We caught up with Willie Tann ‘The Diceman’ just before he returned to his native Singapore for the BAPT
Most of our readers won’t have been to Singapore. What can they expect to find?
It’s much more developed now than it was when I left – 40 years makes a world of difference. Now Singapore’s one of the largest and most impressive cities in the world. It’s a safe place, there are no drugs, no crime. If you’re born and bred in Singapore you’re a model citizen, compared – not to cast aspersions on British people – to folks over here.
No, that’s fair enough. I’ve been in some of our city centres on a Friday night and met a fair few citizens that are far from model.
And it’s a very rich city now…
There must be something bad you can say about it?
Well, there’s the heat…
I love the heat.
No, but this heat, compared to the Caribbean, is very different – the humidity is high and you’ll sweat a lot. You can’t sit on the beach in the afternoon. People play golf under floodlights in the evening because it’s cooler. Everywhere’s air conditioned though, so you’re okay if you’re inside.
Was there much of a poker scene there when you were young?
Well, I was a student studying law, and we used to play among ourselves, sometimes with a stripped deck. We used to take the Twos through Sixes out and play Seven upwards because there was more action. We used to play for hours. We’d cut our lectures – there were about 200 students in the lectures so they’d never know if we were there or not. The only thing we had to do was get to our tutorials because there were only about four students in them.
We had houseboys that would clean our rooms and sometimes they’d stay and play with us as well. We didn’t mind because it meant there was more money in the game but then we found out they were marking the decks! We used to get them from the shop downstairs but they’d already marked them with a small pinhole in the corners. We only found out when they started winning!
Was there much of an underground scene generally?
Gambling is illegal in Singapore so it was all underground. The only time the authorities would turn a blind eye was during Chinese New Year, but the government’s far more relaxed about it now. There are two casinos opening up and it has made an exception to the law to let the Betfair Asian Poker Tour happen. Before this the only legal gambling was the Singapore Turf Club. There were a handful of private members clubs where people would play among themselves, but generally Singapore was very much against gambling.
Has it changed much with the poker boom?
I found an Omaha game in a club last time I went.
And did you join in and clean them out?
No, no, they were my friends; I don’t like taking money from my friends. When I was a student here I used to play with all my fellow students, and when they got their allowances they’d all owe me money – it wasn’t nice.
Were you surprised that the Singapore government has allowed this tournament to go ahead, and given the greenlight for the casinos?
Times have changed and the government has to move with them. As a tourist you can do Singapore in four or five days, so it needed to find other outlets beyond the shows, the theatres and the shopping. This will be a big tourist attraction. There’s a casino about 125 miles away in Kuala Lumpur, so the government realised people will just go there and gamble anyway.
It makes sense. And is this just an exception for the Betfair Asian Poker Tour?
This is a one-off. I think it’s just the government dipping its toes into the water, but hopefully it’ll kick-start a lot of other tourneys in Asia. It’s nice for Singapore to be the first, to lead the way, and after this it should be so much easier for everyone else.
And you think it will change the face of poker in Asia?
Yes, definitely. It’s inevitable. In a few years’ time it’s going to be as popular over there as it is here.
And you don’t think the cultural differences will stop it?
No. Think of all the foreign students who are studying over here. They’ll take the game back. At the WSOP this year I saw four Singaporean players. I’ve never seen one before, and this year there were four.
If any of our readers are going out there and bust out early what should they do to get a proper taste of Singapore?
Sentosa Island is a must, where there are two new casinos being built. And there’s Orchard Road for shopping – it’s the Singapore equivalent of Oxford Street in London.
A regular at the Vic in London, Willie Tann is one of the elder statesmen of the British poker scene. Known as ‘The Diceman’ and ‘Mr Miyagi’, for his prowess at mentoring the game, Tann is the holder of a WSOP bracelet, from the 2005 $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event. He’s also the poker ambassador for the Betfair Asian Poker Tour.
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