Tokyo-ites now have a new place to play poker. Quite a few, in fact!
Recently a new group called the Japan Poker League has begun a series of public poker games, running in bars and clubs all over Tokyo. All the main areas are covered - Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Ginza, even one joint up in Saitama and two down in Kanagawa.
Suddenly there's a huge number of games to play in. Looking at the April schedule, there are 3 or 4 games planned each week for the rest of the month. The May schedule doesn't seem to be fixed yet, but I expect it will be similar.
I believe the group is related to the JPPA - the web site seems to be running on similar software and there were several familiar faces from the JPPA at the JPL game I attended, including some of the dealers.
The League games also run on a point system. Winners of each game accrue points based on the number of entrants. A full league's season is broken down into several "heats" of about 1.5 months each. At the end of each heat is a Championship game, where each point earned is worth one starting chip. So frequent winning players will begin with larger stacks than occasional players.
At the end of the year is a final Playoff game, scheduled for Nov 25. Again, points gathered during the season will be converted to chips to be used in the final playoff tournament. The grand prize for the winner is, last I heard, a travel and entry package into the PokerStars Carribbean Adventure. Not bad at all!
I went to check it out last Tuesday night. The Tuesday game was running in a bar in the dodgy Kabukicho area of Shinjuku, at an Irish bar called Pub Angel. I hurried there after work and barely made the 7pm start time. The bar was somewhat long and narrow, and two poker tables were wedged into one end. I paid my 2000yen entry fee, which included a free drink coupon, filled out the JPL registration form, and squeezed my way in. 17 players had signed up, so the two tables were pretty tight.
I recognized Shin-san, to my right, from the JPPA games, and saw a few other JPPA regulars as well. But many of the other players were new to me. Most were young, appearing about college-student age or recent graduates. This is a good sign - if poker takes hold with younger players who bring their friends in, it could really take off here. There were also several native English speakers there, who may also have been students themselves.
The games are set up to run quickly, since they need to finish in a couple hours. Blinds increased every ten minutes or so. Players could also rebuy for an additional 1000yen up to level 6 if they lost all their chips.
Frankly, I don't like the structure. Like a super-turbo tournament, everyone almost immediately became a small stack. With easy rebuys for the first hour too, it very quickly became a game of pushing in with marginal hands, calling with marginal hands, and rebuying if you busted. There was no post-flop play that I can recall after about the first 15 minutes. But since they appear to be targeting new players and beginners, this does keep the game simpler and perhaps more fun for those new to the game.
Given the crap-shoot nature of the game, players will have to attend often and regularly to try to accumulate their points for the main prize. At 2000yen (plus rebuys) a game, it could get expensive.
Links to the participating bars and clubs are included on the JPL web page. Here is a sample:
Pub Angel - Shinjuku
CoZmo's Cafe & Bar - Shibuya
Public House Briongloid - Yotsuya
Dogenzaka Cafe Lagoon - Shibuya
Lounge PHI - Ginza
alife - Roppongi
JB's Bar - Jinbocho
Cafe & Dining Bar BRIDGE - Iidabashi
Ale House - Ikebukuro
Diego Cafe - Shibuya
The schedule for each venue does not appear to be fixed. Check the JPL web page for a schedule of upcoming games and venues.