Like a swarm of crickets that familiar sound of clicking poker chips fills the tournament room inside the Atlantic City Casino. Between eating delicious Ceviche and knocking back Pisco Sours, I can feel the Latin American culture sweeping across the poker tables amongst the players and fans. Flamboyant. Trash talk. Chatter. Attitude. Still a sausage party (or chorizo party) in regard to the ratio of men to women, it's refreshing to see a major poker tournament (normally a serious, stone-faced affair) feel at times like a rowdy party.
While the World Series of Poker (WSOP) heats up in Las Vegas, earlier this month at the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) in Lima Peru I encountered players who embraced a completely different flair for the game than their North American counterparts.
"The Latin American style is more experimental, more passive and 100% more emotional," explained Brazilian poker queen Maria Mayrinck. "Latin blood is hot and people--myself included--still have a hard time separating the 'technical' aspect from the 'emotional' aspect. In time this will change. It's only because it's still such a young sport in Latin countries." Poker is traditionally not a part of Latin culture--it's a new sport but growing fast. "I'd say the main difference is the North American style of play is much more technical and cold," Mayrinck reasoned. "North American players are more used to playing live poker being they've done so since they were little, since poker is a part of their culture."
With blinds raised to $2,000-$4,000, players throw in chips with fiery passion. The LAPT is lively and emotional; full of eccentric characters and much gesturing at tables. After winning a big hand, players occasionally jump out of their chairs and yell things like "Whammo!" Actual cheering erupts from railbirds. Players run over to greet fans. Applause. Passionate screams in Spanish. A group of fans wave a Colombian flag. They chant: "Colombia! Colombia! Colombia!" Hugging. Kissing. High fives.
"Latin American poker is like a soccer match. You celebrate every pot you win, like every goal you score. It's still new and exciting," Mayrinck informed. "Latins are very emotional and loud when they are cheering for the fellow countrymen. When there is a Brazilian at a final table, even if it's someone you've never met, you instantly consider him a part of your family and root for him accordingly."
One disadvantage Spanish speaking players have is that the poker language is primarily in English: online tutorials, research sites, Internet tournaments, etc.
"All the math background that North Americans have, the Latin Americans don't have really," said Angel Guillen--the second Mexican in history to ever win a WSOP bracelet. "We're still in the process to understand that technique of the game. Only the good players have it and not the general players." Guillen feels the more successful Latin players are those who get a chance to gain experience by playing in the international tournament circuit. "In Latin America you develop a feeling for players--reading body language, knowing when someone is bluffing, knowing when they are holding a good hand," he said. Explaining about his compatriots' strengths: "Latin Americans are all warm, kind people. When playing poker at tables you feel how they are changing their temperament--you know when a guy is angry or emotional. You perceive emotion around the table."
As the blinds increase to $1500-$3,000, the top LAPT players make their way towards the final table. When all in, players stand up in front of their large, colorful fortresses of chips--as if in a sign of respect to the god of chips. "Vamos! Vamos! Yah! Yah!" Players jump up and punch their fists in the air when they win. Much joy. Much emotion. A celebration of life.
So what's the most emotional thing Angel Guillen has ever done during a tournament? With a sly smile, he said, "I've thrown a chair in the air when I won a $10k pot."
Now that truly isn't being shy about your emotions when it comes to a major poker victory, taking home one sweet pot, and celebrating life.