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A Poker Life -- Alexandre Gomes

The Brazilian Superstar

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Alexandre GomesAs poker spreads across the globe, superstars are emerging in many of the flourishing markets. In Brazil, few poker players are as well known as Alexandre Gomes. In just two years as pro, Gomes has claimed both World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour titles. In all, he’s accumulated more than $3 million in tournament winning, making him arguably the most successful Brazilian poker player in history.

Childhood Passion

Gomes was born in Curitibo, Brazil, on July 24, 1982. He grew up with an older sister and described himself as a pretty good kid. From age four to six, Gomes lived in London with his father, who was a doctor studying there at the time. While in London, Gomes learned to speak English, an attribute that would later prove handy in his poker travels. When he returned to Brazil, Gomes attended school, but his major passion was soccer.

“Futebol in Brazil is really big. It’s almost like a religion,” said Gomes.

Like many of his friends, Gomes lived and breathed the sport. He played with his friends in his free time and competed on a team. When he wasn’t playing, Gomes was following the local professional team, going to games, and cheering on his favorite players. His dream was to become one of those professional soccer players he adored so much, because he couldn’t imagine a job he’d love more. However, fate would step in and send him on a different path.

At age 15, Gomes and his father were involved in car crash, and his father did not survive. Gomes was seriously injured, requiring surgery on his side and hip.

“It was very tragic for us. It was just me, my sister, and my mom [after that]. So, for me, everything changed. I had to step up. My mom suffered a lot, and I was the man of the family. I tried to support them — but as we say, life goes on.”

Gomes was unable to play soccer or do any athletic activity for a year, so he used that time to refocus his life goals and take care of his family. With professional soccer ambitions clearly out of sight, Gomes decided to become a lawyer. After high school, he attended university in Curitiba to get his law degree. In his third year, Gomes and a close friend who had already finished school decided to open a firm together after Gomes graduated.

Shortly after making plans with his new partner for the future, Gomes was introduced to poker when his friends starting playing no-limit hold’em tournaments. He’d already been familiar with five-card draw and a bluffing game called Truco, but he wasn’t too excited to play at first. Through the insistence of a friend, Gomes finally gave it a shot.

“At first, I didn’t want to pay $50 to play a tournament. I’d just learned the rules,” said Gomes. “I bubbled the final table, but I was amazed with the game. Since that moment, we decided to play every week.”

The two started a weekly home game playing $5 sit-and-gos for fun. Gomes said that every week, someone would come with new information, and the group gradually became more skilled. During this time, Gomes graduated from law school in 2005 and began practicing corporate law. Though he loved being a lawyer, his passion for poker continued to grow, eventually motivating him to make a couple of $50 deposits online on PokerStars, but he failed to gain footing, eventually losing each deposit.

That year, Gomes entered a $500 buy-in tournament in San Paola after winning a small satellite online. It was the biggest event he’d ever played in. He and another poker friend made the four-hour drive to the city, and Gomes finished sixth, winning $1,000. On his way back home, Gomes handed a $100 bill to his friend in exchange for a $100 transfer on a poker site, and that was the last time he ever deposited.

Gomes began cashing in small buy-in multi-table tournaments. He concentrated on improving and building his bankroll. His daily schedule turned into working all day and then playing at night from 11 p.m.-3 a.m.

“I was so tired, but I went from a $200 bankroll to $15,000 in two months.”

The newly padded bankroll allowed Gomes to travel around Brazil playing in tournaments, in addition to grinding online. In the very last satellite available on PokerStars for a $10,000 seat into the 2007 World Series of Poker main event, Gomes snagged a package. Instead of taking the seat, Gomes took the money and went to Las Vegas that summer to play in smaller tournaments around the city. He played in only one WSOP event — a $2,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament.

“I played small tournaments at the Venetian and Caesars, and only one tournament at the Series. I wasn’t really ready, but it was a good experience. There were some really good players, and I looked at them and said, ‘Maybe one day I’ll be prepared to be here and play a great game.’”

Eventually, the schedule was too much for him to handle, and he had to make a choice between his law firm and poker. In December 2007, Gomes quit his career as a lawyer.

Pro Status

Alexandre GomesSoon after going pro, Gomes competed in his first $10,000 buy-in event at the 2008 PokerStars.net Caribbean Adventure main event, from which he had to go back home empty handed. His first major five-figure score came online in February of that year when he won $65,000 for first place in a PokerStars Wednesday Hundred Fifty Grand.

When summer came around, Gomes felt much more prepared for the WSOP and was excited to embark on a one-month poker excursion. His plan was to again play smaller tournaments at other casinos, but to also play in three WSOP events — a $3,000 buy-in event, a $2,000 buy-in event (both no-limit hold’em), and the main event. After not cashing in the $3,000 event, Gomes was back at the same $2,000 buy-in tournament he felt overwhelmed in the year before. This year, however, he was ready.

“When I looked up [at the tournament information screen] with 90 players left and I had three times the average, I started imagining myself winning the bracelet. That was the first moment I thought I could win it.”

Alexandre GomesAnd that’s exactly what he did. Gomes took down the tournament for the bracelet and $770,000. His talent and quick success caught the eye of the online giant he’d cut his teeth on, and shortly after his win, he signed a deal with PokerStars as a member of Team PokerStars Brazil.

Gomes took on the responsibility of becoming a face for poker in his native country with grace and appreciation. He did his sponsors proud at the 2009 PCA. Exactly one year after playing his first $10,000 buy-in, he made the final table of the event, finishing fourth for $750,000.

His success online continued, and when the WSOP came around again, Gomes was ready to win another bracelet. He went into the Rio with a swagger he’d gained from having had experience as a pro for more than a year. Gomes competed in a plethora of events, but the cards went cold for him. He cashed once for $5,000 in a $1,500 no-limit hold’em event. Feeling somewhat dejected and worn out from a summer of unsuccessful tournament grinding, Gomes planned to skip the $15,000 World Poker Tour Bellagio Cup V main event, but his wife, Priscila, whom he has known since high school, encouraged him to play.

“She said, ‘We’re here in Vegas, so you might as well play.’ After I thought about it for a few hours, I finally decided to go play. I looked at her and said, ‘I’m going to win it.’”

Alexandre GomesSix days later, Gomes found himself entering the televised final table as the short stack. Hours after that, he was showing off a new gold bracelet on his wrist and pocketing nearly $1.2 million for first place.

Gomes continues to promote poker as a Brazilian-born player. His passion for the game has never been stronger — and as far as the near future, it’s all about poker. Having conquered a field at the WSOP and WPT for a title, his next goal is to win an event in Europe to complete a Triple Crown. For the once-talented soccer player, Gomes’ competitive spirit lives on through poker. Despite his enormous success, the good-hearted family man stays grounded and close to his roots. The humble man who plays a game he loves for a living takes nothing for granted. He realizes the joy in what he does, and invites others to take part.

“A lot of times in tournaments, I see people passing by, kind of afraid to talk to us. I just want to say, if anyone wants to talk to me, just come over — let’s have fun. It’s nice. I love making friends all over the world.”