LAPT Rio: The storm before the bigger storm
In journalism, as in life, you learn the importance of looking deeper than first impressions: don't judge a book by its cover, report only when the whole story is known, looked at from every angle. Yet while following the various poker tours around the major venues of the world, the chance to become acquainted with the intricacies of a city rarely presents itself, and the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel often provides not only the first, but the only impression of what makes a place tick.
The writers of PokerStars blog, myself included, have therefore made it our business to buckle our noses onto the inside of these grimy cabs' windows, and frantically to observe whatever goes by outside on our trip to the casino or hotel, lest we never get another chance. And it's amazing how much you can actually notice when you're really looking -- ask any poker player seeking tells from his/her opponents, and they'll confirm that all you have to do is watch.
In Dublin, you see a lot of Guinness signs; in Copenhagen, there's usually a lot of snow. In Vegas, the cab is drawn moth-like to the shimmering of the Strip; in Monte Carlo, the cab itself is a helicopter, which tells you all you need to know.
Yesterday, I developed my first impressions of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from the back seat of a cab driven with typical breakneck haste from the north east of the city to the Intercontinental Hotel, pictured above, in the south west.
Any post-flight grogginess soon lifted.
By the time I made it to my room, my notebook included a number of angular scribbles, each one representing a sharp swerve to avoid what seemed to be certain death. It also included a list of words and fragments, which hang loosely together as an indication of the coreless enigma of Rio, a city like no other this visitor has seen.
There was "mountains" and "rain-forest" prompted by the series of enormous rocks thrusting skyward, surrounded by a dense canopy of dark green. There was the word "Jesus" referring not necessarily to the writer's state of panic, rather the domineering figure of Christ the Redeemer, casting his shadow and blessings across the entire sprawl.
Several times, I had written "soccer" and then "Thursday morning soccer", referring to what seemed to be organised matches played midweek, before midday, by budding Ronalhinhos, Ronaldos and Peles, on pitches scattered between roads and houses, wherever there was a space.
More than once, the road plunged into black tunnels, burrowing through the mountains, emerging in a separate neighbourhood, with a distinct life of its own. There are pretty girls and there are peasants, stepping out of beachside bars and the favelas, the Girl from Ipanema and the kids from City of God. There are high-rise tower blocks and vast tangles of slums; there are paragliders leaping off cliffs, and the beatiful people stretched out beside five-star pools.
Then, of course, there are the beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema for those hoping to namedrop; the quieter stretches heading towards Barra de Tijuca and the National Park for those seeking serenity amid the chaos. On each, the breakers are crashing in, strong enough to shatter the silence and the coconuts sold by the beach traders.
Tonight, we'll be making some waves of our own as PokerStars welcomes the players of this, the inaugural LAPT event, in time-honored fashion: a lavish party with dancing girls, fire-eaters, food and drink.
Then tomorrow, action shifts to the conference centre, where we'll all lie in wait for the first shuffle and the first deal, the first clash of World Champions and, inevitably, the first bad beat, pump of fist, howl of injustice, amid the clattering of chips.
It'll all be translated here in words, pictures and video. Rio is already hectic, but it will only grow even more so over the coming few days.
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As pioneered during the recent European Poker Tour season, PokerStars blog is now also the place to come for the best video updates from the tournament floor.
The LAPT is starting where the EPT left off and for the past 24 hours or so, our crack team of video bloggers have been sampling the sights and sounds of Rio to provide this introduction to the delights of Brazil, and a sample of what's to come: