It was a short Day 1 at LAPT5 Punta del Este at Mantra. Union regulations on the length of dealer workdays, combined with a shortage of dealers, meant that only six levels were completed before play came to an end. By that point, Juan Garcia of Uruguay had a commanding chip lead of 134,650. No other player had amassed more than 100,000. It looked like Claudio Garrone, also of Uruguay, might be the 2nd place player with 84,200 but it will take some time to sort out all the bags and confirm that.
Day 1 leader Juan Garcia
After a perfect mood-setting morning, we started our abbreviated Day 1 by looking back at Season 4. There were six LAPT awards up for grabs in Season 4, and all six were presented last night at the welcome party for this event. Spoiler alert: Colombia took four of the six awards.
While we were telling you about the Season 4 award winners, the players were finding their seats. It's no easy task at the Mantra Resort & Casino, as the popularity of this event means that players are spread out over four tournament locations. The LAPT supplied plenty of friendly faces to make sure players found their assigned seats.
My blogging partner, Martin Harris, has been to Punta del Este once before and knows the town like the back of his hand. He gave blog readers a first-hand look at Punta del Este's signature icon. It was my favorite post of the day, hands down.
Back in the tournament room, the war of words continued between Team PokerStars Pros Andre Akkari and Jose "Nacho" Barbero. Each one has put his money where his mouth is, hoping to inspire his countrymen to a commanding final table presence. There will be at least one less Brazilian in the Day 2 field, however; Akkari busted out on Day 1. Barbero is through to Day 2 with 22,650, a bit more than his starting stack. Lynn Gilmartin chatted with him mid-day.
While the players were winding down for the day, knocking each other out, and consolidating their chip stacks for the tag-and-bag portion of the night, we took a look back at the Season 4 installment of Punta del Este. Alex Komaromi was the champion last August and has returned this year to defend. The top prize is a bit less this time around, but $181,000 is still something to shoot for.
The big board shows 274 players remaining of the 375 to start the day, but the likely total is slightly less than that. However many there are, they'll be back at 12 noon Atlantic Standard Time tomorrow. That's GMT -3 for those of you following along in other parts of the world. It's likely to be an abbreviated day tomorrow as well, followed by significantly longer Days 3 and 4 on Saturday and Sunday.
Until then, we'll be enjoying an early evening and formulating plans for our own blogging union.
Uruguay is located along the southeastern coast of South America. To the north is Brazil. Water surrounds most of the rest of the small country, with the Uruguay River and Rio de la Plata estuary to the west and south separating Uruguay and Argentina, and the Atlantic Ocean lapping up against the country's southern and eastern edges.
As the name suggests, Punta del Este sits on kind of a "point" -- the east point, naturally -- of the bay of Maldonado. A unique feature of the geography is that from Punta del Este one can actually see the sun both rise and set on water, coming up out of the Atlantic then disappearing beyond the Rio de la Plata.
The dawning of the Season 5 version of the LAPT Punta del Este event came a little late today, delayed just a bit to start about a half-hour after the scheduled noon start. As Dave Behr explained earlier, when players arrived they were situated throughout the Mantra Casino, with tables in a large main poker room, a few more outside of that, and a number also upstairs in the casino proper.
By the time registration ended a total of 375 players had taken seats in those various locations, together creating a total prize pool of $836,620. The top 56 finishers will be dividing up those riches, with $186,200 going to the player holding all of the chips when the sun finally sets on the 2012 LAPT Punta de Este Main Event sometime Sunday evening.
Uruguay's own Alex Komaromi was the winner here last August during Season 4, overcoming a similarly large field to capture a first prize of $244,720. Komaromi is here today to defend his title. Through the first five hour-long levels Komaromi has accumulated a few chips to build a stack of just under 30,000. That's a little better than the average of around 25,000 at the moment with the field having shrunk thus far to just under 300.
It's a good start. But there's a long way to go. Nearly seven-and-a-half million chips' worth, that is, for Komaromi to claim in order to snare another LAPT trophy for Uruguay.
Despite the late start, we'll be ending relatively early today as the plan is to stop after just six levels. That'll probably add up to longer days going forward, but a relatively early exit today.
That also means the Day 1 survivors -- and those of us reporting on them -- will likely be leaving the Mantra before dark tonight, thereby getting a chance to gaze across the water upon that picturesque sunset.
Every poker tournament is marked by a number of big hands that ultimately go a long way toward determining the winner. Indeed, for just about every player in a given event, there is often a single, pivotal hand that more than any other determines his or her ultimate fortune. And for all but one, a hand will come that ultimately sinks them, leaving them shy of the ultimate goal.
Speaking of big hands and sinking, one of the attractions not to be missed on any visit to Punta del Este is the mind-bending Monumento al Ahogado, a.k.a. the Monument to the Drowned, located at Brava Beach, not too far from the Mantra Resort Spa and Casino where this week's event is taking place.
Around here those referring to the sculpture usually don't bother with the full name, simply referring to it instead as "La Mano" or "The Hand." As in "Did you see the Hand?"
It's a question you hear a lot around poker tourneys, although only here in Punta del Este might the speaker be referring not to poker, but to a hand suddenly poking up through the sand to send passersby into a minor wonder-induced trance.
An artist from Chile, Mario Irarrázabal, created the uncanny work thirty years ago as part of a competition of sculptors. The four fingers and thumb are made of made of concrete, plastic, and metal mesh, with steel reinforcements. Irarrázabal's idea was to create a kind of warning to swimmers, and indeed there is something kind of haunting about the fingers signaling a drowner's final, desperate message.
But really, you can't help but smile at "The Hand." Check out our buddy Reinaldo Venegas who mans PokerStars' Latin American blog pictured here with the hand from a previous Punta trip.
Last August when Brad Willis and I made the trip to Punta during Season 4, Reinaldo took us to see the hand where more photos were taken. My witty colleague sent out a tweet soon afterwards of one picture showing him standing amid the fingers, adding the note: "Sorry, I can't talk. I'm in a hand."
There haven't been too many big hands thus far during the early going here, although Humberto Brenes did find himself nearly sunk in a hand near the end of the first level in which a flop brought him a set kings and his opponent bottom two pair, but running hearts on the turn and river gave Brenes' opponent a flush to help him claim nearly all of the Costa Rican's stack.
But a couple of levels later, Brenes is still here, nursing a short stack that sits before him like a few tiny, colorful fingers standing up from the table's green surface.
A warning to others, you might say.
In the introductory post to LAPT5 Punta del Este at Mantra a few hours ago, I mentioned that the tournament is spread out across multiple areas of the Mantra Resort, Casino and Spa. It's an imperfect solution to a tournament director's favorite problem: an over-abundance of players. As Tournament Director Mike Ward said at LAPT4 Medellin, players are the one thing without which he can't do his job.
Lots of players means lots of table and creative use of space at the Mantra. That lead, however, to some confused players trying to locate their tables as they walked into the Mantra this morning. You could ask the LAPT staff for help, but what fun is that?
The lobby of the Mantra soars to a skylight 50 feet overhead, flooding a three-tiered white marble entryway with brilliant natural light as you enter the building. Your first decision of the day is immediate: duck left into a ballroom, or stop at the lobby bar for a quick coffee or beer (and try the calamari) before heading up an escalator to your right.
Should you find yourself seated in the ballroom, you still have to determine which walled-off half of the room you're in, front or back. Not the biggest decision in the world, obviously - an open double door connects the two - but with black felt draped everywhere it's possible you might miss the back half of the room.
Six tables are found in the front, situated beneath a video screen made up of 112 (16x7) one-foot square pieces of posterboard clipped together by metal rings. PokerStars.net and LAPT video ads are playing on that screen in an endless (and mercifully silent) loop. 19 tables around back have an excellent view of the large video "Twitter Wall". Tag your tweets #LAPTPunta or #LAPTPuntaBR to ensure they show up on the wall. Bonus points for using the word "brick" in your tweet.
But maybe, just maybe, your table isn't in either half of the ballroom. At the top of the lobby escalator you'll find the entrance to the casino. (If you hit the pool, you've gone too far.) Past a few banks of slots is a table-game area, where six poker tables are roped off from the rest of the floor. Beyond those six tables is a twisting hallway that leads to the casino's poker room. Another 13 tables (and hooray, another bar!) are tucked away back there. Neither one gets any fancy video screens or Twitter Walls, but those tables will also be the first to break, if that's your "thing".
In total there are 44 tables at the disposal of Tournament Director Mike Ward. 40 of them are in use to start the day. Late registration extends through the end of the first break, after Level 2, so there's a chance we'll put a few more of those empty tables in play by then.
Ballroom front, ballroom rear, casino floor or poker room: your table is out there somewhere. This Punta del Este Day 1 video blog with host Lynn Gilmartin might help you find it. And if not, it'll give you some pointers about where to go in Punta del Este if you bust out today.
As players begin what will ultimately be a four-day journey to the first-place trophy here at the Mantra Resort Hotel and Casino, we can report that trophies have already been won in Punta del Este. It was during last night's welcome party just a short ways up the coastal highway that awards for the recently completed Season 4 of the Latin American Poker Tour were handed out.
Pablo Gonzalez of Colombia took away the big one -- LAPT Season 4 Player of the Year -- on the strength of a third-place finish at LAPT Lima back in April plus many cashes in other LAPT tourneys last year, including side events.
Among the other Season 4 awards handed out last night was the one for Best Online Qualifier of the Year, won by the Venezuelan Engelberth Varela. Varela also made a run at Gonzalez' POY title last season, ultimately finishing seventh in that race.
The award for Best LATAM Country was given out last night as well, recognizing the country making the best showing at LAPT events during season 4. The winner was determined via a formula in which the number of players registered per country was divided by the number of players cashing in an event. Costa Rica took the prize with nine cashers out of 47 entrants (19.1%), just edging out Guatemala and Brazil.
The LAPT Venue of the Year was named, too, an award determined by a vote of players. Medellin's Allegre Casino, host of LAPT Colombia, took away that award, thanks no doubt to the large field that inaugural event attracted.
Finally, Daniel "DazzleO" Ospina of Colombia managed to snag two awards last night -- the LAPT Shorthand Player of the Year as well as the Best LAPT Achievement of the Year.
The latter Ospina also won as a result of a vote by fellow players, recognizing for a bit of hustle at LAPT Lima. After final tabling the Main Event (finishing seventh), Ospina dashed over to join the six-max event where he topped a field of 62 to win the title. As an achievement it was... well... dazzling.
Word is that Ospina is on his way to Las Vegas at the moment for the upcoming WSOP and thus isn't trying to replicate any other hustling feats by playing here first.
Gonzalez and Varela are here, however, and will no doubt being among ones to watch as we follow the early action. They were all smiles last night, though today it's back to business as they each look to snag some Season 5 LAPT hardware.
There's a glow the hangs around after something like the Spring Championship of Online Poker, a sort of spent, endorphin-charged euphoria that has many of us stumbling around with silly smiles on our faces. I submit that it's the natural biological reaction to a festival that became the biggest of any online tournament series in history--$65,332,179 in prizes and bounties, 526,154 buy-ins, 156 countries, 120 champions.
It's such a pleasant feeling that we'd bottle it if we could. Since we can't (Big Pharma would never let that happen), we'll do the best we can do. We're going to help ourselves and you come back down to earth slowly with a few final words. This, indeed, is the part of the film where a guy with a voice like Owen Wilson narrates over a montage of video and lets you know what happened to everybody when it was all over.
When the final river of the high buy-in main event finally fell, Team PokerStars Pro Lex Veldhuis stepped into the recording booth and offered the best and most insightful commentary on how the championship ended. The good folks at PokerStars.tv recorded it all and put it together in this video for us.
Meanwhile, players across the globe sat back and waited for the delivery man to drop off the SCOOP championship watches. Among those new champions was the 19-year-old BreezyWest who won Event 34-L, the $55 limit hold'em battle.
"The SCOOP win means a lot to me and I am proud of myself that I did it," he said. "Thanks to the win, I am able to move from Tenerife to London. Poker will still be a big part of my life, but there are so many other things I want to do."
While BreezyWest packs his bags for London, Sweden's Kristoffer "Hefty.TILT" Sandberg, winner of the Event 25-M 2-7 Triple Draw tourney, is using poker as a form of therapy. THe 20-year-old readily and humbly admits to rage issues that cause him problems in real life.
"Poker has helped me to keep those feelings calm. This is something I have great use for also outside my poker life," he said. "It is simply interesting because it shows that poker is so much more than playing about money back and forth. There is so much else around it."
While life may be grand for Sandberg, he and the other SCOOP champions aren't immune to struggle.
Woody Deck is an American who left the U.S. for Lithuania several years ago. Though he mitigated the direct effects of Black Friday on his life, he didn't avoid them entirely.
"Everything I won and the opportunities I had slowly went away," he said.
Now he splits his time between the US and Mexico and San Diego
"This means I have had to traverse difficult conditions in going to Tijuana, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world," he said.
This time it worked out and he won Event 35-H.
"I was going to play a full schedule at the WSOP this year for only the second time before my SCOOP win. Now I will be going in with some badly needed confidence," he said. "In addition to my SCOOP win, I played and won a live WSOP Circuit plo8 event in San Diego earlier this year. I don't think anyone has more live plo8 cashes/wins than me, but I still don't have a WSOP plo8 cash yet, I am 0/6 lifetime. That will hopefully change this year. I wish for nothing more than to have a ridiculously high US tax bill at the end of the year for once."
Halfway around the world is Vincent Lu, aka, DamienRise, who lives in Shanghai and won Event 32-L. He was the only person from China to win a title this year.
"To be the best Chinese poker player is always my goal," he said. "It's my first major tournament title, of course, but not the last one."
Finally, there is the Brazilian who goes by PaDiLhA SP. He won Event 33-L toward the end of SCOOP.
"I really love and work to seek great achievements in my career," he said. "I hope this is the first of many."
And so, says Owen Wilson's disembodied voice, that's how we put SCOOP to bed for 2012. The records are broken. The champions are basking in the afterglow. The people at PokerStars are looking toward WCOOP. And the PokerStars Blog? Well, we're back to traveling the world, keeping an eye on the weekend majors, and making sure all the PokerStars news that's fit to print makes right here on this blog.
Growing up on the Atlantic coast of the U.S., I've always found the ocean in winter to be relaxing. There's a grayness, an emptiness and a peacefulness to it that, as something of a misanthrope, I enjoy. There are no people to despoil the sand, the water, or the sky. To sit in a living room and see nothing but beach and oceans, and hear nothing but the squawks of gulls and the white noise of the surf, is my kind of living.
It's not yet winter in Punta del Este, Uruguay, but it's pretty close. And I'm loving it here.
At this time of year - late autumn in the Southern Hemisphere - Punta del Este is a sleepy, seaside hamlet of about 7,500 people. It's a far cry from a summer weekend, when out-of-town visitors clog the roads and increase the population by a factor of 20. The off-seasons vibe makes it perfect for a few hundred poker players to shed the cares of their day-to-day lives and come play a little high-stakes tournament poker.
Yes, this week the LAPT is returning to Punta del Este for the fifth time, bringing with it the second event of Season 5, the LAPT5 Punta del Este at Mantra Resort. Punta del Este is the sole surviving stop from the abbreviated, three-stop first season of the LAPT, which should tell you something about the popularity of this place with the players. Each of the first three seasons saw between 300 and 350 players make the journey here. Last year 422 played. They were all defeated by Alex Komaromi.
Komaromi is back this year to defend his title. So is Season 4 Player of the Year Pablo Gonzalez, who received his Player of the Year award at the welcome party last night. My colleague Martin Harris will tell you more about the party, and the Season 4 awards, later today.
Right now we're busy getting set up for what is expected to be a field of 450 players. They'll be packed at tables in the main tournament room, in the ancillary tournament room, even up the escalator just outside the tournament room. Basically, any free space the LAPT staff can find near the tournament room is fair game for a poker table.
If you have $2,500 and you're anywhere near Punta del Este, come on down to the Mantra Resort, Spa & Casino. We'll save a spot for you. On the off-chance you get knocked out, you can spend part of your afternoon the way I spent part of my morning: on my couch writing while I listened to the ceaseless pounding of the Atlantic surf.
Argentina and Brazil are natural rivals. They're the two largest countries in South America. They share a border. They field two of the strongest football sides in the world that regularly vie with each other for regional and global supremacy.
When it comes to LAPT championships, however, there's no rivalry at all. Argentina has claimed 4 of the 19 LAPT championships over four-plus seasons of the LAPT, led by Team PokerStars Pro Jose Barbero's back-to-back wins in Season 3 at Punta del Este and Lima. Brazil, on the other hand, didn't win its first and only championship until the second event of Season 4, when Murilo Figueredo took down the trophy at Vina del Mar.
Barbero likes to remind fellow Team Pro (and Brazilian) Andre Akkari of the 4-1 score whenever he can. In April, Akkari responded with a Twitter challenge.
"Hey @nacho_barbero do u want to make a bet for LAPT Punta? Who'll put more players at the final, Brazil or Argentina? Make the price!"
Barbero isn't the type to back down from that kind of bold challenge. He quickly responded "I give you 2-1 ez money filho!" Akkari suggested $2,000 and the bet was set. If Argentina out-mans Brazil at this week's final table, Akkari will pay Barbero $2,000. If it's the other way around, Barbero will pay Akkari $4,000.
I asked Akkari why he thought Barbero would be willing to give such generous odds a month in advance of the event, without knowing the nationality breakdown of the field.
"He's Argentinian," said Akkari, as if no other explanation was necessary.
The two friends and Team Pros have been having lots of fun on Twitter with the bet.
Akkari: Dear @nacho_barbero u'll pay my bills in may buddy! Thanks a lot!!! u r a great friend!
Barbero: @aakkari ahahaha, yeah I was thinking of a nice pair of dolce gabbana to buy with your money also! Cant wait to be sepnd yours @laptpunta
Akkari: @nacho_barbero Hey cabron, ready to gimme my money? Want to pay 50% now?
Barbero: @aakkari looool stop drinking caipirinihas bro, u losing your mind! You going down, vamooos argentina, los necesito hermanos!
Akkari has a secret weapon in the bet. He spent all of the last month rallying as many Brazilians as he could to attend this week's tournament. He's promised them that if he wins the bet, he'll throw a big party with Barbero's $4,000. To hear Akkari tell it, Barbero has made no such promise to the Argentinians and is likely to spend the money on himself if he wins.
"He's Argentinian," said Akkari a second time, as if no other explanation was necessary.
At the end of Level 4, each Team Pro had about 18,000 in chips. The LAPT staff are busy crunching the numbers on the field, trying to figure out how many other Argentinians and Brazilians figure into this bet. We'll be following up in the coming days on where the bet stands as the field consolidates.
But as partiers and fans of the underdog, we're rooting for Akkari all the way. Vamooooooooo!