In just a few short days, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will play host to the Summer Olympics, hosting athletes, dignitaries, and fans from all over the world. And while sports like golf and gymnastics will be competed, poker won’t. The day poker becomes an Olympic sport, however, you can bet your bottom dollar that Brazil will be a medal contender.
Brazil is the #1 country in the world when you order the nations based on total PocketFives Leaderboard points. And when you narrow the entire population of Brazil down to the top 20 players, it still ranks #4.
“We are a really tight community,” Fabiano ‘kovalski1’ Kovalski said of the Brazilian poker population. “I’m really close friends with Joao ‘joaosimaobh’ Simao, Rafael ‘GM_VALTER’ Moraes, and others who have become beasts and are well-respected by players around the world. I believe the tendency is that more and more Brazilian players will rise as we learn the professional side of poker and add to the well-known passion that we apply in all things we do.”
Kovalski is all the way up to #90 worldwide in the PocketFives Rankings, eight spots off his all-time high, and is #1 in the city of Florianópolis. He’s fresh off a third place finish in the 888 Baby Whale and booked a massive $147,000 score in 2013 after a runner-up finish in a WCOOP Challenge tournament, his largest score to date.
Undoubtedly, some of his success is a byproduct of surrounding himself with some of the game’s, and some of Brazil’s, brightest poker minds.
“I lived for a year with Moraes in 2011 in a poker house at the start of our careers. Also in that house were some other great players who are crushing these days like Thiago ‘KKremate’ Crema, Vitor ‘Vitor_brasil’ Peixoto Moreira, and a few others. Simao and I met in a live tournament long ago and got along right away. We talk on a weekly basis and discuss some hands, but also have a lot of normal life chat.”
Living in a poker house in 2011 was a life-changer for Kovalski. There are moments in a player’s career that define him, and for Kovalski, making the decision to join in on the party propelled him into the rising star from a rising powerhouse that he is today.
“It’s all a combination of events,” he said. “Living together helped us get a lot better at the time. It was a really awesome experience and we learned a lot about living together and professionalism. That was super important at the time since we were all so young and so fresh to this whole thing. It was our first time working and living with others.”
Kovalski and his Brazilian brethren were together in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, which is currently wrapping up. He said the group became closer during his six-week stint in the desert. “We were together during the day when we were not grinding, went to the other casinos, like yesterday when we went to Planet Hollywood, and played some good-value tournaments outside of the WSOP.”
The numbers are pretty staggering too. There are almost 4,000 registered PocketFives members from Brazil who together have amassed winnings of almost $370 million, $23 million of which has come in the last three months. The Brazil poker community has compiled over 564,000 in the money finishes in tournaments tracked by PocketFives – over a half-million.
Two of the top 10 players worldwide in the PocketFives Rankings are Brazilian. So are seven of the top 100.
“You are the average of the five people you spend most time with, so we stay close and grow together,” he said of Brazil’s propensity to excel at poker and at life.
“Living in Brazil is awesome,” he added. “The people are super friendly and the country is beautiful. It is also not as violent as people think, especially in the south where I live. It’s also a very affordable place to live if your poker winnings are in US Dollars.” The Brazilian Real’s value against the US Dollar has been halved over the last five years, making the Dollar much more valuable.
After the final cards have been dealt in his WSOP journey, Kovalski will get on a plane and head back to Brazil, a nation that’s going to be inundated with a half-million tourists coming in for the 31st Summer Games. And when the dust settles, it’ll be back to grinding.
“I hope to play better poker every day and grind a lot,” he said of his plans for the rest of 2016. “The money will come if I can do that. Also, winning a big live event or a World Championship of Online Poker bracelet would be great.”