Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Checking Macau Off the Poker Bucket List

I have a bucket list of places I’d like to visit for poker, and up until a couple weeks ago, Macau was at the top of the list. Working in the poker industry I’ve heard dozens of stories regarding the island gaming capital located a short 50-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong. They said it was the most rapidly expanding gaming market. They said Macau casinos dwarfed their Vegas counterparts. They said Macau was the home of the world’s highest poker cash games. They were right.

I had the opportunity to cross Macau off my bucket list when I was assigned to cover the 2013 Asia Championship of Poker for PokerNews. Since we were contracted to work – Tim Duckworth, Sarah Grant, Alex Wilson, Heath Chick and myself -- we weren’t allowed to play on property, and that was just fine by me as I was more focused on taking in a new culture in between trips. After all, this was my first trip to Asia.

The journey there was long (16 hours alone from Chicago to Hong Kong), but I’ve become so accustomed to flying that I was able to weather it with ease (I watched plenty of movies including The Way, Way Back, which was fantastic). Once I landed I had to grab a ferry, which was actually a turbo jet. Imagine a giant jet ski that held 100 people or so. Those things can fly. Fortunately they have a terminal right there at the airport, so getting to the island and catching a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel at the City of Dreams went as smooth as can be (that wouldn’t be the case on the return journey).

The City of Dreams is a complex of casinos that include the Hard Rock and the Crown Casino. Just across the street from both is the Venetian, which is identical to the one in Las Vegas except about three times the size. Seriously, the thing is massive and by far the biggest casino I’ve even seen. Speaking of Macau casinos, the first thing that struck me was that the casino floor practically contained more table games than slot machines. Chinese players certainly love their baccarat.

The week was mainly comprised of live reporting the HKD$100,000 Main Event and HKD$250,000 High Roller, but I don’t want to bore you with poker details. Instead, I want to document some of my memorable experiences and observations. Here they are in no particular order:

The Red Market
The Red Market

  • Wilson and I woke up early one day and took a cab in the non-tourist part of Macau. More specifically, we went to the Red Market. The place was wild. Imagine a flea market that sells animal products, fruits and vegetables. We first walked into what I guess could be called the seafood section, because there you could buy fish spread out on ice, crabs in boxes, and bags of frogs – and all of those animals were alive. Upstairs was the meat section, and it wasn’t for the faint of heart. Raw innards and limbs hung from hooks, and it was akin to being in a slaughter house; in fact, there were cages of live chickens they’d slaughter for paying customers.

  • There was a pig face on one table, and when I mentioned it to Wilson, the woman at that stall overheard, picked up the pig’s face, and began waving it at us. It felt like something out of a horror movie.

  • Sarah dressed up for Halloween, which isn’t really a thing over there. Casino security didn’t take too kindly to her getup and she was promptly kicked out of the casino. Leave it to Sarah.

  • Duckworth, Chick and I played pool at the Hard Rock Café. I managed to beat Ducky without even sinking a ball (he scratched the eight) and followed that up by beating Chick. Nothing too great, I just wanted it on record.

    Sarah Grant all dolled up for Halloween.
    Sarah Grant all dolled up for Halloween.

  • The PokerStars Party at the event was crazy fun, and they scheduled it so everyone (media included) could attend. Now I’m a big whiskey fan, and they happened to have Johnnie Walker Black at the open bar. This brand in China seemed strange to me, but I wasn’t about to question it. Ironically, I read a great article a couple days later that explained Johnnie Walker and its foreign policy. Anyway, I got good and drunk and was about to accompany tournament director Danny McDonagh (who has the ability to party all night and walk in the next day – oftentimes with little or no sleep – like nothing happened the night before) and his posse to some club. Fortunately I managed to restrain myself and passed out instead. Probably a good idea as I’ve been told it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between a real woman and what they call “lady boys.”

  • I paid a special visit to the Poker King Club at the StarWorld Casino, which is home to the legendary high-stakes cash games. The poker room wasn’t overly impressive and the games weren’t going, but it was still cool to be on such sacred ground. I even bought the Poker King Club’s trademark red jumper, so I look forward to sporting that in the future.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about my return journey. I had to be up at 6 a.m. to catch the ferry back from Macau to the Hong Kong airport. I arrived at the ferry terminal early, but apparently not early enough. The line was huge, and after waiting for about 45 minutes, I was two people from the counter when they announced that the 7:30 a.m. ferry was closed. Since the next ferry didn’t leave until 9:30 and my flight left at 11:00, I had to call an audible.

I hopped a different ferry into Hong Kong city, and then had to grab a cab from there to the airport. I wasn’t sure how far it was nor how much it’d cost, but I was hoping it be under HKD$150 because that was all the cash I had on me. If not, I planned to use my credit card. Well, it ended up being quite the trek and the fare was HKD$300—and the cab didn’t take credit cards! The driver was patient yet clearly annoyed. I told him I’d go into the airport and hit an ATM. He had no choice but to wait with my bags as I scurried about the airport. Of course the ATM wouldn’t work, so I had to negotiate with one of the money exchange companies. Easier said then done with the language barrier and all. Eventually I got it sorted out, the cabbie got paid, and I made my flight. It was just a little more stressful than I expected.

Macau was more work than play, but I still had a great time.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @ChadAHolloway for more poker articles, stories and musings from the tournament trail.

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