WPT Cancels South Korea Stop, Cites Regional Political Unease

The World Poker Tour (WPT) announced late on Monday that it was cancelling the upcoming WPT National Korea event at South Korea’s National Casino.  Formerly scheduled to begin on Friday, March 17th, and run through the weekend, the event was wiped away on short notice, leaving many would-be participants disappointed.

In a brief statement, the WPT appeared to lay blame for the cancellation of the Jeju Grand tourney at recently worsening political relations between China and South Korea.  Those tensions have resulted in the cancellation of most commercial flights connecting the two countries.

According to the WPT:

Due to factors beyond our control, the World Poker Tour (WPT) today announced the cancellation of WPT National Korea scheduled for March 17-21, 2017, at Paradise Casino at Jeju Grand.

As you may be aware, several major airline carriers have suspended air travel in the region. In the best interest of our players, the event will no longer be taking place.

The WPT regrets any inconvenience this may cause and appreciates your understanding. If you have any questions regarding this cancellation notice, please email [email protected]

The strained relationship between South Korea and China is due to South Korea’s ongoing implementation of the US-supplied THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile interception system.  South Korea asked for and received the THAAD system as a countermeasure to North Korea’s ongoing threats and bluster in the region, but China fears the THAAD system, not due to its limited missile capabilities, but rather to THAAD’s advanced radar technology.

The odd tie between the strained China-South Korea relations and the now-cancelled Jeju Grand WPT stop is the large number of Chinese nationals who have flown to South Korea in the past to participate in the WPT’s South Korean events.  While exact figures are not available from the WPT, an extrapolation from published tourney results indicates that more than half of all participants in the WPT South Korea stops have been players from mainland China (or, more formally, the People’s Republic of China).

Given that the cancellation of flights between the two countries has taken place in just the last two weeks, few options remained.  Would-be Chinese players could have scheduled an indirect connection, most likely via Japan.  However, that would have increased both the time and cost of the travel to South Korea for an event with not the highest buy-in in the poker world — part of the reality of poker still building its tourney presence in the region.

Faced with the loss of half or more of its expected participants, the WPT decided that the Jeju Grand stop was a no-go.

The cancellation of this weekend’s tourney may well be the first time that strained geopolitical relations between two countries have forced the cancellation of a significant poker event.  (Numerous major events have been cancelled due to licensing difficulties, but that’s a separate issue.)

It’s also worth noting that no other non-political events have been cancelled in South Korea due to the ongoing situation with China.  The special nature of the WPT’s South Korea stop, drawing so heavily on Chinese participants, placed it in a uniquely precarious position within the greater global scene.

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