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Jun 23, 2017

Team Belize Invades Las Vegas to Play Poker

It is an annual series that attracts thousands of poker pros and poker enthusiasts from across the globe. These players descend on Las Vegas, Nevada specifically during the summer months with the same dream of making millions. 2016 was a record breaking year for the World Series of Poker with over one hundred thousand participating from ninety-seven countries. Thus far, it looks like the 2017 participation may exceed last year’s. Included in these thousands will be twenty Belizean hopefuls. For the third year, a group of Belizeans are in Las Vegas to participate in one of the seventy-four tournaments – the Monster Stacks. A News Five crew is covering Team Belize’s participation and files the following report.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

It’s round three for Team Belize at the World Series of Poker Monster Stack Event. Almost twenty Belizeans and their family and friends have traveled to Las Vegas with the hope of walking away with the top prize – over a million dollars and a prestigious WSOP bracelet. According to organizer and owner of Big Slick Poker Room at the Princess Casino, Bob Bounahra, the interest in the game itself and the hopes of joining Team Belize continues to grow.


Bob Bounahra

Bob Bounahra, Team Belize Poker Player
“Poker in Belize has become a larger sport in Belize. Poker in itself is a marathon not a sprint. Every year the team gets larger and larger and this year alone we have about nineteen or twenty, I’m not sure of the total numbers as yet. The numbers have moved up in the poker room. The interest has been everybody fights to play tournaments to win to be here. There’s a lot of players who buy themselves come and join the Team Belize.”


This year’s team includes players from Corozal, Belize City, Belmopan and San Pedro. It’s a mix of return players, players who’ve been playing for years and those who’ve just started. Edmond Chee, is from San Pedro, he just started playing two years ago and qualified to join the team this year.


Edmond Chee

Edmond Chee, Team Belize Poker Player

“I’m still in the learning phase. I think I just pick up quick and I’m a fast learner in anything I do too. I read a lot of books too and that’s what helped me: reading books.”


Marleni Cuellar

“What about poker appeals to you?”


Edmond Chee

“I like that you have good runs and bad runs and you have to control your emotions. It’s just a game that you can never really master because There is always something new to learn.”


Belize City Players Matthew Smiling and Anthony Michael have been playing for much longer. They are both playing this year’s event for the first time as well. Both won their seat through a qualifying tournament earlier this year.


Matthew Smiling

Matthew Smiling, Team Belize Poker Player

“It’s was over a period of time. I think like 5 months at the Princess poker room. It was until May on the final one I qualified. The experience was good. It got us ready for this tournament.”


Anthony Michael, Team Belize Poker Player

“It’s an honor to represent my family, my country to represent Big Slick Poker Room and one of the good things is that we’re here among friends.”


Marleni Cuellar

“What about Poker appeal to you personally?


Anthony Michael

Anthony Michael

“The thrill, reading your opponent, [and] bluffing. You never know what they have. You both have two cards. You look at the flop, you look at the turn and the river. It’s a mathematical game. People think you just sit there and play cards but Marleni if you know the game its mental stress. Starting tomorrow at about 10 in the morning we’ll probably play till ten at night and if you’re still in the competition you’re literally mentally fatigued.”


Some players return on an annual basis, like Vijay Vidani from Corozal and Jason Southwell from San Pedro.


Vijay Vidani

Vijay Vidani, Team Belize Poker Player

“We hope to win one day. We’re representing the whole country. All of us come to final table again.”


Jason Southwell, Team Belize Poker Player

“Two years ago I managed to make day two in the Monster Stack and outlast the rest of the team. I’m going to try to do that again this year. Last year I was first out.  So I gotta work on that but I’ve been having a very good run this year so I feel like I can go pretty deep in the monster stack.  I’ve been in eight events and cashed in four and the deepest was at the Wynn just down the road from here: the Wynn Classic for a one hundred and forty-five thousand; fourth place.”


Bob Bounahra

“This year, I’m having a different strategy than the last two years. What happened is last year I had everybody play on one day. They play for two hours and then get a twenty-minute break they try to discuss their hands and it’s really a time where they should relax and refocus. So what I decided to do this year was split the team in two. Let half play one day and the second half play the second day. The people playing on day two will support those playing on day one and vice versa. I will be the leader for team two and Jason and his crew will support the rest. I think it’s a different strategy and I think it’ll be better this year.”


Marleni Cuellar

“What do you think the exposure to international tournament does for their individual skills?”


Bob Bounahra

“Like I said, poker is a marathon. I’ve been playing poker a long time and every time I sit down at a tournament I pick up something different that I didn’t know before. It easy to learn to play poker but it takes a lifetime to master it.”


On the eve of the start the Monster Stacks, Team Belize, is confident and hopeful.


Anthony Michael

“We will be representing our country well, with pride and good poker playing. Just walking in the room right now and you see the amount of tables and reality starts to set in. You’re playing against thousands and thousands of players in the next few hours for the next couple days. We’ll do our best. We’ll have two cards. I have played internationally in football representing my country. The big stage never frighten me.”


Matthew Smiling

“Well I think we all wanna make the final table. That’s what we’re looking for.


Marleni Cuellar

“What are your thoughts on the team Belize?”


Matthew Smiling

“We have a lot of good players from across the country. So I think we’re going to do good.”


Jason Southwell

Jason Southwell
“The players in Belize are great. Poker has really just kind of come into its own in Belize and Bob has done a great job fostering the game of poker and improving their games and using tournaments in getting them here and ensuring that we get the best players in Belize to play in this event.”


Bob Bounahra

“I wish four or five of us make a deep run this year. Last year we had like two or three that cashed. If some of us make final table that’s great and if somebody win it. It’s awesome.”

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