This past week, the Latin American Poker Tour kicked off its fifth season with a stop in Viña del Mar, Chile, the first of five events that include Uruguay, Colombia and Peru.
It marked the third time the LAPT has visited the Viña del Mar Enjoy Casino & Resort, and the second time since a tragic earthquake forced the cancellation of the event back in 2010.
The new season kicked off in a big way as the Chilean contingent turned out in full force. Day 1a attracted 284 players, including 203 Chileans, while Day 1b saw 367 players enter, bringing the total to 651 and making it the second largest tournament in LAPT history behind Season 4's stop in Colombia.Among the players to take part in the tournament were Team PokerStars Pros Freddy Torres, Leo Fernandez, Andre Akkari, Nacho Barbero and Humberto Brenes.The former pros were both eliminated on Day 1a, while the latter three tried their luck the following day.
"I'm really excited about the LAPT's new season because it's growing," Akkari said the PokerStars Blog. "Poker in Latin America is like a fever now. This season is probably going to be bigger than the last one, and the next one is going to be bigger than this one I'm pretty sure. In Brazil, we're doing great things with poker. I think it's going to affect all the LAPT stops. People are playing much more online and studying a lot. I think it's going to be a great season."
While he wasn't in his homeland, Akkari was more than excited to be in Viña del Mar.
"Chile is great. The most important thing for me in Chile is the people," Akkari explained "The people here are amazing, they're like people in Brazil that are open, talk a lot and are nice people. I love to be here because people take care of me."
When asked about poker in Brazil, Akkari lit up with excitement: "It's incredible what's happening there. Some media companies are concentrating on poker and putting it on their schedule, something we didn't believe would happen three years ago, but it's happening now. I'm really happy that there are a lot of jobs being created by poker, a lot of people making money playing poker, and I think we're in really good shape. I can't even imagine what's going to happen with poker in the next three years."
Likewise, Brenes was excited for what the new season has in store. "I think this is going to be the best season because the tour has been consolidated over the years and David Carrion has done a very good job, organizing it very well," Brenes said. "For me, the best stop, obviously, is Costa Rica. We have a lot of fun in the Dominican Republic. I also like Brazil."
In regards to the Chile stop, Brenes added: "The vineyards are very nice, and the people (are nice too), not just the Chilean people, but the Chilean girls!"
Brent Sheirbon, who moved from the U.S. to Panama qualified for the Viña del Mar stop.
"I qualified for this event in a $10 rebuy satellite on PokerStars," Sheirbon said. "A great way to qualify, as over half the players choose not to rebuy and get eliminated before the huge add-on bonus, and the tournaments are relatively quick and don't consume a lot of time."
Sheirbon is no stranger to the LAPT, having finished in third place in the 2008 LAPT San Jose Main Event for $109,913, which accounts for less than 25 percent of his $490,416 in career tournament winnings.
"I like the LAPT events for a few reasons," Sheirbon expounded. "I live in Panama, so they provide an excuse to travel to great locations in Central and South America that aren't too far away. Also, the poker player culture in Latin America is very friendly. Poker is still growing and emerging here so there is definitely a passion and excitement for the game that you see with a lot of new blood. Ultimately, I've had a lot of success in Latin America with great fortune in Panama and previous LAPTs, so that makes it enjoyable."
While the other LAPT stops have treated Sheirbon kindly, he was quick to point out the benefits of Season 5's first stop: "My favorite thing about Chile so far is the beauty of Viña del Mar. You can really see the effects of a strong economy as the city parks and beaches are in great shape. I also like the feel of the Enjoy Casino, with it's big rotundas, well-dressed guests, and casino chip plaques. It feels like it could be in a James Bond movie."