Mind the Gap

Forget innovation: a professional gambler sums up path to prosperity for future generations of Hongkongers

An entire generation of Hong Kong business people only know how to make money from speculation and quasi-gambling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 January, 2016, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 10:26am

The disillusionment of Hong Kong’s youth has drawn plenty of attention since Occupy. Fearing the unchained energy of restless youth, the government and business establishment are offering incentives and programmes to mollify them. Or at least to give them hope that you don’t have to be born into a property tycoon’s family to become rich. But there is no need to worry. The kids are all right. One group has found a new path to riches that doesn’t require advanced science degrees and risky start-ups.

A 28-year-old Hong Kong professional poker player invited me to his HK$250,000 a month home in Repulse Bay. His six luxurious supercars were fanned out across on the driveway like an opening scene from MTV Cribs.

He plays around the world, but mostly in Macau where he wins a few hundred thousand US dollars each month over a week of regular games. Each month he plays a high-stakes game. Last month he won US$3 million over a three-day series. Why grow a business when you can successfully gamble your way to riches? It truly is the Hong Kong way.

Why grow a business when you can successfully gamble your way to riches?

Maybe it’s far too much to ask Hong Kong’s next generation to embrace technology innovation and start-up culture. It is simply way beyond their intellectual ability to grasp given Hong Kong’s social history. After all, their parents made a living through some sort of speculation or short-term trading.

An entire generation of Hong Kong business people only know how to make money from speculation and quasi-gambling. Hong Kong is the perfect breeding ground. To deny or to try to reverse that will take more than new generations of entrepreneurs or government subsidies.

A group of young adults, mostly from middle class Hong Kong families, make a lucrative living through poker. Online gambling sites played an important role in popularising and educating amateur and professional poker players. Poker has been popular in Hong Kong for years. After it declined into a passing fad, a hard core group of professional, world class players emerged who couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else for a living.

“You gotta gamble if you want to win,” he says laconically. “Coming in second means being the first of the losers.”

But it’s a hard way to make a living. He describes two days of Texas Holdem and Omaha, starting off quickly down US$1.4 million. Like any seasoned pro, his performance improves as the stakes climb.

“We started by playing US$1,000 to US$2,000 per hand with a US$400,000 buy in. It turned around for me when we kicked the game to US$2,000 to US$4,000 and US$8,000 per hand and eventually US$5,000 to US$10,000. By 3pm the next day I was up US$2.8 million.”

Skillful card playing is only one requirement. He credits his ability to read the other players as his most valuable talent. Much like investment management he observes: “Great skills and disciplined behaviours are the keys to successful performance.”

There is little correlation between what you learn in school and the amazing opportunities out there if you keep an open mind and remember there is no right and wrong – only the consequences of your actions.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker