South America Living

The Faces of the Latin American Poker Boom

wsop_2010_dia_2b-20For many years in the world of professional poker, Costa Rica’s Humberto Brenes was the face of Latin American poker. In addition to having the skill necessary to win two World Series of Poker Bracelets and make three World Poker Tour final tables, Brenes is a master showman who delights in constantly talking (or singing) at the table, occasionally using his toy shark card protector as a surrogate. Brenes’ style of dress, consisting of colourful track suits, two pairs of glasses and a visor, is also designed to garner the attention of the other players and the television cameras. Despite his antics at the table Brenes gets a great deal of credit for the growth of poker in Latin America.

However, over the course of the last few years, Brenes’ role as the main Latin American poker pro has diminished greatly as a new crop of very skillful players, both men and women, are making their presence known.

Latin American players currently hold a mere five WSOP bracelets (two from Costa Rica, two from Brazil, and one from Argentina) and none are for the Main Event. That statistic is very likely to change in the near future as more Latin American players are making very deep runs in the Series and several have made final tables. In the 2014 Main Event Bruno Politano appeared poised to claim the title but ended up with an eighth-place finish. His accomplishment of making it so deep was even more impressive considering that Politano is an amateur player with only a few years of experience.

Bruno Politano, Proud Brazilian

Bruno Politano, Proud Brazilian

The growth of poker in Latin America has made much of Central and South America a popular destination for traveling poker players from around the world and especially from the United States. There are several reasons for this growth in popularity; the pool of local players is very active, the casinos are in some of the more exotic locations in the world, and the growth of tournament poker throughout Latin America.

The biggest poker tour in the area is the Latin America Poker Tour (LAPT) which is currently in its eighth season. In addition to providing valuable tournament experience to the Latin American players, the festival has introduced the culture and beauty of Latin America to players from Europe and Asia who would not have experienced it otherwise. It has also birthed some of the most promising up and coming stars who have excelled in LAPT events and beyond.

Players to Watch

Ronaldo at the table

Ronaldo at the table

Many Latin American players look at Brazil as the current poker hub of the area. This image was obviously given a shot in the arm when soccer legend Ronaldo announced that he was joining Team PokerStars, a group of poker pros and athletes that represent the world’s largest online poker site.

While Ronaldo has proven to be a worthy opponent at the tables in both online and live events, he is not the only big name playing poker in the region.

Juan Pastor

Juan Pastor

Juan Pastor

Despite being only 22 and a professional player for a mere two years, Argentina’s Juan Pastor shows all of the signs of being a major force in poker for many years to come. His live tournament earnings are approaching $500,000(US) and he is a Supernova Elite online (the highest status possible). His success at the game is even more surprising considering that after being introduced to the games by friends when he was 15, he didn’t like it. It was only the constant insistence of a former brother-in-law who made Pastor learn the game and he quickly “became hooked.”

Diego Ventura
If not for a trip to Brazil, Peru’s Diego Ventura may have never decided to become a professional player. Ventura has been playing for many years but says that poker in Peru is still in its early stages. He began playing in Brazil while an exchange student and says, “There was a lot of poker movement and it was a lot more developed. It caught my attention and I just started playing after that.” Ventura is Peru’s all-time biggest money winner and had an impressive second place finish earlier in the year at the annual PCA in the Bahamas which earned him a payday of more than $907,000(US).

Diego Ventura

Diego Ventura

Ventura is very optimistic about the future for Latin American players on the international poker scene. He recently told an interviewer that while he “was watching some European tournaments and there are a lot of Latin players and they measure up. They have so much confidence and confront the American and European players without any fear. The skill is there. We’re just missing popularity.”

Jose “Nacho” Barbero

original_RS25380_Jose_Barbero_2

Many poker watchers feel that the Latin American player with the best chance of taking home a WSOP Main Event title is Argentinian Jose “Nacho” Barbero. In his ten year professional career Barbero has earned more than $2.8 million(US) and already has two top 20 finishes in this year’s WSOP. His results in European Poker Tour Events are also very impressive and Barbero holds two LAPT Main Event titles which he won in back-to-back events in 2010.




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