Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Japan Poker Enterprise Association

The JPEA is a collection of several bars and clubs in the Tokyo area that are all running regular poker games on set nights. All games accrue points for the winners in a common league, culminating in the twice-yearly Vegas Cup tournament.

The JPEA is headed by "J.O.", whose true name is Takuo Serita. Which came as a surprise to me - I figured it must be short for Junnosuke Okada or something like that. I'd never heard his true name, though, since he's universally known by these familiar initials.

J.O. spent some time in the States and his English is excellent. He also worked as a dealer in Vegas and brought back an interest in poker when he returned to Japan. He owns two of the bars in the association - one called Corner Pocket, and my familar hangout Duke.

Both are bars and have the friendly atmosphere and gear for standard bar sports - billiard tables, dart machines, and pinball and foosball tables. J.O. also runs a business selling darts equipment and machines, and there are some serious darts players that visit Duke regularly.

Poker, however, has steadily grown in popularity and Friday nights are dominated by poker at Duke. J.O. has spread his knowledge and enthusiasm for the game to his patrons, and commands respect and a bit of fear as the local poker authority and expert. But most games are run with short rounds and quickly increasing blinds, favoring quick play and risk-taking, so while J.O. wins his share of the weekly games, on a given night anyone has a shot at the title.

Many of the regulars are long-time, experienced poker players, but the bar atmosphere also seems to encourage new players to join and begin learning the game. Many players seem to be office workers who have picked up the game from friends and coworkers who come to the weekly tournaments after work. Maybe this also explains the high ratio of female players - many nights approach a fifty-fifty split of players.

All of the JPEA locations have a regular weekly tournament night. Duke's is Friday night, Corner Pocket is Wednesday, Pleasure (in Roppongi) is Sunday, and Bar Jack (in Shibuya) is Tuesday. Duke, Corner Pocket, and Pleasure also have one extra game per month, Vegas Cup night, which earns extra points for the winner towards the Vegas Cup.

Based on the number of players in the game, the payout for the regular games is in the form of coins or coupons that are good for food and drink credit at the hosting bar. A regular game with around 25 players will usually pay out the top 4 or 5 places with these credit coupons. First place will often earn 3000 or 4000yen of credit, enough to pay their bar tab for the next tournament or two.

Players also accumulate points in the weekly and monthly games for the Vegas Cup tournament, held twice per year. Winning the weekly tournaments earns 5 points to the winner. The monthly Vegas Cup games earn more points -- two points per player in the tournament for the winner, and one point per player for second place. So if 30 players enter the tournament, the winner will earn 60 points, and the runner-up will earn 30 points.

Twice a year is the final Vegas Cup playoff game. Each point earned that "season" is cashed in for a chip in the final game. Occasional players who won a single weekly tournament then start with a tiny stack of five chips. Regular players and winners may have several hundred!

Winning the final Vegas Cup playoff earns the winner a trip for two to Las Vegas, typically covering airfare and several days stay at a mid-range hotel (e.g. Luxor or somewhere similar). Not bad at all! Second place earns a more budget-priced trip for two to Korea. (Hey, they have casinos there too!)

Duke's weekly Friday games normally consist of a limit holdem tournament beginning at 7:30pm, and a limit mixed game tournament at 9:30pm. The mixed game is usually T.T.O.S. - two rounds of Texas Holdem, one round of Omaha hi-lo, and one round of Stud Eight or Better. Games are structured to finish in about two hours each, so blinds increase quickly. Both games switch to no-limit holdem when they reach the final table, which speeds eliminations.

Duke's monthly Vegas Cup game runs on the fourth Saturday of the month. The first tournament is again limit holdem, beginning at 7pm. The second tournament is a full HORSE rotation game beginning at 9pm. (Yeah, let's play Razz, baby!)

Duke also replaces the second tournament on the last Friday of the month with a freeroll no-limit holdem tournament open to all players who have taken first or second place in any of the weekly tournaments that month.

Duke's games have a 500yen buyin, with no rebuys available. The bar also charges a 700yen fee to cover the dealers who run the games. These game fees at all of the JPEA locations are added to your bar bill and so are usually charged separately from the tournament buyin, so be aware of the fees or you may get a surprise at the end of the night when it's time to settle your bill. (Credit coupons can also not usually be used to cover the game charges.)

More details about the other locations will be added later.

The Japan Poker Player's Association

The Japan Poker Player's Association is headed by Hiroshi Shimamura, who also answers to his handle "Bluejay" and writes a blog describing his poker happenings, his play in the WSOP and other poker tournaments, and other events. Bluejay is friends with many in the poker industry, including Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher of Card Player Magazine, who make yearly trips to the JPPA to compete in the Japan Poker Cup, a local tournament. Professional player Tony G is also a friend of the JPPA and has been known to drop in unexpectedly for a game.

The JPPA's card room is near Okachimachi station, between Akihabara and Ueno on the Yamanote train line. (Click here for a map, care of Google Maps Japan.) It's a long but somewhat narrow room, fitting up to five poker tables. Poker photos, posters, and articles from Japanese newspapers and magazines adorn the walls. A large TV and entertainment center at one end often plays ESPN episodes of the World Series of Poker or other tv shows, or doubles as a tournament timer display during the larger tournaments. A soft drink machine provides free refreshment for players, and chilled beers and snacks are freely available for a few hundred yen more.

Several members act as regular dealers for the games, and some of them have attended professional dealers school here in Japan, I believe. They are quick, competent, and friendly, and keep the games running smoothly. They also carefully track the games as each player is eliminated, posting results on the JPPA's web page and calculating point totals and bounties.

Most of the players have a regular handle that they use in both the games and on the JPPA website. To be honest, I know most players by their handle only. Almost all of the players are solid poker players, competent and with a love for the game.

The JPPA runs mostly tournaments, though usually a live game will open up after enough players are knocked out of a tournament to start a table. The live games are not played for cash - you can buy a rack of chips for 500yen, then the number of chips you have at the end of the evening is marked and carries over to following weeks. Big live-game winners at the end of a season can win some sort of prize, though I will have to update the details later.

The current games that the JPPA runs are:

Monday: Live Day -- no tournaments, all live games. Generally limit and no-limit holdem, though it depends on what people feel like playing. Starts from 6pm, buy-in is 500yen for a rack of 100 chips.

Tuesday: STEPS tournament. NL holdem, starts at 7pm. 1000 yen buyin for 2000 chips, with two rebuys possible for players who bust in the first 6 rounds. Winners accumulate points towards the World Poker Japan tournament at twice the standard rate.

Wednesday: Ocean's Gaming Cup. NL holdem, starts at 7pm. 1500yen buyin, winner receives a choice of a 2GB Apple ipod nano, or a Nintendo DS Lite. Sponsored by Ocean's Gaming, so players must sign up for an account with Ocean's Gaming to participate.

Thursay: PokerStars Carribean Adventure. NL holdem, starts at 7pm. 1500yen buyin, winners earn points towards a Nov 23, 2007 playoff game. The top 70 point winners may enter the playoff game, and the winner receives an entry package for the PokerStars Carribean Adventure tournament in the Bahamas, including airfare, hotel, and an entry into the main event. Players must sign up for PokerStars to participate.

Friday: Everest Cup tournament. NL Holdem, starts at 7pm. 1000yen buyin. Winner receives choice of a 4GB Apple ipod nano, or a Sony PSP. Sponsored by Everest Poker, so players must sign up for an account with Everest to participate.

Saturday: Saturday schedules vary, but generally follow the below pattern:

1st and 3rd Saturday of the month: Straddle Cup games. Winners earn points towards a yearly Straddle Cup playoff game, which 16 players can compete in. The winner of the playoff game receives either a paid entry into a $1500 WSOP event, or a $1500 travel package. Second place wins a 30,000yen travel package.

Starting at 1pm is a Straddle Cup Mini game, which has a 1500yen buyin. This game is limit holdem on the first Saturday, and on the third Saturday is a different game every month (Omaha, Razz, Stud Hi-Lo, Pot Limit Crazy Pineapple, etc.)

At 5:30pm is the Straddle Cup Main Event, a NL Holdem tournament with a 2500 yen buyin.

2nd and 4th Saturday of the month: HOPS and JUMPS tournaments. Similar to the STEPS tournaments, these games earn winners points towards the World Poker Japan tournament. HOPS games are cheaper games with a 1500yen buyin. Usually there is a 7 Stud game at 6pm and an Omaha Hi-Lo game at 8:30pm. HOPS games earn winners points at the standard rate. JUMPS games begin at 2pm, and are limit holdem with a 5000yen buyin and 40 minute levels. Because of the bigger buyin and longer rounds, JUMPS tournaments earn points for the winners at 4 times the standard rate.

Sundays: Usually there are no games on Sundays, but there are exceptions. Sometimes there are additional Straddle Cup games on Sundays, either quarterly finals games or bounties games for extra points.

The weekday games are fairly regular, but the Saturday games are harder to keep track of. Checking the schedule on the JPPA web page regularly is the best way to keep track of which weekend games are coming up.

The HOPS, STEPS, and JUMPS tournaments earn winner points to the yearly World Poker Japan tournament. Any player with at least 60 points earned during the year can enter the playoff tournaments - more points also earn players more chips to play with. The winner of the tournament receives a $10,000 entry into the World Series of Poker Main Event or a World Poker Tour $10,000 event.

Public Poker Games in Tokyo

There are an increasing number of public poker games in Tokyo. Gambling is illegal in Japan, however, so public poker games cannot be for money. Instead, most games are for points that can be collected for prizes, or for credit coupons at the pub holding the game.

These games are run by Japanese groups, and are attended mostly by Japanese players (with the occasional foreigner). Foreigners who would like to participate should be prepared for mostly Japanese language when joining and playing the games, although most Japanese will try to accomodate an English speaker as best they can according to their own English abilities.

There are probably a number of regular home games played in the English-speaking community in Tokyo. Unfortunately I don't have any information to pass on about those games.

There are two main groups in Tokyo (that I know of) that host poker games open to the public. The first is the Japan Poker Player's Association, currently based at a dedicated card room near the Ueno district of Tokyo. The second is the Japan Poker Enterprise Association, a group of pubs and restaurants that hold tournaments in a common league.

A new group called the Japan Poker League has also started holding tournaments in bars and clubs across Tokyo.

Click here for the entry on the Japan Poker Player's Association.

Click here for the entry on the Japan Poker Enterprise Association.

Click here for the entry on the Japan Poker League.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Oh, hey there!

How you been? Long time, eh?

Oh yeah, I went to Vegas! Yeah, it was pretty cool.

The Vegas Cup win ended up paying for most, but not all, of the trip. I had to cover around $300 of the balance, but still, I had my flight and ten days hotel paid for. Strip hotels were showing as crazy expensive the first night I was planning to stay -- $400 for weekend nights at the Luxor? Are you kidding me? So I stayed at the Orleans, since I was renting a car anyhow. Turns out it was because I was arriving on the Saturday of the long Martin Luther King day weekend.

The flight was... trying. I guess I've been lucky so far, since despite all the horror stories I have heard I have never been sat next to a family with a screaming kid. Until now. The kid must have been around three, wouldn't sit still, screamed his brains out when he didn't get what he wanted, climbed all over his parents (and me a couple of times) and didn't sleep more than 30 minutes during the 10 hour overnight flight. Good god. They had seated me in Economy Plus although I had regular tickets. I think it must have been an unspoken apology for seating me next to the terror. My noise-cancelling headphones worked out pretty well, though, plugging my ears and shutting out a lot of his bawling along with the engine noise, so I was actually able to watch the movies and doze off.

The Orleans was nice, very spacious. I thought about trying The $20 Trick on check-in and bribe the front desk person for an upgrade, but decided against it since they'd probably not want to tie up one of their suites for ten full days for a mere $20. The standard room was plenty nice for the likes of me - wireless internet and a relaxing area with a sofa, easy chair, and coffee table, even.

I got a rental car since I had to make it out to the training center for my class, and it makes a huge difference in Vegas if you're there for more than a weekend. It was also so damn comforting to have a care and just drive. It didn't matter where, it was relaxing just to drive around and see the strip malls in the outlying areas. America. I don't miss it as such, but it is warm and familiar to come back to now and then. My first meal in Vegas was at In-N-Out Burger. Oh yeah, baby! I'm back! I had a number 1. Damn straight with onions!

I meant to try out Fatburger this trip, after hearing folks rave about it, but never got to it. The only one I know is on the Strip, and since I had a car I was not walking the Strip at all, so me and Fatburger were never at the right place at the right time.

My training class went... well enough. Class started at 8:00am, so I didn't stay out late gambling on school nights. Well... maybe once or twice. But with lingering jetlag, too little sleep, and after-lunch drowsiness, it was damn hard to stay awake in my class in the afternoon. So after the first day or two I kept my nights dull and picked up a sampling of energy drinks at Albertsons that I would crack open after lunch. I started taking a 30 minute nap in my car during lunch, which helped my focus a lot.

There were only five other students in my class - three worked for an IT firm that supports the gaming industry. Two worked for the department of defense. Vegas IT support in microcosm?

I ate my lunches at fast food joints that don't exist in Tokyo. Quizno's (they have some here, actually, but they are getting harder and harder to find), Carl's Jr. (I had to order the Western Double Bacon Cheeseburger; I think I'm still digesting it), Arby's, and Taco Bell (I had some crunchy semi-pizza thing I had never heard of before).

Yep, I was in Vegas, with top-class restaurants on every corner, and I was happiest at the fast food joints. Sue me.

I did have the Spicy Santa Fe Rolls at the Grand Lux Cafe in Venetian, that Chise and I fell in love with. Yeah, it's an appetizer, but they're damn good and enough to fill you up if you don't have an American-sized stomach.

My room at the Orleans had a decent view of the strip, but the night view was often washed out by the glare from the spotlights shining up on the building from below. They also drew the eye downward, directly to Seamless, the gentleman's club right across the street. Seamless. What kind of a name for a strip club is "Seamless"? What does it mean? Do the women have no ass-cracks or something? Or worse, no... no, don't say it! Don't think it! I kept picturing blank, smooth women like mannequins. Ug! No, I didn't go inside, who wants to go to a strip club full of mannequins?