LAPT5 Colombia: The ghost of Pablo Escobar

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lapt-promo.gifIt's hard to come to a place like Medellin for a poker tournament - which is, for many people, nothing more than a glorified form of entertainment - without talking about Medellin's past.

A friend sent me an email this morning that read, in part, "I've always thought (Medellin) was a dangerous place based on stories from my friend's father - an expat. He mentioned that he wore a light bullet proof jacket to go outside, had a body guard and all his car windows were bullet proof. Sounded crazy!"

That is the legacy of Pablo Escobar's one-man war against the state in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Escobar, the ruthless head of the powerful Medellin drug cartel, invited what was essentially open war in the streets between the foot soldiers of his cartel and the Colombian government. In those days, Colombia had the highest murder rate in the world.

But it's been twenty years since the government hunted Escobar down and slew him. In the interim Medellin has rebounded. Many of the LAPT staff are staying in a boutique hotel ten minutes from the Casino Allegre in a neighborhood, Parque Lleras, full of trendy cafes, bars and restaurants. The city has reinvested in its infrastructure, its institutions, its citizens. Foreigners are investing in businesses and property.

The Premium Plaza, the shopping center in Medellin in which the Casino Allegre is located, feels like any other shopping center you'd find in South America. The streets are full of cars and mopeds. The young people congregate at night to drink cheap beer, eat cheap food, smoke pot and flirt. The city is safe enough that when all five people on our shuttle from the airport last night starting snapping photos of the cityscape, our driver offered to pull over and let us get out for a few minutes.

In short, Medellin is a vibrant city full of people who have the same concerns and fears as anybody else in the world. Its reputation for narco-violence is long in the past. The only bullets that players in the Casino Allegre have to worry about are the pointy ones that players have a 221:1 chance of being dealt.


Speaking of bullets, Team PokerStars Pro Chris Moneymaker is out. "Four LAPT trips, four early eliminations," Moneymaker said. He limped 8-5 offsuit, flopped two pair on an 8-5-J flop, and got all in against a player who limped aces. The turn was a blank but the river jack overcoated Money800's two pair. It's only interviews for the rest of Moneymaker's day.



"Every f***ing tournament, the same f***ing bulls**t," said a player at the back of the room in disgust. He stood up and repeated the sentence a little louder. Then a third time, a little louder, as he walked a short distance away. Finally, nowhere close to calmed down, the player sat back down at his still-sizable stack and added one more iteration for good measure.

Dave Behr
@PokerStars in Medellin