It wasn’t all that long ago that big-money tournaments were a relative rarity in the poker world, with big events outside of the World Series of Poker taking place just a few times a year. Then came television and online poker; suddenly there were $10,000 tournaments running every month, and new tours began popping up all around the globe. The game even began to make inroads in places where poker had previously been more a curiosity than a favorite game of the locals, helping to turn it from a game thoroughly dominated by Americans into something a bit more global. By summer 2008, when the Asian Poker Tour held its inaugural event in Manila, the monthly tournament calendar was packed with events around the world and it wasn’t a sure thing that any new tour would succeed, especially one independent from online poker. But by focusing on growing the game in Asia, the APT has managed to stand out in a crowded market and build a brand that’s beginning to carry some weight.
The tour’s first event, held in Manila, drew a solid field of 316 players from all over the world and awarded $280,000 to its winner, Austrlaia’s David Saab. That year’s APT Macau main event was an even bigger deal. With guarantees of a $1.5 million prize pool and $500,000 for the winner, the APT management made a statement that they planned to be in this game for the foreseeable future. They tied their tour to the game’s history by having the legendary Jack Binion open the tournament; to the game’s present by inviting stars like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, John Juanda, Liz Lieu, and J.C. Tran; and, by a stroke of good fortune, to the future when then-20-year-old Yevgeniy Timoshenko won the tournament and its $500,000 prize. (Timoshenko has since gone on to establish himself as one of the top young talents in the game with wins in the 2009 WPT Championship and the 2009 PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker.)
Over the first few years of its existence the APT focused on quality over quantity, choosing to refine the Macau and Philippines tournaments rather than expanding its footprint throughout the region. With buy-ins of $2,500, those tournaments drew international fields and awarded six-figure prizes to their champions. As it has matured, the tour has begun expanded its reach outside of those home bases. This year saw the tour’s first expansion outside of its comfort zone with the APT Asian Series in Cebu, Philippines, and a six-event schedule in Goa, India, both tour stops that are set to return in 2012.
The tour’s management has also worked to grow the game throughout the region by working to set up smaller accredited events throughout the year at poker clubs in Macau and several cities in the Philippines. Though their buy-ins are often absurdly low by Western standards (sometimes in the region of $125 or so), these events draw steady crowds and essentially serve as a minor-league proving ground for players who would otherwise not have the opportunity to play in a professionally run poker tournament. In a nod to the APT’s creativity, these events also feature a variety of games and tournament formats, including six- and seven-handed tables, bounty tournaments, deep-stack turbo events and “greed” tournaments where the entire prize pool goes to the last player standing.
For the last four years the APT has been a driving force in growing the game of poker throughout Asia. As a result its future continues to look bright. At the moment its first-ever main event in Goa is wrapping up, capping off a festival that drew modest fields of players from around the world. In 2012 it will host a special APT event at the up-and-coming Fox Poker Club in London before moving back to familiar territory. The tour is set to return next year to the sites of all its previous tournaments – Cebu and Manila in the Philippines, as well as Goa and Macau – with new slates of events. And of course there are more of those accredited events to come, including one next month that will have the highest profile yet. That’s when the Philippines’ national hero, world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, will team up with the APT for the Manny Pacquiao World Poker Event at the Pan Pacific Hotel’s Asia Poker Sports Club in Malate, Philippines. The champ is lending his universal name recognition to the event, and the APT is lending its experience in running affordable tournaments custom-tailored to the market, so don’t be surprised if it ends up as the tour’s biggest accredited tournament series yet.
Even if the Pacquiao event doesn’t shatter records, it does mark another milestone in the APT’s development of poker in Asia. With the way the tour’s management team has handled itself since running its first tournament back in 2008, there should be many more of those milestones to come.