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Look East, to the Future: Poker Footprint Grows in Central Asia
While the poker world waits for another boom in places like China or India, it seems there are already big possibilities opening up in the nearer East.
The recently completed WSOP Circuit tournament series in Tbilisi, Georgia, attracted sizeable fields and a number of international stars who heeded the call of the Balcony of Europe.
While some events had minor overlays, the main event flew past the $300k guarantee and the Adjarabet Championship attracted 732 players, making it the largest poker tournament ever held in Georgia.
Former WSOP champion Peter Eastgate was there. EPT Dublin champion Dzmitry Urbanovich was there. So were PCA champion Dominik Panka, Russian legend Konstantin Puchkov and online icon Dan "Jungleman12" Cates.
Current Global Poker Index #1 Steve O’Dwyer was, too (and, naturally, also won the High Roller event).
While American Brian Senie took the main event title for $85,800, the bigger takeaway may be another emerging poker market laying in wait.
High Expectations Smashed
Adjarabet’s Head of Poker Alastair Ives told PokerListings he was very happy with the outcome of the WSOP’s first experiment in the small Caucasus country, where poker is perfectly legal both live and online.
“It’s been a great event and it exceeded our expectations. Even in one of the first side events we had more than 700 players, which is crazy.
“We’re in the largest sports arena in the country and we couldn’t fit enough tables in the room to accommodate all the players. We had high expectations to begin with, but this has gone way beyond.
“I think we had a couple of overlays in small events, but all the big events either made the guarantee or smashed it. In particular our marquee event, the Championship, hit 2.4x its guarantee."
“Our partnership with the WSOP works on several levels," Ives said. "It brings to Georgia the legitimacy of the WSOP brand, and it turns the attention of the poker world to Georgia.
“Georgia is a shockingly large market considering how small the country is. You can see where we rank on Pokerscout.
"However, we’re not primarily looking at European markets for expansion. Adjarabet is more interested in the markets of the former CIS states and Central Asia. We’re looking forward to hosting more live events here in Georgia.”
Central Asia alone has an estimated population of 68 million. If poker develops into a full-fledged industry there, it’s already halfway to the big markets in the Far East of Japan, India and China.
Adjarabet Paving the Way
Notably, both Senie and O’Dwyer cruised through their tournaments fairly easily and didn’t face a lot of resistance.
At the final table of the high roller O’Dwyer in fact hardly let anyone see a flop. He took down a ton of pots pre-flop by raising or three-betting.
Apparently, Georgians have yet to catch on to how aggressive the game is played these days.
Make a mental note: if you ever get the chance to play in Tbilisi, there’s easy money to make. And there’s a reason why the Americans at both the main event and high roller final tables won.
The major sponsor of the event and leading the push to bring international poker notoriety to Georgia is Adjarabet. In business since 1998, it was one of the first serious business websites in Georgia.
Poker was only added about five years ago; before that it was a sportsbook only. But whatever the product, the name is omnipresent.
Adjarabet owns a chain of live casinos and you can find its advertising on every second street corner.
The group behind Adjarabet even owns the National sports palace where the WSOPC took place.
If it has its wish, it will be come as common a name across Central Asia as another brand you might recognize.
Says Natalia Bogush, Head of Marketing Projects:
"Adjarabet is a household name in the region, and getting stronger recognition in international markets with each passing day. Just a year ago, Georgia was almost unknown as a poker destination. Now we host the biggest names in the industry at our inaugural WSOP Circuit event"