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Will Football Legend Ronaldo Become Brazil's Chris Moneymaker?
The PCA media room was abuzz, English and Portuguese flying indiscriminately around, destined for whichever ears understood them.
Both messages ended in the same language: Twitter.
That was the crux of the message. The Latin American Poker Tour president, PokerStars PR and Brazilian social media moguls were trying to decide which hashtag to throw their weight behind.
Their man was deep.
No, not just their man. THE man. Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has powers. Before, he had an almost supernatural power to score goals. Now Ronaldo has the power to make poker explode in Brazil.
There’s already a sharp increase of viewers on the Brazilian sites and streams. A victory from their hero could set off the Brazilian boom akin to the American moneymaker boom.
Behind the US, Brazil is the second-most populous country in the Americas, about 214 million potential poker players.
Poker in Brazil Already Heating Up
The truth is, regardless of Ronaldo’s performance today, poker’s popularity and momentum will continue to grow in Brazil.
“I started playing almost exactly 10 years ago,” Brazilian pro Felipe Ramos said. He looked at his watch to double check. January 14th will mark his 10-year poker anniversary.
“Nobody played in Brazil back then,” Ramos said. When the inevitable slew of young-faced Brazilians flock to the poker scenes, Ramos will be considered old school, a pioneer.
When Ramos first found poker he worked at a Brazilian branch of Bank of America. He kept his new hobby quiet because it was still illegal at the time.
“The scene was really dark,” Ramos said. “I’d get out of work and go play in my suit and tie but everyone was drinking and smoking.
“I ended up having to buy new poker clothes because all my work suits started smelling like smoke and I didn’t smoke.
“Then it started changing little by little into the sporting event it is today.”
The introduction of professional, regulated tournaments and card rooms were a large part of that shift.
Poker Still Young in Brazil
Greg Pappas, assistant tournament director at the PCA, was one of the first people to conduct a tournament on Brazilian soil.
“It wasn’t that long ago either,” Pappas said. “Six, seven years ago, something like that.
“I got there a few days early to train some dealers we’d contracted from a local club. I spent seven hours teaching them the game and they weren’t very proficient.
“We made the top 15 or 16 of them floor staff and when we got back, they were all dealing, except for like one of them. There only about eight dealers and the rest were floor staff.
“I asked where the dealers were and they told me out in the hallway. I went out there to see what was happening and they were all just too nervous to deal.
“I told them it was OK because it was the first tournament most of the guys had even played and they’d get better throughout the day.
“They went back and every year we’ve gone back they’ve been getting better and better, the players too.”
Ramos, of course, was at that tournament. Ramos was at every early Brazilian tournament, including the precursor to the Brazilian Series of Poker (BSOP).
“I won this tournament that later became the BSOP,” Ramos said. “It was 2007 and it only had about 25 players.
“Now there are more than 3,000 players in that same tournament.”
Performances by Brazilian Poker Players Driving Growth
Aside from more quality card rooms and tournaments, a large part of the growth is being driven by Brazilian poker players making it big on the global stage.
“Andre Akkari is huge in Brazil,” said Mateo Reis, one of the Brazilian qualifiers for the Americas Cup of Poker.
Bright-eyed and baby-faced with braces, Reis started playing poker just two years ago after seeing commercials with Andre Akkari in them.
“Akkari’s as big in Brazil as Negreanu is in Canada,” Reis said. “And now, with Ronaldo doing so well poker is going to grow even more. We’re growing a lot, I think in a few years we’re going to be a big force.”
Ramos agrees with his young compatriot.
“If Ronaldo wins it’ll be craziness,” Ramos said. “Ronaldo is a Brazilian idol and watching him do well in poker makes me happy.
“It’ll also show people who are smart or talented in their field that they can learn poker and win too.”
Both Ronaldo and Ramos are still in the main event
And with every payjump that Ronaldo makes, countless Brazilian’s get inspired.
“I think Brazil’s going to be the biggest poker country in the world,” Ramos said.
*Editor's Note: Shortly after the publication of this article, Ronaldo was eliminated in 26th place, a finish worth $42,180.