Poker’s growing presence in the far east was underlined today as the Asian Pacific Poker Tour Auckland got underway and the Asian Poker Tour announced the first stop on their tournament schedule for 2009.

The SKYCITY casino in Auckland is currently hosting one of the few high stakes poker tournaments ever to be played in New Zealand. As is the case in many countries, poker’s popularity is flourishing in NZ, and this visit by one of the regions premier tours allows its up and coming poker players to demonstrate their abilities on home turf.

The main event, which began today and runs until Oct. 12th, will feature at least 285 players, with an estimated prize pool of $794,880 (~$500,000). Although these numbers may swell overnight, with tournament buy-ins permitted until the start of Day 1b, records have already been broken. The APPT Auckland is officially the richest poker tournament ever to be played on Kiwi soil.

Among the throng competing for the minimum $238,464 first were PokerStars World Series of Poker triumvirate: Chris Moneymaker, Joe Hachem and Greg Raymer. Their fellow players no doubt have been gunning for a famous scalp and one lucky player can now boast about ending the tournament of Greg Raymer. Entering a pot with the perennially risky 10-10, he ran into pocket jacks and was powerless to resist his elimination. His hopes of winning top money on Godzone soil still remain alive however, as he is sure to feature in the $10,000 NZD high rollers event on Oct. 11th.

Day 1b begins tomorrow with the lucky few joining the 59 who progressed from day 1a – including current chip leader Nathanael Seet from Singapore.

More exciting news for Asia’s poker players was unveiled today as the Asian Poker Tour (APT) announced that they would be returning to Manilla for the first event of their 2009 season. The APT Philippines 2009 will be held at the Dusit Thani Manilla Hotel in Makati, just as it was this year. With more announcements to follow next week it remains to be seen whether this event will surpass the impressive $1,000,000 guaranteed prize pool it featured last time around.