As California shuts its poker rooms again, an unlikely beacon of poker hope continues to open its doors on the other side of the world.
The unfortunately named Corona Resort on Phu Quoc island is the home to the Luk Poker Room. This 10 table room is host to the Vietnamese Series of Poker. This year they ran the event without a hitch. In June.
While the rest of the world was mired in too-little-too-late lockdowns Vietnam was already reopening.
If that sounds irresponsible to you. You might be surprised. The freedom with which poker can be played in ‘Nam is a function not of Vietnamese laxity, but of how aggressively Vietnam fought the war on COVID.
Tran Le Thuy, writing for the Guardian, described the pandemic response as having been “as if this were biological warfare.” Total lockdowns were imposed. The army was involved in sanitation efforts. From day one temperature checks at airports were mandatory. The result was a return to something like normal far faster than anywhere else.
When the U.S. death toll from coronavirus passed 75,000, the point of reference was the 20-year-long American intervention in Vietnam. Now the death toll (298,000) is approaching the average death toll for either side of the U.S. Civil War.
While in Vietnam, the number of recorded deaths from coronavirus is 35. Not 35 thousand, not 35 hundred. Thirty-five people. In total.
Why you can still play poker in Vietnam
The reason why the Corona Resort has been corona-free for months can be put down a range of canny moves by the Vietnamese government.
It starts with their close ties to China. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China share a badly policed border, a Communist ethos, and millennia of diplomatic, military, and economic exchange.
The result is a nuanced understanding of Chinese politics.
So, when reports of COVID-19 started to trickle down the news pipeline, the Vietnamese government looked back at SARS. China covered up the severity of the problem back then. Fearing a repeat of 2003, Vietnam started prepping for a total shutdown.
As a one party state, in Vietnam, the virus was not politicized. As a socialist state the healthcare system, though not advanced, is well run and available to all.
When the party said, shut it down, the country did just that. The result was a return to something like normality in a couple of months. Turnout was low for the VSOP, but it still ran.
In November, the Grand Loyal Poker Club in Hanoi gathered 327 entrants for its Kick Off event. The prize pool was VND 1.5 billion (about $65,000). This was the first tourney in a 9 event series.
The case of Vietnam suggests, ironically, that if the West had been willing to give up more of their freedoms in May, we might have had a lot more of them back by now.
Featured image source: Flickr