LAPT Punta del Este: The LAPT's hidden gem
Punta del Este might just be the finest resort you have never heard of.
Perched on the southern coast of Uruguay, about 90 minutes by road from the capital Montevideo, the town boasts the miles of sandy beaches familiar to Rio de Janeiro, the mansion-sized yachts and luxury apartments of Monte Carlo, the fine seafood restaurants of Barcelona, the gleaming blue sea of San Remo, the lagoons, bridges and wicker-topped shacks of the Bahamas, and the opulence and splendour of Las Vegas.
Now, in common with all those places, it also has a poker tournament of some repute. This splendid town, the most prized jewel on South America's tourist trail, plays host to the final event on the inaugural PokerStars Latin America Poker Tour (LAPT). It's a $2,500 buy-in, no-limit Texas hold 'em event, lasting three days and attracting more than 300 players. We expect to crown a champion late on Saturday night, who will earn something like $250,000 for their troubles.
Tournaments like this attract the stars of the game, and this one is no different. Team PokerStars Pros Greg Raymer, Barry Greenstein, Humberto Brenes, Chad Brown, Vanessa Rousso, Andre Akkari and Alexandre Gomes are in town. David "Chino" Rheem is filling some of his time before the World Series final table by joining the fray in Uruguay, and Brandon Cantu will be aiming to add LAPT glory to his WSOP and WPT tournament victories.
Max and Maria Stern, the only married couple each with World Series bracelets, are also here, as is Valdemar Kwaysser, the Hungarian player who won the LAPT event in Costa Rica, and will be hoping for an unprecedented back-to-back triumphs. Meanwhile Jason Mercier, EPT champion in San Remo, leads a typically strong field of PokerStars qualifiers, aiming to translate tiny online satellite buy-ins into major bricks-and-mortar success. Each has the track record to take this down, and we'll find out by Saturday who has seized the day.
Our venue is the wondrous Mantra resort, spa and casino, in the La Barra region of Punta del Este, boasting mud lounges and hydroptherapy tubs, grand baccharat and roulette. The guest services offer a "photographic safari" and "a day in the ranges", or maybe a hot-air balloon ride, with "champagne on board". Wind-swept sand dunes separate us from the beach and block after block of million-dollar apartments staring out over the azure of the Atlantic Ocean. Showrooms offer sports cars and the local realtor's office is a Sotheby's. The waste-paper bin in my room is made of leather; it is that kind of place.
But nearby in another direction, charming small villages are tucked amid pine forest and farmland. The branches of short trees in groves ache beneath the strain of oranges and lemons, and teenagers ride the kind of mopeds powered by duelling wasps. A wild boar forages in the muck and the roof of a house is made from moss. A restaurant describes its speciality as "Slow Food" and a billboard declares: "Wake Up and Live!"
Starting with the welcome party tonight, we expect to do a lot of living over the coming few days. As is customary, PokerStars blog will bring you all the action from Punta del Este and the LAPT, in words, pictures and video. If you want Spanish, you can get it HERE or Portuguese can be found HERE.
Our video blog team have also been out and about in downtown Punta, putting together their early impressions of the place.
Watch Coming up next: LAPT Punta del Este on PokerStars.tv
Their regular dispatches will appear on this page, but you can also check out PokerStars.tv for their work, plus an archive of previous footage.
Next year, you should be here yourself, having won a seat on PokerStars.com for what is already a fine, fine poker tour. But for the time being, stay tuned for the details of how this one is progressing. Well, is my early guess.