Naoya Kihara Wins $5,000 Buy-In Six-Handed Pot-Limit
Kihara Becomes First WSOP Gold Bracelet Winner in
History from Japan
Will Kaoya Kihara Become Japan's Chris Moneymaker?
Tokyo Poker Pro Collects $512,029 in Prize Money
The Scorecard: 34 Gold Bracelets Won -- 27 More at
Naoya Kihara made history tonight by becoming the
first World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner from the nation of Japan in
the 43-year history of the international tournament series.
Kihara won the $5,000 buy-in Six-Handed Pot-Limit
Hold’em championship, played at the Rio in Las Vegas. He topped a
highly-competitive field of 419 players from more than 25 different countries. Kihara
collected $512,029 in prize money. But what seemed to matter most to the new
poker champion was the realization that he'd done what no other Japanese player
had ever done -- win a WSOP title.
Incredibly, prior to this day, no Japanese player
had ever won poker’s most prestigious prize -- although Maeda Azusa came very
close last year. As part of WSOP Europe, Azusa finished second in the first
gold bracelet event played at Cannes, France, which took place in 2011. Alas,
despite Japan's sizable population, affluence, and high standard of living, the
Asian nation remains behind much of the rest of the world when it comes to
taking an active a role in the global poker boom.
With Kihara's victory however, a great deal could
change. He hopes not only to lock up a sponsorship deal with one of the major
online poker sites, he also wants to become a poker ambassador in his home
country, as well as throughout Asia. He's off to a great start as a promoter of
the game. While playing at the final table, which took place on the third and
final day of competition, Kihara was swarmed with hundreds of text messages and
calls from 10,000 miles away. The relatively small poker market in Japan seemed
to follow his every move on a live stream broadcast. No doubt, when Kihara
dragged the final pot of the tournament, the small but fiercely-dedicated poker
enthusiasts back in Japan erupted in an ultimate moment of celebration in what
could potentially go down as his nation's "Chris Moneymaker moment."
Kihara is a 30-year-old professional poker player. He
mostly plays online, although he now hopes to travel around the world and play
in more live tournaments with this victory. Prior to playing full-time, Kihara
was a private school teacher.
The runner up was Chris De Maci, who put up a good
fight, but was no match for what can only be described as destiny. Two former
gold bracelet winners made it to the final table, including Davidi Kitai, who
took fifth. Jason DeWitt finished eighth.
This was Kihara's second time to cash in a WSOP
event. It's also the second year he has traveled from Tokyo to Las Vegas to
play at the WSOP. Last year, Kihara played in the Main Event Championship, and
cashed in 653rd place.
Not bad at all, Mr. Kihara -- cashing in the Main
Event the first year and winning a gold bracelet in the second.
So, what's next?
The answer to that is -- plenty of celebration in
Japan, at least for now.
MEET THE LATEST WSOP CHAMPION – NAOYA KIHARA
Name: Naoya Kihara
Birthplace: Nayoro, Japan
Current Residence: Tokyo, Japan
Marital Status: Single
Profession: Professional Poker Player
Former Profession: Private School Teacher
Number of WSOP Cashes: 2
Number of WSOP final table appearances: 1
Number of WSOP gold bracelet victories (with this
Best Previous WSOP finish: 653rd (in
2011 WSOP Main Event Championship)
Total WSOP Earnings: $531,388
Other Interesting Things: Hopes to become
ambassador for the game of poker in Japan and throughout Asia
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE WINNER
Question: Can you talk about the
poker scene in Japan?
Kihara: Poker is getting popular
in Japan. The people who like poker like gambling as well. So, a lot of people
joined online poker, and then improved their skills. And then more and more
come to cheer. And then a second, third and fourth bracelet winner should
appear, I think.
Question: Is this your first year to
play at the World Series of Poker?
Kihara: My second one.
Question: How many tournaments have
Kihara: Six side events and one
Main Event. And then, I got a $19,000 cash in the Main Event last year.
Question: What does it mean to you
to be the first Japanese WSOP winner? Is this special?
Kihara: Yeah, that’s right. Now,
I’m living off poker. But I want to be a sponsored player. So, the first Japanese
bracelet means the possibility of that will increase.
Question: Is Pot-Limit Omaha your
Kihara: No. Actually, I think I’m
not so good at Pot-Limit Omaha. It’s not my best game. Because of that, I tried
to play ABC style. And then -- especially yesterday -- I really got lucky and
lucky and lucky again. Every flip I won, so because of that, I ran so nice. And
then I got the bracelet.
Question: What is your screen name
Question: How did you find out
Kihara: My friend started online
poker a half year before me. And he taught me. He played. And when I didn’t
know the rules, he taught me. He showed me the online game with four tables
(multi-tabling). And then I sat behind him six hours, and then I learned a lot.
Question: You just won $500,000. That’s
a lot of yen. What are you going to do with the money?
Kihara: Right now, no idea. But I
want to join a lot of live tournaments. Before, I didn’t have enough money, so
I couldn’t join too many tournaments. But now I have money, so I can join a lot
of tournaments. So, I will increase my tournament winnings more.
Question: You play for a living
professionally. What do people in Japan think about that?
Kihara: My parents don’t like it.
They know that but don’t like it. My friends don’t talk bad about that because
I have a lot of mahjong -- which is a game in Japan -- I have a lot of mahjong
friends. I play that game also. My mahjong friends, they don’t think gambling
is a bad thing. So, it’s not so bad from my friends.
ODDS AND ENDS
This was classified as WSOP schedule Event #34,
since it’s the thirty-fourth gold bracelet of 61 to be awarded this summer in
Las Vegas. The tournament was played over three consecutive days and nights,
starting on Monday at noon and concluded on Wednesday night at 8:15 pm.
The total duration of the final table was about
The final table included two former gold bracelet
winners -- including Davidi Kitai and Jason DeWitt.
Aside from the final table players among the
notable players who finished in the money were former gold bracelet winners
David Benyamine (14th) who was the end of Day One chip leader;
two-time gold bracelet winner Brock Parker (36th); and former gold
bracelet winner Dario Alioto (40th).
The official WSOP gold bracelet ceremony takes
place on the day following the winner’s victory (or some hours later when the
tournament ends very late). The ceremony takes place inside Brasilia. The
ceremony begins at the conclusion of the first break of the noon tournament. The
ceremony usually starts around 2:20 pm. The national anthem of the winner’s
nation is played. The entire presentation is open to public and media. Video
and photography is permitted by both public and members of the media.
-- by Nolan Dalla