Chinese App - Bigger than PokerStars?

Easy to use controls allow games to be quickly set up by poker clubs using the app
A high stakes PLO cash game in action

It would be no great surprise to many of us if the next poker boom comes from Asia. For one thing, gambling has always been a big part of Chinese culture. Furthermore, there is tangible evidence of the growth of online poker in Asia with the IDNPoker Network recently overtaking 888 to become the second biggest poker site in the world, and GG Network is now up to 11th. They are also recruiting popular big name players to represent their offerings; for example Natural8 have brought in high stakes crusher Dong “Donger Kim” Dong, as well as top female poker stars Kitty Kuo and Xuan Liu to spearhead their marketing push.

The vehicle for the biggest growth in Asian online poker, however, is currently flying somewhat beneath the radar of most people. While the western poker world fixates on the latest “innovation” or rake-hike from PokerStars, it seems that throughout Asia, the growth of high stakes online poker “clubs” within certain social gaming poker apps are quickly but quietly gaining more and more momentum, with huge sums of real money changing hands between players on a daily basis.

The apps themselves do not provide real money games; they simply provide the software and allow users to create their own “home games” and invite their friends or acquaintances to join their “group” or “club”. The apps also allows players to buy “gems” or “coins”, which work in the same way as play money chips do on regular online poker sites.

The way the real-money clubs are working is that each “club” is started and operated by an agent. Each agent is then responsible for taking and tracking the deposits and cashouts for his players. For his efforts the agent is then paid 5% of each winning player’s profits.

How big the games run depends on the value the agent assigns to the play money “gems”. Once the game has finished for the day any debts are typically settled then and there by bank transfer – there are no credit card details held by the agent & no e-wallets. This is strictly a cash business.

Although there are some small stakes apps and clubs, many of them are hosting games with high stakes, typically 200(CNY)/400(CNY) with a 200(CNY) ante (works out at around $30/$60 with $30 ante), and some even higher. As with any high stakes cash game, the agents also allow players to buy pieces of each other’s action and it’s often the case that the agent will set up a group chat for the players to communicate. Also, the apps themselves allow for voice messages while playing.
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The scale of the real-money clubs is difficult to chart, due in part to the somewhat secretive nature of the operations. However, it seems there are hundreds, if not thousands of clubs within the apps with around 500 members per club. Of course not every member is active, but most seem to have at least 5/6 tables running at any one time. There are also many different apps which are essentially clones of one another. There really is no telling how deep the rabbit hole goes.

While we cannot divulge the identities of our sources, we can say that a number of well-known high stakes players (all of whom are featured on HighstakesDB) regularly play in the games. In fact one of them won some 1,500,000 CNY ($200,000 USD) in a single day this weekend, which goes some way to show you how big these games are running. We are also told that the games are incredibly soft, another reason why big name players are ready and willing to sign up with the agents. Currently most games are NLHE, although there are also more and more PLO games starting to run.

As these games are only available for iPhones/iPads any player wanting to multi-table will have to buy a number of devices and we’ve found that most serious players have a collection of iPads at their disposal!

While this might be good for sales of iPads, it obviously brings up the possibility of multi-accounting and collusion. As the software provider does not financially benefit from the results of the games, there is no incentive for them to be vigilant with regards collusion or cheating. On the other hand, however, you’re highly unlikely to see super-users or bots in these games.

Of course security is going to be a major concern for people playing in these games, and it is abundantly clear that there needs to exist a tremendous amount of trust between the players and the agents. As we are not involved in the games directly, it’s difficult to comment, except to say that it is unlikely the games and clubs would be growing at such a phenomenal rate, especially at high stakes and with well-known players, if the agents acted unscrupulously.

There could also be problems for the agents if players decided to act dishonestly. For example, gems purchased in the app are assigned different values at different clubs. Therefore if an agent doesn’t keep an eagle eye on his players and their balances at all times then it is quite possible for a player to potentially scam the agent by passing off gems at a high stakes club which he/she had won at another, lower stakes club.

Naturally, with an unregulated and trust-based environment there are going to be many concerns; but for millions of Asians, this may be one of the only options open to play in high stakes online games, and the clubs are certainly thriving at present.

Most of the clubs currently in operation trade in Chinese Yuan (CNY), also known as Renminbi (RMB), although some operate in other currencies. As the clubs grow, we’re sure real money games will become available in every currency, and at every limit.

If you are a mid/high stakes play of good standing within the community and would be interested in finding out more, or potentially even joining a club then we may be able to introduce you to an agent. We cannot promise we can help everybody, and any player interested would need to be able to play at least $1k NL before we would put your name forward. If you think you fit the bill then send us an email to info@highstakesdb.com

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