LAPT San Jose: Welcome
By now, there are certain things we can complacently expect from a PokerStars welcome party.
As silver platters of delicate canapes made their way around the Cariari Country Club tonight, I put a solid check mark next to the words "excellent cuisine."
The lines of eager patrons in the corner of the room soon enabled me to tick the words "plentiful booze" in the jotter, and once Daniel Negreanu, Humberto Brenes, Victor Ramdin, Andre Akkari and Isabelle Mercier were spotted lurking among the assembled masses, "poker superstars" were revealed as being present and correct.
Yet despite seeing all this before in similarly lavish settings across the globe, Costa Rica has still managed to confound and impress. It is as though the regional organisational committees of these bonazas have set themselves up in strict competition against one another to decide who can throw the best party.
Perhaps people in these parts are accustomed to being welcomed into an intimate jungle canopy surrounded by dense vegetation by women "dressed" in nothing but body paint. But allow me to be a prude for a moment: I was surprised. It took a take and then a double take to reveal that, yes, I had seen exactly what I thought I had seen.
So, another week, another spectacular PokerStars tournament in another spectacular location. This is San Jose, Costa Rica, and it is our home for the next three days as we seek our second Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) champion, to follow Julien Nuijten, who won in Rio a couple of weeks back.
Nuijten is here, and was holding court tonight at the welcome party, knowing that his days as the only reigning LAPT winner are numbered. Although it would be a foolish man to bet his house against Nuijten going back-to-back, the significant odds are against the young Dutchman making it two in a row, meaning someone else beneath the vines in the country club will likely walk away with it when we reach a final table on Saturday.
And there are plenty of contenders. Standing away from the crowd tonight, and peering through the lace wings of a four-foot butterfly hanging from the ceiling, I took stock of what we can expect.
Over to my left, I saw two plastic sharks bearing PokerStars logos signalling the inimitable presence of Humberto Brenes. The home-town hero spent the best part of two hours with his arms around adoring supporters, his face fixed permanently in a grin representing the pride of a Costa Rican poker ambassador who has finally brought the party to his own manor. Andre Akkari, who enjoys similar standing in his home country Brazil, was also not to be overlooked.
The aforementioned Kid Poker is here as well, and Negreanu must head any bookmaker's list when likely champions are being discussed. He's a cut above most in the poker world, and his shimmying samba here suggests he feels right at home.
As I stood and watched, I found myself momentarily staring at a vacant space in the dry ice. But soon enough, it was occupied by a figure I recognised, belonging to Vitaly Kovyazin, the second place finisher from Rio, who had again made his way from Brooklyn to Latin America for the tournament. Checking in with the New Yorker, he told me that he'd always intended on coming down here, but a last-chance satellite on PokerStars had made his decision even easier. He won another satellite to book his spot, and renewed his acquaintance with Nuijten, his adversary from Rio, for the cameras.
After I abandoned my perch away from the action, it didn't take much mingling to find other notable faces. There was David Wells, former baseball pitcher and now a poker player, who had gone deep at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in January. He soon found the shoulder of Team PokerStars Pro Isabelle Mercier. Who wouldn't.
Welles's baseball buddy Orel Hershheiser was also there, as was chat-show host Montel Williams, who tapped up Negreanu for some advice.
But arguably even more impressive about these tournaments is the number of online players who make their way and inevitably succeed in splashing into the big time. Alex "Assassinato" Fitzgerald is in San Jose, likewise Johnny Ryan, brother of Danny "The_D_RY" Ryan. Alex is here via the $7.50 PokerStars steps route.
Larry Hinden, a PokerStars qualifier from Connecticut, also has a story to tell. The short version reveals another $7.50 steps success, but the longer version, as related to me around the blackjack tables this evening, deserves a post of its own. Tune in tomorrow, because it's on its way -- and it's worth the wait.
Back at the party, Dave Hardy was there, the PokerStars qualifier from Essex, England, who impressed us all in Rio with tales of his satellite qualification while on an oil rig off of Norway. He's not been anywhere near Europe since that foray deep into Latin America, and has strayed here for his next shot at the big time.
We start tomorrow at noon in the Cariari Country Club and we'll be there from the outset. Someone has a lot of sweeping up to do from the vegetation scattered across the floor of the function room tonight. But while tomorrow the same floor will probably be doused in the tears of the not-so-fortunate, there will be plenty of champagne spilled from the glasses of the successful.
But it's a three-day gig, and tomorrow is just the kick off. Please join us.
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The team of PokerStars video bloggers is also out here in San Jose and found plenty for their cameras at the welcome party. Here's the first of their video reports, with more, and a complete archive of PokerStars coverage, available at PokerStars.tv