While the majority of the poker world has headed West to Las Vegas for the mecca of all things poker, a small poker sun is rising in the East with the first-ever WPT Kazakhstan.
Intrepid PokerListings reporter Dirk Oetzmann has swum away from the tide and jumped through layers of bureaucratic hoops to bring you tales of poker's Wild East.
Check back daily for more stories from inside WPT Kazakhstan
By Dirk Oetzmann
What do you know about Kazakhstan? Probably that it’s a huge country. Or maybe just that it's a real country at all, thanks to Borat.
In fact it is the ninth largest country on earth and the largest without any coastline.
It's not exactly densely populated, with just 16 million people, and it has been ruled by Nursultan Nasarbajev for almost 25 years now.
You might not know that they built a completely new capital city, which is reasonably called “capital city” (“Astana”). But then that’s about it.
Now here is something else: It is also the venue for a major new World Poker Tour national event with a buy-in of $,1650 and a guaranteed prize pool of $250,000.
It's taking place in a very special location, the aptly named Cash Ville Casino, right in the middle of a national park the size of a small country.
It is the biggest and most luxurious casino in Central Asia, the first legal poker club of the country, and it's connected to a first-class, five star hotel named Rixos Borovoe.
The whole place is worth $90 million and it's located next to Lake Shuchie, surrounded by lush birch and spruce trees. The Siberian metropolitan cities of Omsk and Novosibirsk are not too far away.
Start of a Central Asia Poker Tour?
"Ever been to Kazakhstan, Phil?"
Most of the players here will be from Russia and China but there have been past events with bigger-name players like Chino Rheem, Kelly Kim and Marvin Rettenmaier.
These were part of the EAPT (Eurasian Poker Tour), which stops in Kiev among other places and is looking to expand in the near future.
Artur Voskanyan, tournament director and former head of the Russian Poker Tour, especially likes the wide schedule of tournaments during the WPT National Kazakhstan.
The event features several tournaments with guaranteed prize pools and the Cash Ville casino is also hosting daily cash games.
Neil Barrett, general manager of the WPT Europe, thinks the WPT Kazakhstan will be the start of a tour that might soon criss-cross all Central Asia.
Welcome to the Wild East
What's the status of poker in Kazakhstan? We honestly don’t know for sure.
We do know the all-time money list is led by Evgeny Maslennikov with lifetime cashes amounting to $193k.
Apparently it is a very popular destination for Russian players, though. After Moscow closed down the casinos countrywide, there are now three flights per day to Astana.
If you try to enter Kazakhstan from Europe there are, however, a couple of problems you might come across. For example Malta, where PokerListings' European headquarters are located, doesn’t even have a Kazakhstani embassy.
To get a flight and a visa you have to go through a procedure that entails Italian authorities, international express services, ambassadors, booked and rebooked overnight flights through Istanbul and climbing several fences of bureaucracy that made it clear we're about to embark on a real adventure.
Check back on PokerListings in the next couple of days for reports from the Wild East and the Cash Ville Casino on Lake Shuchie, Borovoe, Kazakhstan.
More from WPT Kazakhstan: