When I walked into the Paradise Walkerhill Casino this morning for Day 1a of the 2012 APPT Seoul Main Event, I passed by another function taking place just outside of the casino. The 2012 Puma Kick-off Event featured garishly colored sneakers, Korean mean wearing the last past-ironic fashions (t-shirt, ratty jeans, sneakers and a blazer) and Korean women dressed to kill. They were all engaging in that peculiarly Asian habit of flashing a peace sign in every photo taken at the event while noshing on free Pepperidge Farms cookies.
The sneaker event, some sort of promotion for a new line of sneakers endorsed by world track legend Usain Bolt, encouraged shoppers to "Run at the speed of Bolt". It was a significant departure from the more traditional function that was programmed against the APPT Seoul Main Event in 2008, the Kim-Lee wedding.
But this isn't the 2008 APPT Seoul Main Event, as Heath Chick reminded us at the start of the day. This is the 2012 APPT Seoul Main Event, and so much has changed in four years that poker itself could be running at the speed of bolt in Asia. Even though Koreans are prohibited by law from playing in Korean casinos, we had 129 players in the Day 1a field. By the time registration closes on Day 1b tomorrow, we will almost certainly top the 166 players from Season 2 and the 186 players from Season 1.
When the chip bags came out, roughly 60 players of the starting 129 were still alive. An American of Korean descent, Christopher Park, was the leader. He looked to be the only player with six figures in chips, bagging up 119,800. He was followed by Canadian Fakher Alizai (97,000) and Portuguese player Brady O'Callaghan (94,200).
The lone Team PokerStars Pro in the field, Celina Lin, finished the day with 38,200, about double her starting stack. She was one of several women that made it through Day 1a, a trend we hope continues tomorrow on Day 1b and all the way through the final table.
Australian online phenom Matthew Wakeman was looking for more than just a poker victory here in Korea. He'll have lots to keep him occupied after busting in the last level of the day. He joined fellow countryman Jesse McKenzie on the rail, whose Seoul trip started off with a missed bus and didn't get any better from there.
In between all the big pots and early eliminations, we had a baccarat tournament and lots of smoke to keep us occupied on the casino floor. The staff even arranged for Burger King burgers and pizza to be delivered to hungry players on the tournament floor.
Now it's time for a little R&R before we rewind the clock and start over again tomorrow. The official welcome party is set for 9:30pm local time tonight at the swanky Ark Lounge downtown. Our goal is not to drink so much soju that we're incapacitated at the start of play tomorrow, but rather to have fun and to celebrate the return of the APPT to one of the fantastic cities of the world after a three-year absence.
And what the heck. Maybe we'll even raise a glass to the Kim-Lees. I do hope they're still together.