LAPT Panama: Bracelet winner's new life not for the dogs

lapt-promo.gifIn the past four months, Joey Weissman has gone from sleeping on his friend's Las Vegas couch to living a sun-baked dream on the beaches of Costa Rica. The difference in his life couldn't be more stark, and the sky under which he awakes isn't the only reason. Since that early June couch-surfing, Weissman has won a World Series of Poker bracelet and nearly $700,000. He's moved to Playas del Coco, Costa Rica. He's currently waking to a dreamscape of beaches and beautiful women instead of couch cushion lint. He flew directly here from Costa Rica yesterday.

"I love it there. It's unbelievable. It's really relaxing," Weissman said during the first break today. "The people are really friendly. The beaches are beautiful. The weather is beautiful. The girls are nice. I love everything about it."

Last summer, Weissman played heads-up for four hours before winning his first bracelet, doing so famously for having his service dog Revis at the side of the stage the whole time. When it came time for the winner's interview, Revis yawned, but Weissman had a new light in his eye. He told the WSOP's Nolan Dalla at the time, "It's just bad luck if you don't bring your dog."

But like many an American poker player, if Weissman wanted to continue his poker career, he had to play events like the World Championship of Online Poker. To do that meant leaving America and his dog behind. That kind of move is never an easy decision, but when WCOOP is putting up $55 million worth of prize pools, spending part of the year in Costa Rica is a no-brainer.

WCOOP turned out to be a push. He broke even, a result he declared "Could've been worse, could've been better obviously."

But during his time in Playas del Coco, Weissman noticed online satellites to a place across the southern border called Panama.

"I saw that Panama was close, and if I could win a seat I would come," he said. "I've never been to Panama, and I wanted to take advantage of it, and obviously PokerStars runs great events, and I didn't want to miss it."

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That decision brought him to Panama City and his seat on the feature table today. In the first two levels of play, Weissman has managed to bust tour favorite Felipe Ramos and establish himself as one of the players to avoid on Day 1. It's a kind of confidence he didn't necessarily have six months ago and a kind of affirmation that comes with winning one of poker's most coveted events.

"I can travel and I'm not really tied down to anything. That's really the only thing that's changed for me personally. That and the confidence of being able play in any big field and any tournament," he said. "Obviously, I feel like I've improved a ton as a player due to my hard work and the people I surround myself with."

The last part of that quote isn't just a throw-away line for Weissman. He means it. Weissman is a man who puts more of a premium on a good life with friends than he does stacks of cash. For him, the biggest benefit of having a big bankroll is having the flexibility to live.

"I haven't really been spending too much of it," he said. "I just kind of spend money on traveling and experiences."

And, woah, the experiences he's had. To wit: just a few weeks ago as he was in the middle of the WCOOP grind, a gigantic earthquake hit Costa Rica. He and the rest of his crew came out okay, but it was a moment he won't forget.

And so now, he's experiencing something new with the rest of the LAPT. The man who likes to spend his time looking for new roads is blazing this first LAPT trail into Panama. After this, he's thinking about spending some time traveling the live American circuit. It's a chance to use that new-found confidence (and get back together with his dog).

For now, though, there is a matter of winning LAPT Panama. After all, even if it's not about the money, first place money can buy a lot more experiences.

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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in Panama