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WSOP Main Event: Humberto Brenes --The Shark Smells Blood

By Dr. Pauly

It's not a surprise to me that Humberto Brenes is still alive at the WSOP. With 483 players remaining, Brenes is one of a handful of notable pros who are still in the hunt for the $12 million first place prize. In a sea of internet qualifiers (the exact numbers are somewhere between 40% and 60% of the field), a few sharks are circling the waters ready to feed on the schools of fish still remaining. One of those sharks is Brenes.

"How do you say shark in Spanish?" Brenes asked a member of ESPN's crew. The producer shrugged his shoulders as the film crew captured the animated Brenes on film.

"Humberto!" he quickly answered as a smile unfurled on his face.

Without a doubt, Humberto Brenes is one of the most likable players on the tournament circuit. He's known as the Godfather of Costa Rican players and as a member of Team PokerStars, he's the ambassador to all Spanish speaking players. Brenes is part of the CRC, otherwise known as the Costa Rica Connection that features his fellow countrymen Jose Rosenkrantz and his brothers Alex and Erick, who are both poker players.


Brenes got his start playing cards as a child. He'd watch his father play in different games. His father was an extremely generous man and would often return his winnings back to the losing players. That goodwill bothered a young Brenes. He felt that the losing players took advantage of his father's generous nature. That's where he developed his winning attitude.

Brenes played cards during college while he pursued his degree in engineering. After college he worked in different areas. For a while he was in the cookie business with his brother. Brenes eventually turned into a successful businessmen in his home country of Costa Rica. He owned an Univision television station, a construction company, several restaurants, and at one point in his life, Brenes was involved in the export business of chocolate, nuts, and other fruits and vegetables.

During the downtime, Brenes enjoyed gambling against tourists at the many casinos in Costa Rica. Brenes excelled in baccarat and craps and frequently competed in tournaments. Brenes once won $300,000 in a craps tournament. At the suggestion of a good friend, he started playing poker and eventually he bought into poker tournaments.

Brenes applied his business savvy and ability to make excellent decisions to his poker game. Brenes evolved into an excellent all around poker player who has won $4.1 million in his career on the tournament circuit.

Brenes always stressed the importance of concentration during tournaments. One of my favorite Brenes quotes is "Talent is something that you are born with, but concentration is something that you must teach yourself. I am hoping to have the discipline, skills, and the concentration to win."

Brenes often listens to music at the tables. That helps him focus and calms him down when things are not going his way. The music also puts him a better mood. He'll often be found singing at the tables and entertaining his opponents with his soothing voice, which makes for great TV. That's why film crew love to follow Brenes. The always amicable Brenes is doing something for the cameras, whether it's singing, joking around with players, or doing his trademark "all in" gesture. Brenes will stand up, cup his hands and making a swooshing motion towards the tables signifying that he's going to put all his chips into the pot.

Brenes has also won two bracelets at the WSOP and made at least 18 final tables. He came close to winning his first bracelet in 1992, but he lost to WPT creator Lyle Berman heads-up. Brenes waited one more year to win his first bracelet. He actually won two in 1993. His first bracelet was in Pot Limit Omaha and his second was Limit Hold'em. In 1995, Brenes missed his third bracelet after Mickey Applebaum beat him heads up in the $5,000 NL event.

Brenes is the patron saint of second place finishers. He would take second place two more times in WSOP events. Over his career, Brenes would come close to winning 6 bracelets and if he caught a little luck any of those times, he could have several more bracelets in his collection. In 1999, Josh Arieh beat Brenes heads up in the $3,000 Limit event. In 1999 Brenes finished in second place in the $5,000 Seven-card Stud event.

Despite the slew of second place finishes over his career, Brenes emerged as an excellent all-around player. However, it was his deft No Limit skills that made him into an international television superstar. In 2002, Brenes won the Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica, MS. His final table might go down as one of the toughest final tables in Tunica history. Brenes beat Erik Seidel heads-up in a grueling match after he outlasted Andy Bloch, Chris Bigler, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot, and Barry Shulman. In 2003, Brenes bubbled out of the TV table at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic.

2004 was a breakout year for Brenes. He made three TV tables in all with two second place finishes. At the WPT Invitational in Los Angeles, Brenes lost to Phil "The Unabomber" Laak heads up after outlasting John Juanda, Antonio Esfandiari, Harry Demetriou, and Jose Cassidy at his final table. Later that year at Foxwoods, Brenes took third place in the World Poker Finals. His final table featured tough players such as eventual champion Tuan Le, David "The Dragon" Pham and Brad Berman. In December of 2004, Brenes lost heads up to Daniel Negreanu at a final table of a Bellagio Five Diamond Classic that also included Jen Harman. Although Brenes never won a WPT event, he emerged as one of the most lovable players on the tour and became one of the most popular poker players in Central and South America.

One of the only knocks against Brenes is that he cannot close out a poker tournament on a strong note. Many poker pundits point to his numerous second place finishes to support their argument that one of the few of Brenes' weaknesses is his heads up play. I disagree. Brenes is good enough to consistently make it to final table. Most of the time, heads up battles are less about skill and more about card catching. The statistic that should matter the most is Brenes' consistency over the last decade. He's not only excelled at NL Hold'em, but he's also an excellent all around player as well. Brenes has cashed in over 90 major tournaments and won nine overall.

In 2006, Brenes had an excellent WSOP. He cashed seven times (including the WSOP main event) and already made one final table where he finished in 7th place. He starts Day 4 with $362K in chips and is twice about the average stack. He's been intimidating the other players at his table, while making them laugh and smile at the same time. That's part of Humberto Brenes' charm. He'll take all your chips and make you feel good about it in the process.

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