Meeting my idol
I've been a soccer fan my whole life but when it came to FIFA, Ronaldo Nazario was my biggest idol. One of the greatest Brazilian players of all time, he's the highest goal scorer in the history of the World Cup and won FIFA Player of the Year three times. In the final two years of his career, he played for my favorite team, Corinthians before retiring in 2011. All those years I watched Ronaldo on the field, I never dreamed I'd be able to meet him, let alone become his friend and teach him about poker.
I met Ronaldo for the first time at his house. I had already signed with his sports agency, 9ine, and was invited to play in a poker game. Ronaldo wanted a chance to beat a World Series champion and I jumped at the opportunity because I was such a big fan. That day at his house we played a 50 Reais (about $25) sit-n-go, ate pizza, drank a few beers, and had a really good time. During the game, Ronaldo was joking around a lot and had a huge smile on his face. I could tell he was really excited about poker. That was the moment I decided to see what I could do about bringing him to PokerStars.
In the months that followed, I played poker with Ronaldo three or four more times. Every time we played I could see his game improving and he started asking a lot of questions. But Ronaldo's questions were a lot different than a typical amateur player's questions. I could really see his athlete's instincts at work. Instead of asking how to play a specific hand, he wanted to understand broader concepts like how to play in the early levels of a tournament vs. the later stages. Ronaldo realized very quickly that poker isn't really about cards--it's about reading opponents and applying pressure accordingly. He has spent his entire life reading players on the field and quickly figure out how to translate that way of thinking to the poker table.
When I first approached the guys at 9ine with the idea for Ronaldo to represent PokerStars, they were a bit skeptical. Ronaldo has a crazy schedule and travels five days a week for his position as the president of the World Cup in Brazil. But a few weeks later I was back in the 9ine office for a meeting and they said Ronaldo was actually really interested and wanted to talk more about the responsibilities of being a Team Pro. Ronaldo and I ended up sitting down for a long meeting, maybe three or four hours, and I did my best to explain everything about PokerStars, the poker world, and the rapid growth of the game in Brazil. Ronaldo was really excited, so I contacted some people at PokerStars to see if we could make this happen. It took a few months of conversations to smooth out the details, but PokerStars was so enthusiastic and agreed with me about the huge potential Ronaldo has as an ambassador for poker in Brazil. Then, once everything was settled, I had to keep it a secret for a month! I was just dying to tell someone because I knew how big it would be, but I kept my word.
It's a dream to be working with one of my idols and I know I'll be telling my children and grandchildren stories about Ronaldo for the rest of my life. Sometimes I forget how crazy it really is. One time I was driving in the car with my wife and my phone rang. I looked at the screen and saw "Ronaldo" was the caller. I showed the phone to my wife.
"Can you believe Ronaldo is calling me?" I said.
"Well, you'd better answer it!" she laughed.
Andre Akkari is a member of Team PokerStars Pro