Game, set, match: Bruno "great dant" Volkmann finds stardom on his own terms
When we look up to the sun, we see our star. We know it as the one we care about, the one sun that provides for us in a black sea of others that we look upon only as blinking astronomical pinpricks. We spend little time thinking about the others as much as we do the bright one that warms our face.
Scientists know, however, that around the cosmos, our sun and other stars have siblings, giant clouds of gas that have the same chemical makeup, born at the same time but living in places far away, barely recognized by their nieces and nephews under a brother star's light.
On Earth, we have these sibling stars, too. I think of the guitar tech who sets up David Gilmour's guitar before a show, the sous chef prepping Michael Mina's tasting menu, or the warm-up guy for Louis CK. In many ways, they may be worthy of the same kind of adoration as the brighter star, but circumstance and fate have made them little more than pinpricks in the sky.
This is something you don't have to explain to Bruno Volkmann.
EIGHT YEARS AND A DREAM
To get a sense for the time, you'll have to think back to when Britney Spears was exploding as a star. It was 1998, and Brazilian Bruno Volkmann was eight years old. Someone put a tennis racket in his hand, and he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He had an ability like few other children of his age. Volkmann was on his way to becoming a pro.
"I was just thinking about tennis all the time," he recalled this week.
At the very same time, another Brazilian a little more than twice Volkmann's age was already living the dream. At 16 years old, André Sá was already playing professional matches. Sá's fledging career would grow, eventually taking him to the Olympics, Roland Garros, and Wimbeldon.
Meanwhile, Volkmann grew older, living and breathing his tennis dream. He felt like he had the stuff to make it as a pro, but he couldn't quite cross the threshold as Sá had.
"I got a bit frustrated struggling trying to become professional," Volkmann admitted.
Little did he know at the time, he would make it out on the pro tour after all...just not in the way that he though the would.
By the time he'd fully matured as a tennis player, Volkmann made it to Wimbledon, Roland Garros, the Australian Open and many others. He did the training, put in the workouts, and lived the life of a touring tennis pro.
He did it as André Sá's hitting partner.
Instead, of being out on tour and trying to win titles for himself, Volkmann was brought along to spar against a man living his own dream, a sibling star to one of Brazil's most recognized tennis players at the time.
The job gave him nearly everything he wanted. He was traveling, seeing the world, and playing tennis against top competition. Nevertheless, the dream he was living would never be his. It was the type of thing that was bound to come to mind when he was sitting alone in hotel rooms around the world.
It was the type of thing that might encourage a young wanna-be pro to flip open his laptop and find an online poker site.
Even if being on the tennis tour wasn't exactly Volkmann's dream job, it did provide him with a bit of a life freeroll. He wasn't having to sit in a cubicle punching numbers into spreadsheets, drink bad coffee, and hope for a pay raise. In fact, when he wasn't playing tennis, he was at first at a loss for what how to occupy himself.
"There was nothing to do," he said. "So in between my matches and practices I went to my room and played freerolls."
It's not hard to see how this story would progress. He kept playing online, and when he was home he found local live freerolls. Those freerolls led to a state tournament.
"Everything worked well, and I won the tournament. It was a huge prize for me," he said.
With some money in the bank and a newfound talent for cards, Volkmann had a decision to make. Could he possibly give up the dream he'd had since he was eight years old?
"It was a big decision to stop with tennis and focus on poker...and it was not an easy one," he said.
Nevertheless, he made the leap, joining a staking group and grinding the felt instead of the court.
How well did he do? Well, he is now one of the owners of the staking group he joined.
Volkmann, known as "great dant" on PokerStars, started building his own name. He put together score after score, amassing more than $2 million in winnings according to PocketFives.
Last Friday, he won his title. In a field of 862 entries vying for the $1,050 NLHE, 4-Max title, Volkmann won it all for more than $177,000. You can read a full wrap-up of his efforts here.
"It was hard work materializing," he said. "I've been playing high stakes for a long time now and never have had a big score. It finally came!"
Nevertheless, Volkmann knows very well how fickle poker can be. The title is gratifying, but he knows everything could change tomorrow. It keeps him humble in a universe of sometimes over-proud players.
He said, "There's a lot more variance in tournaments than people think, and the fact that I won a WCOOP this week does not make me any better than I was last week. I would like people to understand that those who win the most are not necessarily the best."
Still, after years of trying unsuccessfully to make it on the tennis tour, Volkmann has nevertheless achieved a dream.
He's now the pro he was always meant to be and a star in his own galaxy.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis.