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It seems like an odd proposition: move to Thailand and play poker for a living in a country that doesn’t have any land-based casinos or poker tournaments in it. But that hasn’t stopped the rise in expats moving to Thailand to do exactly this.
Thailand is a country that loves to gamble. However, betting on Muay Thai (and horse racing) is currently the only legal form of gambling, which makes moving to Thailand to play poker an interesting decision. However, it has become the destination of choice for US poker players to down tools and move to Thailand to play.
US laws have forced pro poker players to move elsewhere
As it stands, the US still only has three states with legalized online poker (Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware). Legislation regarding online poker is a contentious subject.
Much of the legal argument surrounds whether poker should be included in sports betting or not. At the moment, the general view is that it should not be, which makes playing online poker in the US subject to laws that neither allow nor prohibit it. What’s more, the ones that have made it legal also take tax from each poker table, making every pot played for less profitable.
There are a number of other US states which are proposing to legalize online poker including Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, while California has repeatedly tried and failed to pass it through the legislative stage.
While the legal situation remains relatively static for online poker in America, it has encouraged a number of expats to find somewhere else to play their professional online poker. One such destination has been Thailand.
For most professional poker players, making a living is a full-time job, and it means ‘grinding’ (playing) tens, if not hundreds of thousands of hands a month, often using multiple tables at once, so internet speed is important.
Thailand has the second best internet download speeds, after Singapore, in the whole of Southeast Asia. What’s more, it’s a lot cheaper to live in than Singapore, a key factor in the arrival of expats to Thailand.
The legal side of online poker in Thailand is much more difficult to quantify. Most Thai laws prohibit deposits to online gambling using Thai Baht but, generally, the laws are designed to stop or limit the extent to which Thais can spend and lose Baht.
However, there are no definitive laws regarding playing online poker using foreign currency and, perhaps, it’s while expats are gambling online that they are also tourists contributing to the economy, a crime that isn’t high on the authorities’ to do list. Despite these laws, there are actually a number of online poker websites that cater exclusively to Thai players.
What can Thailand offer professional poker players?
There are five very easy answers as to why poker players are making the move to Thailand. They are; the weather, the food, the easy-going nature of the locals, relatively cheap living costs, and the ease at which they can play online poker.
Many expat poker players are already forming their own community. Either living together in ‘poker houses’ or renting cheap apartments in the same block as each other. They communicate essential information, like the best locations to rent, the cheapest places to stay in Thailand and the availability of fast internet speeds (essential for grinders to play multiple tables to generate enough income), on various popular and active forums.
With such a strong number of expats in the country playing poker, there are ample opportunities to hone those skills – even those who like to play recreational poker can benefit from a great learning environment. For any players new to the game, there are basic strategies which professional players have already mastered and through which they are able to play on multiple tables, picking up small, but consistent profits to generate an attractive income.
Grinding on poker tables means having good internet connection and putting in the hours (Source: Pixabay)
These poker tips include playing aggressively to force pot sizes up (and push weaker players out early) and watching fellow players like a hawk, because understanding what they do and how they play their hands is one of the best and most interesting aspects of winning poker.
Poker strategy is nearly always focused on playing the player, not the cards. A hand is only strong relative to what another player is holding.
These skills allow professional poker players to turn their skills into a way to make money, whether their game is no limit Texas Hold’em or Omaha. The only difference between new and experienced players is the time they put in.
Where do poker players play with no Thai tournaments?
There are already a number of very good poker players in Thailand. For online poker players, names like notashark, benjaphon, MRJoFF4, Tiltattack and TiltTeheBho might be familiar ones, winning big cash pots in multi-player tournaments (MTT), with all of them calling Bangkok home.
When it comes to success, four Thai nationals stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of money earned: Phanlert Sukonthachartnant, Pakinai Lisawad, Phachara Wongwichit and Chane Kampanatsanyakorn.
And, before Kampanatsanyakorn won over 3 million Baht in a few weeks on the Asian Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker in 2013, only one Thai resident was really known for winning big internationally, which was Mansour Khorramshahi, an Iranian National living in Bangkok.
The nearest casino and poker hubs where gambling is allowed are located in a few casinos located at the borders with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. So, actual poker money games aren’t easy to find in Bangkok, Pattaya or Chiang Mai, not least because they are usually connected to more salubrious elements of Thai criminal gangs and are thus targeted by the authorities.
So, for players wanting to play in live tournaments, while Thailand doesn’t have any, it is one of the best locations to access the rest of Southeast Asia, which has hundreds.
The World Poker Tour visits the Cambodian border town of Poipet every December at the Holiday Palace and Casinos and the Asian Poker Tour has tournaments in nearby Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, India, China, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Macau. Bangkok provides an excellent base for all of them.
For most North Americans, Thailand is a big attraction; it is close to Southeast Asia, which means ready access to online tournaments in a time zone that actually suits. Their money goes a lot further too, which can account for downturns in bankroll. And, with hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of expats already having made the move, it has become a ready-made paradise for many professional poker players looking to get away from expensive and restrictive US laws while experiencing the best of what Thailand can offer in lifestyle benefits.