Who is that girl in the bracelet photo with Phil Hellmuth? That’s a question I’ve heard a number of times already, and the picture just went up a few hours ago. And I’ve got the inside scoop.
The woman with her head just over Phil’s shoulder and a big smile on her face is Bianca Lira, a poker correspondent from Brazil. The 33-year old Lira is here with Poker Mundo, a poker site from Brazil, to report on the Brazilian players at the WSOP.
Bianca has a degree in communications, studying abroad here in the states for a semester to learn about film at the University of Sante Fe. Then she discovered poker. She started playing sit-and-go tournaments at the micro stakes in college and joined Team Steal. There, she was backed and coached by the team leaders including Joao Bauer, a well-known pro from Brazil.
She worked her way up the stakes and eventually made the final table of a big Sunday tournament for around $8,000. That was a lot of money for a college student in Sao Paulo, and she decided then and there that she was going to get serious about poker.
After a 16-day quarantine in Mexico, she came to America in June, the only member of the Brazilian poker media to do so. Then she managed to land her first gig as a poker correspondent, buy a new camera, and get her media credentials.
Bianca was having a drink (or three) with friends on the strip when her boss asked her to head back to The Rio to get photos of the heads-up match.
The photobomb heard round the world
I was there for the same reason, to shoot photos of the heads-up play and the winner, especially if it was Phil. Bianca was excited, and we talked briefly about camera settings as she took some photos of Phil getting his bracelet. I could see that this was a big deal for her, as it would be for many poker fans.
When it was time for the group photo, they called the crowd back in on the rail, and Phil called his friends over to be with him on the stage.
“Do you think I can be in the crowd photo?” she asked me.
“I don’t see why not,” I said, assuming she meant the bleachers. Then I pointed at the eight or ten people posing with Phil and jokingly said “You can probably be in with them if you want.”
Bianca speaks excellent English. Certainly much better than my Portuguese. But there was just enough language barrier that she took my half-hearted joke seriously. She marched over and stood right behind Phil, her face just over his shoulder smiling.
I made sure to get a few shots of her in the crowd, and the rest is history. And that is how someone you’ve never heard of, who has never been on the stage at the Thunderdome, someone who Phil has never met, ended up in his bracelet photo with a smile a mile wide.
Bianca wants a career in poker media, and I think she’ll make it happen. But she’ll never have a better story than the time she ended up in Phil Hellmuth’s bracelet photo on her very first assignment.