In memory of Chiquitita

ps_news_thn.jpgHis yell literally startled us from our seats.

This was Latin America. People celebrate over a good cup of coffee or getting a walk in the big blind. It's nothing after a bad beat to hear someone rattle off a machine gun clip of Spanish profanity, scream to the gods, or pound a table like it was a snake that won't die.

But this yell was in earnest. There was something serious yet silly about the way the little man's voice cut through the crowd and made us listen. He screamed, and not for the last time, "Chiquitita!"

Jyries Saba was born in Vina Del Mar, Chile, the home of the tournament we were covering that night. Before making his final table run on the Latin American Poker Tour, he'd been playing throughout Latin America and Chile for the past 40 years. Now, for the first time ever, his hometown casino was hosting a major poker tournament and he had no plans to exit early.

But, Saba needed his cards to hold. He wanted the board to run out with little ones. And so he screamed "Chiquitita!" with every ounce of hope a seventy-something Chilean man could muster.

His pleas were answered and Saba lived. He lived to scream his signature plea over and over again over the next two days. He lived to make it all the way to the final table and scream it one more time.


That first night went much too late. The tournament stretched past 2am, past 3am, and to a time that forced the tournament writing staff to sit alone in the room after everyone had left. Bleary-eyed and slaphappy, we each cradled a beer the boys from Bluff brought from the closing bar. Reinaldo, the PokerStars Spanish blogger on the LAPT tour, punched a few keys on his computer and brought up the ABBA song Chiquitita on his laptop. We smiled, then sang along, and then laughed a 5am laugh that could only have been inspired by a little Chilean man.

Several months and tournaments down the road, many people forgot Chiquitita's real name. They knew him simply by the catchphrase that, by then, everyone--Humberto Brenes included--had started to use. But everybody remembered that.

Chiquitita was a little one himself--he didn't even hint at six feet tall--but carried on the corners of his smile the weight of every bad beat Latin America had ever experienced. For every one of the people in South America who wished death on the man who cracked their aces, Chiquitita was there to prove that the hot-blooded Latin American sterotype was nowhere in him. He was happy. He was overjoyed to be playing the game. Winning cash was only a little bonus.

If we're honest, we can admit we're living in an uncomfortable time for poker etiquette. There is an undercurrent of disrespect that's hard to avoid. Whether it's poor sportsmanship or just bad behavior, whether it's television light blindness or bad parenting, there's something just ugly about the way a lot of people act.

In a different world, in a different time, hell, even in a different country, Jyries Saba would have been lumped in with that ugly screaming lot. He would've been just another screamer. Instead, his personality rose above even his own voice. We gave him a pass on the screaming because it was actually funny, it was real, and more than anything, it was happy. When he implored the poker gods for "little ones," he did it with a smile, like it was a little inside joke.

And really, it was. If you heard a "chiquitita" scream at the World Series, you'd probably have no idea what the person was yelling about. It was our little joke on the fledgling LAPT. We hoped to be screaming it for years to come, because, there was something about it that embodied a lot of what is great about the game.

Jyries "Chiquitita" Saba understood that playing poker is a privilege. It can be taken away by a government, family responsibilities, or just going broke. Saba understood he was nearing the end of his life. The smile on his face alone let us know he understood that simply being alive to play the game is a privilege in itself.

As we watched a generation of new players--many of whom are beset with an ugly case of unearned entitlement--it was a joy to find an old man who could help us understand that we're just damned lucky to be able to do what we do for a living--whether it's playing poker, dealing cards, or writing about it on blogs like this. This game has given a lot to a lot of people. It gave Chiquitita happiness at the end of his life, and he appreciated it. That's more than a lot of people can say.

Jyries "Chiquitita" Saba died last week and we will miss him.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in PokerStars news