WSOP Win Would Put South Africa on Poker Map

Jarred Solomon
Jarred Solomon

It’s hard to imagine a more removed country from the poker world than South Africa.

And yet, despite being over 10,000 miles from Las Vegas and the biggest poker series in the world, there is a tight-knit poker community in Johannesburg, according to local pro Jarred Solomon. 

“We have a lot of support,” said Solomon. “All the players back home are all behind us and they really want to see us do well.”

Solomon, who is also a part-owner of a small transportation business in Johannesburg, is a member of a small group of South African players who play the international circuit.

South African poker players not only have to travel huge distances but they also have deal with an economy that lags behind many of the cities on the circuit.

The Raymond Rahme Effect in South Africa

Raymond Rahme
Raymond Rahme in 2007.

Poker has also taken a slightly different path in South Africa than most countries.

The country experienced a mini boom when Raymond Rahme finished third in the WSOP Main Event.

In recent years, however, the game has declined thanks to the government banning online poker in 2010.

“Poker in South Africa used to be a lot bigger,” said Solomon.

“We used to have a couple online poker sites that were exclusive to South Africa. We built up a nice community.”

The poker scene is still changing, however, as casinos are starting to run more live games including small-stakes cash and tournaments.

Solomon estimates that about once a month there is a $1,000-$2,000 buy-in tournament. There are smaller tournaments that ran at randomly locations daily.

The World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker also have stops in the country now.

South African Pros Brave Distance, Big Expenses to Play Circuit

Jarred Solomon
Jarred Solomon

Still there isn’t quite enough action for Solomon and his poker-playing friends. They generally travel to Las Vegas or Australia for Aussie Millions and set up shop for a month to grind it out.

“Without online poker being legal it’s hard to just sit at home and wait for live tournaments to come to us,” said Solomon.

Although South Africa does have one bracelet winner (Norman Keyser won a Hold’em event in 1989), Solomon thinks a modern bracelet winner would revitalize the local scene. It’s part of the reason he makes the journey out to Las Vegas.

“If someone from South Africa were to win a bracelet it would be massive,” said Solomon.

“Whenever South Africans cash in an event it’s quite a big deal. There are only three or four of us. It’s not a huge contingent that comes out here. We try our best.”

It’s not as if Solomon hasn’t been close before. He finished second in the 2011 WSOP $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em Championship for $354,460. He’s recorded more cashes than any other South African in poker history with 31.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “They always say people never remember who comes in second place and that was certainly true about my run.” 

Earlier today Solomon recorded yet another cash, his 32nd, in the $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Event. He picked up $4,662 for coming in 53rd but continues to seek that elusive WSOP title.

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