There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with seeing best-laid plans come to fruition. An investment in time, energy, and attention that produces results you’d been hoping for all along. To some extent that’s exactly what is taking place when the World Poker Tour kicks off Season XXII at NagaWorld Integrated Resorts in Cambodia.
It’s been roughly five years since WPT first planted roots in Cambodia and after a series of successful mid-major events, and a global pandemic, the tour’s vision of holding a fully-fledged Main Tour stop in Southeast Asia is finally here with the $3,500 buy-in Cambodia Championship that starts on January 25 and will end with an induction of a player into the WPT Champions Club.
It’s a different look for the World Poker Tour , which outside of their annual stops in Australia, hasn’t held a Main Tour stop outside of North America since 2017. Of course, WPT is more than active in markets all around the world, including its prolific, ongoing mid-major WPT Prime tour. But the opportunity to have your name etched on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup is finally coming to players in and around Cambodia, an opportunity that both WPT and its partners are excited about.
“It does feel special to be hosting the first-ever Main Tour poker festival in Southeast Asia,” said WPT Live Events Specialist Danny McDonagh. “Actually, after our very successful first Cambodian WPT festival under the WPTDeepStacks banner in November 2019, we already had plans for NagaWorld to be a Main Tour stop for the WPT, but unfortunately, COVID put that idea to bed for a very long time.”
The 2019 $1,100 WPTDeepStacks drew 750 runners, an early indication that players in the region were eager for more large-field tournaments. Unexpectedly, COVID put a halt to a fast-paced Cambodian Main Tour timeline (as it did for so many other plans in poker), but in the meantime, the relationship between WPT and NagaWorld continued to blossom. Despite travel still being an issue in Asia when WPT returned to NagaWorld in 2022, the newly rebranded WPT Prime broke records for the largest live poker event in the country with 1,050 entries. The very next year, WPT Prime Cambodia nearly matched that same number with more than 1,000 runners. It was back-to-back years of sustained interest that put a Main Tour stop back in play.
What makes these numbers impressive is the fact that in Cambodia, locals can’t participate. This showcases NagaWorld, an expansive resort, as a hub of Southeast Asia poker with players from bordering countries, expats, and tourists packing the poker tables.
“That’s what makes the poker festival there fascinating as there is no dominant country represented,” McDonagh said. “In fact for our first WPTDeepStacks event back in 2019, Singapore represented the highest proportion of the field at just 13%. Fast forward to our 2022 and 2023 events, we saw excellent growth in player numbers from India, Korea, and Vietnam while countries such as Australia, France, USA, and UK are also on the rise. Not one country provided over 10% of uniques.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that over the past two years WPT Ambassadors Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen made the trek from Las Vegas to Cambodia to meet, greet, and compete with the players. Both exercising the worldwide impact of their poker vlogs to add a personal touch to the 2022 and 2023 WPT Prime Cambodia events.
“We were extremely fortunate to have Andrew Neeme attend WPT Prime Cambodia in 2022, and in 2023 it got even better with both Andrew and Brad making the trip to Phnom Penh,” McDonagh said. “Personally for those guys, I am sure it was a great experience to see firsthand the global reach they have plus the amazing times they experienced.
“There was no plan executed to have Neeme and Owen come to Cambodia with the intention of the event becoming Main Tour, but it sure does help when we market WPT Cambodia now that so many players outside the Asia region are already aware of this WPT destination via these two guys.”
According to McDonagh, this will be the biggest Championship Event buy-in since the days of tournament poker in Macau last seen in 2018 with a $1 million guarantee that will need just over 300 runners in order to cover. Another investment made in the growth of both the event and the brand in the region.
So this is it, the WPT Cambodia Championship, an event five years in the making is here.