LAPT Rio: Coping with the unexpected

Like most players making their way to Rio, Tony Nikaj had a certain set of expectations of what he'd find.

He expected a slight increase in temperature this side of the equator, especially compared with his home in Puttnam Valley, New York. He was right about that.

He also expected to find some carnival atmosphere in this party town. Tony's grin at last night's exclusive cabaret suggested he was right about that as well.

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Tony "Texpert" Nikaj

He also confessed yesterday that he expected to find the field in this relatively new poker nation to be somewhat softer than those he's used to dealing with around the PokerStars tables, else in Vegas or Foxwoods, or the Borgata, Atlantic City.

He'll have to get back to you on that one.

Tony found his chair this afternoon on table 27, seat four. On table 27, seat one was a man named Chad Brown. On table 27, seat two was a man named Greg Raymer. At least Tony had position on them both.

LAPT Rio_Day 1_0010.jpgChad Brown and Greg Raymer: Team-mates staying close

"Hey, take a look at this!" he bellowed in my direction as I took my first sweep of the room. He then pointed at the Team PokerStars Pros, smiled, shrugged and laughed it off.

"Some soft field, huh," I offered. "Still, it'll make a good story."

Tony had previously filled me in on the other details. Born and raised in the original Little Italy area of the Bronx, New York City, he cut his teeth in the big games organised in the countless Italian restaurants, cafes and sports club that line the famous Arthur Avenue in Belmont. It was a tough education but one that served him well.

He turned pro about a year ago, and last month shipped his biggest cash to date, taking down the $5,200 freezeout on PokerStars, good for $100,000.

Although he prefers playing online cash -- where he goes under the moniker "Texpert" -- he's also now flexing his muscles in the live multi-table tournament arena, with recent visits to San Remo and Monte Carlo on the EPT.

There, he cheered from the bleechers as good friends Isaac Baron and Michael Martin made the final table. Soft field or no soft field, he's hoping to do something very similar.