Another interview from the PokerStars European Poker Tour Barcelona, and this time the microphone spends time soaking in spit from the PokerStars Team Pro, Andre Akkari, talking about his network of friends, destiny, and the importance of energy.
I once spent the day emptying sacks of cement into a mixer.
During the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) strike in 2008, I destanchioned an entire 28-wagon slab train, alone.
I used to install washing machines for a living.
All of those things used to tire me out.
So does interviewing people.
It’s a different form of tiredness; emotional, not physical. However, I find a heightened emotional charge affects me physically, leaving me drained of energy.
I fall in love with some of them.
I fell in love with him.
I think the love is in the questions. If you can find the right questions for the right person, then you feel a connection. At that moment, 10, 20 or sometimes 60 minutes in, you are locked in an intimate embrace, talking about things that rarely see the light of day.
Often, when I finish, I feel like I have more than enough content to create a cracking speech at their wedding.
There are times when I pass some of these people in a corridor, elevator or a line for the urinal, and the connection is gone. I feel it, but it’s not reciprocal. I feel sad, used, like the whole thing was fake.
Not with Akkari.
What a beautiful man.
What a beautiful soul.
I know, it’s a very Bridges of Madison County start to this thing, but by the end of this read, you’ll understand.
Three months ago, PokerStars handed Andre Akkari a $30,000 Platinum Pass for the PokerStars’ Players No-Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC) and told him to create an adventure.
The PokerStars Team Pro created three Sit n Go events at Brazilian Series of Poker (BSOP) events, with the winners convening at the BSOP Millions Final where they would compete in the final, with one lucky blighter securing a seat in the most anticipated event of the year.
I ask Akkari for an update.
“It has been great,” says a beaming Akkari. “People are getting crazy about the Platinum Pass in Brazil. They keep putting pressure on me to select some people, but it’s good.
“We had nine players randomly chosen in the first BSOP, the second and the third one. So we will have three winners, and they will play each other in the BSOP Millions in a Sit n Go to win the pass.”
Can you imagine how excited Akkari will be when the time comes, and someone who won a seat via his promotion is in with a shout of winning millions of dollars?
“The first person who won, Thiago, he has never played a BSOP Main Event in his life,” says Akkari. “If he wins the one at BSOP Millions it will be ridiculous. His family was there in Sao Paolo, and they were all crying. Sometimes we forget these things about poker. I am going to try and help the winner as much as I can; coaching, sharing my experience of poker, the Bahamas, it’s part of the deal. I have so much already, so I have to share.”
And I know Akkari would be a fabulous teacher.
But who teaches Akkari?
“In life, Eduardo, a friend of mine, and Bozzano, my partner, these guys are the two most incredible people I have ever met, apart from my family,” says Akkari. “These guys can help me with anything I need. If I need financial advice, they are there. If I need relationship advice, they are there. They are incredible people.
“In poker, I have some people in my team and some friends around the top 5 or 6 players in Brazil. We travel together and share experiences. I don’t have as much time to study as much as them, so I am grateful that they share so I can improve.”
Akkari recently appeared in the British rags after appearing in a home game with Neymar. Ronaldo is a business partner. You don’t become friends with people of this ilk by accident. I ask Akkari what his secret is?
“It’s the way that you guide your life; the way you make decisions, create relationships, the spirit and energy you have. All of these things combine to attract these types of people,” says Akkari. “I am aware of the types of people I want to have relationships with. If you have good relationships, you will be happy. If you live like this, you will attract good people.
“Neymar is an amazing human being. He is a much better human being than a soccer player, and he is a ridiculous soccer player. When you see his life or Ronaldo’s life, you see the same thing. They have all the money they need, so they are looking for good people.
“We spend our lives looking for something. They have most things. Then it’s all about how are you going to take care of your life? They have a surgical approach to building relationships. If I am there, then I know I am leading my life well. It’s not because it’s ‘Neymar’. It’s the same with Eduardo and Bozzano. They enrich my life.”
I ask Akkari what his destiny is?
“I think I am on my way,” says Akkari. “I know what I have to do. I knew to make my life possible; I had to change my own life before I could change others. Ten years ago I was in a terrible situation with money and assets. I had nothing. I had to do something to change my life, and I knew if I could do that I could change other people’s lives. I am doing that now. I am involved in a lot of projects and relationships where I can give part of what I have got to them. Take my esports teams as an example. We have about 20 people, and they are in similar circumstances to where I was ten years ago, and I want to help them. I am not a Gandhi or the Dalai Lama, but I know how to get there in the happiest way possible. That’s what I try to do. I try to talk to them every day, move my projects forward every day, but always in a way that brings more happiness.”
With so much on his plate, what would Akkari do with his time and projects if he only had a week to live?
“One week. Shit. I am going to take three days to think about it!”Jokes Akkari. “I can see a lot of things that would change. If it were one week, I wouldn’t be here, because I would be with my family as much as I can. My life is perfect. The relationships I have, everything that I have, the people that surround me, it’s perfect. It would be tough to put everyone together in a week because they live all around the world, but I would bring them all together and do the things we do – always laughing, talking shit. Then I would take a few days with my daughters teaching them as much about life as I could.”
And what is Akkari’s most serene moment of the day?
“It’s the end of the day for me,” says Akkari. “The only lifestyle changes I need to make are around food and diet. I have spent too much of my time not doing the right things in these areas. In the morning, I am working out as much as I can. I am always trying to do something hard in a workout way in the morning. In the afternoon I take care of my projects and work commitments. Then after 7 or 8 pm, I am done. That’s the time that I am looking for things to read, going to YouTube. I love YouTube. I spend time with my headphones on, 4-5 hours a night, looking for something great to study and watch, and that’s my serene moment.”
It’s clear that Akkari is a spiritual person, but I wondered how religion had shaped his life?
“I am not a religious guy,” says Akkari. “I have learned in my lifetime that religion is a hugely important thing for a lot of people. The minimum you can do is respect that. Respecting that is not judging them or avoiding the subject if you are going to hurt someone. I believe in energy. If this energy has a name, I don’t give a fuck. I don’t care if it’s God or Buddha. I believe in energy. They believe in energy in a different way than me. If they pray for that or do some good for somebody, at the end of the day, it’s all the same.
“If you’re going to take religion and make it radical I am going to avoid that because it won’t make me happy. It’s hard living in Brazil. It’s a very religious country. It’s a tight place. You cannot talk about the things you can talk about freely as you do in Europe and the US. There is a lot of racism, and it’s not a good country about conceptions in general. You have to be aware of what you say in social media or interviews. If you hurt someone in Brazil, it will hurt you back in some way. So I try to avoid these subjects. I am not a religious guy. I don’t believe in God as most people do. I believe in ‘something’, and for me that ‘something’ is energy, If God exists and I die and meet him, and he tells me that I did everything wrong, I will be like what the fuck, I did so much good. I sent good vibes to everyone.”
Has Akkari always felt this way about the universe?
“I thought the same 20 years ago when I had nothing,” says Akkari. “I was playing Samba for a band called Sabor do Pagode when I was 21. Every week from Thursday to Sunday, I was making €100 a weekend. Like €400 per month. I was having financial problems, and I was always laughing, joking and had the same vibe. Doing that brought me here. I don’t have this vibe because of money or poker. I have always had this spirit.”
I ask Akkari to recollect a time when he felt the most alone?
He takes his time finding an answer.
Then he shakes his head.
“No. I can’t remember. I have some tough moments,” says Akkari. “I lost my father in 2011 – four months before I won my WSOP bracelet, and that was a tough moment for me. Ten years before that, I had a huge problem with my father in Brazil. He was divorced from my mum and was always travelling around Brazil. I was seeing him once a year or once every two years.
“I was always with my mother and brother. My mum is a great person, so is my brother. She is sick. She has Alzheimer’s, Even when we are with her, I don’t feel alone, and she doesn’t recognise me anymore. We joke with each other. I keep telling her, ‘You don’t know me, but I have to be here’. She talks to me in the third person. She asks me, ‘When is Andre going to be here’, and I tell her, ‘He is here’.
“It’s sad, but the doctor tells me that because she doesn’t know anything she is happy. Sometimes you want to force your perception of life into someone else’s head. She is great. She is doing well. I don’t want to join her and make her miserable. I don’t want to do that. Sometimes she may be unhappy because she’s missing Andre, but it’s great to live like this. She is always happy, she is smiling, she has a disease, but doesn’t know. She is in a good spot. When I am with her sometimes, I feel alone, but more often than not I am with my brother or my aunts. I don’t have many alone moments. I am always with someone.”
Is Akkari someone who craves human emotional connection?
“Sometimes I like to be alone, but not in a sad way,” says Akkari. “I am a curious guy. I am always looking at something new, from cryptocurrency to neurosurgery. I start searching for these things and get deeply involved, so it can be difficult to be this guy at this moment and be with people. I like that I am sometimes alone, but not in a sad way.”
Finally, what is Akkari’s most significant contribution to humanity up until this point in his life?
“I like to share this because I want to promote this way of being throughout the world,” says Akkari. “We have a group in Brazil, four or five friends. We have a meeting every month where we hang out having a beer, but the meeting has a mission to help someone close to us that needs help, but we don’t tell them it’s us helping them.
“Most of the time it’s about money. For example, the last time I came here I finished fifth place in the Main Event for close to $400.000. When we got back to Brazil, we met. The other 4-5 guys have more money than me. But then I said, ‘Now I have some money, let’s do something’. We paid for the college tuition for the daughter of a friend of ours. He didn’t have any money and was going to have to send her to a college that wasn’t so great. She got the scores to be in a top three schools in Brazil, but he could only afford to send her to a top 20 school. We didn’t have the money to send her to a top three school, but we sent her to a top six school for four years. She doesn’t know we did it, neither does he. They don’t know who did it. They are always ribbing me, saying, “You did this,” and I am always laughing, saying, ‘Are you fucking crazy. I don’t have that kind of money to throw away!”
I couldn’t think of a better ending.
As I transcribe the interview, there is a sign above my head that reads – My Work is to Make Guests Smile.
Not many of us know what our work is.
Andre Akkari does.
The world should be grateful for that.