Nicolau Villa-Lobos is one of the biggest names in Brazilian poker. The 29-year-old from Rio de Janeiro, is a member of Team 888 and currently occupies sixth place in the Brazilian all time money listings thanks to having earned $1,253,674. His first recorded cash came in Brazil, and in the BSOP and he was able to parlay that into a deep run in the main event later that year in 2012.
While Rio de Janeiro is his hometown, he still considers São Paulo to be his home as well, and he’s excited to be participating in the 888Live Festival here in São Paulo.
“It’s amazing to have a such an event here in Brazil, my home,” he said. “The mood here, playing poker it’s a little different from some other places around the world. I think that people are more relaxed here at the table. More comfortable, and chatty, and talkative. Sometimes you go play and the table is always very serious. I was actually paying attention, on my phone, being serious, but generally speaking I think so. I really love playing poker in Brazil. I think it’s really cool.”
Villa-Lobos is currently in the Main Event Day 1e which has just returned from dinner and he has a stack of 30,200.
“I just got here,” Villa-Lobos explained. “I played two levels. It’s a really good structure so no rush at all. I mean, let’s see how it goes today. There’s still another flight after 1e. And if I bust, I can also have another bullet.”
Despite planning for the worst, Villa-Lobos has plans for the day when it comes to tournament strategy.
“Strategy wise, I would say there are like maybe two more levels that you can stay quiet, and don’t have to push so hard, but then when there is the 300/600 with 100 ante, probably you just have to go for a little bit more,” he said. “The antes are a little big bigger so you need to be a little bit more aggressive to collect them. And also because since it’s a re-entry tournament, it’s really important to have a nice stack, a healthy stack for day 2 because a lot of people already have it. So even though I have 30 big blinds for day 2 which is a pretty good stack that I’m really used to playing with every day online. Since people have much more chips you kinda… You need to reach a little bit more. So maybe the last levels you can push a little bit harder, and if it doesn’t work you can just re-enter in the next flight.”
We asked Villa-Lobos about the structure for the last flight of the Main Event, which is a turbo rather than longer levels, as this is not usually something that most tournaments have.
“This is one thing that happens in Brazil a lot,” Villa-Lobos explained. “They try to do stuff, experiment with new formats sometimes. And actually, they have been doing this style, this extra flight in Brazil for many tournaments, and the last flight is a turbo. I was in Barcelona last month for the PSC and I was really happy to see that the Estrellas, they did the same thing.”
Villa-Lobos thinks that compared to the rest of the world, poker is still in it’s early stages in Brazil. But it’s growing at an alarming rate. So fast even that Villa-Lobos is calling it a Brazilian poker boom.
“I think we are relatively young regarding poker,” he said. “I mean Brazil itself. If you go to the United States and Europe they have casinos and have been playing cards for a much longer time than we have. I mean we obviously have sweet games but poker has definitely had a boom here in the past few years in Brazil. The U.S. already had this many years ago. Europe as well. I think we are still pretty young poker wise."
For Villa-Lobos it’s with the help of the pros and the poker community that is making the game grow so quickly, creating a very passionate community.
"One thing that I really have to take my hat off Brazilian Poker players, and for the poker community actually, is how they are interested in learning,” Villa-Lobos explained. “So there are a lot of professional poker players doing courses and giving their experiences to the community and just trying to give back something even if there is a cost. Obviously, there is a lot of those kinds of courses and poker schools but it’s uncountable. You have a lot of them here. I think we are definitely on the right path, just keep moving.”
Sports had always been a big part of Villa-Lobos life, he was a naturally competitive person, but a surgery put all of that on the back burner, and that’s when he discovered poker.
“Ten years ago, I had a surgery on my heart, so I had to stop playing sports at all,” he said. “I was brought to poker from a friend that brought the game to my house with another friend. And we started playing everyday or almost every day. And I had one year to just dig in, you know, go completely focused on poker. And I was really happy to learn and to see. And then I started to go to the clubs. It was a totally different scenario. I mean we are in one of the main shopping malls in São Paulo and back in the days I was playing underground. Like really, Teddy KGB scenario, and it was like that. Definitely, and I was really young, but that’s how I started playing poker.”
We asked Villa-Lobos for some must do things for any tourist who visits São Paulo. His answers were simple; Football and nightlife.
“I will say two ok?” he asked. “Because It’s tough. I will say one by day and one by night. A football game would be amazing. Like if you are able to see a match like a local match, like two local teams playing like Corinthians and São Paulo, or Palmeiras, this would be an experience. Like really amazing because I’ve been around the world to see sports and the only country that beats us is Argentina. They’re crowd is just insane. But the crowd in Brazil… I mean you go to Barcelona and Real Madrid you’re not impressed. There’s a lot of people in the stadium, but then what? And if you go to see the Corinthians play, even if it’s not against the rival team, you’re gonna have your mind blown. I mean they are so sick. And it’s really amazing.”
As for nightlife, Villa-Lobos says that Brazilian country music is something that any foreigner would enjoy.
“Nightlife in São Paulo is really amazing,” he said. “So my second tip is look for a really famous place here. Like a country music place which is really famous. Like Sertanejo, Villa Mix, Wood’s, Villa Country. I’m not really into it, but I know it’s really popular and for foreign people who would love to see something different, it’s a really great experience to check out.”
Day 1e brought out 188 players to the Main Event, 99 which are still alive. Day 1f has already kicked off as well, brining out over 90 players at this point with a few more levels left to register. This will end our feature coverage for 888Live São Paulo, but tomorrow we’ll be kicking right back off with our normal live reporting. At the end of the night we’ll bring you a round up of some of the biggest stacks in the tournament as well as some updates for all the big name and notable players who played today. Make sure you check back in as Day 2 of the 888Live São Paulo Main Event kicks off tomorrow.