Lee Davy sits down with Victor Ramdin to talk about gratitude, online poker’s prospects in New York, the $25k PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship and a whole lot more.
Do you ever want to jump into someone’s head and see what they see; think what they think; feel what they feel?
I wouldn’t mind spending some time inside the noggin of Victor Ramdin. Born into poverty on a small Guyanese island, Ramdin managed to catch a coveted PokerStars Team Pro patch via a job as a taxi driver and a morgue security guard where he saw first-hand what a bullet does to a man’s head.
He was 21 when he landed in the US with two promises in his back pocket. He was going to make it, and when he did, he was going to help those in Guyana who struggled as he once struggled.
In 2006, Ramdin won the $10k World Poker Tour (WPT) Main Event in Foxwoods for $1.3m. He created Guyana Watch, a charity that helps provide surgery for Guyanese children who have problems with their tickers. He began to save lives.
And in a week where the Atlantis Resorts has lived up to its name with deluge after deluge, I needed a reminder of the importance of gratitude. No more thoughts of black blossoms. It was time to get some colour on my cheeks, even if it was only a seven-minute shower of sunshine from the man.
“Gratitude? Let me tell you about gratitude,” Ramden tells me during a break in play at the PCA Main Event. “When I was growing up I needed a pair of glasses. I couldn’t see the blackboard in school, but my parents couldn’t afford a pair. Then one day a ship came in from the US, and they gave me this big glass that covered my entire face. But I could see. I appreciated that. Thanks to those early beginnings I understand the value of money and everything else valuable in life.”
Opulence surrounds you here. You hear the jewels jingle with each stride of a high heel. You look in awe as a yacht the size of a football field manages to moor; black piano on deck, some lucky fella turning the bones into something quite beautiful.
You can get carried away.
It says, maybe, and what if?
“Some guys have millions, and they worry about a scratch on their car,” says an animated Ramdin. “Others don’t know how they are going to eat, today. I am happy with everything life has given me. This trip has been a dream for me this year. I am so damn happy.”
And here’s the thing.
One of Ramdin’s strengths at the poker table is his happiness. You play better when you’re happier. It means you have your shit together. Instead of picturing your life as a watercolour hung up too early, dripping blackness onto your shoes, there is a sense of the magnificence of everything.
“I see people sitting at the table; looking miserable. I can’t be like that,” says Ramdin. “You have to learn to feel who you are. Make your body happy by smiling and, laughing. And spread it around. Don’t keep it. I talk to these dealers all of the time. I love them, man. Most of them have never been to this part of the world before. I like to have fun with them. It’s important. It makes my day.”
It wasn’t only dealers who caught the Ramdin bug this week. The day before our little tete-a-tete, Ramdin found himself playing on the same table as Kevin Hobbs, CEO of the blockchain specialists Vanbex. The conversation flowed like droplets of saliva along a greyhound’s tongue. Ramdin told Hobbs about Guyana Watch and how $50,000 would save the lives of between 5-10 kids, and Hobbs wanted in. He promised Ramdin he would find the money and would cover the expenses of the doctor’s annual trip to the South American nation.
Like Ramdin said.
It’s been a dream tournament.
The man is like an apple hanging from a tree in an orchard. Grown for the sole purpose to make life sweet for others. But what does Ramdin do when he switches off?
“I’m opening an Italian restaurant called Sughetto,” says Ramdin. “It means sauce in Italian. I have a great cook whom I met through poker. I’m hoping it will help me pay some of my bills. I’ve tried a lot of stuff in my life, some successes and some failures, but I have a good feeling about this one. Lots of people eat pizza in the Bronx. But we aren’t going to provide a regular slice of pizza from your typical corner joint. We’re going for a better brand of pizza.”
And, when not infused in pizza base and basil he finds time to hop to his nearby state of New Jersey to play online poker. It’s just like the old days…sort of.
“PokerStars is doing a great job in New Jersey right now,” says Ramdin. “We’re hoping that eventually all of the states will come together. Once a few more come on board everyone else will follow. When I want to play, it’s a seven-minute journey over the George Washington Bridge.”
As I look into this man’s eyes, feeling his warmth, I think of the type of person I would like to see winning the $25,000 PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship, and the man from north of the Essequibo River fits the bill, perfectly.
“I’m playing the $25k next year,” says an excitable Ramdin. “Whoever thought of this idea is a genius I tell you. Give it up to PokerStars. I love everything about it. There are people who no matter what the hell you do for them they bitch about shit, and then you have people who appreciate stuff. I appreciate stuff. This is something big; major; they have stepped up to the plate big time.
“I love coming to the Bahamas in the middle of Winter. It’s a short flight for me. Even when I lose, I’m happy. There is so much to do. Yeah, the food is a little expensive, but we’re paying $5k and $10k buy-ins – the food is expensive, that’s life. You have a fun time here. You bust out; there is sun outside, you get on the beach. What more do you want?”
And we are right back where began, with a little slice of Guyanese gratitude.