Naoya Kihara has become the first Japanese poker player to win a WSOP bracelet and he hopes to parlay it into an online poker sponsorship deal.
Live gambling, including poker, is outlawed in Japan and online poker only became accessible to the Japanese in 2008. But in a culture so steeped in technology and gaming, poker on the internet is already gaining popularity.
“Now I make a living from poker but I want to be a sponsored player. So being the first Japanese bracelet holder means that the possibility of that gets bigger,” Kihara told the media assembly following his win.
Kihara went on to say he hopes to be an ambassador for poker in Japan.
Online Poker Drives Popularity in Japan
Kihara is part of a growing group of Japanese poker players who are learning the game online at home and taking their skills on the road to places where live poker is permitted.
“Poker is getting more popular in Japan but the problem is that live gambling is illegal. So a lot of people joined online poker and then increase their skill and will come here,” said Kihara.
“Live poker should be legal in Japan. I think it’s a little bit of a stupid law. But I don’t think it will change so a lot of people go to Las Vegas or Macau to play poker and other games,” he said.
“And then the second, third, fourth (Japanese) bracelet holder will appear,” he added.
Kihara plays on PokerStars as “nkeyno” and he told the media that he’s played roughly 2 million hands of No-Limit Hold’em, 250k of Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo and 150k of Pot-Limit Omaha.
"Live poker should be legal in Japan."
Kihara also plays MTTs online, most recently finishing fourth in the Sunday Rebuy on May 21st for $31,125.
Unlike many, Kihara was first exposed to poker on the internet, not at a friend’s house or at home with family.
“My friend started playing half a year before me and he taught me. When I didn’t know the rules he showed me the online game with four tables, and then I sat behind him for six hours and learned to play,” he said.
“My parents don’t like it. They know what I do but they don’t like it,” said Kihara.
“But I have a lot of friends who play mahjong and I play backgammon as well. So they don’t think that gambling’s a problem,” he added.
Kihara Defeats Tough Field in $5k 6-Max PLO
419 players in total bought into this shorthanded PLO event and Naoya Kihara outlasted them all to win $512,029. It was by far the biggest score of his career.
"Pot-Limit Omaha is not my best game so I tried to just play ABC-style."
This was Kihara’s second time at the World Series of Poker, having previously played six preliminary events and the 2011 Main Event where he cashed for $19,359.
He also notched a min-cash at the 2010 LA Poker Classic for $19,310.
Today Kihara defeated a very tough final table that included Triple Crown winner Davidi Kitai, WSOP bracelet winner Jason DeWitt, 2010 November Niner Joe Cheong and California pro Tommy Le.
Kihara ultimately bested American pro Chris DeMaci heads-up to make the victory official.
“Pot-Limit Omaha is not my best game so I tried to just play ABC-style. But I got very lucky. Every flip I was in I won and I just ran so nice and won the bracelet,” said Kihara.
Also cashing in Event 34 were Dario Alioto (40th), Antony Lellouche (39th), Brock Parker (36th), Shaun Deeb (27th), Dan Shak (26th), Tom Marchese (23rd), David Benyamine (14th) and Kevin MacPhee (11th).
Here are the final table results:
- 1. Naoya Kihara - $512,029
- 2. Chris DeMaci - $316,308
- 3. Dan Hindin - $203,369
- 4. Hans Winzeler - $134,857
- 5. Davidi Kitai - $92,064
- 6. Tommy Le - $64,671
- 7. Scott Bohlman - $46,692
- 8. Jason DeWitt - $46,692
- 9. Joe Cheong - $34,620