PokerStars has gone to the seemingly unlikely countries of Japan and India for its latest Team Pro recruits, and at a time when the trend has been to cut pros, not add them.
The ever-surprising site announced the signing of two new poker pros from nations not normally associated with poker, in an apparent attempt to branch out into new growth markets.
The newest Team Pro players will be Kosei Ichinose of Japan and Aditya Agarwal of India, and are part of the company’s efforts to expand its reach in nations where poker is just now becoming a popular pastime.
“The signing of these Team Pros from India and Japan is an important step in helping promote the game in countries where poker is only just coming to the fore,” said PokerStars’ Head of Pro & Celebrity Management, Kristy Thompson. “Both players are highly respected within the poker sphere, and their success and passion for the game will no doubt spread throughout their local and national communities.”
For regulars on PokerStars, Ichinose may be the more familiar name of the two. He was the first Japanese player to reach the level of Supernova Elite, and has had several successful results in major tournaments on the site, including SCOOP and WCOOP events. He has also scored wins on the Asia-Pacific Poker Tour and at the Macau Millions, and has over $300,000 in live tournament cashes.
“I’m proud to be associated with PokerStars as I have achieved so much in the game by playing on the site,” Ichinose said. “I now look forward to helping spread the popularity of poker in Asia and representing the brand at major international tournaments like the upcoming Aussie Millions later this month.”
Agarwal grew up in India, but learned the game of poker while attending college in the United States. By the time he graduated, he was already playing poker professionally, and has since put together an impressive list of tournament accomplishments, including three deep cashes in the World Series of Poker Main Event.
In total, Adarwal has won more than $394,000 from tournament poker in his career.
“I’ve been playing at PokerStars since 2004, so this is a dream come true for me,” Adarwal said. “As a poker ambassador I want to help promote the game in India, and inspire more players to play and enjoy the sport.”
The signing of these two players from nations where the company may not have had much of a presence as of yet may signal a more targeted approach in PokerStars’ sponsorships. Over the past year, the trend for the poker room has been to drop sponsored pros rather than add new players, which makes these new signings particularly noteworthy.
Last August, PokerStars declined to renew their contract with Humberto Brenes, ending an eight-year relationship with the player who had become the de facto face of the brand in Latin America. In September, the company also cut ties with former WSOP Main Event champion Joe Cada along with Marcel Luske and Alex Kravchenko.
This isn’t something unique to PokerStars, though, as the entire industry has seen a withdrawal from spending big bucks on star players to promote brands in recent months. In just the past week, Kara Scott’s relationship with partypoker came to an end, as did the partnership between 888poker and cricket superstar Shane Warne.