Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I've mentioned before that there are a few different places to play poker in Tokyo. The first choice is the Japan Poker Player's Association's card room in Ueno. The second choice is actually a growing group of bars and clubs that are offering poker games, grouped under the Japan Poker Enterprise Association.

First in the JPEA was Duke, the "poker bar" in my mind for over a year now. The owner, J.O. owns another joint called Corner Pocket, which is also a member. The JPEA seems to be approaching other bars, clubs, and establishments that have an interest in starting poker games and tournaments, then giving them help in planning and running the games and getting things going smoothly. They have also expanded the Vegas Cup competition out of Duke to bring in players from the other venues. Each joint runs their own poker games, with the winners each week earning points for the Vegas Cup. Every six months, the Vegas Cup playoffs pit all the winners against each other in one tournament, with each point they earned that season being converted to a tournament chip. So the more games you win in the season, the more chips you start with at the final.

I wrote about Bar Jack, a new spot in Shibuya that started regular poker games and joined the JPEA. Mike and I visited there and played once, and it seems like a nice enough spot, though a bit hard to find if you're not sure what you're looking for. (Which is true for a lot of places in Shibuya.) Many of the players then were regulars from Duke who were coming over, like me, to check out the newest spot to play poker in Tokyo. Shibuya is a younger, hipper part of town (if an old fart like me can say so). Getting young Japanese interested in poker could really drive acceptance and knowledge of the game - if young Japanese guys got drawn to poker the way they were drawn to darts a while back, the game could explode here.

I'm not sure how the games at Bar Jack have been doing, and if they've attracted a Shibuya crowd and got new people interested or not. I should go back and check.

Several weeks ago I noticed a new spot listed on the JPEA site, this time in Roppongi. Roppongi is a section of town that has catered to nightlife for a long time now, with lots of bars, clubs, discos, and hook-up spots. Every foreigner guy I know has gone through a Roppongi period, where they spend every Friday night hitting their favorite clubs and trying to find as many Japanese girls looking for white boyfriends as possible. It's almost required. You move to Tokyo, and one of the first things your new friends will say to you is, "Man, we gotta hit Roppongi this weekend... have you been to Gaspanic yet? NO?! Oh man, we gotta go!"

Roppongi has bordered on "sleazy" for a decade or more, but the new Roppongi Hills development of higher-class shopping, apartments, and office complexes has brought some respectability back to the area. A lot of foreign investment firms also have offices in Roppongi. So there are a lot of foreigners coming through Roppongi -- some have suits and expense accounts, some have crewcuts and the swagger of military on leave, some just have the gleam in their eye of english conversation teachers looking for a good time cheap.

So of course it was a great idea to get a poker game going in the area. I had to check it out.

The place is called Pleasure, and most nights it's an upscale club for business types to blow extra cash at buying drinks for stunning Japanese hostesses and exhaling the sweet smelling smoke of a few choice cuban cigars. And then on Sundays, they break out the poker tables.

I came by on a Sunday afternoon, finding the spot easily enough. I had a strange feeling I had been there before, probably because there used to be an Australian-themed bar called Quest in the same building (or maybe the one next to it) that I visited once or twice during my own Roppongi Period. Before that, the place used to be an Indian restaurant that had a pretty decent lunch menu. Clubs don't often last too long in Roppongi. They fall out of popularity and are shut down, shuffled around, and reopened with another name or another theme. I couldn't tell if this was the same spot I had had a curry buffet lunch 6 years previous or not.

The players were mostly unfamiliar to me, all Japanese. J.O. came by and chatted a bit, and his cuban cigar smelled heavenly. Almost made me regret being a non-smoker. We had about 20 players in all, and ran two tournaments, both limit holdem until it reached heads-up, where it switched to no-limit. I played conservatively, as solid as I could, and took second place in both games. Some of the players were pretty new and were too passive, calling with obviously crap hands. I played tight and pushed my good hands and got paid off. Sadly, I couldn't finish off my two oppenents heads-up for the wins - had one of them on the ropes but took a bad beat that reversed our positions and I went out shortly afterwards.

Still, two second places in one night earned me 38 points towards the Vegas cup, and a lot of respect from the new players. There was only a couple more weeks until the Vegas Cup final, and 38 points was not much - the leader, Kuroda-san, had around 300 points from his wins over the previous 6 months. But 38 points in one day was not bad, and even with a short stack I still had a shot at the Vegas Cup. First prize was a trip for two to Vegas. Woo. I need a vacation.

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