The question has buzzed around the poker community for a few years now:
How do we bring more recreational players into poker and how do we keep them playing?
For an industry that thrives on new blood much of the focus over the last few years has shifted to the hardcore, full-time grinder.
At PokerListings, our mission has always been a little different. We've always strived to bring and keep new players to the game, and that's the essence of our first-ever Spirit of Poker Awards.
To celebrate successful players iin poker who also go out of their way to encourage and inspire new players to pick up the game we all love.
We gave out three awards this year - each of which will be presented live at the PokerListings Battle of Malta - but our marquee award is definitely the Most Inspiring Player award.
Bringing a love of poker to Japan.
With big names like Daniel Negreanu, Max Lykov and Marvin Rettenmaier among the nominees Japan's Naoya Kihara might have been considered a longshot to win.
But those who have met him know just how much time, effort and positivity he brings to the game and it certainly wasn't surprising to us to see his name rise to the top.
We're thrilled to call Kihara our 2013 Most Inspiring Player and got his thoughts on the award, his success and how we can keep bringing the game of poker to the world.
PokerListings: You were matched up with some impressive names in the Most Inspiring Player category. How does it feel to win over such a tough field?
Naoya Kihara: I'm very surprised and thrilled to win the award. Now I really feel like the poker community has an interest in the Japanese market. I need to continue sharing how much fun poker is!
PL: Is there anyone in particular you’ve found inspiring in your poker career?
NK: Four years ago when I went to Las Vegas for the first time I played with one Chinese guy. He played 50% of hands and made really good bluffs and value bets. Before that, all the good players I played with were tight-aggressive but that was my first time to see a really good loose-aggressive pro.
And last year at ACOP I played with Joseph Cheong in a tournament. At that time, I understood we shouldn't worry too much about giving off implied odds but now I think about odds more correctly.
PL: What piece of advice would you give players (young and old) getting into the game now?
Cheong: Will change your feelings on odds too.
To new players: Play a lot of hands. You should play different kinds of poker also. Two years ago I started playing PLO mainly, which made my NLHE better.
Last year I started 8-game, and I learned how important it is to get thin value from limit games.
To older players: Let's enjoy poker more. You don't need to fit the young players' style too much.
If you've played a 3x open style you don't need to switch to small-ball style, just use your own style and enjoy poker. I think it's the best way.
PL: What does the poker community need to do to keep bringing new players into the game?
NK: We need to show how fun and exciting a game poker is. When people talk about poker, always a lot of the story is about big money.
When new people hear about poker and big money, it can feel daunting and dangerous. But if we play tournaments we can play poker even without big money. We can enjoy this game even with the new player.
PL: What’s one thing we should definitely stop doing?
NK: Beginners sometimes make bad calls and sometimes catch a few outs. After a bad beat some players try to show how bad that call was. These players don't know what a bad thing they're doing.
Poker is just a game and if we keep to the rules, everything is allowed. The beginner made a bad odds call, but he made no “bad action.” People need to stop yelling at our opponents' playing.
PL: The legal situation for poker in Japan is a bit complex – how hard is it to maintain a professional poker career without much understanding of the game there?
NK: It is really hard to acquire professional skill in Japan with such a small community and live cash games being illegal. If we want to play cash games in Macau or Las Vegas, we need to win much more to pay for hotel and airfare for example.
"We need to show how fun and exciting a game poker is."
But after you learn the skills to be a poker pro it is not as hard to maintain it! Now I have enough skill to win more and pay for hotels and airfare.
Three really good things about being a Japanese poker pro:
- Japanese people don't need visas to travel to a lot of countries.
- Japan is a really safe country, so we don't need to worry about getting robbed.
- Because it is safe we have really a lot of 24-hour shops.
PL: How important/supportive has the Japanese poker community been to your success and can you tell us a bit about it?
NK: The biggest Japanese poker forum 'hyahhoo' is really supportive for me. I got the most votes for this award but I guess many of them are from the 'hyahhoo' forum.
We have a hand review forum there and I always give advice to them but sometimes we have a good discussion that can change my poker game for the better.
PL: What things have you seen both in Japan and on the professional circuit that most inspire new players to pick up the game?
NK: There is Shogi, Igo and Mahjong in Japan and all are popular in Japan. But the rules are so complicated and difficult.
"Let's enjoy this great game together!"
To teach the rules of them it’s more difficult than to teach a beginner all of 8-game. Poker rules are simple and easy. But, of course, to be a good player is really difficult.
And, everybody in every country, people love money! There is a big dream to get a lot of money after our skills go up. I proved this to Japan last year and Moneymaker proved in 2003.
PL: Any thoughts on playing the Battle of Malta? Have you been here before? Any expectations for the tournament?
NK: It is the first time to come here. We are coming to Malta not only for poker but as a honeymoon too. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of beautiful sights. Especially we want to see the beautiful sea.
PL: Any special words for your fans/family?
NK: Poker is a really exciting game. Let's enjoy this great game together!