SINGAPORE - Singapore is going to the "World Cup" in Brazil next year. The World Cup of poker, that is.
Its six-man team beat four other countries to take third place in the first-ever Asian Nations Cup in Sanya, China, last month.
It meant the Republic qualified for the second International Federation of Poker World Championship in Rio de Janeiro next February. There, it will take on 15 other countries, including heavyweights the United States and China.
The prize pool has yet to be revealed but last year it stood at half a million euros (S$838,000).
Singapore team manager Vince Lau, 52, told how qualification was no easy feat. The team was in the bottom two after the first day and it was only after a change of strategy that Singapore toppled the likes of Japan and India in the later sessions.
"It has been quite an experience and a challenge for us," said Mr Lau, who is also the president of the Poker Federation of Singapore. "This was our debut match overseas against other Asian countries. Securing third spot was really quite an achievement as we are a young team."
The team was assembled only in August based on performances in local tournaments and is currently looking for sponsors for the finals next year.
The players include an accountant, a manager and a full- time professional poker player. All have had experience playing in tournaments in countries like China and the Philippines.
Team member Jacky Chang, 25, was a full-time poker professional before he recently started working as a sales manager at a trading company. He was introduced to the game by a friend while doing national service - and was "absolutely devastated" that Singapore did not win the Asian Nations Cup.
"I was expecting at least second place, but at the end of the day we did our best," he said.
Teammate Freddy Kwek, 33, a manager, had to get used to playing in a team rather than individually, which involved coming up with a strategy to minimise losses. This involved not just anticipating how their opponents would react but also pre-empting the actions of his fellow teammates.
Although poker here is not as popular as it is in other countries, Mr Lau said interest is growing. The Poker Federation of Singapore, for example, started with about 100 members in 2009, but its membership has grown to about 350 today.
Online poker games have also been gaining traction on sites like Facebook, said Mr Lau.
The Poker Federation of Singapore aims to create awareness of poker being a game which involves using the mind rather than just one associated with gambling.
"It's a stereotype," said Mr Lau. "Many people don't know that poker is about skill and risk management rather than being at the mercy of cards. It's about making the correct decisions based on calculated risks."
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