12 January 2012

Hong Kong Hold'em 香港撲克

The taxi got off the main road and pulled up at a cul-de-sac in the upscale neighborhood of Happy Valley. The sidewalk was deserted and drenched in streetlights. A stray dog barked in the distance. I tiptoed up the stairs to the third floor of a post-war tenement building and checked the number on the door. Unit 3B. I knocked twice, and a middle-aged Australian man named James answered the door.

A home game at the Harrisons



“Is this where the game is?” I asked with mock confidence. The host nodded and ushered me into the apartment.

In the dining room, four other men slouched at an oval table. They sized me up before offering me a seat next to an Irishman named Howard. The rotund redhead took a sip of beer and began shuffling cards with the dexterity of a Vegas croupier, reeking of testosterone...


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Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


19 comments:

  1. Dear Jason,

    Thank you very much for sharing your article on gambling with us. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Similarly, I have an experience to share with you. My ex-colleague is an avid gambler. He would take the evening ferry to Macau and would gamble until early dawn and take the first ferry back to HK and come straight to work. He use to frequently play poker on Glenealy street where there is a "members only" club he would play poker with bunch of other bankers and lawyers. I still remember one night he lost more than $100k HKD. I'm no gambler, but I think losing $100k overnight deems him to have a gambling addiction.

    I no longer talk or keep in touch with him. But I wish him well.

    Thanks again for sharing your article.

    AB

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  2. Thanks for sharing your friends story, AB. I am not a gambler myself either -- I get all upset if I lose just $20!

    Jason

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  3. Jason,

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoy the article thoroughly - not only of its contents but the style and atmosphere of which it is written.

    I am not a gambler, but would enjoy an occasional game of mahjong with family or long-time friends from abroad. There is a saying in town that mahjong helps build up brain cells on memory loss. I do not know how much truth is there, but I reckon it is a fitting mini social get-together of friends. Then, it came as no surprise to me when my Christian friends told me that their faith did not consider light mahjong game a vice. The money at stake is usually small, so there is no hard feelings at end of game.

    While I do not have much knowledge about Poker, I am also an irregular at Mark Six to join in the excitement - when the jackpot is high and the whole city is thrown up in commotion.

    Keep writing Jason....

    Cheers, Martie

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  4. Thanks for sharing, Martie. Don't get me started with church hypocrisy, especially in Hong Kong. But that'll be a topic for another day!

    Jason

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  5. Jason, you article was really good. I shared it with a few people at work and they liked it too. Great job.

    SW

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  6. Hi Jason,

    Thanks a lot for the informative article - explains the sudden disappearance of all the Poker clubs in hollywood road. Anyways, there is always the sin city an hour away, so not much of an issue for serious gamblers.

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  7. Thanks, Calvin. But I suppose the point is that we shouldn't have to go ANOTHER country/city to do things that are perfectly acceptable and legal.

    Jason

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  8. Hi Jason,

    Thoroughly enjoyed your article. I play a little bit of poker, but only at home and not for money. This is good, as I usually lose!!

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  9. We should definitely play then, Laura!

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  10. I can very well imagine your timidity and mock confidence at tug with each other as you ascended the steps of the tenement building. Still, your article reeked of your signature humour / wit all the same.

    Can all gamblers habitually tell their wives that they are doing research every week ? Surely they would have gotten a PhD by the end of 6 years and I am sure they are still telling tales to their wives after 6 years!!!

    BTW, never knew you were married : p If these big boys are all law firm partners, are they conversant with the law on illegal gambling? While their associates are burning the midnight oil over prospectuses and stuff? Is that the real reason for their affluence considering the stakes (rather than their high charge out rates) and the real reason why so many law firms bundled up in the past few years? And I bet it is a mere “coincidence” that you’ll improvise as a “last-minute substitute for a regular who called in sick”!

    Somehow, I don’t like the idea that these poker houses camouflage as private clubs like spas and Turkish baths. If they are going to operate in Hong Kong why can’t the legislators and the law enforcement people do something proper about regulating them instead of marginalizing them. This may be a bad comparison, but this reminds me of the Church in China or in other Communist countries where the more they are attacked, the more they thrive underground !!!

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  11. Your comment about the police crackdown is so very true (and there will be more of these to come, in many facets of our lives, not just poker, just wait and see), and that everything not comprehensible to some is viewed with suspicion and maybe abhorrence in some cases.

    Just “kill one to alert the hundreds”, so the Chinese proverb goes. They are just stopping everything blindly in their totally dualistic approach, probably to save trouble and above all, months of rational reasoning, “just get it over and done with!” you almost hear them scream. Never knew the law of Mechanics in Physics prevail in law enforcement so well too...

    And sometimes I find it ridiculous that the “do-no-evil” Jockey Club should have the monopoly over so prevalent a part of our lives. I am not advocating gambling (its ills deserves another full discussion) but who decides that the Jockey Club should have the power to control the whole thing? Do they understand anything any better than the police or other law enforcement agencies??? I guess if I take this challenge further, they are going to give me tons of laws and regulations on the Jockey Club or maybe their constitutional documents and betting rules etc in support, but how they actually IMPLEMENT (let’s get legal here) the whole thing is still questionable.

    Right, Mr. Researcher, so did you win or lose in the end ?

    Christine

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  12. Hi Jason, indeed, poker is only available underground, and in many cases, illegal raked games are taking place and the police are doing nothing about it. The truth was that the prosecution had nothing on the HK Poker House. It was a free tournament and prizes were jackets, dvds, chip sets and travel bags. In the end, the court ruled that it was "a competition to promote trade" and therefore needed a TELA license. In no way did the court rule that poker was legal or illegal. Just said it needed a TELA license to host such a free poker tournament. Why don't you try asking the TELA dept and see what they say. The funniest moments from all this is that the chief inspector told me that Texas Hold'em is no different than Caribbean Stud Poker (what an idiot) and the HK Jockey Club purchased 2 custom poker tables and over 3,000 pieces of custom, HKJC brand poker chips a few weeks after the raid. Try calling HKJC and ask about the poker tables and no one will respond. But does anyone report this? Nope. Got to love our motherland!

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  13. Thanks, Jeff.

    I did pay a visit to the Sheung Wan police precinct -- where the HK Poker House guests were detained that fateful night -- and asked to interview the officers about poker. They were squeamish about talking to me, perhaps because I introduced myself as a freelance writer. Ridiculously though not unexpectedly, the senior officer asked me to "just read the Gambling Ordinance." Being a lawyer by trade, I studied the ordinance beforehand and so I said to him, "I am well versed in the ordinance. I just wanted to know the police enforce it vis-a-vis poker playing." What followed was a quite meaningful conversation (all in Cantonese of course) and the officer did give me some good answers.

    Long story short, we can play poker anywhere: in bars, in restaurants, at home, etc. We can even bet money. What we cannot do, however, is invite the public to participate because that would go beyond the definition of "social entertainment" under the Gambling Ordinance. I believe what the HK Poker House did that triggered the police raid was that SCMP ran an article about the event that read very much like an ad. At any rate, hosting a home game Friday night, no matter how big the stakes are, is absolutely fine.

    Jason

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  14. Interesting read, but the facts not exactly right. But in general, I agree with what Jason has said. I was there that night and had to go to court - what a joke. Anyway, here's some more information: http://www.worldgamingmag.com/en/poker/the-poker-industry/item/68-not-guilty-in-hong-kong-poker-house-case.

    Andrew

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  15. Anyone know what happened to the case against HKPH?

    Jonathan

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  16. Johnson Tee read my post. That's exactly what happened. You can check the court papers.

    Jeff

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  17. Hi Jason,

    I really enjoyed reading this. I found it intriguing and evocative. You're definitely one of the best writers out there, in my books!

    LF

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  18. Thanks, LF. Do check back often!

    Jason

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  19. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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