When it comes to grabbing the attention, ‘Hanoi Billions’ is a hell of a name for a tournament series.
Yes, that’s a ‘B’, you read that right: Billions. And while the name refers to the prize pools in Vietnam’s local currency, the dong (VND), don’t let that fool you. The last stop of a record-breaking year for the Asian Poker Tour is shaping up to be the best one yet; gleaming trophies, affordable buy-ins, big guarantees and plenty of mixed-game action, all set against the backdrop of a welcoming and exciting capital city.
Read on to find everything you need to know about what is sure to be an epic poker festival. But first…what about those ‘billions’?
A million-dollar main event, and much more
At the time of writing you can buy US $1 for around VND 25,000, putting VND billionaire status within reach of anyone with $40k in the bank (or in their bankroll). But remember that it’s ‘Billions’, plural. Across the 95-event series there’s a huge VND 60bn guaranteed, which converts to a number close to $2.5 million.
The jewel in the crown is the Main Event, with a guaranteed prize pool equal to $1 million, for a buy-in that comes in the right side of $1.5k. Asian Poker Tour co-owner, pro player and recent star of Game of Gold, Michael Soyza, would play it if he could.
“I can’t play our live events, but I can tell you that we have some of the best structures in Asia,” he tells us, “That’s always been one thing the APT is known for: we have the best structures, especially for the Main Event.”
If the APT’s 2023 trajectory continues as it has been, that million-dollar guarantee is set to be more than covered by the time registration closes at the start of Day 2, December 7. This year’s main event will also include ‘onlive’ qualifiers, with multiple Day 1s being held online. Players at Natural8 and GGPoker will even be able to qualify directly for Day 3.
“It’s pretty cool that people can qualify for Day 3, which is in the money phase, from home,” Soyza notes. “It makes it a lot more convenient to plan a trip if you already know that you’re going to make the money.” And while online poker can never truly capture the feeling of a live tour stop, the APT and its partners are doing what they can to replicate what it is that makes the APT so special. ”Everything has been worked out, together with GGPoker and Natural8, to come up with a similar kind of experience online.”
Soyza is keen to share what makes the APT so unique, and so successful, but isn’t willing to reveal all his cards. “We can’t give away the secret sauce, right? But I think it’s something that’s built up over time, it’s not something that happens overnight.”
Whatever’s in that secret sauce, Soyza is hopeful that more players will continue to travel east to sample it, and confident they’ll enjoy what they find. “When new players come in, we greet them with arms open, everyone’s welcome to play. It’s something that, I guess, just comes naturally to us Asians, like a hospitality kind of thing – it’s in our culture.”
A different kind of vibe
The festival of poker kicks off on December 1, and a number of high-profile players have already confirmed their attendance.
Hong Kong’s Sparrow Cheung and Jeffrey Lo will be there, alongside Mike Takyama, Lester Edoc, Marc Rivera and John Tech of the Philippines. Triton and APT winner Punnat Punsri from Thailand will be playing the Main Event, as will India’s Aditya Sushant and Nikita Luther, the latter a contestant with Soyza on Game of Gold.
Soyza makes clear, however, that the field is unlikely to be stacked with pros. “In Asia the game is what you might call ‘immature’. Many people are still learning about the game, learning how to play, and people are having a lot of fun. Rather than an environment where you feel like everybody’s out to get you, here it’s more like, ‘let’s all gamble together, let’s see who wins and have some fun at the same time.’ It’s a different kind of vibe.”
A schedule with something for everybody
The setting for that different vibe will be the government-owned National Convention Center in Hanoi. The largest such conference space in the country, its capacity speaks to the volume of players expected to attend. In order to cater to a wide range of different poker players, organizers have approached the schedule with an open mind. The result is an array of tournaments that, in Soyza’s words, offers “Something for everybody. There’s something for people who have smaller bankrolls and there’s something for high rollers, every single day, with a very diverse schedule of games.”
Scanning the full Hanoi Billions schedule, it’s obvious this is no mere lip service. Daily high-rollers are available, with buy-ins covering the $2k-$10k range, while cheaper events are also scattered across the 10-day schedule. One event that’s certain to fill up quick is a live freeroll to the Main Event, December 4. Whether your bank account is in VND or USD, ‘free’ is a price that everyone likes. The field for that one is capped at 360 players.
Elsewhere on the schedule there are some unorthodox events such as Triple Draw Mix (Badugi, A-5 Lowball, 2-7 Lowball, Badacey, Badeucey and 5-Card Draw). A PLO Lazy Rivers tournament (individual river cards, face-up) brings more novelty to proceedings, while a no-limit R.O.S.E. event (Razz, Omaha 8, Stud, Stud Hi-Lo) should ensure plenty of chaotic fun. There are also some fun twists on Hold’em, including Super Hold’em (with three hole cards), Win the Button, Crazy Pineapple and Bomb Pot tourneys. There are diverse schedules, and then there’s the Hanoi Billions.
The opening event – the Vietnam National Cup – will feature multiple starting flights and a guarantee of VND 3bn, or around $125k. Entry is just over $200, and both Day 1s will take place on the same day, December 1, giving players all day to qualify for the final on December 2. Various events will be streamed live on the APT YouTube channel, in addition to the Main Event.
If you’ve never played an APT event before, it seems like the Hanoi Billions is a great place to start. Players based in the West may feel daunted by issues such as not being familiar with the language, not knowing where to stay, and other such concerns. It’s an issue the APT are aware of, and doing everything they can to help with. They’ve even put together a guide, available at their website, which aims to walk players through the process.
“We went through the whole process as a player,” Soyza tells us, “What would you want from your experience, from the day you hear about the event to the day you leave? It’s helpful for people to know what to expect. Why should I go to Hanoi? Where should I stay? How do I get around? That kind of stuff.” Visitors to the APT YouTube channel can even see a preview of the venue, as well as episodes of Asian Poker Tour Stories, a mini docuseries following the tour through its record-breaking 2023.
The PokerOrg Visitors’ Guide to the Hanoi Billions
With a hat-tip to the APT’s guide, we’ve pulled together some key information and recommendations for visitors to Hanoi Billions.
The tournament schedule
We’ve listed some of our favorite events above, and you can peruse the full schedule now at the APT website.
The action starts at 11:00 on Friday, December 1 with the first flight of the Vietnam National Cup, while the final event (a hyper-turbo high roller) is scheduled for 19:30 on December 10.
The venue: the Hanoi National Convention Center
Opened in 2005, the NCC features ground-level and underground car parks, a helipad and a massive water square complete with dancing fountains. It’s the largest venue of its kind in Vietnam and houses a number of bars and a food outlet, as well as handy ATM facilities.
The NCC is around 10km from the center of Hanoi, and around 40km from Noi Bai airport, at the intersection of Thang Long Avenue and Pham Hung Road in Me Tri Ward, Nam Tu Liem District. Taxis can easily be found at the airport, for a journey which should take around 40 minutes. Pre-booked taxis are available courtesy of the Asian Poker Tour’s travel partner, DK Poker Tour Bookings.
Places to stay
The InterContinental Hanoi Landmark72 is a luxury hotel situated in Hanoi’s Central Business District. Sat atop the Landmark72 Tower, it has the distinction of being the highest hotel in the city, with panoramic views of Hanoi and a number of impressive restaurants.
The JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi is a five-star hotel located just a 15-minute walk from the NCC, for those who want to stay close to the action. All rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows for guaranteed amazing views, and in-house dining covers Cantonese and French cuisine, as well as great bars and buffets.
The Grand Plaza Hanoi Hotel is another five-star hotel within walking distance of the NCC. It features a spa, gym facilities and an indoor driving range. Dining options include a sushi bar, plus Korean, Indian and Chinese restaurants.
Grand Vista Hanoi Hotel is a four-star hotel in the heart of Hanoi, around 5km from the venue (a 15-minute taxi ride) and perfectly located for exploring the city. It has a pool and fitness center, with three restaurants on site including an international deli.
Places to eat
The National Convention Center has an on-site restaurant, and visitors should note that outside food is not permitted in the venue.
While that leaves your snack break options somewhat limited, there are a number of restaurants that are walkable from the NCC for dinner breaks or meals. These include the restaurants based at the hotels detailed above, as well as some other great options in the area.
Pho Bat Da 37 is situated just across the lake from the NCC, and offers a great opportunity to try the local speciality, the classic noodle soup dish pho.
Tam Chay Vegan Restaurant is a recommended choice for vegetarians and vegans, and can be found just a 10-minute walk from the venue.
Lounge 19: Bistro & Golf is just five minutes’ walk from the NCC and serves a range of Western favorites such as burgers, pasta and French cuisine, as well as an indoor golf experience.
Home Hanoi is an authentic, high-end Vietnamese restaurant, 20 minutes from the NCC by taxi.
If you’re searching for luxury dining options (or celebrating a tournament win), Hanoi also features a number of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Places to go
Hanoi is a major capital city and filled with exciting entertainment spots. Below are just a few recommendations to take in while you’re in Hanoi. Just don’t forget about the APT Players’ Party, December 7!
The Old Quarter is a popular spot to check out the city’s nightlife, with plenty of bars and restaurants. Make sure to visit Ta Hien Beer Street and Bia Hoi Corner. A taxi from the NCC should take no longer than 30-minutes.
The Sunset Bar can be found overlooking the West Lake, around half an hour from the NCC by cab, and is a perfect spot for a quiet drink with spectacular sunset views.
The Hanoi Opera House is a landmark of the city, housing cultural events, concerts and more for over a century.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake found in the historical center of Hanoi. It’s home to such highlights as the Turtle Tower, Thê Húc Bridge and the Temple of the Jade Mountain.
Finally, Halong Bay is a great destination for those wanting a break from the city. A few hours’ drive to the east, it offers the chance to escape the crowds with swimming, kayaking, cruises and hiking.
APT Hanoi Billions runs December 1-10 at the National Convention Center, Hanoi. Satellites for the main event are running at Natural8 until Sunday, November 26. Live streams from the festival will be available at the APT YouTube Channel. More details, including the full tournament schedule, can be found here.
Photos courtesy of the APT