WSOP 2011: Faces in the crowds


After more than half a day's play the field still looks a lot like it did five days ago. While we've been losing players since then - any walk around the tournament room will be to the soundtrack of "all-in-and-call" - there is still a mass of humanity in the Amazon and Pavilion Rooms, with no obvious sign that some of them are being asked to get up and leave.

Weaved through the playing field are the hopefuls and the happy, the ambitious and the arbitrary, each with varying levels of skill but no shortage of self-belief, an iron certainty that they have what it takes or failing that, that the cards, the system, or some divine sense of entitlement will guarantee them a one way ticket to poker's main stage.

Then there are those who have a track record to substantiate their claims on greatness.
Four players fit that description - an anonymous looking man you wouldn't look twice at, a national hero from a land far away and a former champion with nothing left to prove.

To a spectator on the rail Fernando Brito looks like another other curly haired middle-aged fellow on his yearly indulgent trip to Las Vegas to play in the World Series main event, just like the other eight guys at this table. What they might not know however is that Brito plays today defined by the title he won just a few weeks ago in Europe, where the Portuguese businessman was named European Poker Tour Player of the Year.


Fernando Brito on the EPT

If the EPT did as the WSOP, and hung huge pictures of their PoYs on walls, then perhaps Brito, who sits with 76,000, would be more of a recognisable force. Instead he plays unnoticed by all but the Portuguese press who follow him intently and are naturally among his biggest fans.

"He's gone from 60k to 80k today. Now he's stopped," said Ricardo Pinto, who spends his life covering the handful of Portuguese players in tournaments around the world. "But he can play two levels and play only one hand."

For anyone out of the loop on Brito his rise from mere unknown to inexplicably formidable took place as fast as any meteoric rise an online pro might experience. Brito won side event after side events during EPT Season 7, defying logic as he bagged High Roller tournaments and more to register a superior PoY points tally even main event winners.

Pinto puts Brito's success down to various things, mainly his ability to read his opponents, which Brito claims is down to his work as a diamond dealer. "When he bets he can see in his opponent whether they think it's cheap or expensive."

Could this diamond trick be the key to Brito's success? Being to him what training in a meat locker was to Rocky Balboa, or "wax-on-wax-off" was to the karate kid? Something has clearly worked.

On the other side of the Amazon Room sits Salvatore Bonavena who can now count himself as one of the most successful layers from Italy ever known.

Salvatore Bonavena

Flush with the poker bug, Italy duly expected its first heroes Dario Minieri or Luca Pagano to first EPT silverware before any other, but instead it was Bonavena, to the delight of every Italian who had ever moved all-in before with rags. That day Bonavena earned $992,893, since been topped up with Italian Poker Tour wins and more, adding up to career winnings in excess of $2.1 million. Now instead of working in housing, he sits at a poker table all day wearing track bottoms and a trilby.

Regardless of age, they are the new ambitious hopefuls when it comes to the main event. But if only those who have reached the pinnacle of World Series poker can really describe what it's all about then Jamie Gold is one of a handful who can put his finger on it, a man who knows what it was like to have the world look at him and ask questions.
With his hair a little greyer, the 2006 winner earned $12 million in his Midas year, the record for any WSOP champ. Now though he's on the other side of the mountain most others think they can climb, joined there by other former winners still in the running such as Team PokerStars Pros Joe Hachem and Joe Cada.

"First couple of years I came back out of responsibility to come back," said Gold, talking about why he continues to play the main event in the face of overwhelming odds against a repeat. "But this year I decided I wanted to go back."

Former World Champion Jamie Gold

"I love it," he added, mentioning that he harbours plans for a return to the world poker circuit. "I'll never stop playing poker. But I just feel like it will always be there. Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe whenever, but there's so many other things I want to do with my life, I'll never just play poker."

Four players, four very different plans for this main event, but an equal will to win.


The Real Me? from The Who's epic 1973 Quadrophenia album. Simon Young is now reminiscing about his Vespa.


@LucaPagano: 2nd bad news of the day: I'm out. I had A3, he had K5, I went all in (15k) at the flop when it was A 8 5. Easy...

No one by the name of Audrey, Telula, Humph or Doug has ever won the World Series of Poker Main Event.