What Makes Naoya Kihara Such a Remarkable Poker Star?

Naoya Kihara

Source: Creative Commons - https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldpokertour/25265231391

Any player who has tried their luck with the superb online pokies at JackpotCity will know that they can be fun and a great way to unwind. Few of us want anything more from gaming than some entertainment and the chance to win. However, not all players are like that, including those who make their living from their skills. One such remarkable professional is Naoya Kihara, Japan's foremost poker player. So what is it that makes him stand out?

A Japanese Star

Japan is a country where gambling is more restricted than most. Many Japanese people do not gamble at all and those that do are restricted to betting on horse racing or purchasing lottery tickets. The tight restrictions on gambling have led to the development of other types of gambling-like activities in Japan. One example is the rise of gacha mobile gaming. All of the highest grossing mobile games in Japan use what is known as the gacha mechanism: a slot-machine mechanic. Players must spend in-game currency to receive a random virtual item. Gacha games are widely considered to be the original idea behind video game “loot boxes”, which have also created controversy as a type of stealth gambling activity. The country has recently altered its laws on casino gambling so things may change in the coming years, but Japan has never really had a gaming superstar to get behind. That is until Naoya Kihara started to make a name for himself as a poker player.

The impact of a successful professional poker player from Japan should not be underestimated. In fact, Kihara was a professional backgammon player before he switched to the more lucrative table game of poker. The Tokyo-resident faced very little difficulty in adapting his playing style from one game to another as his ability to assess the game situation and the strategies of other players appears to work well in both disciplines.

Kihara went from relative obscurity as an online poker player to winning a World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. In fact, he was the first-ever Japanese player to do so. In 2012, when he scooped the top prize in a PLO 6 handed event to gain his WSOP bracelet, it is fair to say that few followers of the game realised that there were any professional Japanese poker players given the country's gaming culture, let alone highly successful ones.

In his home country, Kihara is seen as a shining example of how competitive Japanese people can be in poker. The player's Twitter feed and his own blog site are full of ideas and strategies that players can read and apply to their own game. These tips and tricks give valuable insights not simply into the game, but of playing poker professionally from a Japanese perspective.

Naoya Kihara's Career in Professional Poker

Kihara is now one of Japan's best-known poker players and his WSOP bracelet truly makes him stand out. He is currently ranked as seventh on the all-time list of Japanese poker stars with well over a million US dollars to his name in total earnings. He may have a way to go before he overtakes Tsugunari Toma, an Osaka-based player, but there is nothing to suggest that he won't top the Japanese rankings one day.

One of the most important aspects of poker to Kihara is that it is a fun game and people should be told that more. He wants to encourage more people to try poker for this reason. In a quote from Pokerlistings.com he stresses that, “We need to show how fun and exciting a game poker is. When people talk about poker, always a lot of the story is about big money. When new people hear about poker and big money, it can feel daunting and dangerous. But if we play tournaments, we can play poker even without big money. We can enjoy this game even with the new player”. If you are a player who finds poker stressful, read our article about improving your focus, which contains a list of ideas to keep you calm and clear-headed at the poker table.

It is noteworthy that Kihara has won multiple competitions both in-person and online, something that not all poker players are good at. In fact, he began experimenting with poker using an alias when he was shifting away from his life as a pro backgammon player. Within a year of starting to play online poker, Kihara had two big tournament results to his name. Amazingly, these two wins came in a row for the player who netted the equivalent of NZD $82,500 or USD $50,000 as a result of them. Kihara learned quickly and was soon entering buy-in events. In 2012, he was placed third in a Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) event which meant he won over USD $100,000 for the first time.

The in-person event that led to Kihara winning is precious WSOP bracelet was financially rewarding, too. This competition alone meant he took over half a million US dollars at a single event. Since then, Kihara has not won another spectacular event but he has continued to cash in very well at both European and US WSOP events. In 2015, he was quite understandably named as the GPI Asian Player of the Year.

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