LAPT Grand Final: Good luck turtles, and South American heart
Vincenzo Giannelli stood like a giant over the two children in front of him and opened his bag. The boy and girl stood with wide eyes and looked up at the man towering above their little heads.
The one-time judo champion is a man of amazing size. Shaking his hand is a frightening workout, even for an average-sized adult. The Venezuelan is probably the largest regular on the LAPT. His mere presence is intimidating in a way I've always found difficult to describe. I'll put it this way: no matter what the argument is, I'm always going to be on Giannelli's side.
Now, Giannelli stood in front of these children--youngsters belonging to my friend Sergio--and placed small turtle figurines in their hands. Gianelli then took a solid silver turtle from Italy and put it in the mother's upturned palm. Finally, Giannelli put a turtle in Sergio's hand. Giannelli stood for a minute as the turtles' perceived power sunk into the flesh of the Prado clan.
I watched this scene play out as I absorbed the first hour of my day.
Before I'd even unpacked my bag to work this morning, our staff photographer, Carlos Monti, took a moment to pass on a poem he thought would help me deal with my father's recent death. Monti did this while still dealing with the fact that someone swiped his best camera yesterday. When almost anybody else would be gnashing their teeth, cursing the thief, and wallowing in self-pity, Monti was taking time to think of me.
Moments later, I met the Prado clan. It had been a year since I last saw them. Prado--the writer who covers Brazil for the PokerStars Blog--has a family any man would envy: a beautiful wife, a stunning little girl, and a little boy that will be a lady-killer someday (but today is wearing shoes with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor on them). They pulled me aside to offer gifts for my family and me--Brazilian candy and Carnival packets for my kids, and a bottle of cachaça for me.
I need to be clear about something: I am proud of the fact I come from America, and I have many friends from countries all over the planet. That said, I am impressed beyond measure with the heart and kindness shown to travelers in this part of the world.
Finally, Giannelli unzipped the pack on his hip and directed the Prados to deposit the lucky turtles. Hopefully their luck and protection had done their work on Sergio's family. Now the turtles were needed elsewhere. Giannelli was one of the top players advancing to Day 2, and he was on his way to sit at the feature table with international star Daniel Negreanu.
Giannelli turned to me as he walked away. He took my little hand in his, and whispered, "Remember Mar del Plata?"
Two and half years ago, Giannelli (who already had a runner-up finish that season) bubbled the LAPT Season 2 Grand Final after getting pocket kings all in against a naked ace. The flop was clean, but an ace came on the turn and denied Giannelli another chance at a title.
"Remember Mar del Plata?" Giannelli said again. "Today I have 141,000."
"I'm going to win this," Giannelli said.
With his turtles in tow, Giannelli walked into the tournament room.
Maybe it's just a sense of familiarity with a tour I've covered for the past several years. Maybe it's that natural desire to make connections with people when I'm so far from home. Whatever it is, I take a great deal of comfort and find an immeasurable amount of joy in getting to know people here. If you make a friend on this tour, you have truly made a friend. It's not like that everywhere else, and it's an example that I wish I could somehow shove past the customs agents on my way home.