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    Tequila Sunrise over Black Friday: Ex-pat Poker in Mexico

    Posted by Luke Haward May 28, 2013

    In poker as in politics, Mexico is a country in flux. U.S. pros have flocked here in numbers since the fateful Black Friday of April 2011, yet until the end of last year it was virtually illegal to run a live poker game of any sort here. With new legislation in the capital, at least three dedicated poker rooms do now exist, but it’s a very new and fragile development. LAPT Nuevo Vallarta was famously shut down by police in 2008 when down to 89 players, who were only rescued from poker limbo by PokerStars allowing them to finish the tournament online at a later date. The chaos in the system which would allow a prestigious game to be first organised and run at significant cost, and then cancelled mid-game is… well, less surprising when you live here. Bureaucracy doesn’t seem to be the country’s strong point.

    This coming from someone who, having recently moved here, has managed to sign a contract on a house, buy a car, furniture and insurance all while his UPS shipped boxes languish in Customs for three weeks, waiting on the sixteenth signature to be scrawled by an official who is doubtlessly cooling his heels in a taco joint two days’ drive away. Apparently our haul of old books and baby toys deserved really intense, but very slow-paced scrutiny. I’m not bitter, can you tell? It’s too hot to be bitter.

    Setting up here and getting back to the grind got me thinking about all those players who came here under a far more stressful impetus than my own, whose livelihoods essentially depended on it. Some very successful young players who’d been grinding pretty much full time since their late teens / early twenties found themselves clutching a fine but suddenly useless poker resume, with nothing at all worth printing on the real life equivalent, barely qualified for a job shipping honest-to-goodness cheeseburgers.

    My girl is Swiss-Mexican, and our daughter too young to know how lucky she is to hold three passports. My move from the UK to these climes was wholly voluntary. Not so for these U.S. regs blown down here by the bad winds of U.S. legislature. So I figured I’d speak to a few of them, and get a sense of what it’s like making such a major move and setting up shop here all for the love of the best game in the world.

    I spoke first with a well-known grinder by the name of Kyle O’Neill, better known by his online moniker i grind this on Stars. For this easy-going guy the transition didn’t seem all too bad, as he told me.

    “I came to Mexico after the WSOP in 2011 and Black Friday. I stayed in a house with betudontbet, amirsf, romdom, aprilsfool, run dat game, and a ton of other online killers… We talked a lot about what we were going to do to play online again, and Mexico came up a lot. Being the free-spirited person I am, I said ‘I’ll go if you guys go.’ So naturally one month after WSOP I was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Originally from North Texas, I was already pretty accustomed to dealing with Mexican people and some of the language, so it was a semi painless transition.”

    Kyle took down the Hot 55 last summer for a cool $18k and continues to crush online. He told me that he’d moved on from Cabo however, to the humid Caribbean attractions of Playa del Carmen.

    “The community here is heaps bigger than the current one in Cabo, and the night life and girls here are unmatched.”

    Kyle doesn’t frequent Twitter but you can read more about him on his Facebook page.

    I decided to speak to an up-and-coming grinder who had more trouble making the move, Jason Brauda who goes by the screenname Appst08. Jason scored huge in the $22 Micro Millions Main Event, which he managed to chop 5-handed in March of this year for $80k.

    “I moved down to Rosarito Beach on December 31st of 2012. Black Friday was terrible. I was at first stunned and not sure what I was going to do to pay my bills for the next month. I was scared but decided with my friend Matthew “Mattvegaspwn” Elsarelli’s help to get the courage to leave North Carolina, travel 3000 miles and cross the border. He was the one always in my ear saying I needed to just get back online and tweeted me, along with Zo Karim, using the hashtag #dontretireAppst08.”

    I asked Jason for his impressions of the Mexican people, and how he felt living here had changed his perspective.

    “The society here is completely different. I come from America where I feel the majority of people are complaining about their lives, here in Mexico people are just happy to be living. They are broke, but they are happy. This has made me realize that money isn’t everything and when you have people around you that make you happy, it’s easy to live life. I used to just stay in my apartment and never leave. In Mexico, I take off and really enjoy the culture, and never take poker for granted, as I did before.”

    You can follow Jason on Twitter @AppstOnSome.

    Moving on I had the good fortune to speak with two ladies of poker, who generously gave their time to comment on the Mexican experience. I spoke first with Katie Dozier, otherwise known as hotjenny314 on Stars and partner of the infamous Collin Moshman, about her time in Rosarito, Mexico. I asked her about her decision to move here.

    “Black Friday was an absolutely horrible day. I’d just moved to Vegas a couple weeks before with my husband Collin who also runs an online staking/coaching stable: Team Moshman. The implications were huge to us. I tried to make the best of the situation by honing my live poker skills. Collin and I decided to check out Mexico because of it being driving distance from Vegas. Especially after playing so many tournaments that summer, I was really hungry to play online again.”

    Katie also told me about how it feels living in Mexico, and how it differs from Las Vegas.

    “After living in the desert of Vegas, living on the beach is amazing! Everyday before I play, I take a walk with Collin and our dog, Wilbur, on the beach, which is a great way to unwind in preparation for the grind. Transitioning from a city with 24-hour everything to one with fewer options was tough. The locals and numerous expats in this area are generally extremely nice and helpful– even though I don’t speak great Spanish yet. I do miss the over-the-top nature of Vegas sometimes, which is why I’m so excited to go back for the WSOP this summer!”

    You can follow Katie on Twitter @Katie_Dozier as she takes WSOP by storm.

    I also spoke with the lovely Jamie Kerstetter, also known as AndTheLawWon on Stars. I asked her if she’d had any major scores since she moved to Mexico.

    “I’ve had a handful of decent $10k and $15k cashes, but no breakthrough scores in Sunday majors or anything yet! I had a really ridiculous sweat a few months ago in the Sunday Storm, an $11 buy in with 45,000 players. I got 12th and was on raging tilt, actually I may still be tilting from that.”

    Jamie went on to tell me about her decision to move in the wake of Black Friday, and the pros and cons of her move to Mexico.

    “I went on the live grind for about a year after Black Friday, living out of a suitcase in casinos. I hit a few WPT stops and got on the WSOP circuit grind. I would go several weeks at a time without setting foot in my Manhattan apartment. I like playing live poker sometimes, but it’s really a crazy way to try to make a living. You just don’t get to see enough hands to know if you are a profitable player or not. I felt like the game would pass me by if I didn’t move.”

    Jamie explained that the hardest part of the move for her was the impact it had on her relationships with those back home.

    “Facebook, Twitter and Skype make staying in touch with family and friends possible, but it’s just not the same as quality time in person. I have four young nephews who I visit when I can, but it would be really great to be able to see them more. I had been in a long relationship that became very strained with all my traveling, and finally came to an end when I moved to Mexico more permanently. But I’m more focused than ever. I decided when I left so much behind to move here that I was going to work hard and put in the hours to make the move worth it.”

    “I get really homesick for America at times, like when I want a decent hamburger or get tired of finding avocado in everything, but I’m in a good spot right now. In Cabo there’s a little booth raising money for a wildlife preserve where you can go pay about $10 and hold a baby lion. If I had stayed in Cabo long enough, it would have become my biggest bankroll leak. My male friends have strip clubs, I have baby lions, everyone has a bankroll leak!”

    You can hear more about Jamie’s life, feline-related bankroll leaks and poker performances on Twitter @JamieKerstetter.

    My final port of call was the badbeatninja himself, Bryan Devonshire. Originally from Colorado, this friendly grinder was willing to tell me quite a bit about his outlook on Mexico, and with language as vivid and colourful as the land he’s describing, I feel his contribution makes a perfect close to this piece. He started out telling me about his move from the USA.

    “Black Friday was the worst day of my career. It was mud season in Colorado, I slept in a little bit, I was getting clobbered playing $100-200 8-game on Stars over a bowl of Cheerios, and then I got this email at 11:27am:

    ‘Hey guys,

    I’m sure you’ve seen the news by now about the US Govt seizing domain names. I don’t have any more info than what’s currently in the news…’

    I hadn’t seen the news by then, but quit the game to look into things. I saw the FBI and DOJ logos. After realizing the depravity of the situation I decided to declare it Fiesta Friday and spent the rest of the day binge drinking. That lasted until Monday when I sat down with the intention of really assessing the situation, and when I finally realized how bad it was I was lost, depressed, scared, angry, and frustrated. It took me three weeks to come out of that fog.

    I met my current girlfriend last fall. She’s fantastic, and we came down here together. She cooks healthy food like Mama makes and sells it to poker players. She also made more money than I did in Mexico, and because of our bet on that sum I must wear a hat of her choice for the first week of WSOP.

    I speak Spanish and used to live in Mexico so the South vs. North coin flip was never a decision for me. My vision was to surf, play online, and hang out, much like my modus operandi in Summit County was when Black Friday hit, except I was skiing instead of surfing. It just made logical sense to drive my beat up old Ford truck down to Mexico.”

    Bryan went on to enthuse with passion about Mexico and his affection for the country, an authentic tribute to the place which resonates with much of my own experience.

    “I love Mexico and I’m probably a bit biased. I lived in Districto Federal in spring of 2000, playing online at pokerroom.com, way before it was cool to live in Mexico and play online poker. I’ve spent many many days surfing and camping in Baja while in college.

    The Mexican people are incredibly friendly, happy, hospitable, welcoming and hilarious. The perception of Mexico being a violent place where you can’t go out after dark without risk of decapitation is completely flawed. Yes, there are drug cartels here, and yes there are lots of them, because Tijuana is a major border town of two million people. The cartels don’t want to kill us gringos, they want to sell us drugs.

    I dig the Rosarito community. I dig the people. I dig the food. I dig the cost of living. Kendra says that she feels safer here than she does in Denver, Colorado. Living here in Mexico highlights the oppression of the United States government.

    My lighters don’t have a child safety thing on the striker, making it easier to use and cheaper. There’s sugar in my coke. Stop signs are a recommendation, but if you blow one and hit somebody then you’re going to jail. Fruit doesn’t have stickers. There’s boobies on TV.

    If you do something stupid, you can’t sue somebody else for it. They wash your windows every time you get gas. Gas is only sold by the Mexican government. They don’t have refineries in Mexico (even though they have a ton of oil) and export their oil to be refined, and the gas is still cheaper.

    Kids can have a job if they want. They work their butts off and are proud of their work. There’s two competing bus services. They are profitable, provide a better service than any bus system in the States, and are cheaper. I can buy puppies, oranges, honey, and shrimp in a coconut on the same street corner. Carne Asada. Guacamole. Fish tacos. And it’s $1k / month to live in a house on the beach.”

    You can get more of Bryan (albeit in Twitterised form) on Twitter @devopoker. Yes, bureaucracy may not be a strong point, but who needs bureaucracy anyway, when you have fish tacos y feliz de la vida!

    Thank you and good luck to all my contributors, who have each turned a tragic day for the U.S. poker community into an opportunity for personal adventure and renewal, and helped through this piece to showcase this fine country to the poker community. Viva Mexico!

    QuadJacks – May 28, 2013

    About Luke Haward

    Luke Haward is a writer, editor, MTT grinder and poker coach based in Oxford, UK and Guadalajara, Mexico. His interests include game design, charity, ecology and philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeHaward.

    View all post by Luke Haward

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