The majority of the elite U.S. online poker community seems to have fled to either Mexico or Vancouver but a growing contingent is making their home base in Southeast Asia.
Young online poker pro Jordan Westmorland and several other fellow grinders have been living for the last two years in Thailand and loving every minute of it.
“It’s like Heaven on Earth on some level,” said Westmorland while playing the WSOP APAC Main Event. “It’s almost unrealistic. It doesn’t feel like real life out there.”
The Seattle native, also known as JWPRODIGY on the Internet, had won hundreds of thousands of dollars playing online poker but when Full Tilt and PokerStars were ousted from the US in 2011, he was no longer able to play in the United States.
Westmorland, conferred with his poker friends, and realized he would have to move from his hometown. He wasn’t really interested in the two obvious options.
“We didn’t really want to do Canada, because it’s pretty cold there,” he said. “Mexico is kind of sketchy.”
Choosing Thailand Over Mexico or Canada
Westmorland sought advice from his family on where to go. His father, who travelled as a professional photographer, suggested Thailand.
There was a lot about Thailand that Westmorland found appealing including a beautiful landscape, warm climate and all the beaches you could ever want.
Westmorland and his group ended up setting up shop in popular coastal city Phucket.
Although the crew ended up going for upscale housing on a golf course, Thailand can be very cheap for online grinders. Especially if you have a decent win-rate.
“It’s as cheap as you want it to be,” he said. “You can make it REALLY cheap if you want. You can have $2 meals if you want, which is really cool. You can make Thailand the cheapest place on earth.”
Thailand is also a fantastic starting point for experiencing the rest of Asia. In the last few months Westmorland has been to Korea and Singapore.
Westmorland also feels the move has helped elevated his poker game.
“[Black Friday] was a blessing in disguise,” he said.
“I think that a lot of my friends took poker for granted and didn’t really give it our all. Now that we are halfway around the world not with our families what else do we need to do? You just throw yourself into this game. I mean it’s your job, right? It was a great thing.”
Thailand Offers Bad Internet, Distance
Of course there are some downsides to grinding in Thailand. The Internet in the developing nation is still spotty at best, according to Westmorland.
“You have to have numerous Internet back-ups,” he explained. “We have wireless sticks and broadband. It’s good to go basically.”
There’s also the immense isolation from friends and family back in the USA. In the last two years, Westmorland has only returned to North America twice.
“With Skype and technology it makes things easier,” he said. “Obviously I miss my family a lot. It makes going home that much more meaningful.”
Despite the cons, Westmorland doesn’t regret his decision to move to Thailand for a minute, even after talking to fellow grinders who went to Canada or Mexico.
“I hear mixed reviews,” he said.
“I hear a lot of people who move to Canada really enjoy it. We just can’t do the cold weather though. I like to be near the beach. If it was all done and said and poker was legal in the U.S. I would probably move to California.”
Despite his excellent situation in Thailand, Westmorland is actually considering a move in the near future.
“I kind of want to switch it up and move to Australia just to get that first world feeling,” he said. “It’s almost like life is too good [in Thailand].”