Waiting for the Asian Poker Boom
Written by: Mark Patrickson
Not a day goes by without a poker player somewhere on the planet dreaming of times long past. In 2003, Chris Moneymaker proved just what was possible for any ordinary man, by taking down the World Series of Poker Main Event for $2.5 million. Not only that, but he didn’t even have to stump up the $10,000 entry fee, after winning his seat in an $86 satellite tournament. A guy called Moneymaker wins $2.5 million in his first live tournament; you couldn’t make it up.
Online poker was already well established by this point in time, but nobody could have ever imagined how powerful the “Moneymaker effect” would turn out to be. With constant repeats of the television coverage available all over the planet, appetites were whetted when potential players saw just how much money could be won by playing cards. It doesn’t look difficult, does it?
Before long, record numbers of players were signing up for poker accounts online, so they could chase the dream. Whether you played cash games, or tournaments, it didn’t matter, because nobody, and I mean nobody, knew what on Earth they were doing. Compared to today, the level of knowledge was incredibly primitive. Anybody who actually put any effort into learning the theory that was available, was able to print money. And that’s no exaggeration.
But times change, and the games got gradually tougher, until that fateful day in 2011, which we now call Black Friday, came along and crippled the online game. Literally overnight, with almost all of the USA based players gone, people found that they couldn’t beat their usual game any longer.
The boom was officially over.
Over the next five years some providers have tried their best to encourage Americans to return to the online game, but issues with financial transactions has made it difficult. We have seen a large influx of Russian players, which has helped immensely with keeping the number of tables up, but we need more. The games still continue to get tougher year by year, and even though new players are still coming along, they are getting eaten by the sharks too quickly.
In an ideal world, we would see another boom just like 13 years ago; but how?
Looking to the Future
The Asian poker market has grown steadily over the last few years. Almost totally under the radar. Talk about China providing enough new players to create a boom isn’t new, but just how near or far away we are isn’t clear at all. Asia based poker tours keep on popping up, and they do a great job of promoting the live scene, but without recognisable homegrown talent constantly putting in world class performances, this isn’t the catalyst to send the Asian online market into overdrive.
Natural8 – The Answer to Our Prayers?
So maybe the online poker community has to play its part as well. New providers focussing mainly on the Asian market can help to create a real community feel that will attract new players from their own part of the world so they can all play together. This has to be more attractive than logging into Pokerstars to only ever see players from Europe.
Well, in January of this year Natural8 set out to do exactly that. Proudly accepting players from ALL Asian countries, they have put together a product which is growing nicely month-by-month. The majority of players hail from Mainland China, which is great news if those numbers can snowball once word of mouth begins to spread alongside the mainstream marketing efforts. But don’t be surprised to see a wide spread of nationalities represented when you sit down to play. From India to Indonesia, they’re all in there somewhere.
Most importantly, the ethos of GGNetwork, Natural8’s owners, is that the games should be fun. It has been made extremely clear that predatory behaviour will not be tolerated. The effect of this so far is that the games are arguably the softest available online. If any reader is one of the aforementioned dreamers, quietly hoping for a return to the 2005 golden era, this may well be the closest thing possible right now. It really is that soft.
HUDs and most software packages are banned outright. Following the strategy of many well-known European providers, this is the most effective step towards protecting recreational players from those with reasonable experience. Many players today, myself included, struggle to adapt when forced to pay attention in compensation of not having the numbers immediately before your eyes. If you think this wouldn’t affect you so much, then you should jump right in while the going is still good.
The software is surprisingly polished, considering how new it is. With changeable colour schemes, and the usual tile or cascade options, it is easy to get set up for your session so that everything is easy on the eye.
Live chat support is available, along with email or even Facebook, for any queries you may have. A long-standing complaint of smaller Euro sites is that the support is terrible. Slow in replying to your questions, and when they did get back to you they sound as if they couldn’t care less anyway. Natural8 has gone above and beyond what they needed to do in this respect. Speedy replies from friendly and competent operators make for a pleasant experience.
To improve the company image, and to fit in with the big hitters, such as Pokerstars and 888, Natural8 has signed up some pros with Asian backgrounds. Xuan Liu, Kitty Kuo, and Dong Kim are all well-seasoned, and should help to spread the word by wearing the Natural8 patch in live events for all to see.
On the face of it, Natural8 looks set to be a major force in Asian poker over the coming years. Legal issues notwithstanding, after a great first year they could challenge to have a market share exceeding any other provider in that part of the world. Right now, with so much of the online poker community playing in what is termed a grey area, we can’t be certain what will happen if lawmakers turn their attention to poker.
Recently in Shanghai, China, only a few hours into play, Chinese authorities marched into the playing hall at the Asia Poker League to shut the event down. Reports suggest that due to the unclear nature of local laws, too many officials wanted a say in how things were done, finishing up with the end of play coming before dinner time. It’s impossible to predict legal matters when this kind of thing can happen. Only in August the Asia Poker League completed a successful debut series in the capital Beijing, but two months later it was a no go.
Gambling is still fundamentally prohibited throughout China. The main focus of the discussion now, is the age-old argument of proving that poker is a skill game, which has worked to some degree as far as tournaments are concerned. Cash games are still strictly banned.
But even with all these legal wranglings, good news is continuing to flow, with the recent announcement that Chinese tech giant Alibaba is involved in setting up the new International Poker Tour. Events will be held across the USA, Europe, and Asia, possibly including chess and bridge competitions for a real mind-sports character.
This is great news, as it means that behind the scenes people are working hard to bring poker into the mainstream in China; they have the belief that the boom can be created and want to be at the forefront when it happens.
On a negative note, there was also recent news from the Philippines regarding the arrest of more than 1300 Chinese nationals for running an illegal online gambling ring. Following the news that a bribe was offered to government officials to secure their release, you can’t help but feel that much more publicity like this and local lawmakers might begin to view anybody involved in poker as having no respect for the law. This could be fatal when the time comes for a final decision on legislation.