There was an amusing thread on the 2+2 forums a while back about prospects for poker's growth in Asia. There were some interesting comments about how likely it was for poker to catch on in Japan and other asian countries. One that stood out to me was a guy who wrote, "Whoa, you don't want Japanese guys to get into poker. Remember how you thought you were hot shit at Tekken until you went up against that 12 year old Japanese kid? Haven't you seen how the Japanese players have kicked butt at every online game they've got involved in? And you want them to take up poker? No thanks!"
He might have been overstating things. But I was pretty sure we'd see some strong Japanese players appear on the scene if the game started to get a following.
Maybe like Masa-san, Masaaki Kagawa, who bought into that $100,000 tourney at the Aussie Millions, fought it out with 17 high-stakes players like Negreanu, Ivey, and Lindgren, and took 3rd? Masa also hit several of the recent European Poker Tour events in Germany, making the money in at least one event and getting some attention, along with JPPA head Hiroshi Shimamura, from Pokerstars' tournament coverage.
Masa's getting tv time now - he might be Japan's first poker celebrity.
Today the excited news came around that another Japanese player, Moto-san, just took first place in the $1500 NLHE event at the Five Diamond at the Bellagio. Motoyuki Mabuchi scores for $274,950 with this win. Whoa.
(Unfortunately, as a foreigner Moto-san will probably see about half of that amount withheld for taxes by the Bellagio and the IRS. Hopefully he'll get a good chunk of that back but who knows how much paperwork he'll have to suffer through.)
I'm not sure if I've ever played with Moto-san at Duke or the JPPA. I'm pretty sure I have never played with Masa-san. He plays very high stakes, and I don't think the public for-points games at the JPPA would do it for him.
Still, it's a thrill to see some Japanese players making some big wins and gathering attention. There'll be a core of Japanese players at the WSOP this year, and more next year. The next Japanese player that ESPN features won't be an aging idol girl, barely knowing how to play, who got in as a publicity stunt.