Recently I was invited by one of China’s leading social gaming sites, Ourgame, to attend WPT China in Sanya, Hainan. I always look forward to my visits back to the motherland and this time was no different. My only other experiences playing poker in Asia was in March when I qualified online and final tabled APPT Seoul, and in 2010 when I was still a cash player who diverged to Macau for a few days on a family visit one year and also satellited into the Macau Cup. I final tabled a side event and cashed in the main, so my tournament track record in Asia was in the money 3/3 events with 2 final tables.
I started adjusting my body to the jetlag while I was still in Toronto. Waking up at 11pm and sleeping at 3pm EST while eating according to that schedule really confused my body for the first few days, but I had 0 jetlag in Asia and was able to function at 100% for the duration of my trip. A heads up for thse who would like to know more: all the paid iOS apps that claim to have some secret scientific formula to helping you prepare for your jetlag are terrible. You can easily Google “jetlag diet” or and get some quick easy tips.
My first night in Beijing I got off the plane and basically went straight for a tour of the Ourgame headquarters. What a geek’s paradise! It looked more like a gaming net cafe than an office that catered to a player’s base the size of the entire population of the United States. I was greeted and introduced warmly to their staff and realized for the first time that I had fans in China. I felt very special to be recognized for my talents, but also a sense of irony considering that this would all not have been possible if I hadn’t grown up outside China. It always makes me nostalgic imagining what my life would be like if I had never left.
The next day I had an early flight to Sanya. Four hours later I was in the Hawaii of China! No really. Sanya is about the same distance from the equator as Hawaii and has a pretty similar climate. The MGM Grand venue where the event took place reminded me of The Cove at the Atlantis. If you’ve been to the PCA you will recognize this to be the most luxurious ocean-side hotel on a poker player’s schedule. I was thoroughly impressed, and I don’t generally like resort-style vacations.
My mom and stepdad also took this opportunity to visit me in Sanya. They had been traveling around South-Eastern Asia for the past few weeks and wanted to check out the festivities while I was on the same continent as them. I was very relieved that they were able to get a much better understanding of poker culture after this event. I didn’t have too much time to hang out with them, but they had a great time mingling with the players and staff with no language barrier. At the same time, business trips with parents present are not without stress. Imagine busting out of the main event with QQ<AT and having them tell you the reason you didn’t cash was because you didn’t understand how Chinese player’s play!
The players came flocking in a few days after I arrived, as did the vendors and sponsors. You know how on North American tour stops the snacks outside the tournament room are pizza, sandwiches, and salads? There’s dim sum, fried noodle, and BBQ pork in China. And as much as I love my dearfoam slippers and having the oxygen girls entertain players at the Rio during WSOP, the vendors here ranged from segways to red bull to ecommerce sites. That’s a lot of effective publicity and marketing energy for an event hosted by a play money site in its second year of infancy.
As sponsored players, David Chiu, Johnny Chan, Maria Ho, Liz Lieu, and I were warned before the event that there would be many players who would attempt to kamikaze their stacks into our tournament life for the glory of busting an international pro, but my experiences on Day 1 were pretty tame. I was a little surprised there weren’t more complete beginners at my tables, but a predictable field is probably just as good as a highly-volatile maniacal one. I was able to run a stack up relatively early on and cruised through the end of the day one, but day two was less fruitful. It started off well after flopping a set vs. an overpair, but winning pots became difficult when players behind me consistently took turns re-shoving 30-50bb stacks against my opens and not being able to make pairs for a few levels. I disappointedly busted around 160th with 113 or so players paying when I was at my low of 14bb. A dent on my perfect record in Asia! The six-player final table will be delayed until WPT Jeju in December, led by a bright and sassy girl from Shanghai. That’s definitely who I’ll be cheering for.
Being eliminated from the main event was upsetting, but I was still surrounded by great company. You know what a smashing night in China celebrating the birthday of a Royal Flush Girl consists of? Karaoke of course! Our incredible group must have gone through 100 songs, and we all had a memorable time serenading/rapping/whelping to some of our all-time favourites against boot-leg music videos with the most absurd themes. We would’ve stayed all night if they let us.
Our last day in Sanya was actually a little worrisome. Haiyan had just hit the Phillippines and the remnants of its terror came our way. For eighteen straight hours the storm wailed outside and anxiety levels amongst the stranded hotel guests rised. I felt grateful to be surrounded by great company at a five-star hotel, and really felt bad for the suffering and displaced, especially in the Phillipines. Luckily I don’t think there were casualties in Sanya, but I did notice that some unfortified structures around the city were crushed. There were intermittent electricity outages and parts of the hotel leaked as the storm raged and winds howled tirelessly outside, but ultimately we were able to leave unscathed and still on a positive note.
I ended up having to push back my Beijing-Toronto flight after being stranded on the floor of Sanya airport for most of 5 hours, but I was glad I was able to get out at all! Tensions were high in a chaotic non-air-conditioned tropical airport with all the flights from the previous day cancelled. I was tired and cranky, but I know for certain I didn’t have the worst of it. Besides, missing the second leg of my flight really wasn’t all that bad since I had the privilege of spending one more night in Beijing.
I was quartered that last night at the Westin Hotel in the middle of the main foreigner’s district in the city, so I wouldn’t have known I was in China by the count of languages that were being spoken in the lobby bar. It was the perfect transitional stop back to the West. The next day the conceirge was even kind enough to take me to find my favourite food of all time. Literally every time relatives ask me what I wanted at the end of their visits to China I would ask them to bring this one thing back for me. My trip was complete after I happily had my Jianbinguozi, a local breakfast specialty with fried Chinese donut, green onion, and a special sauce wrapped in a freshly-made egg crepe. An essence of my childhood!
I am currently in Montreal visiting my sister while playing the WPT in town. I advanced to day two with a healthy 80,200 chips, and will posting updates on Twitter. After this I will be off to the beautiful Waldorf-Astoria in Puerto Rico where WPT Boot Camp is hosting their signature annual event. There is also still a chance I will be making another journey to WPT Korea in mid-December, so stay tuned for updates!