There I was, in the same clothes I’d been wearing for the past 33 hours, running on around four hours sleep, crammed right in the centre of the busiest metro carriage I’d ever encountered. It was the Friday rush hour in São Paulo (around 4:30pm), and we were one station stop away from where I’d be getting off. All of a sudden a group of teenagers squeezed themselves on board, making the already-rammed carriage crowd wobble around like a mosh pit at a heavy metal gig. One thing became clear:
I wasn’t getting off. There was no way I’d be able to get past the throng. We arrived at my stop, and nobody left. I was trapped. How many more stops would it take before people got off and I could hop immediately onto a train going in the other direction? Would I ever get off? Was this train carriage my home now?
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Let’s rewind a few weeks. When I was asked to travel to São Paulo to report from the BSOP Millions and last ever LAPT, I was obviously excited. Getting to travel and write about the game I love is amazing; you might say it’s my dream job.
As I was travelling so far to get there (I live in the UK), I knew I had to arrive a few days before work started, so I could get out and about and see the São Paulo sights. This could be the only time I’m ever here, so making the most of it and seeing as much as I can was important.
But here’s the thing: São Paulo is one big city. And when I say big, I mean big. More than 20 million people live throughout the city, making it the tenth largest in the world and the biggest in South America. It’s also huge in area, spanning 1,523 km². Needless to say, while I was very excited, I was also a little intimidated by the sheer scale of the place.
After an 11 hour 30 minute flight from London on which I only managed a few hours kip, I landed in São Paulo at 7am local time and hopped in a cab to the Sheraton WTC Hotel, which is also the venue for the BSOP Millions and LAPT. Arriving at 8am, I checked in, but understandably was told my room wouldn’t be ready until after 3pm.
There was only one thing for it: get out and explore.
First I headed to Centro, the city centre, with a destination in mind. The Galeria Do Rock – or Rock Gallery – is a multi-story shopping mall chock full of record stores, vintage clothing outlets, tattoo parlours, skate stores, music clothing stores, small restaurants and more. If you like rock music and alternative culture, it’s well worth a visit.
Next up was a metro journey to the fantastic neighbourhood of Bela Vista, an area of the city where São Paulo’s counterculture has thrived over the decades. In the seventies and eighties punks, gays, hippies and metal heads all lived here harmoniously, and while it’s slowly becoming gentrified, Bela Vista is a great part of town to spend an afternoon.
It was now 4pm and my eyes could barely stay open, so heading back to the hotel was now a must. And here’s where I ran into the metro traffic. A 20-minute journey soon became a 50-minute one. But as this was the first time I’d encountered any issues in my eight hour trek around the city, I considered my first day in São Paulo a success.
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Of course, I wasn’t in São Paulo to sit in a hotel room. I was here to work, but that didn’t start for another day. I had a few hours sleep, then headed down to the tournament room: the Golden Hall here at the Sheraton WTC. It’s quite a sight, let me tell you. An enormous dome-roofed hall with poker tables, screens, even pool tables.
I met up with my colleague Sergio Prado, the official blogger of PokerStars Brazil, and told him I was thinking of going to Vila Madalena to have a walk around. It turns out Sergio grew up near Vila Madalena and frequently visits with his wife and kids, so he gave me some great suggestions of where to go. Funnily enough, they were all focused around the same thing: beer.
Yes, I like beer (who doesn’t? Shame on you!) and was keen to sample some local Brazilian IPA tipples. Sergio told me the name of a bar and asked if I was going to get an Uber. “I didn’t even know there was Uber here,” came my reply. “I’ve been getting the metro around!”
Now, this is no knock on the São Paulo metro. It’s clean, efficient, safe, and convenient. It’s just that Uber is a hell of a lot easier when you’re still pretty tired, and it’s started to rain. So I ordered one, hopped in, and soon found myself surrounded by hops.
The name of the bar was Alto Dos Pinheiros, and it was beer heaven. I had a couple of native brews (one was an IPA by Jupiter), and decided to call it a night (before I bought a beer to go, after the bartender somehow gave me an incredible recommendation for it despite not speaking a word of English. I have to say, as the only things I can say in Portuguese are ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘thank you’, and ‘I don’t speak Portuguese’, everyone I’ve encountered here has been friendly and welcoming. I could feel any intimidation I had felt slip away).
I ordered another Uber to take me home, and this time went for the car pool option, in which you share the ride with another passenger heading in the same direction. It’s a lot cheaper, you see. My driver was a friendly chap named Bruno, and my fellow passenger a Brazilian lady who spoke no English.
“Jack, are you here for the poker?” Bruno said, presumably because I’m a foreigner heading to the venue of the biggest poker event in the history of Latin American poker. I’d expected these two to have a conversation in Portuguese that I wouldn’t understand a word of, but instead it was me chatting away. “Yes, I work in the poker industry,” I replied. It turned out Bruno was a big poker fan and recreational player. He told me he one day hoped to get to the level at which he could play in the BSOP and LAPT. “Me too!” was my response, and we continued to talk about his favourite players – Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari for one. After the poker chat, I told Bruno that the next day I was going to visit the Beco de Batman in Vila Madalena and the Museum of Modern Art (which I did – photo evidence provided).
If you’re a poker player, I urge you to come to São Paulo and play at some point. My chat with Bruno showed me how popular poker is here in São Paulo, and Brazil in general. After that fun day, and another one yesterday in which I saw some more sights, I couldn’t wait to get back to work and write about Brazilian poker.
So let’s get to it. This poker room is my home now.
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Jack Stanton is a freelance contributor to the PokerStars Blog.