Team PokerStars Pro Felipe Mojave Ramos burst into the live tournament scene back in 2008 when he finished 13th in EPT4 San Remo and then scored another EPT cash in the Monte Carlo Grand Final a few weeks later.
Since then, Ramos has cashed in 11 countries for more than $1.2 million. He’s become an international man of poker, but today he’s playing on home turf.
“I remember when we had to deal the cards ourselves and the biggest games were one or two table tournaments,” Ramos said. “It’s been awesome to see this growth and now we’re hosting one of the largest tournaments in the world.”
And it’s not just Brazilians that have flooded to the Sheraton for a shot at the BSOP Millions title. Ramos noted that there are two players from other South American countries and one North American player at his eight-handed table.
Ramos hopes more players find their way to São Paulo and if it’s your first time here, he says the one thing you gotta do before you leave is eat. And eat a lot.
“I was playing in Bobby’s Room this summer we started talking about where the best food in the world was,” Ramos said. “And at the end we agreed that São Paulo was the best.”
The best part, Ramos says, is that you don’t have to go anywhere fancy to enjoy the best São Paulo has to offer.
“Just find a small place on the street with some rice, beans, some meat, a desert and a caipirinha,” Ramos said. “It’s the best ever.”
If it’s a Wednesday or a Saturday, you better make sure you find a place to get some feijoada. It’s a bean and meat stew that’s a São Paulo specialty and has the possibility of changing your life by keeping you planted in the city waiting for the next Wednesday or Saturday. You can’t get it any other days.
To wash it down, Ramos suggests one of the city’s many craft beers.
In between your buckets of beer and meat stew, you can hop on over to play any number of events at the BSOP Millions. Being able to play poker on such a massive scale in São Paulo is a novelty. Casinos have been outlawed in Brazil since 1946 and Bingo halls were banned in 2007. There wasn’t much distinction between gambling and poker until players like Felipe Ramos and Andre Akkari hit the scene.
Ramos has been a big proponent of poker as a game of skill since he started playing the game.
“You wouldn’t get any respect in the past,” Ramos said. “People had this preconception that it was just gambling and that there was no skill involved.”
It’s been a constant uphill battle and the game still faced criticism despite some of the nation’s top athletes endorsing the game.
“Sometimes when I Snapchatted or posted something about playing poker with Neymar, there’d be criticism saying that’s why he lost a game or he was focusing too much on poker,” Ramos said.
But as the game continues to weave itself into Brazilian culture, many critics have gone silent. Ramos says yesterday’s Brazilian soccer championship silenced even more.
Palmeiras, a soccer team from São Paulo that Ramos has been coaching in poker, won its first national title in 22 years yesterday.
“Poker helped them learn about optimum strategy,” Ramos said. “Raising or folding or calling for no reason is like just passing around the ball with no purpose.
“Every move you make should be guided by the optimum strategy. If the left forward and center forward are open, who do you pass it to?”
Some players even dropped by today to show Ramos their newly-earned medals.
— Felipe Mojave Ramos (@FelipeMojave) November 28, 2016
“Getting used to thinking about optimum strategy can help every aspect of your game.”
Ramos said thinking through hands helped players with split-second decisions in soccer that can make or break a game. Poker also helped teach them about controlling their emotions. The rush of being ahead in a major hand can be crushed in seconds with a bad turn and river. Being able to control your emotions in these highly emotional situations has huge benefits to athletes.
Another benefit of poker is that it can help forge these top-tier skills despite physical impediments.
Earlier this festival Ramos hosted an invitational tournament with Olympic and Paralympic athletes. While they competed a few weeks apart during the summer, they joined together at the same table here.
“They saw it was a sport, an intense competition that requires practice, study and skill,” Ramos said. “After the tournament some players said they were going to stick to their sport because being good at poker was too hard.”
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Alexander Villegas writes and eats beans and meat for the PokerStars Blog.