Stories From the Back Rooms of Macau

6 years ago
High Stakes Stories From the Back Rooms of Macau
08 Sep


They are the stuff of legends, millions of dollars won and lost on a hand, the Phil Ivey’s and Tom Dwan’s of the poker world encountering bluffs from mega-rich businessman which would make your eyes bleed, and all with a mysterious Eastern element shrouding the games in a cloak of secrecy, with triads thrown in for free – they are, of course, the Macau high stakes games!

For many years they have hosted the nosebleed stakes, and for years the details haven’t made their way out of the former-Portuguese colony - but over the last 2 or 3 years more and more of the ‘secrets’ have been revealed.

Of course, you can’t just rock up the Macau Wynn and sit down with the multi-millionaire businessmen. You need an ‘in’ and high stakes pro Andrew Moseley explains how it generally happens.

Who you know AND what you know

"To get involved in the biggest games you need to have some contacts and get invited. I met a few of the regs playing in the Wynn, I gave them some action and then one day they needed a player and I got invited.”

Other big name pros have had to wait sometimes weeks in their hotel rooms for that elusive call, the invite to perhaps make millions at the expense of huge whales. But to skin them you have to put out as well.

Tom ‘Hong Kong Tom’ Hall is another regular invitee to the biggest games in town and explained:

"Certain wealthy local beginners will request to look at a pros cards if they have folded to a big turn/river bet and the pros are pretty much obliged to show that specific player who will look at the cards and not comment further."

He backs up Moseley’s invitation-only point, saying:

"It is a quasi-private game, so you shouldn't turn up and expect to be allowed to play, particularly as a pro…there can be a crazy waiting list even amongst the ‘regulars’. Naturally, when there are big names, massive pots and true gamblers at the table things can get crazy sometimes."

Moseley stated in an interview a couple of years ago:

"I have played with a lot of the poker players who are heavily in the media’s eye in Macau but would not want to comment on who.”

He did, however, reveal that the language barrier had caused some amusing incidents.

Chinese whispers

"Once I didn’t hear/understand someone say “all in” when they bet just one chip and proclaimed “all in” into a massive pot on the river, so I snap called it off with my one pair thinking I was calling about 1% of the pot. I then look up and see the guy flip a bluff, shake his head in disbelief, and then push his whole stack towards me!”

Fellow high-stakes pro Brian Rast related a story that involving a local businessman Rono Lo which illustrates just why the rich ‘fish’ welcome top pros into their ‘home game’. Rast won a few big pots from Lo but was then challenged to a heads-up match. Lo finished the heads up match in profit and left the game with a story to tell, having beaten a top class pro.

The Biggest pot in history?

When rumors come out from Macau they are often unbelievable ones about multi-million dollar bluffs, and then bricks of cash part ways – with the loser ending up in hock to the triads! This was Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan’s fate according to many online fans who couldn’t work out why he was still in Macau and missing the rest of the world’s poker offerings.

Brian Rast, the biggest pot he saw was very juicy indeed, explaining it “had a fairly quiet start on a KH 10S 7S board, which exploded with a 10D on the turn and a 5s on the river. After an unusual amount of tanking both a local and a pro, both ended up all in for a HK$40m (US$5.1m) pot. Lot of excitement ended up in a chop with both holding A 10.” He adds he “saw some pretty sick river bluffs with river bets of US$700-800k going in which were treated with much amusement at the expense of the folding player.”

$20million x2?

But a chopped $5million pot pales into insignificance if you believe Daniel Jungleman12 Cates whose AskMeAnything (AMA), confirmed that:

Dwan once lost a staggering US$20,000,000 pot in a set-over-set situation.”

Cates said it was the biggest pot he has ever witnessed but wouldn’t reveal who the other player involved in the hand was.

Englishman Sam Trickett has also described a $20million pot in Macau, one which sounds rather different, with the hand ‘ending in a huge river bet bluff by a professional poker player against amateur player’. The amateur called the bluff and ended up winning the $20 million pot-although this also sounds like a typical pot Dwan might well have been involved in!

Lose some, win some

Not that ‘durrr’ was always on the losing side of such monumental pots, Finnish player Joni "Jouhki" Jouhkimainen's writing in 2011 that Dwan took down a pot worth HKD 89 million ($11 million).

Dwan and a few other players were playing with $20,000/$40,000 blinds when Dwan and two other players went all-in pre-flop. Dwan tabled AK, the others JJ and 1010. Dwan hit an ace and scooped the massive pot.

Scary situations?

The joke going around since last year that Tom Dwan was in hick to the local triads and was being forced to play in order to make good his huge debt were not entirely jocular. The well-organised and documented gang method of debt collection in the Far East has always lent itself to exaggeration and scare stories.

Still, if you don’t pay your debts – or your opponent doesn’t pay theirs – who you gonna call in deepest, darkest Macau?

For one pro it led to a protracted battle to get his dues. Imagine you’re at a table in Macau, a local player goes all–in for $HK344,000 and you’re sitting with pocket aces! Instacall, only to see your opponent dragging his chips back claiming he was joking? Well, seriously, what the actual fuck?

This was no backstreet game, this was at the Wynn Macau – a supposedly regulated establishment where such things simply shouldn’t happen.

The player in question, who only identified himself as dhlrPdls on 2+2 back in 2011, posted:

"The following situation happened recently at the Wynn Macau in a 500/1kHKD game (~$60/$120USD): BigFish opens to $14k, 1 call, I 3b to $84k, BigFish instantly says all in and pushes chips over betting line, other player folds, I snap call with AA for $344k HKD.”
"The BigFish looked scared then tried to take back his chips and pretend that it was a joke. Then the fish mucked his hand and picked up his chips and tried to walk away. Eventually security and the floor staff came over and told the fish that he had to pay. The fish then tried to retrieve his cards from the muck and showed ATs but the floor declared the hand dead.”

A horrible situation wherever you play, but against a local in the Macao high-stakes games? Bottom of anyone’s wish-list, unless you absolutely know the guy has no connections to the local triads.

You’re good to go…

The all-in welcher somehow managed to leave the casino with his money, and according to our poster:

"He didn't return and sent two guys, either his friends or bodyguards, who talked to a manager in Chinese and said that the fish said that if I apologized he would pay me the money. I talked to him on the phone and said "Sorry" in Chinese.”

This didn’t have the desired effect and numerous other approaches to get the money due were discussed, including police involvement – also not a good option if your plan is to continue playing in such groups.

A fruitless meeting with the fish ensued, and the following day – after keeping the wronged player in a room for two hours! – “the casino denied any responsibility for getting the money. I complained to the big manager and he said he would talk to the Wynn lawyer but said that it didn't look good and the Wynn probably wouldn't be able to help me.” What a horrible state of affairs, and what can you do?

Let’s do a deal

A friend of the villain in this story eventually stumped up $200k in a deal, but:

"The OP was really shocked and frustrated with Wynn casinos attitude with regard to the situation.They shouldn't have let him go and they shouldn't have made me have to negotiate with the player myself or wait around for hours every day missing out on good games.”

The Macau casino, of course, are in a tight spot in such situations too, and as the poster pointed out himself:

"They gave him all the power because he's a big player and attracts players to the poker games,” adding, “I hope this story is known by Steve Wynn and all upper-level management so the rules and procedures can be changed.”

All’s well that ends well

An update appeared on 2+2 shortly after posting, stating:

"I met an assistant vice president of the Wynn Macau half hour ago. I got an officially apology and the rest of my money, $144k as well. I could feel her sincere. Now i am fine. I settled with Wynn.”

Of course, for those of us who have never had to deal with such spots in distant lands, it might seem standard – but I personally would be sweating buckets!

So, absolutely massive pots and very strange situations seem to be the norm in the back-rooms of Macau where the high-rollers and sick gamblers ply their trade. Even Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan has apparently made his escape from the clutches of the Triads. But you know what? I think I’ll just stick to my $1/2 games – I doubt my heart could deal with the Macau poker lifestyle!

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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