The scene looked like a classic film. It smacked of Vito Corleone ambling down the street and inspecting the oranges on the fruit cart. When Humberto Brenes walked in the room, the tables that had been bustling and noisy grew immediately silent. Then, with a quick wave of his hand, Brenes incited a small riot as players and fans climbed over chairs to hug him, shake his hand, and virtually kiss his ring.
This played out at the Ramada Herradura less than one year ago. We sat in the poker room of the little hotel casino as it prepared to host the kickoff of the Latin American Poker Tour’s second season. At the time I thought the scene remarkable. It was as if Norm was walking into Cheers or Doyle Brunson into the low-limit section of the Bellagio. It was impossible to say who knew the man or him simply wanted to know him. Either way, from the the vantage point of a man from the U.S., it was impossible to know whether Brenes was the Ticos’ Don Corelone or Doyle Brunson.
It was no surprise then to see the same scene repeated across Central and South America. At each new stop, crowds mobbed Brenes. With a simple smile of his white shark teeth, he commanded both deference and near elation. This man was their man. He was simply, “Humberto!”
Fast forward to this monster of an EPT London. With more than 700 runners, players have come from all over the world. The European Poker Tour, once a fledgling series in a world of televised poker giants, is now one of the top tours on the planet. Those players who have visited the Latin American Poker Tour can see promise for their home countries.
While Brenes is known here, he’s not the uber-celeb he is in his part of the word. That is to say, he can walk through the hotel lobby without being tackled by dozens of adoring fans. Still, he’s sort of serving as a de facto general for a small army of LAPT players that have crossed the Atlantic in search of EPT riches.
In just the Day 1B field you will find the likes of Brenes himself, along with Team PokerStars Pro Mexico players Angel Guillen, and J.C. Alvarado. The Brazilians have sent along Andre Akkari, Alex Gomes, and Gualter Salles. Veronica Dabul and Leo Fernandez are representing Team PokerStars Pro Argentina. Each one of them is a celebrity and top player in their home country. A strong finish here could mark them among the world’s poker playing elite.
All of those just name a few of the players who have come fair and wide to compete in London’s biggest poker event. They are all examples of how one successful tour can inspire another. The LAPT may be smaller now, but its people are helping it grow. And when one tour meets another, you have what we see here today…which with more than 700 people in the field, is pretty damned impressive.