Tournament coverage Poker

The only way is up

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2015 issue of WGM.

From modest beginnings, the Macau Poker Cup has become an incredibly popular fixture on Macau’s poker tournament calendar with the upcoming MPC22 expected to attract over 1,000 players for the first time.

Coming off a year in which the PokerStars LIVE Macau room at City of Dreams registered record numbers across all of its regular tournament series, it seems a lifetime ago that the very first Macau Poker Cup (MPC) kicked off in May 2008 with just 33 players taking part.

Back then, the prospect of even reaching triple figure fields seemed a lofty enough goal yet as we near the 22nd running of this popular tournament series the expectation is that this year’s Red Dragon main event will top 1,000 starters for the very first time.

“I remember talking about how we would go from these small fields at the time to 200 players within 12 to 18 months and people thought I was crazy!” laughs PokerStars LIVE Senior Marketing and Business Development Manager Fred Leung. “We’d already run five Red Dragon events and only one of them had over 40 players, but 10 months later we had 247 players and we haven’t looked back since.”

Although Leung is quick to downplay the 1,000 player milestone – insisting it is simply a small step towards his team’s much bigger long-term goals – there is no denying just how far the game has come since those first forays into Macau.

The fact that the PokerStars LIVE room only found its current home two years ago following stints at Grand Waldo (twice) and Grand Lisboa shows just how difficult it has been to gain traction, yet despite this numbers have continued to grow with each running of MPC.

Having cracked 100 in 2009 when 112 players took part, that figure grew to 321 in 2010, 509 in 2011, 635 in 2012 and 891 in 2013.

Last year a total of 995 players took part across the three opening day flights and record fields are again expected this time around. MPC22 sees 16 events held across the 17-day schedule starting with the HK$2,000 Deepstack from 27 February.

The buy-in for the Red Dragon main event has risen slightly from HK$11,000 to HK$12,000 while another highlight will be the HK$80,000 High Roller on 13 March.

“The biggest change from a player’s perspective is the placement of events surrounding the Red Dragon main event dates and that’s really due to player feedback,” explains Leung.

“We expanded to a 17-day schedule last August and it was easily our best summer edition of the Macau Poker Cup with 808 players in the Red Dragon. The MPC series as a whole grew by over 40 percent last year in both player numbers and prize money and while we were clearly pleased with those results, we needed to make adjustments to balance the events for players planning to come for only six to nine days around the main event. We’ve made some changes that should really add to the poker experience but there are no wholesale changes as we’re dedicated to keeping the core essence of MPC intact while it continually grows.”

WGM suggested only last issue that Macau’s other big annual poker tournament series – the season-ending Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP) – would likely challenge the Aussie Millions as Asia-Pacific’s richest and most prestigious event within the next few years.

But for those like Leung and APPT President Danny McDonagh who have helped build poker from the ground up, the Macau Poker Cup will always hold a special place.

“In many ways the Macau Poker Cup is still the signature event of PokerStars LIVE Macau,” Leung says. “It’s clearly not in the same league as ACOP in terms of prize money but the masses in Asia absolutely adore the MPC. If you played name association and said ‘PokerStars LIVE Macau’ I still think the majority would say MPC or Red Dragon.”