This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Since the launch of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour in 2007 we’ve seen tremendous growth in poker in Macau and across Asia. As with any sport, stars emerge and rise above the competition to separate themselves from the average player. PokerStars has the reputation of supplying many World Series of Poker (WSOP) Champions in the US and it they have continued this trend in Asia. PokerStars Tour Team Asia was created as a group of rising poker stars in 2009. In 2010, the team was reduced to four and PokerStars upgraded them to Pro status renaming the Team PokerStars PRO: Asia. The sponsored pros have realized their potential and are already considered savvy veterans on the Asia poker circuit.
PokerStars Macau at the Grand Lisboa is the home of the Macau Poker Cup (MPC) and features the HK$10,000 Red Dragon main event several times a year. The series started in 2008 with a humble field of less than forty players and has since risen to over 300 runners. The Red Dragon event is considered by many to be Asia’s premiere poker series, and in 2010 it has been dominated by Team Asia.
Celina Lin has carved a reputation as a consistent player in the MPC series. She has the all-time record for most final tables: 14. In the July 2009 Red Dragon she found herself heads-up in the then-record 168-player field. A year before she had been runner-up in the same event. Lin didn’t waste her second chance. After a marathon session where the chip lead changed nine times, she became the first female to win the coveted trophy and took the lead in the Asia Player of the Year (APOY) leaderboard.
Two months later, Tae Joon Noh also made it all the way to heads-up at the final table. The only obstacle between him and his first Red Dragon title would be PokerStars sponsored player Kitty Kuo. The team’s Korean rep eventually ran his AK into Kuo’s pocket aces and finished runner-up. Despite Noh’s obvious disappointment at the time, it was an achievement Team Asia could be proud of.
Raymond Wu was nowhere to be seen on the APOY rankings until a recent golden patch which began at the London European Poker Tour event in 2009. Wu was surrounded by a massive field of 730 runners, many of them well-known international pros. It seemed like the least likely place to succeed but he remarkably made the final table and eventually finished in seventh place. He was then named captain of Team Chinese Taipei at the PCA’s World Cup of Poker VI and stunned the poker scene when he took home the championship. Wu was on a hot streak and despite the record 321-player field, who could blame him for beaming confidence when he showed up at the March 2010 Red Dragon. As he picked up his chips to move into a seat on the final table the mood in the room was, “no way, not another Team Asia pro!” He held a poker clinic, making it look easy as he captured the title and found himself on top of the APOY 2010 rankings.
After Wu’s victory, the last member of the team, Bryan Huang, jokingly said, “when is it my turn?” He didn’t have to wait long.
Huang had already made the final table in nearly every major event on the Asian tournament circuit including the MPCC main event, APPT Macau, APPT Seoul and APPT Auckland. In July 2010, he was the Day 1b chip leader. His chip lead continued to grow throughout the tournament and fellow team members, Lin and Wu, came by to cheer their teammate on once he made the final table. When his 11-outer didn’t hit the turn or river on the final hand, the Singapore superstar would eventually place second. Huang was naturally disheartened at the time but what he didn’t realize was that Team Asia had just done the near impossible. All four members of Team PokerStars PRO: Asia had placed no worse than second in four consecutive Red Dragon events.
“I know how to pick them,” said team manager Dom Choi lightheartedly. “Team Asia shows that poker isn’t about luck. People have no idea how hard these guys work on their game. They deserve all their success and I’m really proud of them.”
Let’s look at the accomplishment from a statistical point of view. In those four Red Dragon events the average field size was 258 players. Assuming all players are equal, the chance of a Team Asia pro finishing in the top two is around 3.1%.
Making the same assumption that all players are equally likely to win, the odds of a Team Asia pro placing in the Top 2 of four consecutive Red Dragon events is around 1,083,000 to one! To put that in perspective, the chance of a golfer making a hole-in-one is about 5,000 to 1, the chance of finding a four-leaf clover in your first attempt is about 10,000 to 1, and being struck by lightning comes in at around 575,000 to 1!
Three Team Asia pros (Wu, Huang and Lin) are currently in the top ten for APOY heading into the grand finale Macau Poker Cup Championship, which runs November 2 to 7. It’s the final series of events to finish the APOY season meaning there is still a lot of poker yet to be played before determining the best poker player on the Asia poker circuit. The smart money would be to bet on Team PokerStars PRO: Asia.