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Lessons from WPT Kazakhstan: Central Asia "Easy Money" for Poker Pros
Artur Voskanyan has been in the Russian poker business from its very first days in the late 90s.
The 36-year-old is now the founder and Tournament Director of Poker Club Management, the company that owns the EurAsian Poker Tour (EAPT).
PokerListings Germany's Christian Henkel sat down with Voskanyan and Evgeny Pavlov (33), a representative manager for Party Poker, during the Party Poker WPT National Kazakhstan last week.
The two spoke about undiscovered poker markets, a gold mine for Western players in central Asia and and the possibility of a new WPT tournament in Goa.
PokerListings: Artur, the EurAsian Poker Tour (EAPT) is a completely new construct on the live poker market. Could you explain how you operate?
Artur Voskanyan: The tour is a product, developed by my company Poker Club Management. We are a leading player in Russian poker for many years now. The EAPT has now become part of the World Poker Tour. And PartyPoker is the online partner for the WPT.
PL: And Poker Club Management evolved from the Russian Poker Tour?
AV: No. I used to cooperate with the Russian Poker Series by PokerStars, but now this tour is on hold. And our company now is a partner with PartyPoker and World Poker Tour.
PL: The term EurAsia refers to a teritory that includes parts of Europe and parts of Asia. Is the European Poker Tour a competitor or a role model for you?
AV: The EPT and the WPT are the best poker series in Europe. That's a fact. But they never really cracked the market in the former Soviet Union.
I guess they have no plans to organise big tournaments in Belarus, Georgia or not even in Montenegro. There are problems with visas and some special local conditions. I know this market really good. So the EPT is not a real competitor and cannot be a real role model because of the different conditions.
PL: The EPT tries to be attractive for Eastern Europeans and Russian poker players. Are you interested in Western Europeans and players from the US here in your tournaments?
AV: To be honest, the territory of the former Soviet Union contains almost as many people as Europe or the United States. So, I see that as a separated market.
I would always appreciate to have players from Europe or the US here, but we actually don’t need them.
On the other hand playing in these tournaments could be very interesting for them. Most of the players from Central Asia dont know how to play a high standard tournament.
For example here in Kazakhstan the people played until recently only cash games. They actually have no clue how to play a major tournament. Easy money for every western pro.
PL: There are some (logistical) problems for Western players. To get a visa is one, to organise the whole trip is another. And most of the people here dont speak English.
AV: First, if you plan your trip a little bit in advance, there is absolutely no problem to get a visa for Kazakhstan or other countries of the former Soviet Union.
Second: the standard of hotels and casinos is very high. And you will find always people like me who can give support for organizing a safe trip. And because of the language is it like this.
We're running the same tournaments in Cyprus. We have Lebanese, Israeli, Turkish and also Asian players there. If we see there is a foreigner at the table we immediately change the language to English.
PL: But your real target is players from the countries themselves?
AV: We are interested in every country where the Russians and Ukrainians dont need a visa. But again, the former Soviet Union is our real goal.
The people here all speak Russian. And they have a similar mentality.
PL: What about China? Kazakhstan has a strong connection to this culture too?
AV: I like this market also. And Kazakhstan is the perfect place for that. The local people here have a traditionally strong connection to Nothern China.
And for the Northern Chinese Macao is really far. Six or seven hours flight. And from Alma-Ata (the former capital), where the other Kazakh casino called Kapchagay is, they are only a few hundred kilometers to Ürümqi, a city with over two million people and a lot of poker players.
PL: Evgeny, from the perspective of the WPT and Party Poker, which are present all around the world, what can you do to bring players to these tournaments?
EP: Of course we want to combine the online and the offline elements. WPT is a strong brand and Poker Club Management has proven its ability to host high standard tournaments.
So we can bring players from all around the world to new exciting locations based in completely unexplored poker markets. Like here in Kazakhstan.
PL: Do you both see future markets further East? India – a place with a huge population, but no infrastructure - or Japan, where a lot of players want to play but everything is forbidden?
AV: In my eyes India is interesting because Russians don’t need a visa there (laughs). There is for example Goa, a very popular place for Russians. And i hope we will have a bigger tournament there soon.
In 2009 we organised the first bigger tournament outside Russia for Russian and Italian players in Egypt, the Red Sea Cup. It was a big success with a lot of fun.
But then the political situation turned to something unstable and we had to give that up.
PL: Similar to what you have in the Ukraine now. How do you calculate these risks?
EP: We never would put players at risk. We never compromise players or organizers to host a tournament in an unsafe environment. Security is our number one concern.
AV: Kiev is actually the perfect place for a combined EAPT-WPT tournament week. It is a beautiful city with some really high-class poker clubs.
We've had some requests from there because Kiev is actually a quiet city again. But we wanne be sure that everything is absolutely safe there. I think we have to wait a little bit more.
PL: What about Minsk, the capital of Belarus? It has 2 million inhabitants, it is safe and has plenty of casinos. And it is very close to western Europe.
AV: I talked with some of the casino bosses and they have a good connection to the politicians. So they are interested, but we want to see how complicated the very strict visa law is and how much we can rely on the authorities.
PL: Is the first WPT Kazakhstan a success so far?
EP: We had absolutely no comparable tournaments here in this area in the past. So there is always a little gamble in it.
But we will reach the planned 150 players for the $1,500 WPT event and I think everybody could see that the quality of the location, management, player security and entertainment was on a top level.
I think we made a perfect promotion for more tournaments on this level here at Cash Ville Casino and in Kazakhstan in general.
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