I was on PokerStars one Sunday and decided to enter a satellite for APPT Seoul when I noticed there was overlay. The event would overlap with EPT London, but I decided to play satellite roulette and head over to whichever continent the poker gods had decided for me. I had never been to the land of kimchi, Wonder Girls, and Gangnam Style before, so I was excted to take a solo trip back to the Orient when I won the package. I had a tinge of hestitation upon following the recent demonstrations of North Korean aggression, but I was confident nothing dramatic would happen in the short week I was there, and made the most of my trip with lots of poker, beauty supply shopping, and being a good tourist.
I flew to Icheon Airport from Las Vegas through Vancouver. It was a 17 hour journey, but I am blessed to have the gift of being able to fall asleep anywhere. In fact, I did not experience any jetlag heading Westbound, and was only moderately punished coming home. The first thing I did after baggage claim was rent a portable wi-fi modem. This country has the best Internet in the world! How else could they breed the most elite StarCraft and MMORPG players? The device with unlimited bandwidth was only $7/day, and was more than capable of handling my Twitter updates, vlog upload, and other data usage through my iStuff. I read that the best exchange rates would be easy to find throughout Itaewon, the ex-pat district my hotel was in, but still withdrew a modest amount of spending money from an International ATM at the airport. These machines are hard to find, and if your bank is compatible, the rates are much more competitive than anything you could find at a local bank. English is not generally-spoken in Seoul, but everything was clearly marked and it was simple to navigate to a shuttle bus that dropped me off directly in front of my hotel. I did my research before arriving in Itaewon and was excited to explore the eccentric neighbourhood. Businesses sprouted around the area surrounding the US military base, so there was a huge range of restaurants, shops, and clubs. You would be able to find everything from a block of upscale Italian restaurants and tapas wine bars to kebob and hot dog stands in the back alley. The streets were blocked and patrolled by cops on the weekend when club patrons overflowed off the sidewalk. The Outback Steakhouse, I hear, is quite the popular hangout in Seoul, and there were St. Paddy’s day celebration posters up on the Irish Bars near the African-owned cell-phone shops and restaurants. It was quite an exhilarating first impression as I weaved through the streets on that first night. As much selection as there was, I ended up at a Korean restaurant and ordered some Kimchi Chigae.
I reserved Day 2 for exploring. I made some complimentary red ginseng tea, did a 20-min hotel workout through Workout Trainer, had a nice light healthy Korean lunch, and took the advice of Remko to explore Gyeongbokgung Palace. I was surprised that there were more similarities between Northern Chinese and Korean culture than I thought, and basked in nostalgia from trips I’ve taken to the Forbidden City when I was much younger. I took my time wandering the serene palace grounds until I was hungry again.
It’s such a plus when travelling to unfamiliar cities when they have an efficient and easily-navigable subway system. Seoul’s extensive lines were definitely a cut above, with unaffected cellular reception to boot! I basked in the hustle and bustle of commercial street ambience and treated myself to steamed meat buns, duk bogi, exotic shellfish, and fish cake skewers. These cultural and culinary experiences are what I crave for and thrive on, while poker is the vehicle that gets me there.
Day 3 – APPT Seoul day 1a
The scenic ride from my hotel to Paradise Walkerhill Casino was breathtaking. I did not imagine Seoul to be as much of a metropolis as it was, with waves upon waves of condos and suspension bridges. I was eager and excited when the PokerStars signage came into sight. I had never played an APPT before, and having cut back my time on the road playing poker has made the anticipation of a live event exhilerating. The only players I recognized in the field was JJ Liu, Joseph Cheong, and Sam Grafton, David Steicke, and team PokerStars pros Bryan Huang and Raymond Wu, so it was going to be a fun day. Chipping up wasn’t an issue, but I did make a mistake going all-in for a lot of chips with QQ against a button short stack and cutoff being a player I had been very active with throughout the day. I lost against both AA and KK, but luckily I doubled up my leftover 10bb fairly quickly to be able to finish the day with an average stack.
Bryan was gracious enough to take a bunch of us out to one of the best KBBQ restaurants in Seoul. The meat was special because they used select cuts that could not be found outside Korea, and even as a light meat-eater I was able to appreciate the quality. There was plenty of Soju, beer, and plum wine, and I allowed myself to indulge a little since I would have the next day off for the 1B-ers. We then headed to a bar in Gangnam and met up with some PokerStars qualifiers and staff for a fun night of darts, matching screen names to faces, and watching impressive bar tricks.
I was relieved to have a day off between 9 hour tournament days after Soju and Mooseheads from the night before. I spent the early part of the day nursing a mild hangover until it was time for the PokerStars-organized trip to Seoul Tower. For the first time on the trip my handy commuting apps failed me and I got lost. Did I mention very little people in the city speak English? It was a headache. By the time I made it to the tower there was barely any time to appreciate the 360 degree view of the city from the top. I also had very limited time to enjoy the traditional buffet, which was far more disappointing. Luckily I still managed to take a picture in front of the tree of heart lock thingies with a poker player who was once a Australian Nintendo Champ! Yes, listening to him describe what that meant was as cool as it sounds. Unfortunately our large group got dispersed soon after the tower, so instead of heading to a landmark night market as planned, I took the rare opportunity and called it an early night.
Day 5 – APPT Seoul Day 2
My chipstack fluctuated a ton on day 2 of the tournament. I doubled up really quickly in the day when a lady 3b me on a dry flop with airballs. I had AA and felt kind of bad her read was so off, but somehow spun it into a question of paradigm about how I am perceived to certain demographics in my head. I did this fun video with the lovely Kristy Arnett on first break:
Chipping up was pleasant and as we got closer to the bubble there were some misadventures. I ended the day very short, although there were several others shorter than I due to the long bubble with several shortstacks blinding down to no chips. A mutual friend, Ted Wang of China’s only relevant poker community, www.dzpk.com, took Chinese poker icon Celina Lin, fellow final tablists Juicy Li and Nicky Tao, and I for an extravagant Korean dinner at the conclusion of day 2. This was the kind of meal and deep run I came to the country for.
I made a vlog before bedtime that night to recap my day if you are interested:
(To clarify, the 77 hand wasn’t when there were two stacks of 2bb left, it was when we had just reached the bubble. It’s still a bad call, just less bad than some assumed from my vague description of the hand.)
Day 6 – APPT Seoul Final Day
We returned the next day in the money with 21 left. I got a lucky double up with when my Kitchens flopped two pair from the bb after button limped against my 8bb. The field dropped like flies, and the final table was created soon after PokerStars Team Online’s Naoya Kihara played a monstrosity of a pot against his big stack nemesis Aaron Lim to give him a 4x advantage over second place. I fought hard but was dejected from the tournament in fourth place for 44million Won, roughly $40k USD. I was sad but knew I played pretty well so there was no lingering remorse.
As the leftover players negotiated a deal I watched Joseph Cheong work his magic at the baccarat tables while taking advantage of the free beers and frozen yogurt. We moved over to the W Hotel bar afterwards and although fine conversations were had, the night did not meet the usual high chaos levels that most last nights in foreign cities are known for.
My last day was rushed and I barely made my flight. I was a little anxious in the morning since I only had a small window of time to trade the Won notes for money usable in the Western realm. I went to a back-alley exchange shop alone and was nervous when I handed the lady my stash. She made a phone call for a guy on a motor cycle to show up a minute later handing her a bag of US currency. There was definitely a non-zero chance I was just never going to see that money again, but hey, I probably got the best rate in town! I was able to trade at 1089 ￦ = $1 when the xe.com rate that moment was 1082. I was able to exhale when I got some familiar-looking crisp bills in return, but still had to play spy and make sure I wasn’t being followed throughout the day. Complete relief was not to be had until my bank accepted the Ben Frankies back home in Toronto.
I wanted to reserve some time to maximize value of Asian goods before I left. Korea is known for their innovative and high-quality beauty products and K-pop inspired fashion, but I got lost on my way to the clothing market so I only stocked up on face masks, bb creams, and ginseng. Did you know snail mucus is the latest secret ingredient to keep your skin smooth and supple? ^^I am now back in Toronto trying to be a normal person while simultaneously feeling guilty about not playing more poker. My skin is the nicest it’s ever been and I am working out and eating really well. I don’t think EPT Berlin is a go, but I will definitely be at the EPT Grand Finals in Monaco and bracelet-hunting in Vegas for WSOP 2013.
My next few weeks of yoga with my mom, visiting my grandma, doing my taxes, and waiting for Game of Thrones Sundays may be a bit too boring to write about, but hopefully some other exciting projects will come into fruition and allow me to make more regular posts. Thanks for tuning in!