WSOP Champ Naoya Kihara dreams of Japanese Poker Boom

July 18th, 2014

The three most talked-about online poker markets these days are the U.S., China and India. And this is for good reason too given that these three countries together contain over 2.9 billion people. But if there’s one promising market that often gets left behind in these discussions, it is Japan.

WSOP champion Naoya Kihara recently brought this topic up in a recent interview. Kihara, who’s the only gold bracelet winner in Japanese poker history, spoke with PokerListings about the implications of widespread poker in his country

“People love to play games and gambling in Japan,” Kihara said. “So I’m pretty sure the poker market grows huge if the poker is legalized in Japan.”

Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions in the Land of the Rising Sun when it comes to poker, which Kihara hit upon in the interview. “When somebody doesn’t know the poker, their image of poker is just gambling,” he said. “The image of poker in Japan is still 5 card draw, single change and no more betting rounds.”

Kihara went on to describe how Japan’s version of 5 card draw is a simplified game that’s basically all luck. So his mission is to let his countrymen know what “real” poker is like with regard to the large skill element involved. Kihara added that if he can get people to like Texas Hold’em and some of the other skill-based games, then attitudes towards poker could change.

He may have a lot of work on his hands, though, because certain Japanese politicians are still trying to get casino resorts legalized in the island nation. Once this happens, perhaps poker could start showing up in the casinos and become more accepted.

Such acceptance (and legalization) would mean a nation of 127.6 million people being eligible to play online poker. Moreover, Japan has one of the world’s top economies, so this adds even more significance to the matter.

Can 2014 November Niner Andoni Larrabe follow in Mortensen’s Footsteps?

July 16th, 2014

13 years ago, Carlos Mortensen battled through a field of 613 players to win the 2001 WSOP Main Event and $1.5 million. Mortensen has remained the only Spaniard to win the world’s most prestigious poker tournament, but that could possibly change come this November.

That’s because Basque native Andoni Larrabe is in the 2014 November Nine this year, and he’s actually got a decent shot to win. For starters, Larrabe isn’t doing too badly in the chip count as he’s currently fourth with 22.5 million. This may place him quite a ways behind the current leader, Jorryt van Hoof (38.3 million), but it by no means puts him out of contention.

Another thing that Larrabe has going for him is that he knows what it feels like to be a winner. The 22-year-old navigated through a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $5k side event and on towards the $218,710 prize. Along the way, he topped a 195-player field and defeated famed pro Justin Bonomo heads-up. Larrabe also lays claim to an 11th place finish in the 2012 EPT Grand Final ($92,418).

Of course, there are some things working against this young player too. For starters, Larrabe has admitted in interviews that he’s been pretty nervous during his deep run in the 2014 WSOP Main Event. And now that he’s officially on the final table, the pressure won’t get any lighter. Plus Larrabe said that he made some definite mistakes en route to his November Nine run. But then again, at least the Spaniard is aware of the mistakes that he’s making. Moreover, we can expect him to be working to fix these leaks over the next 3+ months.

Larrabe will definitely be a fun one to watch when the 9-player final table reconvenes on Novemeber 10th. The first-place prize is worth $10 million while there are several other multi-million dollar payouts available too.

Maria Ho not Worried about Last Woman Standing Honor

July 13th, 2014

Back in 2007, Maria Ho took 38th place in the WSOP Main Event, which made her the “Last Woman Standing.” Now, seven years later, Ho has earned this honor once again since she’s the only female player alive in the 2014 WSOP Main Event.

Going into Day 6 of the Main Event, there are just 79 players left from the original 6,683 entrants. Ho happens to be one of these players, though she’s on the fringe of busting out with 435,000 chips (79th place). Even still, she doesn’t seem to be thinking about anything other than the November Nine.

Ho told PokerNews that it was an honor to receive the Last Woman Standing title again and interest more ladies in the game. This definitely won’t be enough to satisfy her, though. “I’m playing for something that’s much, much more than that, right,” she said. “There’s bigger goals ahead for me in terms of how I wanna finish here.”

The famed female poker pro also explained the difference from her 38th place effort in 2007 and what she’s done this year. Ho said that not many players really knew what they were doing in ’07, and she “knew just a little bit more” about what she was doing. The 31-year-old added that she’d like to think her game has improved up to her 2014 Main Event run.

Ho needs to hope for a little luck if she’s going to make a realistic run at the November Nine. Assuming she can pull off the feat, it would make her the first female November Niner in history. However, her 435k chips are quite a ways off of the current leader, Mark Newhouse, who has 7.4 million chips.

2014 WSOP Main Event Unkind to Early Chip Leaders

July 12th, 2014

It’s commonsense that you want to build your chip stack in the early stages of the WSOP Main Event. But for the superstitious types out there, you might consider that being in the lead of the 2014 WSOP Main Event is almost like a curse. Don’t believe us? Just take a look at what’s happened to chip leaders from the first five days of the Main Event.

Day 1 Leaders
1A: Martin Jacobson – still in with 3.925 million chips (14th place)
1B: John Luxemburger – did not cash
1C: Eric Tracy – did not cash

As you can see here, it certainly didn’t pay for Luxemburger or Tracy to grab early chip leads in their flights of the tournament. However, the 2014 Main Event has treated Jacobson pretty well since he still has a good shot at the November Nine going into Day 6.

Day 2 Leaders
2AB: Timothy Stansifer – cashed by finishing 289th ($33,734)
2C: Phil Ivey – cashed by finishing 430th ($25,756)

All that anybody could talk about following the second day was how Ivey was leading the field. Unfortunately for the 10-time WSOP champ, he quickly lost his chip lead on the third day and continued falling. As for Stansifer, the unknown amateur’s cinderella story ended with him barely cracking the top 300.

Day 3 Leader
Andrew Liporace – cashed by finishing 159th ($52,141)

With the field consolidated on Day 3, Liporace lived up to his name by racing out to the chip lead. And while he didn’t do too badly by finishing 159th, he probably dreamed of more glory when he was atop the leaderboard on the third day.

Day 4 Leader
Matthew Haugen – still alive with 760,000 chips (71st)

Haugen’s Main Event title dreams are on life support as he’s sitting in 71st place with 760,000 chips. It took just one day for him to tumble down the standings.

Day 5 Leader
Mark Newhouse – Leader with 7.4 million chips

We’re now entering Day 6, so it’ll be interesting to see what Newhouse can do. He made the November Nine last year, so he’s definitely got some experience. And with just 79 players left, Newhouse has a very realistic shot at becoming the first two-time November Niner.

Why didn’t Phil Hellmuth play in 2014 WSOP Big One for One Drop?

July 9th, 2014

After busting out of the Main Event, Phil Hellmuth’s 2014 WSOP is over with. And while it might not have been his most profitable one, the Poker Brat did cash seven times and make two final tables. Still, most people aren’t thinking much about Hellmuth’s performance, but rather asking why he didn’t play in the 2014 Big One for One Drop.

The reason why is because the 49-year-old is only two years removed from a banner campaign where he won two gold bracelets and finished fourth in the 2012 Big One ($2,645,333). So it’s not like he’s lacking for money or reputation among backers.

While speaking to PokerListings, Hellmuth explained that “it was silly” that he didn’t play in the 2014 Big One. Leading up to the event, he had raised the money by asking friends like Charles Barkley and Matt Kenseth for backing. Hellmuth ultimately raised the $1 million buy-in that he needed and went to the Rio to play.

However, he discovered that the “one guy he didn’t know” hadn’t sent the remaining $130k that was needed for the buy-in. Rather than picking up the phone and calling one of his other friends, he chose not to take action and thus stay out of the tournament.

Looking back on it, Hellmuth seems to feel like it was a mistake not to play. And he felt like he would’ve played really well in the event too. As Hellmuth bragged, “I have this amazing knack or ability to get down there in these events. A lot of this stuff makes sense to me, I know how to fold tens and jacks and queens and hands like that.”

The 13-time bracelet winner concluded that he “made a mistake” by not playing and he never wants to let this happen again.

Big One Champ Dan Colman: Idealistic or Idiot?

July 5th, 2014

If Joe Hachem thought that young poker pros weren’t doing enough to promote the game, then he must really be fuming at Dan Colman. The 24-year-old poker player recently won the 2014 WSOP Big One for One Drop along with $15,306,668.

After his victory, Colman refused to do the usual winner’s interviews and needed some convincing before he was willing to take some pictures. Even then, he wasn’t going to smile for the photos, almost like a 5-year-old kid whose mom insists that they take a family photo. Everything up to this point had the poker world asking, “What’s wrong with this guy?”

Well, according to a TwoPlusTwo post, Colman essentially believes that poker, and gambling in general, can lead to misery for recreational players. Furthermore, he doesn’t believe in expressing individual accomplishments such as winning the biggest poker prize of 2014.

There are some valid points mixed in this letter, but perhaps they’d be best expressed by an anti-gambling activist – not some fresh-faced poker pro who just collected $15.3 million from a tournament and has made a very good living from the game. The whole thing reeks of the ole’ I’m-in-college-attaining-higher-learning-so-I-know-everything attitude.

One of the opening statements of Colman’s post is “I have played it (poker) long enough to see the ugly side of this world.” Ignoring the fact that Colman is just 24, let’s switch to a much more-experienced player in Daniel Negreanu. The 39-year-old finished second to Colman in the Big One for One Drop and issued a response at his Full Contact Poker blog.

Negreanu doesn’t have a scathing opinion of Colman as I or some other writers do. In fact, he finds “nobility” in the young player’s ideals and agrees with the sentiment that most people will be losers in poker. However, Negreanu also explains that there are millions who strive to be a professional golfer, NBA basketball player, hockey professional or an NFL football player – only to fail in their pursuit. The entire post is really good, but I’ll leave you with one great excerpt:

Poker, and more specifically poker tournaments are a competition no different than any other competition. The cream rise to the top, make the most money, and the vast majority whether its pool, tennis, basketball, golf, the restaurant business, etc. fail. Capitalism as a system allows people to strive for big success in whatever career they choose.

Daniel opened his statement with “I don’t owe poker anything.” No, I guess not, but I would look at it differently Daniel: GRATITUDE! Being thankful that you found a game you both love to play and are also good enough so that you can make a life for yourself. You don’t owe poker anything, sure, but poker has given you a lot. The camera crew filming the event, the dealers, floor staff, Caesars, the WSOP, ESPN, for giving you an opportunity to support yourself, the players that came before you and did spend time promoting a game you would have likely never heard about. You don’t owe poker, or me personally anything, much like when a waitress brings your order, you don’t owe her a tip or even a thank you. It’s just a gracious custom, much like doing a winners interview…

I applaud Daniel for wanting to live his life with a higher consciousness and looking more deeply at the bigger picture. I support that, and his right to decline interviews 100%. I also think people are being too harsh on him. He is young, and I’m not saying that in a condescending manner, just at the age of 24 life is just beginning, your views on the world, the questions you have, are just starting to form. I’m not the same person I was when I was 24, and I certainly don’t hold the same views I did when I was 24.

Search for Missing Poker Pro Johannes Strassmann takes Eerie Twist

June 28th, 2014

One recent and disturbing poker story involves the disappearance of Johannes Strassmann. The German high stakes poker pro was in Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, to visit some friends. But he reportedly disappeared down an alley on June 21st and hasn’t been heard from since.

Slovenian authorities have launched a full-on investigation into the matter and are looking for any leads on his disappearance. Strassmann’s friends have also been frantically looking for him in Ljubljana and the surrounding area. Two of his buddies, Nace Panic and Duc Ngo, may have caught a break in the case. Here’s a look at what they wrote on Facebook:

Super intesive action going on someone in the forest responded when friends called out for him by name in english with german acent : “i m here , i m hungry” then vanished when they went to look in direction of the sound but there was noone, so exstensive search is goin on now..helicopters again lots of police with lots of dogs.. Lets hope for the best , i ll keep u updated..

Strassman, who has over $1.5 million in live tournament winnings, has been missing for about a week now. Those close to him were worried when police pulled an unidentified and swollen body from the river. But after doing some DNA testing, Slovenian authorities were able to determine that this wasn’t him.

Police have been searching the woods where the eerie occurrence of somebody responding to calls for Strassmann happened. Since that time, there’s been no update in the case. But we can only hope that the German poker player is found alive and well in the near future.

888 Poker drops Biting Soccer Star Luis Suarez

June 27th, 2014

Not long ago, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was on a high after scoring two goals against England in the 2014 World Cup. Unfortunately, he marred Uruguay’s run to the knockout round after biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during his side’s 1-0 victory over Italy.

Now Suarez is dealing with the fallout from his actions, which includes being dropped by one of his sponsors, 888 poker. The online poker site released the following statement regarding their decision to dump Suarez:

888poker signed Luis Suarez following a fantastic season for which his achievements were widely recognised. Regrettably, following his actions during Uruguay’s World Cup match against Italy on Tuesday, 888poker has decided to terminate its relationship with Luis Suarez with immediate effect.

888 is certainly spot on by saying that Suarez had a fantastic season. He was a terror in the English Premier League while playing for the Liverpool side. He also led the CONMEBOL (South America) World Cup qualifying stage with 11 goals. This momentum carried on into the 2014 World Cup where, as we mentioned before, he scored twice against England.

Aside from having his deal terminated with 888 poker, Suarez also received a 9-match ban from FIFA as well as a 4-month suspension from all soccer-related activities. This means that he won’t be able to join Liverpool until late October.

If there’s any good news for Suarez, it’s that he hasn’t completely lost his deal with Adidas. However, the popular sporting brand did remove an ad from Copacabana Beach where Suarez’s teeth are showing and he’s making an angry face. Scores of soccer fans were taking pictures by the ad as a joke, which is a big reason why Adidas chose to take it down.

2014 WSOP “Monster” draws Monster Field

June 26th, 2014

The World Series of Poker staff is never stagnant, always bringing fresh ideas and events to the table. The 2014 WSOP NLHE Monster is a perfect example of this because the $1,500 buy-in event gives players a much larger-than-normal chip stack to start with. And the idea was a huge success as the Monster drew 7,864 players, making it the second-biggest live poker tournament in history.

Needless to say, WSOP organizers weren’t quite expecting this large of a showing at the Monster. A second flight was added to restart at 5pm, and additional flights were added throughout the first night. Seeing as how everybody who wanted to register still got into the tournament, the WSOP staff definitely deserves some praise here.

The first day saw 3,826 players survive, which is a little less than half of the original field. The second day cut the field down to around 2,150 grinders. Everybody is hopeful that the Monster can conclude after its now-scheduled five days, though it’s hard telling with such big chip stacks and over 2,000 runners left.

Obviously the NLHE Monster is very popular among 2014 WSOP players. However, one pro who questioned the event is 2010 November Niner Jeremy Ausmus. He offered mixed emotions about the tournament, saying that the big stacks do give the best players an advantage. However, he also said that the Monster offers less value than the Main Event and it’s time-consuming for the amount of money involved.

Ausmus admitted that there’s a lot of money at the top, with a $1.3 million first-place prize up for grabs. But for a poker pro who’s trying to maximize his value, a $1.5k deepstacked event that could run five days may not be the greatest use of time. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other happy, albeit tired, players in this field who would love a shot at the $1.3 million top payout.

Robert Mizrachi is a WSOP Champion Once Again

June 23rd, 2014

When it comes to poker-playing brothers, few duos are more famous than Michael and Robert Mizrachi. Both players have had considerable success in tournaments and lay claim to almost $20 million in combined winnings.

As for the WSOP, Robert was the first one to strike for a gold bracelet as he took down the 2007 $10k Pot-Limit Omaha Championship ($768,889). Since that time, though, it’s been all Michael at the WSOP as he’s gone on to win three gold bracelets, including the prestigious $50k Players Championship twice in 2010 and ’12.

Robert must have been a little jealous of seeing his brother continuing to collect so much jewelry, so he decided to win the 2014 WSOP $1,500 Dealer’s Choice tournament along with $147,092. This is definitely an impressive win too because Mizrachi had to know 16 different poker variations to successfully compete in the dealer’s choice event.

Many players praised the first-ever running of a WSOP dealer’s choice tournament because it made everybody feel like they were at a relaxed home game. Mizrachi probably felt especially at home since Michael was on the rail cheering him on.

“We have played together before on the same final tables,” Robert said in reference to the 2010 Players Championship. “We play hard when we’re at the table, but we also pull for each other when we are not competing. We all grew up together, and that’s the way we have always been.”

Thanks to his latest victory, Mizrachi now has two WSOP gold bracelets and $5,069,193 in tourney winnings. And you can count on him looking for another bracelet when the dealer’s choice event runs next year. “It would be nice if the $50K (Players Championship) was exactly the same way as this, because you can guarantee all the players would still play it, and the skill really shows,” he explained. “I think this would be good for a $10,000 buy-in, or maybe a $25,000 buy-in, but we should still keep this one because you want to introduce players to the game.”

2014 WSOP $1,500 Dealer’s Choice Six-Handed Final Table
1. Robert Mizrachi – $147,092
2. Aaron Schaff – $90,854
3. Shane Abbott – $58,414
4. Bill Chen – $38,735
5. Daniel Idema – $26,444
6. Frank Kassela – $18,575