If online poker is on the decline, Latin America didn’t get the message.
This year’s PCA saw an abundance of players from across Latin America.
Brazil was the third-most represented country in the main event with 53 players --right after the USA and Canada-- and Argentina came in 7th with 17 players.
The most notable Brazilian -- or most notable in general -- was soccer legend Ronaldo. Ronaldo made a deep run and definitely sparked more Brazilian interest in poker.
While the Ronaldo boom won’t be as pronounced as if he’d won the tournament, there are still a few Latin Americans trying to bring the main event title home.
Now in its 11th year, the PCA has yet to have a Latin American champion. Juan Martin Pastor and Diego Ventura were hoping to be the first.
Play ended with just six players yesterday and Ventura finished 3rd in chips while Pastor ended 5th in chips.
Argentina's Contender: Juan Martin Pastor
Pastor, one of the 17 Argentinian players, is also a Supernova Elite.
Only 22 years old, Pastor started playing professionally in 2013. It was a surprising turn of events considering Pastor didn’t even want to play poker initially.
“I started playing with classmates in school when I was 15 years old,” Pastor said. ”Then my former brother-in-law insisted that I learn to play and I said no, I don’t like poker.
“But he kept telling me until one day I said, fine, I’ll check out the rules.”
“Then I got hooked and kinda became an addict.”
Now he’s achieved Supernova Elite status by playing Zoom cash games. Pastor is just one of a handful of Argentinian Supernova Elites. One of them, Thomas Tesone, used to be his coach.
Now the two are friends and peers as Pastor’s career quickly took off.
So far, this final table is the highlight of Pastor’s poker life.
“This is the third time I’ve played the PCA but it’s the first time I’ve ever gone so far in something so big,” Pastor said. “It’s incredible, I’m just really happy to be here.”
The joy is compounded by the fact that live tournaments are more of a hobby for Pastor.
“I just play cash [games] online,” Pastor said. “Cash games are completely different for me, they’re my job. This is just a bonus. I love playing live tournaments.”
Pastor also likes playing top-tier events because the high level of play brings out the best him.
“I think I play better when I’m playing with top-caliber players,” Pastor said. “Probably because the level of players I play against in cash games are pretty high and I’m used to that dynamic.”
Pastor says the level of play in Argentina is far behind the level he encounters here but it’s quickly growing.
Pastor wasn’t able to clinch a win for his country though and was eliminated in 5th place earlier today.
The $380,720 is still Pastor’s largest by far, his total live tournament earnings before the PCA topped in at just $36,474.
Peru's Contender: Diego Ventura
Diego Ventura fared a little better and made it heads-up against Kevin Schulz before being eliminated. Ventura, from Peru, scored the largest cash of not just his career, but Peru’s.
Ventura’s $907,080 payday was the largest any Peruvian has ever scored and catapulted Ventura to the top as Peru’s top-earning player.
That money won’t be divided amongst backers either; Ventura won his seat in a $700 satellite that he qualified into for just $100.
Ventura has been playing poker for years but went pro three years ago, after he visited a large emerging poker market.
“[When I first learned poker,] I was studying and really didn’t give it the time of day,” Ventura said. “But then I went to Brazil for an exchange program and there was a lot of poker movement and it was a lot more developed.
“It caught my attention and I just started playing after that.”
Ventura also thinks poker in Peru is in its early stages, but people are starting to get interested. He thinks more people will be interested after his performance in this year’s PCA.
“There are lots of people that already found out about [my finish],” Ventura said. “And a lot of people are proud that I’m representing Latin America.”
Even before his win, other Peruvian players saw Ventura as a role model. Now that he’s made such a deep run in a large event, Ventura is looking to embrace that role.
“There are a lot of interested players asking me to train them,” Ventura said. “I’m trying to help develop some players and be an example with my image.
“I try to be positive with how I act, how I talk, how I am, or anything I do. There’s no better way to expand poker than to be a good example.”
“I think that [my result] is going to motivate a lot of players.”
Both Ventura and Pastor agree that poker is growing in their communities and that soon Latin American players will be a more prominent force on the international poker scene.
“I was watching some European tournaments and there are a lot of Latin players and they measure up,” Ventura said. “They have so much confidence and confront the American and European players without any fear.
“The skill is there. We’re just missing popularity.”