Las Vegas, NV
A chant of "Ole! Ole! Ole! Pele! Pele! Pele!" echoed throughout the Amazon Ballroom as the ground shook before me.
"What the fuck? Did Brazil score a goal or something?"
I expected to hear some wasted announcer bellow, "Goooooooooooooooooooooooallllllllllllllllllllll!" But that wasn't the case because the World Cup isn't for another three years.
In the loudest, raucous, festive final table at the 2011 WSOP, Brazil's native son Andre Akkari won a bracelet while a hundred or so of his fellow Brazilian packed into an entire side of the stands inside the Mothership.
Akkari made the final table of the Donkament on Day 28, but even though it was the third day of the event, they failed to play down to a champion. Akkari found himself heads-up against Nachman "The Landlord" Berlin when play was suspended due to the 10-level hard-stop rule. The two resumed play on Day 29, or the fourth day of the exhausting Donkament.
Even though The Landlord was an American with home field advantage, his dozen or so supporters, led by Ari Engel, could not match up against the voluminous Brazilians. Whenever the small group of Americans attempted to cheer for the Landlord, the Brazilians retaliated with a few chants disguised at taunts. The Yanks got the "Shhhhhhh" tossed back at them a couple of times and my favorite -- a condescending "Oooooh, baby, baby, baby!"
The Brazilians on the rail were veterans of many World Cup matches, so they were much better equipped to deal with the opposition. Come to think about it, the way the Brazilians controlled the flow, energy, and atmosphere inside the Mothership, the Landlord was playing in a hostile environment. Ergo, he was in Akkari's house because the Brazilians seized the home-field advantage by default when forty or so Brazilians showed up at the re-start of Day 4. Within an hour the Brazilians had doubled their size and then some.
The intimating Brazilians were dressed for the occasion -- gold and green soccer jerseys -- and lots of #10 jerseys. The only thing missing was vuvuzelas and caipirinhas. One of akkari's friends brought a Brazilian flag and draped it over the rail on the opposite side of Akkari. It seemed a little strange that his crew would be facing him -- but that's how the Brazilians wanted it -- to see their hero no matter what. And vice versa. For Akkari it must have been inspiring to peek up and see a hundred or so of his fellow countrymen and women fervently cheering him on like the premier football players in his country.
Pele. Ronaldo. Akkari.
The chants were led by one guy in the front row who looked like he was about to have a heart attack, or potentially lead a workers revolution. He shouted vociferously and whenever chants died down, he quickly started them back up. The Brazilians were never quiet for more than ninety seconds before they got whipped up into another frenzy.
At first glance, you might have thought the Brazilians were drunk, but it was the opposite scenario. Many of them were cold sober, but Brazilians are passionate people who get fired up about anything that has to do with their home country. You rarely see that sort of unwavering nationalistic pride in America. I was smitten with both jealousy and awe. On one side of the audience, a handful of Americans did their best to root on the Landlord, but their efforts paled in comparison to the boisterous Brazilians.
The Brits are a laconic and demure culture. They need booze and liquor to break open their shell. In short, the Brits flock to the rail whenever a British player makes a final table, but they are unable to fulfill their railbirds duties sober. In order to cheer, which goes against their reserved nature, the Brits get snookered to the tits. As a result, you see and hear about all of the binge-drinking antics from the hooligans. At one point over the weekend, a few rowdy Brits were drinking Jager shots out of shoes on the rail.
My buddy Homer suggested the most interesting and rowdy table in the history of the WSOP would pit a Brazilian heads-up against a Brit.
"All hell would break loose," Homer suggested. "Between the Brits and the Brazilians going back and forth at each other, they'd absolutely tear down the entire set."
The volume of cheering rivaled a Brazilian football match. Even when I was in the pressbox in the corner of the room away from the Mothership, you could still hear the rambunctious Brazilians from the other side of the Amazon Ballroom. Every time Akkari won a sizable pot, they went berserk.
I joked with AlCantHang, "We went to cover a poker tournament and watch two dudes play cards, and a soccer game broke out."
The Brazilians didn't touch a sip of booze. They didn't have to. Many of them barely slept when Day 3 ended because they were all riled up when Akkari advanced to the final table. They probably stayed up all night plotting a soccer chant setlist of tunes to belt out whenever Akkari won a pot.
The Brazilians brought back the "Wave" into fashion. It was a fan favorite at American sporting events in the 1980s, but the Wave has since died down and only gets started up by bored and drunken fans at baseball games. At the Mothership, the Brazilians unleashed two different versions. The Fast Wave was just as you expected -- the Brazilians happily standing up and sitting back down as the wave went half-way around the audience and quickly returned the other way. Afterward they'd belt out "Ole! Ole! Ole! Pele! Pele! Pele!" The Slow Wave is just as it sounds. Slow, but even more effective because it gave the Brazilians more down time before they collectively exploded into an ear-piercing chant while stomping their feet to generate a thunderous and bong-rattling bass beat.
"Ole! Ole! Ole! Pele! Pele! Pele!"
The Mothership shook and rocked back and forth a few times. I really thought they were ready to blast off on a few occasions, as the Mothership would shoot up and crash through the ceiling of the convention center. As George Clinton and P-Funk said it the best, "We're gonna tear the roof off this mutherfucker!'
If you ever attended the November Nine, then you witnessed the energetic atmosphere inside the Penn & Teller Theatre. With nine final table players, at least four or five support groups were enthusiastically cheering for their hero. However, the cavernous Penn and Teller diluted most of the crowd noise. But over inside the Mothership, the crowd was much closer to the action and the collective cacophony of "Ole! Ole! Ole!" chants echoed throughout the Amazon Ballroom, and even spilled outside into the corridors of the Convention Center.
The Mothership was built for days like Day 29, but I have a feeling the Mothership might get dismantled because of days like Day 29. Plenty of pros an players going deep on Day 2 and 3s issued a complaint -- and rightfully so. I understand their point that they're playing for a bracelet and several million in prize money, so a more subdued and respectful environment was more appealing to those players. However, from a show biz standpoint -- the louder, the better. If it's standing room only inside the Mothership, then the WSOP must be doing something right. Alas, when the WSOP is over, the suits are going to have to figure out how to maintain a festive environment at the final table, but at the same time, giving the other players a semblance of peace and quiet. It's a tough balance to maintain and I'm eager to see what type of solution (if any) that the powers to be conjure up. But for now and the rest of the 2011 WSOP, expect the final tables to be intense, rowdy affairs.
I rarely root for players, but I had a special spot in my heart for Akkari. I was covering the LAPT Lima in Peru (the same week as Black Friday), and Akkari had to leave the tournament unexpectedly because his father passed away. He was among the chipleaders when the first day ended and never returned for the next day. Instead, a Brazilian flag was draped over his empty chair as his stack was blinded down. Akkari had enough chips that he made the money -- barely -- but secured a min-cash. Akkari returned to Brazil and buried his father while he consoled his entire family. Two months later, he shipped a bracelet at the WSOP in front of a hundred jubilant Brazilians. His good friend Alex Gomes became the first Brazilian to ever win a bracelet a few years ago in 2008, and now Akkari solidified his name to the list of greatest Brazilian poker players of all time.
Akkari came from behind to win. He doubled up on a decisive hand with pocket Kings that nearly tipped over the Mothership. When Akkari pulled even with the Landlord, I wondered what would happen if Akkari had lost? Thank God the Brazilians were not drinking, otherwise, they might have flipped over the Mothership and torched it with a few homemade Malatov cocktails.
Once he caught up to the Landlord, it was a matter of time before Akkari finished him off. Before the final hand was even finished, a dozen or so Brazilians jumped the rail and mobbed Akkari. Before the river card was dealt on the final hand, the Brazilians jumped up and down around him while the rest of the crowd belted out a few victory songs. The mob on the stage hoisted Akkari up on their shoulder. They attempted to carry him around the Mothership until a few of them tripped on the main stage and the floor guys quickly stepped in and told them carry Akkari around wasn't going to happen. That's when someone opened a bottle of champagne and sprayed it over everyone on the Brazilians side of the Mothership. It really looked like a celebration at the end of a sporting event.
Pele. Ronaldo. Akkari.
For a quick recap of Day 29 at the WSOP, check out my recap on RISE Poker... WSOP Day 28.
Don't forget, I recorded a podcast during Akkari's final table with AlCantHang. Listen here... Brazil's Mothership Invasion.
Checkout the Tao of Pokerati archives, aka best place to listen to the quickest poker podcast at the 2011 WSOP. I've had plenty of amazing guests this year including KevMath, Snoopy, Change100, Remko, Timtern, Johnny Hughes, Joe Dub, AlCantHang, and Benjo.
Also, help support indie writers and buy my books: Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers and the World Series of Poker, and my recently released novel, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog. Both are also available for Kindles and iPads.