As anyone who's ever sat with him at the poker table knows, you don't just "talk" to Humberto Brenes.
You live the "Humberto Experience." Stories aren't retold; they're re-enacted live.
Which is only one of the reasons, well over 10 years from his debut on the poker scene, Brenes is still by far and away one of the most popular players in the world
“No matter how many stars there are at a poker tournament," the PokerStars interview manager says, “there is no one so many people want to take pictures with as Humberto.”
However you think you know Brenes from his famed TV appreances, though, he's way more than just the guy with outrageous track suits and an inflatable plastic shark – although he is that, too, of course.
He’s had an interesting career, and that doesn’t just refer to poker. The man has owned several businesses, from a TV station to a nuts company, where he's still the CEO.
Poker, he says, has never been anything but a hobby for him. A hobby, however, that took him around the world and made for some memorable moments in the history of poker.
PokerListings' Dirk Oetzmann sat down for the legendary "Chhaaaaarrrkkk" experience at the ongoing EPT Grand Final in Monaco.
PokerListings: Let's start with your poker history for those who might not know it.
Humberto Brenes: My father taught me to play when I was seven, so that was in the late 1950s. The first time I played in Vegas was in 1986.
Friends told me, "you have to go to Vegas and play with the tourists to take their money." So I tried to do that, but then I found out that the tourist was me.
One year later I came back and made 14th place in the WSOP main event. The year after that I came in in fourth place. Then I thought, this is great, this is for me.
In 1993, the year my third and youngest child was born, I won two bracelets and made the money in a third one.
In 2002, Jack Binion organized a tournament at the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Mississippi. This was actually the first tournament ever where they used the hole-card camera.
It was also the first tournament outside the WSOP that had a $10,000 buy-in. All the big guys were there and I won the heads-up against Erik Seidel.
It was a great show for the TV audience, ‘cause they knew now what we were doing. The tournament was shown and re-broadcasted a lot of times in Costa Rica, but a lot of people didn’t realize that it always was the same tournament.
So, they celebrated me, shouting “Humberto won another tournament, and another tournament”, although it was really only one. Every time, it was on TV, they were partying again and asked me how I kept beating the guy.
In 2004, I played the WPT Championship. I reached the final table as the shortstack and Daniel Negreanu was chipleader. I survived everybody but Daniel and won almost $1m. This is still my largest cash to date.
In 2006, I had a record eight cashes at the WSOP. Before the main event, PokerStars approached me and asked if I wanted to join the pro team, and I said “mmmmh … yes."
Before that, I had always paid my buy-ins with my own money. Then, when the tournament started, someone came up to me and gave me this little shark. He asked me to use it as a card protector, to get some PR for his shop.
After some discussion I agreed and on the last hand of day 1, I made a flush and won a big pot. This was the first time I took the shark and shouted “hungryyy!”
Someone asked me how you say “shark” in Spanish, and I said “Humbertooo." (throws his arms in the air). It was the day that whole shark thing started.
PL: You were nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame last year but didn't make the final cut. Were you very disappointed?
HB: At first, yes. I’m not saying I am the best player in the world, but I know I am good for poker. I am a little bit crazy, and I represent a lot of people, because I am not a professional.
A lot of people can play well, without doing it as a job like Daniel Negreanu. They play as a hobby and want to have fun, and that’s exactly what I do, too.
I don’t use any software when I play online. I prefer live poker anyway. Online, I’m losing that feel for my opponent.
That’s why I think I have a good chance to be picked for the Hall of Fame. I hope it is only a question of time. I don’t want to live on poker.
PL: What do you live on?
HB: My company. I am importing and trading coffee, nuts and dried fruit.
PL: So you have the nuts.
HB: I have the nuts. Humberto always has the nuts.
PL: Do you follow football?
HB: Yes, of course. Where do you come from?
HB: Ah. Remember the first game in 2006? It was Germany versus Costa Rica. Very good game!
PL: And who do you think will win this year?
HB: First place: Costa Rica. (laughs) No. my two South American favorites are Brazil and Argentina, my European favorites are Holland and Germany.