Lesser-Known Poker Countries Look to Breakout at 2013 WSOP Main Event

Ilkin Amirov
Azerbaijan's all-time money leader Ilkin Amirov

Everyone knows that poker is huge in the United States, Germany and England but what about lesser-known nations like Azerbaijan or Belize?

On Day 3 of the 2013 Main Event there are still players from non-traditional poker countries such as Uruguay, Lima, Latvia and Azerbaijan. Some are looking to score the first Main Event cash for their country.

Ilkin Amirov is one of only two players from Azerbaijan who bought into the Main Event and the only one standing on Day 3.

“It’s a hobby for me, I’m a businessman,” Amirov said. “We don’t have pros, I know all the players from Azerbaijan.”

A former member of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has barely made a ripple in the poker world. Only eight players from Azerbaijan have even had a cash in an official live tournament.

Online Poker the Only Choice for Players in Azerbaijan

Ilkin Amirov
Ilkin Amirov

It’s not as if people don’t like poker in Azerbaijan. The game is popular there, according to Amirov.

Azerbaijan actually has a strong game-playing culture thanks to the popularity of backgammon and the fame of Azerbaijan chess world champion Gary Kasparov.

“Everyone plays chess in Azerbaijan growing up,” explained Amirov.

Unfortunately live poker isn't legal in Azerbaijan so almost all poker games take place online. It’s also how citizens of Azerbaijan make it out to tournaments like the WSOP.

“Most of the players can’t afford traveling so they play online,” said Amirov. “They will only travel if they win seats or packages. I can afford it but I usually try to win my seat as well. That’s the way it works.”

Despite having to travel for over 25 hours with multiple connections, Amirov loves playing poker in Las Vegas. He believes if someone from Azerbaijan were to win the Main Event, poker would explode in the country.

“A lot of people would get into poker if we had a big winner or PokerStars signed someone in the country.”

Bob Bounahra Puts Belize on the Poker Map 

Badih Bounahra
Badih Bounahra

Belizean Bob Bounahra made history in 2011 when he became the only player from a country with a population of less than 500,000 people to make the Main Event final table.

Bounahra finished seventh for $1,314,097 and became a hero to poker players in Belize.

“It’s had a big effect in Belize,” said Bounahra while on break at the 2013 Main Event.

“A lot more people are playing poker and there are more and more players coming to Las Vegas for the Main Event.”

Despite a smaller player pool, there are some advantages for players from small countries.

“Everyone knows everybody,” he said. “We play together and we travel together.

Although Bounahra busted from the Main Event later in the day, he remained confident that a Belizean would make a deep run in the tournament in the near future.

“I think the whole country would be rocking for months if someone from Belize won the Main Event,” said Bounahra.

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