Have you heard about the fairy-tale poker story that started it all?
A previously unknown player qualifies for a massive five-figure-buy-in poker tournament with a first place prize worth millions of dollars. That player maneuvers through a record-size tournament field, then cashes and runs deep in the tournament. Then he makes the final table and winds up heads-up for the title against a poker pro. Unbelievably, that unknown player wins the event, captivating the poker world and capping off a historic moment in the game.
While this description pretty well sums up the 2003 World Series of Poker main event run of Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker that changed the game and the industry forever, Ramon Colillas gave poker fans serious déjà vu in the $25,000 PokerStars Players Championship as he turned a small investment into $5.1 million in a matter of days.
Colillas played his way down to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and won a Platinum Pass worth $30,000. What's a Platinum Pass, you ask? In December 2017, PokerStars announced the creation of an ambitious tournament to be held during its annual PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) series in 2019. This $25,000 buy-in event would feature a prize pool enriched by PokerStars, as the online poker site would give away 320 tournament packages -- called Platinum Passes and represented by actual credit-card size passes -- valued at $30,000 that included the massive tournament buy-in and travel expenses to the Bahamas.
Interestingly enough, a number of those passes were awarded during tournaments that were part of a Moneymaker 15th Anniversary tour around the United States, though Colillas won his pass in his native Spain.
Even the Spanish media has recognized the parallelism, dubbing the 30-year-old Colillas "Fabricante de Dinero," the literal translation of Moneymaker. This improbable victory is beyond what PokerStars could have dreamed of when the company conceived the idea for the PSPC.
"We couldn't have scripted a better outcome for the tournament and PokerStars congratulates Ramon and all of the competitors for making this an historic event," PokerStars Director of Poker Marketing Eric Hollreiser said. "Ramon's victory is a reminder that with a dream, some talent and a little luck, poker can change your life."
After the PSPC was originally announced, Ramon Colillas set out on a mission to capture one of those coveted Platinum Passes. The Barcelona native decided to follow a Spanish poker tour, The Campeonato Espana de Poker (CEP), which was sponsored by PokerStars. After the tour's six tournaments held throughout 2018, the player atop the leaderboard would be awarded a Platinum Pass. The tour kicked off in March 2018 in Colillas' hometown of Barcelona. Colillas began his quest with a victory in Barcelona and followed that up with a 19th place finish in Madrid. He entered the sixth and final tournament in Peralada sitting third on the leaderboard, and as he approached that event in December, Colillas had a singularly focused strategy to close the deal.
"I felt I had more experience than the two competitors above me [on the leaderboard]," Colillas told ESPN.com, through a translator. "I knew I needed to get as many chips as possible early in the tournament because I knew that once the bubble approached, everyone was going to try to take me down. With a lot of chips, I could make it forward."
During that tournament, which had 293 entrants, Colillas found out the two competitors above him had been eliminated. At that point, Colillas knew that a min-cash would secure him his yearlong goal of capturing a PokerStars Platinum Pass. However, with 40 players remaining, he was still 10 players away from the money and all the remaining players knew the pressure resting on Colillas' shoulders -- and no one was going to make it easy.
"After I realized that the two other players had busted, I had double the average stack," Colillas recalled, "But everyone knew I was fighting to try to win the Platinum Pass and that I needed to make the money. So, everyone began to three-bet me and I couldn't do anything. So, since the Platinum Pass was a bigger prize than the tournament, I just kept folding for about three hours and barely got into the money with only five big blinds."
With the Platinum Pass in hand and a seat in the 2019 PSPC locked up, Colillas could reflect on his poker career to this point, and how he got there. Originally, he began playing poker online when he was 18 years old, and while attending Universitat de Vic in Barcelona (from 2006-2010) to study fitness, Colillas continued to develop his poker game. After graduation, he obtained a job as a fitness trainer and later opened up a successful gym. However, his love of the game guided him toward a career in poker.
"Even when I graduated and had a job as a fitness trainer, poker was always part of my activities," said Colillas. "I just love the competitiveness of poker. Also, I love to travel as well, and the combination is what makes poker special to me every day."
After qualifying for the PSPC Colillas was confident in his game, but with a general lack of live poker experience, he wanted to focus on finding tells to capitalize on at the table.
"Since I play mostly online, I am on my own sitting behind a screen," said Colillas. "I have always liked playing live and enjoy that environment. It's more enjoyable seeing your opponents and travelling. Also, I have been studying a lot about tells, I have a book that I read five times before the PSPC. Although I don't know much about tells, I see it as more of an opportunity than a challenge."
Having never been to the PCA, the Barcelona native was excited to arrive with his girlfriend and a group of fellow Spaniards who also won Platinum Passes. They had contacted each other prior to the PSPC and flew over to the Bahamas together. Overall, it was dream come true to simply arrive at The Atlantis -- and as the PSPC began, Colillas had set realistic expectations for himself.
"It's like a dream to come to the PCA in the Bahamas. This is such a huge tournament, the biggest and most important of my life. But I wanted to enjoy the experience and the resort with my girlfriend and friends. Of course, I was aiming to get as far as I could, but the experience was already a gift."
Even without exceedingly high expectations at the outset, the tournament went incredibly smoothly for Colillas from the very beginning. He was among the chip leaders after each of the first four days of the tournament, and the scale of the event did little to shake his enthusiasm and determination. The PSPC became the largest $25,000 buy-in event in poker history, shattering a record that stood for more than a decade. Colillas successfully navigated through a field of 1,039 players, and set himself up with a chance for truly life-changing money by making the final table right in the middle of the pack -- fifth in chips.
"It was like a dream. In the biggest tournament of my life, I was able to play my best game when I got a lot of chips, especially Day 2 and onward. I had a lot of confidence and was able to play my best game. Overall, the tournament went very smoothly for me. It was very enjoyable."
Rather than letting the moment overwhelm him, Colillas was determined to play as if this was just another tournament.
"I tried to enter the final table as calm and play it just like any other final table I've played before," said Colillas. "I studied the players at the final table, and felt I had a slight advantage because my cashes on the Spanish tours weren't listed in Hendon Mob. Also, as a Platinum Pass winner, the other final table players may have taken me lightly."
Eventually, Colillas got heads-up with a WSOP bracelet winner in Julien Martini; Martini held a 2-to-1 chip lead over Colillas as they played for a title. The tournament ultimately swung on a critical hand heads-up where Martini flopped a flush, only for Colillas to peel off the perfect turn and river.
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That single hand dramatically changed the fate for both players, catapulting Colillas into the chip lead and the eventual victory.
"I didn't know Julien that well so I wasn't sure if he was bluffing or not. It was a true cooler. Luckily, all of Spain was asking for the "5" on the river."
After his victory and celebrating with his family and friends, Colillas had a flood of different emotions.
"It was kind of mixture of feelings. Of course, it was an amazing feeling winning this amazing tournament. That moment was unbelievable celebrating with my girlfriend and friends," Colillas said. "On the other hand, it was difficult to digest if this was really happening. I almost couldn't believe it."
Colillas was also very excited and appreciative to meet the man who started the original poker boom, Chris Moneymaker, right after his victory.
"It was a great moment. Right after I celebrated with my family and friends, Chris was the first person to approach me and congratulate me. I had read about Moneymaker and his incredible win in 2003. Chris knows what is coming for me and I appreciate him talking with me."
As for the future, Colillas is excited to expand his future poker schedule.
"I want to play in some more EPT tournaments. I have played EPT Barcelona before, but now I want to follow the circuit and play in some $2K, $3K and $5K buy-ins."
Colillas already has a head start on that expanded schedule, as he won on another Spanish tour, the Campeonato Nacional de Poker 2018 (CNP) sponsored by 888, which earned him a seat into the 2019 WSOP main event. Although he has visited the WSOP once before in 2016, this will be his first time playing in the WSOP main event. The Spaniard is looking forward to playing in this event and jokingly wanted to make history again.
"Half-joking, but also half-serious, I did the double win in Spain and now let's try to do double win of America with the PSPC and the WSOP main event," Colillas said. "But really, I'm going to play in the WSOP this coming summer and I'm just going to keep enjoying the ride."