10 Mins Read
The most easily recognized figure of Asian poker, Fred Leung has had a long-standing relationship with the one of the biggest brands in the world of poker – PokerStars.
The Senior Marketing and Business Development Manager for Live Poker Events in Asia has been a part of the company’s operations in Macau and Manila and is also responsible for the success of the Macau Poker Cup series and reinvigorating the poker scene within the region.
A beloved personality, Leung is an out-and-out poker enthusiast and his love for the mind sport shines through when he talks about the ongoing Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) Manila edition that has witnessed record-breaking participation.
In a candid interview with PokerGuru, Leung talks about his last event with PokerStars and future plans, his views on the Indian participation at the current series and the evolution of poker in Asia among other things. Here are the excerpts.
Hi Fred and thank you for speaking with PokerGuru! APPT Manila as will be your final event with PokerStars. How do you feel about leaving the organization after such a long association?
I’m comfortable with my decision to make a career change as I’ve taken a lot of time to think about the business side of things. By far, the most difficult thing is walking away from the people.
I’ll always be close to those who are close to me now but it won’t be the same in terms of the day-to-day rituals. People use the term family much too loosely like it’s some tagline. However, the PokerStars Asia team really is a family and we could never have achieved so much without a decade of continuity and open dialogue to challenge each other to improve. We argue, laugh, and cry together and even after 100+ hour work weeks we’ll still make plans right afterwards to be with each other during our off time. It’s something special that I’ve never experienced in any other organization.
And when I say ‘people’, I mean people from both sides of the felt. It’s been amazing to meet players from such diverse backgrounds and see how the game of poker unites them into a singular phenomenon. I’ve been blessed to be part of that cultural melting pot and I’ll certainly carry some of those relationships into my next phase of life.
APPT Manila has pooled in record-breaking participation till now. What, according to you, are the primary reasons behind this huge success?
I’m overwhelmed at the kindness of the players who travelled to say farewell to myself and Mark Blake – who’s also departing after this series – but there are certainly other factors in play as well.
We offered five Platinum Passes. These USD $30,000 packages in added value have been popular all year long but as we approach January’s PSPC (PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship) the interest is magnifying. Then there’s the fact that the Macau poker room has been closed since the end of April and so players in the region are likely itching for major tournament action.
Finally, it’s APPT Manila! The series has been growing and setting new records for years, including last year, so there was certainly the foundation to build towards the enormous results we’ve observed this week.
There’s a huge Indian presence at the APPT Manila 2018 right now, and particularly in the Main Event. How do you see the Indians faring in the series?
The Indians on the PokerStars Asia circuit have always outperformed their percentage of the field. Part of the reason is surely the fact that these early trailblazers are representing some of the best from their nation. So, when you have your best going up against fields of mixed experience levels it’s obviously advantageous. This group of Indians here in Manila would more than hold their own in any major poker series in the world.
The larger Indian presence also means there’s a real chance for the country to repeat Uday Bansal’s feat of winning the Main Event when it begins on Thursday (August 9).
How would you describe the increasing Indian participation in the international events?
It’s terrific to see. India, and really Asia overall, is emerging and I’d expect another poker boom to arrive in the coming years. There have been increasingly great results globally from Indians in recent times and that should only increase as participation numbers mirror that growth.
Towards the conclusion of APPT Manila, the 2018 Asia Player of the Year will also be crowned. We know that Mike Takayama already leads the race, but there are several others still in contention. Your views?
It’s really Mike’s title to lose. While it’s still mathematically possible for someone to catch him, he’s got a very-deserving stranglehold on the No. 1 spot. If the APOY race stopped today, he’d own the second largest margin of victory – only behind to Alan Lau’s 5,298-point differential in 2017.
You have been in the thick of poker action in Macau. How in your opinion, has the poker environment developed in Macau and how do you foresee it in near future?
While getting a job with PokerStars in Macau took some good fortune, I was specifically looking for poker in the enclave based on its massive potential. The potential was clear to me from Day 1. I always point towards the Macau Poker Cup series to illustrate the growth. The Red Dragon Main Event began with just 33 players in 2008 and that event has now exceeded 1,300 players – while also systematically increasing the buy-in from HK$10,000 to HK$15,0000 – without the use of re-entry.
There’s still a tremendous opportunity in Macau and the growing number of poker companies approaching local venues is a clear sign of continued interest.
You have been a key member of PokerStars’ Asia Pacific team and its growth in the Asian circuit. Tell us about the roles you have handled for the poker giant and how the experience has been for you.
I was initially the Marketing Manager for the then-named PokerStars Macau cardroom and wasn’t officially a part of the travelling Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT) team at the time. I didn’t create the Macau Poker Cup but the series was assigned to me to develop. After the success of the MPC and Red Dragon event I was entrusted with more responsibility and became the Country Manager – which meant I was still working live events but also initiating other regional marketing activities.
The new role allowed me to create new relationships like the Japan Open Poker Tour. Immediately, we went from 5 Japanese players in the Red Dragon to 95 which gave us the foundation and momentum to grow at z significantly faster pace. The PokerStars Asia events have continually increased since 2010 when those partnerships were seeded.
In 2012, the Asia Championship of Poker (ACOP) was launched after 18 months of planning and, overall, the tournaments were hitting an important threshold where they would either flatten or take another leap. Obviously, we wanted to raise the ceiling so the following year I converted full time to Live Events and my role expanded to include all APPT stops in Asia. That’s the role I’ve held ever since as the Senior Marketing & Business Development Manager for Live Poker Asia.
What are the key takeaways from the last decade of working with PokerStars?
When I think of my time with PokerStars I come up with one word: Grateful.
I’m grateful that then-APPT President Jeffrey Haas saw something in me to give me opportunity to work with and learn from an amazing group of individuals. I was insanely lucky to be surrounded by people who were so much smarter and better at their craft than myself.
I’m grateful that I had the team’s trust to try nearly anything I wanted. When you have the freedom to fail it truly allows you to create without the sense of borders. I never took it for granted and seized the chance to attempt things that may seem obvious now – because the results have justified them — but they certainly weren’t back then when it was purely theoretical.
And finally, I’m grateful at the overwhelming support from the players. Hosting live poker tournaments is not a perfect science and there’s never a guarantee that players will continually come and play the events. Everything we’ve ever done has been with the players in mind even when they aren’t aware of it. It doesn’t mean we always get it right. But the team I’ve worked with has never stopped trying and I’d like to think we got it right more often than not.
Do you intend to stay in the poker industry or explore a different calling?
My next project is entrepreneurial in nature and not in gaming, much less poker. If I was still in poker it would be hard for me to see myself anywhere else but with PokerStars. The Red Spade has become such a big part of who I am and the wonderful people who have been part of my decade-long journey.
And with these last words, Leung signs off.