Andre Akkari has a bad beat from Day 2 of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Playing Day 2AB with only 45,000 chips, as players around him began accumulating high six figures, Akkari accepted an offer of tickets to UFC 239 in the T-Mobile arena that night. “Probably I’m going to be out,” Akkari reasoned. What better way to relax than by seeing Jon Jones and Thiago Santos batter one another?
Flash forward about two hours, with the undercard well underway, and Akkari realised he wasn’t going to make it. There was the small matter of about 460,000 chips blocking his path, the result of one of those surges that poker players get when they know how to play the field at the WSOP. “I gave the tickets to my family,” Akkari said. “I had a lot of chips.”
Akkari has been playing the Main Event for about a decade now, and seems well set this year to record his third in-the-money finish. At time of writing (the Day 3 dinner break) he has about 560,000, going into 1,500/3,000, with about 2,250 players left. The min-cash kicks in when 1,286 remain, which will likely be either late tonight or early tomorrow.
Though he had made contingency plans for Saturday night, he also actually wasn’t totally surprised that he was able to cling on. He is well aware of the mindset adjustments necessary to play this particular tournament, and the necessity to place discipline high on the list of relevant skills.
“You have to be patient,” Akkari said. “First you have to consider the maths. You always see some people on your table, on the other tables, with huge stacks. You have 40 big blinds and you consider yourself a short stack, and you’re not a short stack. But the mind works against you. There’s a guy with 300 big blinds, 200 big blinds. I try to forget all these mind tricks and focus on my 40 big blinds. I have a lot of things I can do with 40 big blinds.”
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As others have noticed, many tournament truisms go out of the window in this one. “I’m playing this Main Event like I always play the Main Event of the World Series, completely different than any other Main Event,” Akkari said. “I’m trying to pot control all the hands that I play and not overplaying ace king, stuff like that. Since there are so many amateurs and people who don’t know how to play perfectly, you have to take advantage of them. That’s the edge you have. If you are putting all your chips all-in pre, trusting in jacks or tens, I think you’re throwing your edge away. I don’t want to do that.”
Fascinating as it is to hear Akkari’s strategy tips, it’s always more important to hear what he has to say about life away from the tables — and it doesn’t take too long for the overlaps to become clear. Discussing his calm and steady approach to the WSOP, he likens it to some of the lessons he has learned growing up and prospering in Sao Paulo.
“You can make a connection with life,” he says. “Sometimes you have some problems, maybe you’re in a bad moment in your life, but really it’s not too bad. If you keep comparing yourself against rich people or people who have avoided trouble, you’re going to feel that you’re in terrible shape, you have to do something about it. But it’s just the way your mind works…It’s all about your mindset and poker is exactly the same. People sometimes get desperate. They want 80 big blinds, 40 is not enough, because someone has 100. Then come the mistakes.
“Poker is about opportunity. Not opportunity that you’re going to create yourself, but an opportunity that shows up and you have to do something about that. You cannot always invent opportunities, but they’re going to show up, so you have to wait, you have to be there, and then take it.”
Akkari is happy also to help provide that opportunity for others. He has a team of around 80 Brazilian players with whom he studies and for whom he provides coaching and staking deals. “Team Akkari” has had a high level of collective success, and he doesn’t have to think too long to bring stories to mind of people who have made the best of the opportunities afforded them.
“The best example I have is Pedro Padilha,” Akkari says. “Six, seven years ago this guy shows up at my door trying to sell Nextel cellphones. He was in terrible shape financially, but we invited him in, at our team HQ. He said, ‘Man, what are you guys doing?’ We said: ‘We’re playing online poker.’ ‘Oh man, please teach me. I need it.'”
Flash forward a few years, and Akkari was on the rail when Padilha was closing in on the final table of the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) in the Bahamas, finishing tenth for $328,500. “Now he’s one of the best poker players in Brazil, in Latin America,” Akkari says. “He’s a great guy and we love him, and it’s all about poker. Poker saved him. Now he is doing what he wants to do, what gives him pleasure. He wakes up every day happy and he has money, he’s looking after his family.”
Akkari is happy to give Padilha full credit for his turn around. “It’s not chance,” Akkari says. “What he has is a focus. He loves poker in a way that gives him pleasure to study it. He studies hands every day, he puts in time with the solvers. He likes that. After you find yourself in a position that you’re doing something you like and you are committed to study, to do whatever it takes to get there, I don’t see any way that it doesn’t work. In all the cases I know where people study and focus a lot, and have committed everything that they have, every case that I saw was successful.”
Padilha too is sitting with a decent stack at the WSOP today, closing in perhaps on his first Main Event cash. Though Akkari insists that the trophy has his own name on it (“I’m going to win. You can write that.”) one gets the sense that he’d be equally happy railing his friend and protege towards the bracelet.
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive