Saturday, July 16, 2005

Tokyo Card Room (kinda)

A while back I did a Google search to try to find places to play poker in Tokyo. I didn't come up with much, but I did find some articles on the Card Player web site by Jan Fisher, where she described coming to Japan to play in the Japanese Poker Championship.

From the article it was clear that there were poker players in Japan, although there didn't seem to be a lot of them. And there must be a card room somewhere, right? They had to play this tournament somewhere!

So eventually I found the home page of the Japan Poker Player's Association! They even have a card room in Ueno (which is kind of out of the way in Tokyo). I found on the net that they have games and tournaments, although they can't play for money because of the Japanese anti-gambling laws. Still, it is a chance to play live, which I haven't done since my first and only live poker experience in the Excalibur casino in Vegas earlier this year.

So when I saw that there was a no-limit holdem with rebuys game this Friday night, I registered on the web page and left a note, "Hi, I'd like to participate. I'm a foreigner, but I can handle daily conversation level Japanese, should that be all right?"

I didn't get any response, but I decided to go by for the Friday night game anyhow. It seemed like my one possibility for playing poker in Tokyo, so it was worth a shot.

The building was a small bland looking four-story office type building - the sign by the door showed that the "JPPA" was on the 3rd floor but gave no hint that it had anything to do with cards or poker. I climbed the stairs and poked my head in hesitantly. Three Japanese guys were hanging out talking over english language "Card Player" and "Bluff" magazines spread out over one card table, covered by a cloth. Three more card tables were covered up down the length of the room.

I had barely said Hello when one of the guys hopped up and said, "Ah, you must be James!" So nice to be expected!

I chatted for a while with one of the guys, who gave his handle as "Ungar" on the forum and on the online sites he plays. ("I'm sure you recognize it," he said with a smile. Here, it's practically an inside joke, since so few Japanese know much about poker.) Very friendly and open, he put me at ease while the others readied one of the card tables and chips. There were only 6 players on Friday night, which wasn't a huge turnout, but they said they'd have around 30 people on Saturday afternoon and evening for their stud and holdem game. I had to go into work on Saturday afternoon so I missed it - besides, I know zero about stud.

So we played a six-person NL Holdem with rebuys tournament on Friday night. I tried to play fairly tight, though again my aggression level was not up to where it should be. All the players were good-natured and were there to have a good time. I probably made them a little uneasy as an unknown foreigner suddenly showing up for their game, but they didn't seem to mind that much. I think it bothered them more that they had a new player in their game whose play they had not figured out yet.

I've never played in a rebuy tournament before. My stack was dwindling at one point but I hit a few good hands and brought it back up to the average without any rebuys. One or two of the others were playing more hands and got knocked down to zero several times, and so bought back in. (There was a 2000y charge to get into the game, then 500y for a rebuy. Considering that the chips are worth nothing and there isn't really a prize for winning, you could look at this as a ripoff I guess. But hey, we just want to play poker, and if 500y will keep us in the game, it's not exactly armed robbery.) At the end of the rebuy period I had only made my original buyin, so I looked at the other stacks to figure out what the average was. I made four rebuys, for an additional 2000y, to bring my stack to what looked to be reasonable.

It was great fun, despite not being for real money. I haven't played much live so I was occasionally making stupid mistakes like not putting in the blind, or not raising a proper amount. But they quickly set me straight and we kept going. I got down almost to nothing at one point, then fought my way back with a series of all-in bets that managed to pay off for me. The others were knocked out and it came down to me and one other player, who goes by the handle Otonn. We traded back and forth for a while. The final hand was me on the button, with 7d 8d. I raised a good sized bet, and he went all-in. I thought about it a while, then called. I had about twice his stack at that point, so I would survive, and besides, it was getting late. He turned over the As 5s.

The flop came (if I remember correctly) 5d Jh Qd, so he hit a pair and was ahead of me. But there were two more diamonds out there, so I still had a shot. Turn was a black blank. And the river came a diamond. Holy crap, I won it!

I apologized and thanked everyone, helped clean up and then went home. First place won two tickets that were each good to waive the buyin fee for future games. In effect, a 4000 yen value. Second place was one buyin coupon.

It felt pretty good to win, though it certainly wasn't from my brilliant play. I got a lot of good cards that night and I think they were probably taking it a bit easy on me as well, as a newcomer and unknown. But I didn't play too stupidly (last hand notwithstanding) so I give myself a little credit for that. It was also a hell of a lot of fun to play live again, with real people, face to face, touching real cards and shiffling real chips. I missed that.

So I'll definitely be going back. Maybe not every week, but once or twice a month will keep me happy. It would be great if we could play for cash, but I will take what I can get.

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