We recently caught up with the Father of Poker in the Philippines, Wally Sombero, for a brief chat about his thoughts on the poker scene in Asia.
PPA: What do you think is the state of poker in Asia at the moment?
WS: It’s about passion and I’m passionate in poker. I was dreaming of bringing it to Asia because I believe, with the Chinese always in another game like Baccarat, if they learn how to play poker, I believe that there will be big changes in poker. When the Asian high rollers start learning poker then that’s the most dangerous part of poker.
Then I was very successful in convincing my friends in Las Vegas in bringing the industry to Asia. I became a member of the World Poker Association in Las Vegas – that’s the biggest poker association in the world. I was the only Filipino founding member and because of that I have this mission to bring the industry to the Philippines and Asia. I convinced Jack Binion, founder of the World Series of Poker, and his good friend Doyle Brunson, the greatest living legend, and other professionals and casino owners to come to the Philippines with the purpose of providing a Jack Binion sponsored tournament.
After that people have never been the same. They started to call me the Father of Philippine Poker, the Godfather of Poker in Asia. But whenever they interview me I always answer like this… ‘That I think I am the wrong person who did the right thing, at the right time, at the right place’. But I have to attribute the growth of poker in Asia – it’s getting bigger and there’s no turning back – to the grinders, the ones who really love poker. It’s not me; I am just one of the driving forces.
PPA: Is there anything that you think that poker in Asia needs?
WS: Yes, there’s a lot, especially in Macau, where you see a lot of action. In Wynn, and other hotels, you have HKD $2000/$4000 blinds going up to HKD $15,000/$30,000 blinds. And in Macau you are not allowed to have other dealers except local Macanese. The problem is that often they don’t speak English. But with people from Las Vegas they cannot be a part of the table. So when you play you cannot stop them from speaking their own language. Everyone is speaking Cantonese and Macanese, and you don’t understand them. That’s a problem there. It’s hard to play in big high stakes poker because of that. Maybe eventually there will be a regulating body in Macau to allow foreign dealers…
But in the Philippines everybody speaks English. That’s where poker started in Asia. It’s getting bigger, especially with the Metro Card Club. There are 30 tables. At any time of the night there’s a minimum of 20 tables in action. I think the Philippines is the most exciting place outside Macau. There are a lot of players there right now.
PPA: What is your favourite place to play?
WS: Not only in the Philippines? Well, I play around the world. I’ve played the WSOP several times, including with my son Brian. I played the annual British Columbia Championship, I played the LA Classic and in Borgata in Atlantic City… But my favourite place is, of course, in Las Vegas because I live in Las Vegas. I play in the Bellagio. You can find me there a lot. In Bellagio, the poker is gorgeous, especially in “Bobby’s Room”. But sometimes players are looking for a higher ceiling, more room to move, because there are a lot of players in the Bellagio. In the Venetian it’s not just gorgeous, it’s also bigger in the poker room, so the action is going there.
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