In a parallel universe somewhere, Felipe Ramos is wearing a suit and tie, boarding a commuter train and heading into his job at Bank of America in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He takes a few phone calls, helps a couple customers with some financial planning and then jumps back on the train and heads home to his family.
And he never plays poker.
Thankfully for Ramos though, that’s not this universe. This is the one where he is one of Brazil’s most successful and popular poker players. And it all changed because of that banking job that he actually started while still in college.
“Once I graduated, one of my bosses in the bank I used to work at, Bank of America, invited me to play poker at his house. I said ‘okay, I can go tonight’. So I went and then I started playing poker,” remembers Ramos of the first time he played poker for real money.
It was a sit & go and the buy-in was just $5. They actually played two that night. Ramos won one and his boss took down the other. Ramos was hooked and suddenly found himself immersed in poker learning; books, websites, videos. He’d seen the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker on TV before, but never tried to learn anything about the game.
It didn’t take long before Ramos began to give serious consideration to playing poker as a career. Ramos had a good job though and was helping his family financially.
“My family was very, very poor and from a poor neighborhood in Brazil. It used to be me and my dad working at home and taking care of the family,” said Ramos. It wasn’t an easy decision to turn pro and his family, understandably, had serious reservations. “MY dad came up to me one day and said, ‘if you’re doing (this), I will need your money, what if something happens to you?”
Ramos did his best to ease his father’s concerns by teaching him about the game and how it all worked.
“I said ‘No, Dad. This is going better than my regular job. Don’t worry about that,” said Ramos. “He was concerned about the financial part of course, he had no clue what I was doing. He was being a Dad.”
Once his family saw Ramos’ vision and how he planned to make a living that would continue to provide for his family, they threw their support behind his decision.
“They never said no. They actually said ‘we don’t know what your’e doing, so be very careful with what you’re doing,” said Ramos. That’s the reason I’m here. One hundred percent because of my family.”
A trip to Europe then changed everything and set Ramos on course to become one of his country’s best poker players. While Jason Mercier went on to win his first European Poker Tour title and steal all the headlines, Ramos quietly finished 13th for $35,389 and his first career cash. He went from there straight to Monte Carlo for the EPT Grand Final. He picked up two more cashes, including a 78th place finish in the Main Event and then third in a €2,100 side event.
Those three cashes totaled just over $132,000 and convinced Ramos he had made the right decision to pursue poker as a career. He’s gone on to earn $1.3 million in lifetime earnings and sits fifth on poker’s all-time money list. Thanks to his success and the massive popularity of poker in his home country, he’s also a member of Team PokerStars.
“Everyone plays poker pretty much. In the past people would say ‘oh what do you do, you play poker? But what do you do for work?’” said Ramos. “Now I say I play poker and they say ‘oh, that’s really nice’.”
Brazil itself is enjoying a poker boom of its own and Ramos points to the passion of the Brazilian people as being a key reason behind it.
“It’s growing because people are learning and they are getting better. They have more information,” said Ramos. “I actually think that it’s a social game and it’s actually a game about people, a game about emotion. That’s who we are. We like to social. We are very emotional.”
While the country continues to pick up the game, it has taken Ramos to places he’d never expected growing up in the slums of Sao Paulo.
“I have an office in a business building in Brazil. There’s a shopping mall, very close, like a block from it. We go to have lunch there or dinner there. The other day, while I was going up the escalator, some kid was coming down and screamed my name and was starting to go up the escalator backwards. If you see a poker fan, they’re crazy – they go nuts.”
It’s not just about being a poker celebrity though. Ramos knows there are young players out there looking up to him and aspiring to follow in his footsteps to better their lives in the same way he has.
“People would never look at a poker player in the past say ‘this is a poker, I want to play poker too’. They would say, ‘What is this guy doing?’,” said Ramos. “Now, they look up to you and say ‘Oh, I want to be a poker player like Felipe’. That happens. That happens quite often.”