Toma Aims to Keep Winning, Use Platform to Promote Poker in Japan
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Silver-studded shoes. Dazzling multi-colored hoodies. Perfectly styled hair.
No wonder Tsugunari Toma has been known to take a selfie or two at the poker table. His get-up is usually worthy of one.
Thanks to his unique sense of style, Toma has always stood out at the poker table. But, in 2019 on the PokerStars European Poker Tour, Toma has stood out for more than just his appearance.
This year, his play has been screaming as loudly as one of his outfits. Thus far, he has cashed for just a little more than €800,000, and he isn't finished. He has run deep for the third straight time in a Prague €10K event, this time the big one, the €10,300 High Roller. Shortly before this piece went live, he finished it off for his second trophy of the series.
And it's all part of his grand plan. The stylish clothing, the hot run of results, all building blocks for Toma's biggest goal in poker: helping poker gain widespread acceptance in his home country of Japan.
Free Games to High Rollers
To understand Toma's thinking, one must first understand the landscape of gambling and poker in Japan.
Few countries have been more resistant to passing gambling legislation than Japan. With a few limited exceptions, gambling is banned there, although attitudes have ever so slowly inched away from this negative outlook the past few years. Legislation to allow casinos passed in 2018, with the idea that they'd be open by 2020 to attract tourists traveling in for the Olympics.
Despite regulations aimed at curbing problem gambling, many haven't been thrilled with the situation, and legislation has dragged to the point where it looks like casinos are still several years from becoming a reality.
Given that background, it comes as no surprise that Toma's poker career began playing free games about 12 years ago.
After he gained enough rudimentary skill to win consistently there, Toma thirsted for better competition. He began traveling to Macau, an Asian gambling epicenter and at the time a poker hotspot — something that has changed in the past few years. Toma began building up some cashes there in 2011 and 2012.
Back home, his business ventures in tax accounting and insurance boomed. He said his company now ranks in the nation's top five insurance sales firms. Flush with cash from his business success, Toma began stepping up to the European high roller scene in April 2017.
While Toma had a few early results, most notably coming 12th in the short-lived PokerStars Championship Barcelona, he remained limited in terms of both results and opportunities.
However, things came together in a big way in 2019. Despite not having much time to devote to poker thanks to the four businesses he's still running back home, Toma's second win locked him into a seven-figure year.
Particularly here in Prague, everything has come up Toma:
EPT Results for Tsugunari Toma in 2019
|EPT Monte Carlo|
|April 26||€1,100 French National Championship||24th||€6,450|
|April 29||€25,000 No-Limit Hold'em||11th||€49,820|
|Aug. 21||€10,300 No-Limit Hold'em||11th||€27,550|
|Aug. 24||€100,000 Super High Roller||5th||€496,740|
|Aug. 29||€25,000 No-Limit Hold'em||12th||€51,000|
|Dec. 6||€10,300 8-Handed No-Limit Hold'em||6th||€37,870|
|Dec. 11||€10,200 No-Limit Hold'em||1st||€135,220|
|Dec. 14||€1,100 Short Deck Hold'em||3rd||€5,330|
|Dec. 17||€10,300 High Roller||1st||€523,120|
Toma's Prague success comes after a break of several months, as he focused on the four businesses he's still running in Japan.
When asked how he could explain his massive success, Toma said he sees parallels between his business success and poker endeavors.
"I think my business skill is helping with poker," he said. "Raising and folding, it's similar to what I do in business."
'I Can Promote Poker as a Good Sport'
As a successful head of several businesses, Toma may be an ideal candidate to help grow the game in Japan. He said Japanese people hear the word poker and instantly associate it with gambling, which brings a negative image given the aforementioned cultural misgivings.
Toma hopes to change that. A well-dressed, successful businessman who has the skill to consistently win, he believes, can show the Japanese people that poker is more than just gambling. He can show them it's a mental sport, requiring mental brainpower, preparation and execution under pressure.
One of his goals for giving himself that platform is to obtain a high-profile sponsorship.
"I think it will help to improve the image of poker in Japan," he said. "If I win more, I can promote myself and poker as a good sport."
While the sponsorship landscape is far from what it once was, perhaps there's still a place for Toma there, considering his success and the fact that he's from a market that may expand years down the road if poker gains more acceptance.
Plus, he'll make the patch look good.
Translation provided by Masato Yokosawa.