Immediately after Diego Ventura won the $1,979 Poker Hall of Fame Bounty tournament, he began to break down in tears. His long-awaited moment had finally come. So had his country’s.
After a long and successful career both live and online, the GG Poker-sponsored player finally won a live tournament. He also won a historic WSOP bracelet, Peru’s second overall (Ewald Mahr, 2022), and the country’s first-ever in a live WSOP event. For topping the 1,417-entry field, Ventura won $402,054, the 33-year-old’s second-biggest live cash.
The Peruvian path
As of right now, only one Peruvian poker player in the world has more than $1 million in live tournament earnings. That’s Ventura, and he now has more than $2 million.
Ventura’s path to victory was anything but smooth. He hit the bubble with the chip lead and then lost half his stack a short time later. He was able to rebound and go into today’s final table with the chip lead over the likes of 2014 WSOP Main Event champion Martin Jacobson, the dangerous Francis Anderson, and eight-time WSOP final tableist Leonid Yanovski.
With four players to go, runner-up Thomas Kysar took a massive chip lead and roughly 2:1 lead into heads-up play. After Ventura went 3:1 down, he began to chip away at Kysar’s advantage, eventually taking over the chip lead and extending it to nearly 9:1.
On the final hand, Ventura got in with ace-eight offsuit vs Kysar’s king-deuce off. Though Kysar hit the J-5-2 flop, a turn J and river 5 counterfeit him, giving Ventura the win, a fact that didn’t sink in until a few seconds after the final card hit.
Holding back the tears
When asked about the moment, an emotional Ventura said, “I don’t know. I was actually getting emotional when I got to the final table. I wanted to cry then. I wanted to cry when I got heads up, but I had to tell myself ‘Wait, this isn’t the moment yet.’
“So, I was trying to calm myself down, and when the moment happened. I was so calm that I couldn’t let my emotions out. But then I started to look back at my life, and then it all hit me at once. It was more gratitude than overwhelming excitement.
“I used to doubt myself because I used to think ‘How can I play for so long without winning any live tournaments?’ But God’s timing is perfect. I always try to think about the things I have to improve on, the ways that I can play better, and to just follow the process and believe.”
Poker for God and country…actually TWO countries
Ventura credited God for his timing but admitted he was also thinking as much about his fellow Peruvians.
“I always wanted to open that door for other Peruvians and hope that they can be inspired by this. Everyone is worthy of achieving big things in life, and I think that is important for South American people in general… to feel that you can do anything. That’s kind of the message I want to send.”
Ventura, a proud father of two is eager to get home to Trujillo. But, Peru wasn’t where he got his start in poker. If you needed any evidence, you needed only to see the many Brazilians on his rail.
“I started back when I was 18, playing Zynga Poker while I was an exchange student in the United States. I had no idea what I was doing, I was just playing for fun,” Ventura said. “Then I moved to Brazil and became an exchange student there. That’s when I realized that there are already professional players and some of my friends, André Akkari and Yuri (Dzivielevski), were already professional at the time. So, I got inspired by that and I started working on my poker skills and dedicating my time to it.
“I ended up joining a team called 4bet Poker Team with Rafael Moraes and Thiago Crema and they taught me the fundamentals of poker. They were my mentors.”
As for celebration plans?
“Oh, I have no idea. I’m just gonna go with the flow and see what happens,” Ventura said. “I gotta talk to my kids now. I want to connect with them because this bracelet is dedicated to them. I’ve been here for a month, and I really want to go back to my kids. They are my top priority and after some time at home, I’ll figure out what’s next for me.”