LAPT9 Panama, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Blog Team

The life of a poker blogger is a grind. So far this year, I’ve worked 100 days, been to eight states, three countries and have hyperbolized my way to just over 2,000 Twitter followers. There have been countless nights in Holiday Inn Express' and moments where days slowly turn into nights, that even more slowly turn into mornings, where that hotel bed doesn’t even get used. There are dozens of notepads with chicken scratch documenting check-raises, chip counts and flops. There are hand histories that are told, hand histories that are drowned out by the music in my headphones, hand histories that are forgotten. There are bad beats, suck outs, winner’s photos but in the end, through all of it, there are some great experiences.

The Latin American Poker Tour is one of those great experiences and I was lucky enough to complete my 100th day of work this year covering the LAPT9 Panama Main Event. The crew from the PokerStars side of things was the same as the last stop in Chile. The efficient Sergio Prado, who spent most of the trip writing about his countrymen winning SCOOP after SCOOP after SCOOP but found a few moments to glide out to the tournament floor, iPad ready, to follow Brazil’s attempt at back to back LAPT wins. The low-key Reinaldo Venegas, who is the LAPT Media Coordinator extraordinaire and always seems to make doing five things at once look like a piece of cake, and eat cake we did, as we celebrated his birthday on Friday. The pleasurable Carlos Monti, who is the head photographer for LAPT and simply put, the nicest gentleman I’ve ever met, worked with or known. There was this new guy though, replacing my first LAPT partner Jack Stanton.

His name, for tax purposes, is Martin Harris. His name, for blog purposes, is one of two options. Some know him as “Short Stacked Shamus” on Twitter, others know him as “hardboiledpoker” from his personal blog. I didn’t know him at all before this weekend and when I sat down to eat dinner with him and Sergio the first night we arrived in Panama, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve read his work, I’ve seen his name on nearly every poker outlet imaginable but who was this guy that I was about to spend the next five days working with.

“How are we going to do this?” Martin quietly said before Day 1A began on Thursday. He was kidding, I hoped at least because at this point in his career, Martin should be able to speak fluent Spanish having done nearly every LAPT for the last few years. He can’t, neither of us can but we had to figure out how to do this even with a slight language barrier. Working with the PokerStars team makes it easy but the LAPT players make it even easier. They’re friendly, they’re happy, they’re excited and they’re inclusive.

Time and time again, “¿Cuál es tu nombre?” was met by a flurry of noises, all in Spanish. More often than not, I did not understand. After a few of those flurried answers ended up with incorrectly spelled chicken scratch in my notebook, I had the bright idea to ask a player to, gasp, write his own name on my paper. The player was Raul Paez, or as he’s known in LAPT circles, “El Toro”. The Spaniard quickly scribbled his name and wrote his chip count next to it, 122,000. The rest of the field was still working near the 20,000 chip starting stack and no one else in the room was even close to sniffing the century mark. Paez handed me the notebook and then got busy working towards his third LAPT final table.

He eventually finished 5th and after that final table concluded, with Columbia’s Andres Carrillo claiming the title and two young Americans finishing 3rd and 4th, Martin jokingly said, “I don’t know how we did it, but we did it.” I laughed, as I had all weekend at Martin’s simple yet eloquent humor. How did we do it though, how does anyone do anything? A little blogging here, a little counting there, a little winging it that way, a little doing what you do over there. It just happens and throughout the event, you tell a story. Sometimes you are inspired, sometimes you aren’t, sometimes you are creative and sometimes you aren't.

I try to be the former, more than the latter, in both aspects. Martin always is, even if he doesn’t have the same pep in his step that Mr. Prado does, or the booming, cheerful voice of Monti. He’s quieter, he’s more subdued but he has so much to say. In terms of life experience and stories, there might not be a more well-versed person that I’ve met in poker than Martin. He's been around the world and back covering tournaments, he teaches a college course in North Carolina, he lost $20 this weekend on an NBA playoff game that we never heard the end of, he’s lived in France, he and his wife own a farm, he learned how to play guitar when he was younger by listening to a The Beatles song book.

Martin loves The Beatles, he carries a The Beatles playing card deck around with him for crying out loud. That’s how ‘Sgt. Pepper’ started, with that The Beatles deck and a little inspiration, a dash of creativity and some, okay maybe a lot, of boredom. The game is a variant of Badugi and you have to try to make the lowest qualifying hand, A-2-3-4, while only holding one heart, thus “lonely heart.” Martin, Sergio and I played a few times this weekend, while at dinner, while on the job; for candy, for imaginary chips, for dinner vouchers.

I have to admit, Martin and I are polar opposites when it comes to our tastes in music. When I asked him about Kanye West one night, he said that he, “Just missed that one.” Odesza? Nope. Future Islands? A little. Låpsley? Who? I never admitted that I don’t particularly like The Beatles and have probably listened to only a handful of their songs in my life. Not once was one of them “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” but I wanted Martin to like me, I wanted Martin to keep beating me out of chocolates and fake chips and dinner vouchers. By the end of the weekend, I had to know what that song, that created the game, was all about though. When I went up to my room after the final table finished, before I started packing to leave in the morning, I opened my laptop and began streaming “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

I busied my way around the room, picking up clothes, chargers, anything else a blogger needs to do what he does. It is a grind and it can get lonely sometimes but midway through that song, I felt inspired. I felt creative. I understood why Martin is always those two things.