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Poker News: August 27th, 2010

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HEADLINE: Canadian adapts poker strategy to World Series of Mahjong

Alexandra Seno

Mahjong is arguably the quintessential Asian game. Its devotees love it not only because it’s partly about luck, but more crucially, skill and strategy.

With a following that spans the globe, the time had definitely come for an international tournament. Enter the World Series of Mahjong, which just held its latest championship round on Aug. 22.

“We saw the success of World Series Poker in Las Vegas and thought that mahjong could be adapted to the same kind of event,” says WSOM co-founder John Hardyment, a pioneer in the Asian entertainment and events industry and a Canadian who has lived in the region for more than 30 years.

He started the mahjong tournament in 2007, holding it every year except 2009, due to the global financial crisis. Players qualify for a spot through playoffs held around the world, or they buy in for HK$5,000 ($682 Canadian) in cash.

The total pot this year was HK$1 million ($136,343), to be distributed on a scale according to the 32 highest-ranking players. In 2010, the tournament attracted more than 200 aficionados from eight countries for two full days at the tables, with the top 16 competing on the third day.

Mr. Hardyment awarded this year’s top prize of HK$180,530 ($24,613) to player number 104, who was sponsored by the Blue Girl beer company. The 34-year old Hong Kong furniture salesman who has been playing mahjong for a decade, Chan Tak-kwan, also earned a free invitation for the 2011 WSOM, a medal, and a specially designed mask courtesy of the Venetian Macau, the venue and an event partner.

WSOM organizers chose to hold the event on Macau, the former Portuguese enclave, because of its central location: an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong and just a few hours flight from Japan, Taiwan, Australia and China’s main cities, where most of the players come from.

Macau returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999. As the only place on Chinese soil where casinos are legal, it has since opened up its gaming sector to international companies, and it has attracted new hotel and hospitality operators.

Macau is one of the few places in Asia where holding such an event is possible. “We offer prize money but this is not a gambling event, this is a game of skill. This is like a golf tournament where people play for points. A lot of governments might find, though, that if you hand out large cash prizes, it might be difficult to control,” says Mr. Hardyment, who is not a mahjong player.

The other challenge with operating WSOM is that traditionally the game is a social one. People play among friends and in private. Getting mahjong lovers to compete in public at a place like the Venetian is probably a reflection of the growing acceptance of these types of international tournaments. TV shows featuring poker and its related competitions have become very popular in the region, much as they have in North America.

A Vancouver native, Mr. Hardyment moved to Taiwan in 1977 to work in the shipping industry. He left the business after 10 years as managing director of one of the world’s biggest shipping companies. He has lived mostly in Taiwan, with short stints in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

He started Bayshore Pacific – named after Vancouver’s Bayshore – in 1988 as a firm specializing in entertainment, leisure and sports.

It is best known for running golf and live-music events, and for consulting in the entertainment field. Mr. Hardyment was key to bringing IMAX to Asia and he continues to work with the company on projects.

Chinese employees say that his Mandarin is “perfect” though he says it is “very far from perfect” because he only picked it up living in Taiwan and adds he has been lazy about improving it. While the mahjong tournament was going on, Mr. Hardyment had 55 people running the event, including eight of his full-time staff members from Bayshore Pacific.

“The highlight for me of the World Series of Mahjong is excitement leading up to it and the following that it is getting. Many of the players – maybe 60 per cent – keep coming back.

“People just love the event,” he says.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.

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Article downloaded from the World Wide Web on August 27th, 2010

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