In a poker world where Americans, Europeans and Asian players dominate, a small contingent of Latin American players are starting to make their presence felt.
"I come to (the World Series of Poker) and I've been playing in it the last three years and I've seen an increase of Latin American players," Mexican poker pro J.C. Alvarado said. "I still think the Latin American boom is coming."
One player who is helping that cause is Angel Guillen, who was the runner-up in in the Event #13 ($2,500 No Limit Hold'em), his first ever WSOP event. Guillen would have been only the second Mexican national to win a gold bracelet — Victoriano Perches was the first in 2006 when he won the $1,500 Limit Hold'em Shootout.
Guillen began playing poker two years ago and, like many young players, he improved his game by playing online, but it wasn't for the same reason as most.
"The problem (with poker) in Mexico is it's not legal," he said. "Any game related to cards (is illegal), so it's difficult for many to become professionals."
Playing in home games and in underground cardrooms in Mexico, Guillen learned to play poker, but it was online where he began to develop his game.
"It was difficult (to get better) because it is always the same group of people, same group of guys, and you don't have away to improve," he said. "But you can always play online and improve your game, skills and math."
Guillen entered his first live poker tournament in January, the PokerStars Carribean Adventure, where he finished 51st out of more than 1,400 players.
"It feels great because I started playing tournaments this year. (The PCA tournament) gave me confidence," he said. "(They) took me as a member of the Mexico team to represent Mexico and other countries."
So far this year, Guillen has played in five more tournaments and has cashed three times, including $312,800 for his second-place finish. Most of the tournaments he has played have been in Europe and through Latin America, where playing against the small and softer fields prepared him for tournaments in the United States.
"I think poker is all about confidence in yourself," he said. "Winning the bracelet would mean a lot for my confidence. It's not about money, it's a good prize, but a bracelet gives you that strong confidence. I think it is very important to gain that.
"After that, the bracelet, you can achieve anything in poker." Although he didn't win Event #13, Guillero said the final table experience definitely helped him. "The experience feels great, even though I lost," he said. "I can hopefully make another final table and (win) a bracelet. (I need to) learn, keep learning the game, understanding the dynamics of the tournament and the people."
Guillen's ability to learn and adapt to the game is what Alvarado said made the young player stand out when the two met in December.
"He learns very quickly and is up to changing his game," Alvarado said of Guillen. "He's very intuitive, always asking questions, picking it up very fast."
The two hope to see poker become as big in their country and the rest of Latin America as it is in Europe and North America. Guillen said it should be only a matter of time until poker is big in Mexico and the rest of Latin America because of the country's traditions with gaming and gathering.
"People in Mexico are very folkloric," he siad. "We love to meet with people and play some cards."