Friday, March 09, 2012

Poker in Africa

WSOP AfricaWith all the other scandals and brouhahas dominating poker news of late, there wasn’t heck of a lot of attention given to that World Series of Poker Circuit series of events that took place in South Africa during the last week of February.

It was actually the second trip by the WSOP to the Emerald Resort and Casino in Gauteng, South Africa. Back in October 2010 came the first, with just two tournaments held, a $1,000 buy-in PLO event in which 37 entered, and a $5,000 NLH Main Event which drew 188. This time there were six events, four of which were low buy-in (less than $1,000), a $3,300 Main Event, and a $10,400 High Roller tourney.

They drew 20 for the High Roller, with Rob Fenner winning the ring and $97,000. A total of 218 played in the Main Event which was won by Joe-Boy Rahme -- apparently no relation to 2007 WSOP Main Event third-place finisher and fellow South African Raymond Rahme -- who took $158,595 for the win.

Meanwhile, the first preliminary event, a $350 buy-in NLH tourney won by Gauteng’s own Gregory Ronaldson, drew 324 entrants, a total which represents the biggest poker tournament ever held in Africa (in terms of field size). Ronaldson actually made the final table of the Main Event, too, and was thought by most to be a favorite to win it once they’d reached the final nine. Not only was Ronaldson second in chips with nine left, it was just a couple of months ago he was the talk of the Crown Casino in Australia when he won the $5K Heads-Up event at the Aussie Millions, knocking out Faraz Jaka on his way to defeating Sorel Mizzi in the final.

Ronaldson has also posted some decent results at the WSOP over the last couple of years, including a 198th-place finish in last year’s Main Event. He wasn’t the best finisher from South Africa, though, as Kosta Mamaliadis came close to making that international-flavored final table before getting knocked out in 13th.

The Emerald Casino in Gauteng, South AfricaRonaldson would come up short at the Emerald last week, however, going out in fifth. Still, he took over $60,000 away from the series, and from his interview over on PokerNews it sounds like he’ll not only be returning to the WSOP this summer but showing up at other stops on the tour as well.

When interviewed after his Main Event win over on the WSOP site, Joe-Boy Rahme talked about how poker has grown in South Africa over the last five years since his namesake’s deep run in the 2007 WSOP ME. “We’re sending more and more players to Vegas for the annual WSOP each year and they are having great results,” he noted. “We play mostly in home games, but casinos are starting to recognize us and more games are becoming available.”

It’s interesting to contemplate Africa’s increased involvement in poker, a continent with 56 countries and over 1 billion inhabitants. South Africa is by far the country where the most poker is being played in Africa with something like 45 casinos, although like in the U.S. the online game has met with resistance, with a law passed in 2010 strictly prohibiting all forms of online gambling.

The game is also quite popular in Morocco (where I had a chance to go to WPT Marrakech in late 2010) and Egypt. Tiny Swaziland -- which South Africa surrounds -- is a poker hotspot, too, it seems. In fact, if my cursory pass around the intertubes is to be trusted, it looks like over half of the countries in Africa have casinos.

The WSOP Circuit event in South Africa did award rings but didn’t count toward the 2011-2012 WSOPC points leaderboard like the tourneys at the other 17 circuit stops in the U.S. do. I assume this year’s healthy turnouts means the WSOP will head back to Gauteng next year for another series. Meanwhile, we’ll have to keep an eye out for Ronaldson, Joe-Boy Rahme, Jarred Solomon, Darren Kramer, Mark Vos, and other South Africans this summer at the WSOP in Vegas.

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