Robert De Niro and two attractive women.
That’s what I was greeted with when I first walked into the Paradise Casino Walkerhill this morning in Seoul, South Korea.
That is generally not what I expect to see when I’m walking into a casino to kick off blogging duties for a tournament on the Asia Pacific Poker Tour.
But this is APPT Seoul and hey, that’s just how things work.
Of course, I’m not talking about the real Robert De Niro. He just so happens to be the face of this casino, adorning billboards with that famous Oscar winning swagger.
The girls though, they were real. They checked my passport. I gladly handed it over to them, considering it is usually a surly overworked security guard asking to see my ID. Not only were they surely checking my age (my beard apparently that of a 17 year olds), they were also making sure I wasn’t of Korean decent. However, I am sure my freckled white skin also gave that away. These girls were just being thorough. You see, Koreans aren’t allowed to enter casinos in their own country. Casinos here are for foreigners only and that’s why my real expectation when entering the Walkerhill poker room was to see plenty of familiar faces of the great Asia-Pacific poker scene – players from Macau and my next of the woods back in Australia.
And once I got past the De Niro billboards and gave the security a friendly smile as they handed me back my passport, my expectations were met.
As I wandered through the poker tables and made my way to the media desk I was greeted by a who’s who of the Asian poker scene. Players like Team PokerStars Pro and two-time Macau Poker Cup champion Celina Lin and Japan’s first and only WSOP bracelet winner, PokerStars Team Online Naoya Kihara.
This was before the tournament started and so more and more players we recognised started filtering into the room as the start of the day drew ever-closer. There were online superstars like Australia’s Matt “mjw006” Wakeman, Japan’s Akira “Clutch Hero” Ohyama, Japan-based Aussie Kelvin “aces_up4108” Beattie and Macau regulars like Emi Hibuse, Tetsuya Tsuchikawa, Bobby Zhang, Jae Kyung Sim, Hao Chen and this past January’s Macau Poker Cup Red Dragon champion Byanjargal Bold.
When the time for Day 1a to begin was finally upon us, just over 100 players were at the tables, but a few late arrivals were still making their way into the poker room. The dealers were ready, the chips were out, the players were eager to begin and all that was needed to be done was introducing the day.
APPT President Danny McDonagh took to the microphone for just a few moments and then handed it over to Paradise Walkerhill Director of Poker Operations Kevin Song. Avid followers of poker tournaments from around the world will recognise Song as a player himself – he has even won a WSOP bracelet, a feat he achieved back in 1997. But here in Korea he is in a suit and is the top man for poker at this casino. Song kept it short and sweet and with that the dealers got busy letting the cards fly and the players got busy trying to win some chips.
While the first hands of the day were being dealt we asked McDonagh how things were tracking in terms of numbers for this year’s APPT Seoul Main Event.
“We are on par to reach last year’s number of 222 and hopeful of reaching 250 and maybe even an outside chance of breaking the record of 268 which was set in 2011,” McDonagh said. “There has been lots of interest from the Chinese and Japanese markets and even Mongolia, so I’m feeling good about our chances of a big number, especially considering the locals aren’t allowed to play.”
McDonagh also told us that side event numbers have been huge, with records broken so far, including a 30% increase on the largest side event from last year. It’s a good sign and hopefully one of things to come.
As this post goes up into the blogosphere, of the PokerStars kind, the players are involved in the second level of the day. We will be playing eight 60-minute levels on Day 1a, which will of course set the precedent for tomorrow’s second and final Day 1 flight. Be sure to keep your eyes on the PokerStarsBlog for APPT Seoul live updates and feature stories straight from the Paradise Casino Walkerhill. We will be here all day long and all weekend until a champion is crowned!