If you spend enough time traveling the tournament circuit, you gradually gain a sense that poker has evolved differently across the globe.
Many of the online players I know are so convinced of this that they consider checking their opponent’s location to be an important detail during a big hand. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why different nationalities have their own variations of poker strategy, but the longer you’re exposed to it, the more obvious it becomes.
I was fortunate enough to play some of the very first poker tournaments to ever be held in Asia, usually organized by the Asian Poker Tour and Asian Pacific Poker Tour. Those two tours began running major events in Asia in 2007, predominately in Macau and the Philippines. I was living in Australia at the time, and the eight-hour flight it took to reach Asia was much more manageable than the 20-hour flight from North America to Asia, so I made a habit of attending Asian tournaments.
A few months ago, I learned that the World Poker Tour was organizing a tournament in Korea, and I crossed my fingers that I would be sent there to work the event as a TV analyst. That was indeed the case, and in mid-December I flew to Jeju, a small island south of the Korean Peninsula that’s a popular destination for newlyweds.
I hadn’t played poker in Asia for nearly four years, and I was curious whether the Asian players had adopted a more conventional style, or if I would see more of the wildly unpredictable play I’d witnessed when I first played there. There are a lot of excellent Asian players on the American tournament circuit, but in tournaments held in Asia, the caliber of play isn’t always that great.
The South Korean government bans its own citizens from gambling in Korean casinos, but the tournament field was full of Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Korean expats, and it was obvious that many of the entrants were still new to the game. I played several hands that would never be replicated in a major North American tournament, but one in particular stood out.
We were on the second level of play, and I’d already doubled my 30,000 starting stack by hitting some hands. The blinds were 75-150, and with the 8h 7h, I raised to 400 under the gun.
The player directly to my left also had more than 60,000, and he made it 1,100. After everyone folded, I made the call, and the flop came down 2s 5c 6d.
I checked and then called a bet of 2,100 from my opponent. The turn was the perfect 9h, and after I checked, my opponent bet 5,000. I made it 16,000, and two seconds later my opponent had placed a stack of chips worth 45,000 in the middle.
“I’m all in,” I said, and my opponent finally sensed something was wrong. But after grumbling in Chinese for a moment, he called and tabled pocket jacks, which were drawing dead against my straight. The river was irrelevant, and I collected a pot worth about 125,000.
That was the first (and will probably be the last) time I won a pot worth more than 800 big blinds during the second level of a tournament.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of “Raw Deal” on World Poker Tour telecasts. Catch him every Sunday night on FSN.