WSOP Main Event Day 1B: The Portuguese boom visits Vegas

wsop2010_thn.jpgIf one day someone writes a book called "The Story of Portuguese Poker", there will be a few unusual chapter headings. In the opening stages, there was focus would be on "Basketball", later on there's "The Daniel Negreanu Barcelona Incident" and latterly "Photos in Microsoft Paint". It'll be a bestseller.

The central character would be a man named João Nunes, who is the most recent signing to Team PokerStars Pro, but who has been around the Portuguese poker scene since before there even was a Portuguese poker scene. Nunes, you see, invented it.

"In 2004, there was nothing at all, zero," explained Ricardo Pinto, a Portuguese journalist, who has become a regular fixture in the press boxes of the world's major poker tournaments. "You could say there were two or three players in the whole country."

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Joao Nunes, pictured at the 2007 World Cup of Poker

Back then, Nunes was a professional basketball player and learned poker from a couple of travelling American pros. "They played online (at PokerStars) and talked about poker in the locker room," Pinto said, and soon Nunes thought that the rest of Portugal should learn how to play too.

Nunes established a website called PokerPt, which offered a forum for budding Portuguese players to exchange their views on the game. Soon enough there were 100 other contributors to the forum, sharing Nunes's passion. Encouraged by the interest, Nunes talked to Portuguese casino groups and introduced Texas hold 'em to them for the very first time. In September 2006, Nunes was behind the first ever live poker tournament in Portugal and after being discussed on the forums of PokerPt, the seats sold out in one day.

That was just the start. In 2007, Portugal sent a team to the World Cup of Poker in Barcelona, held in Catalonia at the end of the EPT event. Nunes was the celebrity competitor and Pinto was there to cover it for PokerPt. "People looked at us as if we were just five or six people going to play against the top pros," Pinto said. "But we were almost at the same level."

The captain of the Canadian team that day was the Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu, and he played in the same heat as a man named Nuno Coelho, representing Portugal. Although Portugal were staring at elimination from the tournament by the time Coelho took to the felt, he put on one of the most destructive shows of poker ever seen.

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Nuno Coelho on day 1B of WSOP Main Event

Coelho crushed the final sit and go, winning the 15 points on offer to the champion, and leaving a lasting impression on Negreanu. As Pinto caught up with Coelho, and interviewed him on camera for PokerPt, Negreanu butted in, put his arm around Coelho and said: "He did really, really well."

The endorsement from KidPoker was soon beamed all the way across Portugal. Negreanu described Coelho as a "maniac" and the video was as close to a bona fide viral that Portuguese poker had ever seen.

"That was a big turning point," said Pinto, who watched the hits mount and mount on the video he had shot.

The stats from behind PokerPt tell much of the story of a genuine boom. In October 2004, when Nunes created the site, he became user no 1. Within two months, there were 105 members of the forum and when Vanda Silva, now a member of the PokerPt staff, signed up in 2007, she became user no 4,000. These days, less than six years after the site's inception, there are 36,000 registered users, and poker in Portugal continues to grow.

Last year, the EPT stopped in Portugal for the first time and Antonio Mattias took the title in his home country. Just getting poker's premiere tour to stop on the Algarve represented a huge moment for Portuguese poker. "It was the pinnacle of two years' work," said Pinto.

Although national law prohibits photographs to be taken inside casino premises, the press pack descended on Vilamoura to give unprecedented coverage of a Portuguese poker event. And reporters did their best. (At PokerStars Blog, we drew Microsoft Paint renderings of the top players, which became even more of a hit than our usual output.)

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A caricature of Shaun Deeb from EPT Vilamoura coverage

These days, Portugal has three representatives on Team PokerStars Pro. Nunes, of course, but also that man Coelho, who is now batting for the same side as Negreanu while continuing his day job as a lawyer.

The third player is Henrique Pinho, a professional poker player and real scholar of the game. Pinho plays all variations of poker, treating it like a job and sitting in a purpose built office to play eight hours a day.

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Henrique Pinho

Both Pinho and Coelho are today playing in their first World Series Main Event. Nunes is watching from the rail and will play tomorrow.

They might well be writing the newest chapter in the book.

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TEAM POKERSTARS PRO CHIP DISPARITY OF THE HOUR

ElkY: 8,100
Johnny Lodden: 75,000

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READ OF THE HOUR

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Gavin Griffin reading between hands on his Kindle)

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QUOTE OF THE HOUR

"You know, he's been a miserable sod for about three hours, and now he has the biggest smile on his face." --referring to player getting a massage from a rather comely therpist

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COMEUPPANCE OF THE HOUR

Johnny Lodden, holding 3♠4♠, against a short stack's all-in with A♥A♠ on a board of 9♠2♠6♠. Turn: Q♠ River: Not the 5♠.

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HAND OF THE HOUR FEATURING A FORMER CAST MEMBER OF THE SOPRANOS

It's a four-way limped pot to a flop of 5♣2♣2♦. An unknown leads for 1,300 and gets two calls, one from Robert "A.J. Soprano" Iler. On the T♠ turn, the unknown led again for 3,600. This time, only Iler called. The river brought the 6♥. Iler's opponent asked for a count of his foe's chips. Iler reveled 22,500, and soon faced a a bet of 9,200. Iler shrugged and put out the call. His opponent rolled over 3♥4♥. Iler tabled jacks, then took a walk to consider whether it might have been better to raise at any point in the hand.

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CONVERSATION FROM THE HALLWAY OUTSIDE THE AMAZON ROOM OF THE HOUR

"I really don't feel like sitting alone in a cafe."

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TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY OF THE HOUR

The number of times it took an Eastern European couple to snap a photo of each other with the feature table in the background: 4.

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RATIOS OF THE HOUR

Ratio of men to women watching Gavin Smith on the feature table: 20 to 1

Ratio of men to women watching Annette Obrestad on the secondary feature table: 11 to 7

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FACT OF THE HOUR

"An estimated 15 million Atomic Fireballs are consumed per week by people all over the world and the number continues to grow." (Source: Ferrara Pan Candy Company)

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VIDEO OF THE HOUR