I remember the long nights my father spent at the office, his tired face, and his hours of undone work that we helped him do in the middle of our living room floor. I remember the business trips, the budgets, and the work ethic. Most of all, I remember what he said when I questioned why he worked so hard.
"Making money takes hard work, son. No one can become a millionaire overnight."
Dad was wrong.
Vina del Mar, Chile is not the kind of place an American can get by with just a smile and the word cerveza. The resort communities in Central America have a ready staff of English speakers ready to help fleece American tourists of every dollar they have. Admittedly, the Hotel Del Mar in Vina is a resort just the same, but it's not a resort for Americans. It's where the elite of South America--the Brazilians, the Argentineans, the Colombians--come to relax and play. There's not much call for speaking English. To get by in Vina, I depended on my limited Spanish, the few people I found who spoke enough English to understand me, and, most importantly, a group of friends who are fluent.
Vina is a wondrous place. The Hotel Del Mar, despite being a 5-star resort, refuses to look over its nose at typical Americans like me. As I wrote to my wife upon my arrival, "It's a lot like the place in Monte Carlo without all the pretentious French bullshit."
As a stupid American, I neglected to bring a power adapter for the plugs in Chile. I walked down to the front desk to find a place I could buy one. They told me to go back up to my room. I barely had time to get back to room and close the door before a sweet young Chilean lady was standing there with a free adapter. Later in the week, a restaurant waiter went out of of his way to carry my leftover food back to my room for me. When my key card didn't work, he stood sentry by my sandwich while I went to the front desk and got a new key. It's the little things, you know?
It's the type of thing that can lull a guy--a stupid American with a less-than-stellar grasp on the exchange rate--into a sense of complacency. Add a couple of the local Cristal beers, and it becomes more a sense of "Well, when's the next time I'm going to be in Chile?"
That's how I ended up in the biggest cash game the casino had running.
I'd been trying out a new character in 2009. After several years of playing the tight-aggressive too-serious guy at the table, I'd grown bored and--let's be honest-- unprofitable. Around the underground games, at the friendly home games, and even on the road, I was seen as the guy who took himself too seriously, who took the game too seriously, and who was afraid to play anything but the nuts. It had grown old. I'd experimented with who I'd eventually start calling "Chile Otis" long before I got to Chile, but he was really born that night in Vina del Mar.
I was playing in a no-limit game. The poker room was packed. Only one table was unoccupied and the rest were teeming with crazy, drunk South Americans. We were playing in Chilean pesos, and I hadn't been on the ground long enough to fully understand how much I was playing for. It didn't matter. Based on the people in the game, I knew I wasn't going to get hurt too badly.
That's when a friend appeared over my shoulder.
"We're thinking about getting a bigger game going. You wanna play?" he asked.
Old Otis would've said, "Nah, it's late" and turned back to the table. Old Otis would've asked who was playing, what the stakes were, and whether the buy-in was capped. Chile Otis didn't care about any of these things. Chile Otis is a yes-man. Chile Otis was up and digging in his pockets before the dealer of the new game had even slid into the box.
I started pulling out American hundreds and counting out how much I had. I'd only bought a few hundred bucks worth of pesos when I arrived at the airport.
"No, no," someone said. "You're going to have to go get pesos."
An Aussie friend of mine who had also decided to join the game was in the same situation. He led me to an ATM where I blindly punched numbers until the machine spit out a bunch of bills. I thought I had a decent idea of how much I'd withdrawn, but I didn't take a lot of time to do the math. The game was about to go off and I wanted my seat.
I slid into the four-seat and realized the game was full. I looked around and recognized many of the faces. I slipped into character and slipped half of my pesos to the dealer.
If you've not yet met Chile Otis, you should know he is irresponsible. He raises light more than he should. He three-bets even lighter. He calls re-raises with impunity. He is the very definition of loose-aggressive. In short, he is a donkey. He is the player you are hoping to find at your cash game table at all times. His only redeeming quality is that he is generally a nice guy. For the people who know Old Otis, Chile Otis is frightening. It's as if someone tinkered with my frontal lobe and turned me into something frighteningly stupid and correspondingly dangerous. That is, I could be re-raising you on the river with the nuts or I could be three-barreling with air. Suffice to say, it's always a good idea to call me.
I was setting up the character when I looked two seats to my left.
I could only think, "What is Alex Brenes doing at this table?"
It took all of two orbits to establish myself as the "crazy one." I couldn't raise enough. I couldn't stop betting. I couldn't stop making loose calls. Before I knew it, the entire table was looking at me. Old Otis would've been exceptionally uncomfortable. Chile Otis was eating it up.
Despite it all, it was not lost on me that I was playing in a game in which I was blissfully unaware of the stakes. That I didn't know exactly how much I could be winning or losing was actually helping me play the LAG, a Brenes at the table or not.
After a bit, the dealer stopped pushing me chips and started pushing me what you see below.
The numbers were irrelevant. The fact that I was about to be riffling plaques was not.
After a bit, players started playing back at me and it got a bit tough. I was up so much, though, I was content continuing in the role.
When I came in for a raise with 2d-5d, I expected nothing out of the ordinary to happen. When Brenes re-raised me a fair amount, I didn't think twice about calling. When the flop came K-K-2, I felt like I'd struck gold. Don't ask why, because outside the fog of that room, it doesn't make sense. I just knew I had to bet into him. I did, and he raised all-in. I had him covered, but his stack wasn't insignificant.
I won't try to make this sound like more than it was. I won't try to say I spent five minutes analyzing the hand and pinpointing his range. I won't try to make myself sound like a good player, because I think we all know how quickly such an assertion could be defeated. Simply put, I felt like I was good.
"I call," I said and flipped over my little 2-5. Brenes smiled widely and said something in Spanish. He turned over A-Q off. No pair. He missed his outs and stood up. He turned to me, offered his fist for a bump, and walked out of the room.
I've always thought the Johnny Chan scene in Rounders represented less than the movie suggested. Mike McD bluffing the Orient Express in one hand was more indicative of ridiculous hubris than it was stellar poker play. As Brenes walked out of the room with a wave, I felt like I'd experienced something similar. The moment meant nothing.
And still, I smiled.
The last hand of the night is one I'm not proud of. I came in for a raise with pocket deuces. A frustrated player who had just about enough of Chile Otis' shit pushed all-in. Then my friend in the nine seat called all-in for less. I justified it several different ways in my head and then did what was expected. I called. My deuces were up against the re-raiser's pocket eight's and my friend's pocket sevens.
Deuce on the river.
The game broke, I carried my plaques to the cage, and went to bed.
When I got up the next morning, everybody I knew was ready to talk about the night.
"You!" they said. "I heard about you last night. Pocket deuces! Suck-out artist!"
It went on for the better part of four hours. I knew I had a giant wad of pesos in my pocket, but I had no idea how much it was worth. Out of an abundance of caution, I checked my bank account to see how many dollars I had pulled out the night before.
Five minutes later, I was on the line to my wife explaining that there would be a larger than usual withdrawal from our checking account (I never pull out house money to play). Good thing I did, because the bank called her later to ask what in the hell I was doing making that kind of run on the ATM in a foreign country.
I ran into a corner of the room and started counting my pesos. There were too many to count with any accuracy. Later, I went to my room and laid them all out on my bed. The final count...1.2 million.
I was a millionaire--in Chilean pesos.
Later that night, I actually did the math and realized that being a millionaire in Chile is the equivalent of being able to afford to eat in America. It took a bit of the luster off the giant wad in my pocket. In all, I had cashed out for around $2,000 American. The biggest game in the room in Chile was somewhere between 1/3 and 2/5.
That is, I'd just played the same game I'd play in a Vegas casino, but I'd done it in pesos.
I sort of miss Chile Otis. He's a fun cat, but he gets me in way too much trouble. I still let him poke his head out from time to time, but he has no place in my life. Then again, if you were to look in my pocket right now, you would find something wrapped around my American dollars.
It's a 1,000 peso note.
That, friends, is how a Chilean millionaire rolls.