all forms of gambling are illegal.
The exception being Macau, a former Portuguese territory that is now classed as an autonomous region. In Macau, there are 41 casinos and gambling accounts for around half the region’s revenue. The player-base is mostly comprised of tourists from China, Hong Kong and elsewhere on the Asian continent. For this reason, Macau is suitably known as the “Las Vegas of Asia”.
Poker first came to Macau in 2007, and the first tournament held was part of the opening season of the APPT. Catching on to the upcoming boom, PokerStars opened one of Macau’s first poker rooms in 2008 in the Grand Waldo Casino. The card room later moved to the Grand Lisboa Casino, then to the City of Dreams, where it can still be found today.
The PokerStars Macau card room is home to 13 cash games and hosts a number of Asia’s most prolific poker series, including the Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP), Macau Poker Cup (MPC), Macau Millions, and the APPT.
Although the WSOP still holds the top five spots for biggest prize pools in poker history, the events and tournaments held in Macau are no joke. The 2012 Macau High Stakes Challenge Super High Roller holds the record for richest tourney in Asia, with a prize pool of $23.5 million. Stanley Choi of China shipped first for nearly $6.5 million.
Much like Vegas is to American players, Macau is the central hub of poker in Asia. When it comes to online poker, the barriers are not to do with popularity or breadth of potential player-base; they are simply down to legalities in many counties within the continent.
The poker boom had been building in Brazil, and across Latin America in general, for years. Live and online poker remain legal or unregulated across many of the continent’s nations, so poker could take off with greater ease and more accessibility than in Asia.
The first Latin America Poker Tour (LAPT) was held in May 2008, stopping first in Brazil and finishing in Uruguay. It was so successful that a second season was launched before the end of the year. In June 2011, Brazil got its own series of poker, the Brasil Poker Tour. The following year, PokerStars sponsored the event and the Brazil Series of Poker (BSOP) was born.
When it comes to online poker, Brazilian players have continually dominated major series like SCOOP and WCOOP in recent years. In 2020, Brazil claimed 45 SCOOP titles to finish second on the country leaderboards, one title behind the UK. In WCOOP 2020, Brazil claimed 35 titles, two more than joint second place UK and Russia. Brazilian players also claimed 33 runner-up places in the series, more than any other nation.
After WCOOP 2021 the picture came into even clearer focus. Brazilian players won 57 titles, 20 more than second place Russia, smashing their own record for most WCOOP titles won in one series by a country.
PokerStars Team Pro has always looked to represent the poker crowd of the time. In 2015, PokerStars recruited the finest pros from across Asia, as well as ambassadors from Japan and Brazil.
In January 2015, Team Pro welcomed Aditya Agarwal and Kosei Ichinose to the roster.
Aditya “Intervention” Agarwal was the first Indian player to join Team Pro. He’s had big cashes in the EPT, WSOP, and Macau Poker Cup, making Agarwal a true representative of the international poker world. Although he left Team Pro in December 2019, the former Facebook software engineer now has over $1.4 million in live winnings.
The first Japanese player ever to obtain Supernova Elite status, Kosei Ichinose was already a true online poker legend when he joined Team Pro. Ichinose was the second Japanese player to sign up, the first being WSOP bracelet winner Naoya Kihara. Ichinose stuck around for a couple of years, then moved on with his lucrative poker career, which has earned his $766k in live cashes and over $3.5 million online.
In March 2015, PokerStars signed up Japanese model Yuiko Matsukawa. Not a pro by any means, Matsukawa had developed an interest in the game and was scouted playing the Macau Poker Cup. The partnership was a clear effort by PokerStars to appeal to this potential emerging market, one that, due to legal reasons, is still yet to fully boom.
In September 2015, after several months of no signings, Team Pro once again set out to captivate the Asian market, signing up Taiwanese pro Chen-An Lin and Chinese Yaxi Zhu. Chen-An Lin’s record of $1.3 million in live cashes comes from events around the world, from the Macau Poker Cup to the EPT and WSOP. Yaxi Zhu racked up significant scores in the EPT, ACOP, APPT and Aussie Millions.
By this time, fueled by growing economies, greater access to internet, and relatively liberal laws, poker was on the rise in Latin American countries. 2015 was also the year that PokerStars made one of their most notable celebrity signings. Brazilian striker Neymar Jr., who is still with us today as one of the company’s key celebrity sponsorships, joined the roster.
The signing of this international crowd of sponsored pros and celebrities was an important step in promoting the game worldwide.
MORE IN THIS SERIES:
2014 – The art of the streak
2013 – Is this the best final table ever?
2012 – A look back at some of poker’s best (and worst) innovations
2011 – Isuldur1 and the nosebleed cash games
2010 – Poker as a TV and streaming spectacle
2009 – The live poker boom hits its highest point
2008 – Where future superstars cut their teeth
2007 – The changing face of the sponsored pro
2006 – How poker prize pools ballooned
2005 – Reporting on poker will never catch on…
2004 – The Year of the EPT
2003 – Chris Moneymaker wins WSOP, sparks ‘poker boom’
2002 – The year of WCOOP
2001 – Electronic poker before PokerStars