LAPT Grand Final: Missing Man formation
She wore red lipstick, a white collared shirt, and a warm smile that is more normal here than in other parts of the world. At her feet was a cooler full of water and soda. In her hand was a list of names: Brad Willis, Mike Ward, Greg Pappas, and one more name that she felt sure was fake.
In any case, as an experienced traveler, I can attest there are worse things to see when you get off an international flight than an attractive young girl who is expecting you and brought drinks for your refreshment. She had come to make sure the two top dogs of tournament directing on the LAPT (Senor Ward and Senor Pappas) and I made it to the World Trade Center Sheraton without wandering off into some Carnival Samba party. She was also responsible for the man with the obviously fake name.
To meet this woman required a nine-hour redeye flight from Atlanta, Georgia in cramped economy seats, a long walk to immigration lines, and a one-hour wait to have our passports checked. By the time we cleared customs ("No, nothing to declare here, obrigado"), the Coke Zero from Ms. Red Lipstick's cooler tasted doubly good. All that was left was a 90-minute ride through impossibly bad traffic. The only thing standing in our way was the absence of our fourth traveler. Forty-five minutes of waiting later, he'd still not crossed the threshold from customs.
"I need to check with the airline to see if he was on the plane," Red Lipstick said. "That's not his real name, right? Does he have a different name?"
Ward, Pappas, and I went to great lengths to explain that, yes, indeed, our new drink-bearing friend was looking for a man with the last name, "Moneymaker." When she wandered away again, she still didn't look as if she believed us.
It took another 15 minutes of waiting before we learned the real story. There was no Moneymaker on the plane in Sao Paulo, because Chris Moneymaker never got on the plane in Atlanta.
Like many of the other Team PokerStars Pros who made the trip, Chris Moneymaker was excited about coming to the LAPT Grand Final during Carnival. Only one thing stood in his way: the visa.
Now, before we go any further, let's make one thing clear: the 2003 world poker champ knows his way around international travel. He's been all over the world as one of the most recognized poker ambassadors on the planet. What's more, he's still traveling constantly. Just last week, he was playing in Tunica before jetting off to Pennsylvania for an appearance. Meanwhile, he was trying to deal with a very American problem vis a vis Brazil. It probably requires a bit of explanation.
Relations between the United States and Brazil have long been a bit chilly. The countries don't fight, but they don't necessarily cooperate, either. Hence, when Brazilians go to the U.S., they need a visa to enter the country and they end up paying higher taxes on, say, poker winnings, than travelers from other countries. Brazil acts in kind. It operates a reciprocal system regarding in international travel. To mangle a phrase, Brazil does unto others as others do unto it.
Relations have improved over the years. A decade ago, the USA was denying about 40% of all Brazilian visa requests. Now it's only about 5%. That said, the U.S. still requires Brazilians to get visas, and, hence, vice versa.
Getting a Brazilian visa isn't necessarily hard, but it is time-consuming. As an American, unless you have easy access to a Brazilian consulate, you end up having to mail your passport all over the country before you get what you need to go to Brazil. It's a hassle, but it's the nature of the travel, and once you get a Brazilian visa, it's good for ten years.
That's a rather long way of explaining why Mr. Moneymaker didn't show up to meet Mrs. Red Lipstick (no, that's not her real name).
Like most Americans hoping to travel to Brazil, Moneymaker used a visa expediting service to get his visa. And, well, there's no other way to put it: the company screwed up and Moneymaker couldn't board a plane bound for Brazil. As such, there is a Moneymaker-shaped hole in the LAPT Grand Final today.
Likewise, ElkY (no, not his real name either) failed to make the trip. His, however, was not a visa problem. Three hours after his flight left Paris, the plane turned around and returned to France due to technical problems. If he wanted to play the LAPT Grand Final, his only option was to board the next flight. That meant he would've had to sit down to play after not sleeping for more than 30 hours. Instead, he chose to sit this one out.
"Guess I will have to wait next year to experience the unbelievable Brazilian Carnival," he said. "I was so looking forward to it."
And so today, we begin this Grand Final flying in Missing Man formation. Missing Men, in fact.
Our sympathies go out to Senor Moneymaker and Senor ElkY. No matter whether your names are real, you are missed here.