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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tokyo man knew when to hold 'em, bags World Series of Poker in Vegas


Staff writer

Naoya Kihara won the 2012 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas on Thursday, making him the first Japanese to win the title, according to the WSOP website.

Kihara, 30, collected $512,029, or about ¥41 million, in prize money and was awarded the WSOP gold bracelet. A total of 419 players from more than 25 countries participated in the competition, the website said.

It was the Tokyo resident's second time at the contest, which is the largest poker tournament in the world. Kihara was not immediately available for comment.

Kihara makes a living mostly by playing poker online. He now hopes to play in tournaments around the world, the tournament's organizer said, quoting the champion.

"I'm living off poker. But I want to be a sponsored player. So the first Japanese bracelet means the possibility that (chance) will increase," Kihara said in an interview with the organizer.

According to Japan Poker Association official Yuri Inoue, poker tournaments usually cost several thousand dollars to enter. But now that he's won the WSOP, Kihara probably won't have a problem getting a sponsor, Inoue said.

Kihara has told the WSOP that he wants to become a poker ambassador in Japan, which has been relatively untouched by the global poker boom despite its sizable population and affluence.

A graduate of the University of Tokyo, Kihara was a member of the "shogi" (Japanese chess) club and also liked to play backgammon during his eight years at the university, according to Japanese media reports.

Before becoming a professional poker player, he was a private school teacher, WSOP said.



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