Singapore qualifying for the Poker World Cup

From ‘S’pore makes cut for poker ‘World Cup”, 3 Nov 2013, article by Caroline Khew, Sunday Times

Singapore is going to the “World Cup” in Brazil next year. The World Cup of poker, that is. Its six-man team beat four other countries to take third place in the first-ever Asian Nations Cup in Sanya, China, last month.

It meant the Republic qualified for the second International Federation of Poker World Championship in Rio de Janeiro next February. There, it will take on 15 other countries, including heavyweights the United States and China. The prize pool has yet to be revealed but last year it stood at half a million euros (S$838,000).

Singapore team manager Vince Lau, 52, told how qualification was no easy feat. The team was in the bottom two after the first day and it was only after a change of strategy that Singapore toppled the likes of Japan and India in the later sessions.

“It has been quite an experience and a challenge for us,” said Mr Lau, who is also the president of the Poker Federation of Singapore. “This was our debut match overseas against other Asian countries. Securing third spot was really quite an achievement as we are a young team.”

…Although poker here is not as popular as it is in other countries, Mr Lau said interest is growing. The Poker Federation of Singapore, for example, started with about 100 members in 2009, but its membership has grown to about 350 today. Online poker games have also been gaining traction on sites like Facebook, said Mr Lau.

The Poker Federation of Singapore aims to create awareness of poker being a game which involves using the mind rather than just one associated with gambling. “It’s a stereotype,” said Mr Lau. “Many people don’t know that poker is about skill and risk management rather than being at the mercy of cards. It’s about making the correct decisions based on calculated risks.”

When Mah Bow Tan launched his dream project Goal 2010 for Singapore football, no one believed him and till today, 3 years past schedule, we’re nowhere near target. We may even have trouble qualifying for the 2100 championships, unless by then it’s no longer humans running around kicking a ball, but robots, a department in which we may excel in. No one would expect that we would make it to World Cups and championships that have NOTHING to do with what Mah had in mind.

Just last month, a Singaporean duo won the GARDENING World Cup in Japan. You may also be granted deferment from NS for playing World championship Counterstrike, or Super Street Fighter for the country. In the realm of ball games, we qualified for the 2012 World FLOORBALL championships.  We’ve conquered the world in schools DEBATING, and are succeeding on the Asian stage in SPELLING. All of which suggests that we’re focusing on the wrong events, that Singaporeans are more adept at landscaping, nerdy mental games or poker than swimming or table tennis. We’re, after all, a Garden City with some of Asia’s brightest kids and the most emotionless i.e ‘poker-faced’ people who’ve ever lived on this planet. Look, Sports Council, no FOREIGN IMPORTS too!

Poker, however, is a game that is less likely to send you to a prestigious championship event than into a psychiatric clinic or a Maxi-Cash. Once you’re hooked and indebted, you may very well lose the equivalent of World Cup prize money ($838,000) before getting anywhere near a tournament. If you can’t afford to pay the $100 levy to hone your poker skills at the IRs, there’s always Facebook games or online casinos, poor substitutes for the real thing which requires real-time ‘risk management’ and reading other players’ expressions and gestures. If you need human faces to practice on and can’t wait until CNY, you can join any of the poker ‘meetups’ online for some ‘clean and friendly’ games. Our IRs even have dedicated ‘poker rooms’ for the pros, with a Poker Room Manager as an actual occupation. A Harvard professor uses poker to teach ‘life skills’ like ‘patience, composure and respect for ones’ foes’. Pretty handy, until you become bankrupt when the only skill you need is that of begging for your life.

Glamorising poker or gambling in general isn’t new though; Mediacorp has done sequel after sequel of ‘the Unbeatables’ to make gambling Casino Royale cool. None of the poker pros featured, however, look anything like Li Nanxing.

One Singaporean who has avoided public scrutiny for obvious reasons is trained accountant and poker king Bryan Huang, who’s like the secret Fandi Ahmad of Poker. According to the website Pokerstars, he’s one of the highest earning Singaporeans of ALL TIME. A Poker tour is also EXACTLY how I’d imagine it to be, judging from the photo below. It’s like a car-show and a James Bond movieset in one!

You can Texas Hold Em if you want

The timing for this article promoting poker as some kind of competitive sport and the ‘thinking man’s game of chance’, however, seems misplaced. Late last month, a reported 175, 680 people were placed under casino exclusion orders, a 4 fold increase from 2011 (175, 680 excluded from SIngapore’s two casinos, 27 Oct 2013, ST). We’re also seeing a rise in pawn shops and moneylenders. Pitching the game as one that is as mathematically challenging as Sudoku and you can win big money from tournaments may encourage novices to give it a shot, and not everyone would have the ability to differentiate poker ‘for fun’ or career prospect vs poker as a spiraling addiction. Even poker pros themselves admit to getting burned at the tables in their ‘training’, and it’s obvious that to be the best in the world of competitive poker, you have to lose money. It becomes a problem when you don’t lose well. It’s not like chess where all you have to lose is face.

Yes, this face

Good luck to the poker dudes, anyhow (I doubt any Minister will come forward and offer their support, right MG Chan Chun Sing?). I’m sure there’s a Poker God of Gamblers in waiting among our Maths Olympiad kids, who are blessed not only with our Singaporean emotionless face but a natural poker heuristic, who are now being offered a lucrative career option beyond drab academia or teaching statistics . A Youth Championships in the pipeline perhaps?

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