Cult 1980s hit ‘God of Gamblers’ still revered as modern day Hong Kong poster boys Sparrow and Kinglune conquer Asian poker

Alan Lau and Sparrow Cheung are building impressive resumes as they chase an elusive World Series bracelet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 11:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 10:42pm

It’s a cult hit that has shaped many budding Hong Kong poker players and 1989 film God of Gamblers is still having an impact almost three decades on.

Produced by legendary Hong Kong film mogul Jimmy Heung Wah-sing and directed by Wong Jing, the film that became a franchise is still as relevant as ever among the poker community.

“It’s an iconic film that everybody knows. Everybody can quote from God of Gamblers, it’s like it’s in your blood,” said Stephen Lai, the managing director of the Hong Kong Poker Players Association.

The movie inspired some of Hong Kong’s best players in a city that is never short of it’s high-rollers due to it’s close proximity to Macau, but the latest crop of home-grown stars are aiming higher than ever.

Never has a Hongkonger won a World Series of Poker bracelet – considered the highest non-monetary award a player can win – but Alan “Kinglune” Lau and Sparrow Cheung are leaving no stone unturned in their quest for greatness.

According to Lai, the pair are “normal level tournament players that young players can aspire to”, meaning they have started from scratch rather than heading to the high-roller tables armed with a bank.

Lau was named Asia Player of the Year for the second time in 2017 and is the only Hong Kong player ever to receive the honour.

The 30-year-old has been playing the game for five years and has become “addicted” to the chase.

“I bought a book from Shenzhen called ‘Texas Hold’em’ and didn’t have a clue what it was, but my brother told me it’s a very interesting game so I learned the rules and played on Facebook,” Lau said.

“I became addicted and every second was about poker. I also know how to play Mahjong but I was never that interested, but when I started poker I got totally addicted.”

Not to be outdone, Cheung set a Guinness World Record in 2017 for the most “in the money” finishes in a calender year, earning a collect from 67 live tournaments.

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The 36-year-old played in Macau, Las Vegas, Melbourne, Jeju, Manila and Prague during a hectic schedule that paid dividends.

“I played a lot last year, the most number of tournaments in my life last year, around 200 to 250. Around 22 days a month I was playing,” he said.

“I have played a lot of Macau tournaments for many years so I am more familiar with the structure and opponents’ style, I have the most information so it is easy for me.”

Having finished sixth in an event, Cheung knows what its like to be within arms reach of a coveted bracelet – which is awarded to the winner of each of the 74 World Series tournaments each year – and he hopes his world record will help bring credibility to his sport.

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“I hope my family are proud and they will think poker is not gambling, it’s a good thing and give other people a more positive view on poker,” said Cheung, who is the chairman of the HKPPA.

“When poker can be entered into the Guinness world records, I hope people will see it as a sport rather than gambling.”