by Makoto Katayama


The growing interest in live poker in Japan was there for all to see as the Japan Open Poker Tour (JOPT) held its most recent event at Bagus Place in Ginza, Tokyo from 11 to 14 January, with Takao Shimizu winning the main event and a seat in an upcoming overseas tournament, APPT Korea, worth around ¥930,000 JPY (US$8,600).

The JOPT launched in 2011 and is among the biggest poker tours in Japan alongside the All Japan Poker Championship (AJPC), which held successful circuit events in Incheon and Taipei among others last year.

Fifteen years ago there were only about 600 live poker players in Japan – now there are well over 100,000 thanks in part to the growing availability of online poker which has helped pique interest.

Notable, tournaments where players’ entry fees go into a prize pool are not permitted by Japanese law due to it being considered gambling between individuals.For that reason, the place-getters at JOPT were offered a chance instead to participate in a tournament overseas, the trip funded by a third-party sponsor. Satellite events under the “Amusement poker” genre are held at various poker spots and the winners can qualify for various main events.

Some may be wondering why players would gather in such numbers in Japan when there is no significant prize money to be won. A big reason is the quality of the tournaments. Japanese operators are known for running events on-time and in a safe and secure environment for players to enjoy the game.

It is yet to be confirmed whether Japanese IRs will be allowed to operate poker rooms, but the foundation for holding large poker events that can attract large numbers of participants is already in place. Holding an event to match the cachet of Las Vegas’ esteemed World Series of Poker (WSOP) is Japanese poker’s ultimate dream.

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