For months, poker forums have been filled with rumors and stories about a player known as the “Portuguese Poker Prodigy.” Little was known about him other than that he had been coached by Daniel “jungleman12” Cates, and that he had amassed a small fortune by playing online poker, all before the age of 18. Given the illegal nature of his play (he was not of legal age to play on online sites), the identity of the Portuguese Prodigy was a closely guarded secret.
That all changed recently when José "Girah" Macedo came forward and revealed the details about his rise to poker prominence as the Portuguese Poker Prodigy. Macedo was born in 1992. His father died four years later and Macedo was raised by his mother. As a youth, he was an avid footballer and tennis player, and he loved competition in general. It wasn’t until his mid-teens that he discovered poker, as he explained in his blog and in a TwoPlusTwo thread.
“My fascination with poker really started when I was 16. I decided that I wanted to buy a house in Hawaii for me and my family/friends which I had already picked out. Sounds silly for a high schooler, I know, but I was that kind of kid. A friend of mine had been playing poker for play money and told me a story about this guy named Durrrr. How he had started with nothing, just a poor college kid, and using his wits and hard work, created for himself a fortune by mastering this game. I was captivated. I got every poker book I could find at the local bookstore (I couldn’t afford to buy any and poker was still a secret, so I’d sneak the books into the bathroom to read them) and spent two months reading and analyzing them – Mathematics of Poker, [David] Sklanky's Theory of Poker, Harrington on Hold'em, Gus Hansen's Every Hand Revealed, and more. I was also watching every poker show I could, and studying all of their plays, all the way down to the smallest little bet or fold. As I was studying the game, I would test my theories and discoveries on the play money tables, where over time I accumulated a million play chips.”
After begging his mother for a €30 deposit on Betfair, in which he failed to tell her it was for poker, Macedo began to grind the micro-stakes for up to ten hours a day. Before long, he was playing 24 tables at a time and had turned his initial deposit into $2,500. At that point, he came clean to his mother, who was more nervous than supportive. Once he doubled that and continued to climb, Macedo eventually caught the attention of some other players who told him about various poker tools such as Hold’em Manager and poker forums, both of which he used to take his game to the next level.
“I spent countless hours reading through all of the great posts in the history of TwoPlusTwo, from the likes of durrrr, DogIsHead, Krantz, Sauce, Jungleman, Lefort, MagicNinja, FoxwoodsFiend, etc. I would analyze their posts and try my hardest to grasp why they were saying what they were saying. Of course, a lot of the time I couldn’t, so I did what any normal person would do: I tracked them down on Skype and would ask them for one hour of coaching for them to talk to me about their ideas about whatever hand they had talked about that I didn’t understand.”
Macedo’s unconventional tactics worked, and he eventually worked closely with the likes of Cates, “DogIsHead,” and “Sauce,” incorporating their advice into his game and continued to rise in limits. After hitting some trouble at the $5/$10 no-limit hold’em level, Macedo recommitted himself, found some coaches, and eventually conquered the game. From there, things continued to run his way as evidenced by a chart he posted on TwoPlusTwo.
Obviously, not everything has come up roses for Macedo. “It wasn’t easy and I faltered at times, but finally by the end of summer I was ready to take my first shot at the nosebleeds," he said. "It didn’t go quite as planned the first time around. I got to revel in my first +$100k day, and I got to wallow in my first -$200k loss. There were lots of ups and downs, but I felt grateful for it every day.” Macedo admitted that in October 2010, someone close to him took advantage of him to the tune of $250,000, although the details on the situation aren’t exactly clear.
“I’m proud of how far I’ve come and all that I’ve managed to accomplish in this time, but I’m far from done," he said. "I look up from my desk, and there’s a board suspended on the wall. I made it a year ago when I was 17, when reaching the top of the poker world was still just a silly fantasy. On this board there are four pictures cut out and pasted: a crisp green million dollar bill, a picture of a WSOP bracelet, a screenshot of Durrrr sitting at Rail Heaven, and a photo of a little house in Hawaii. And as I’m looking at this silly little board I made, my mind wanders to where I started my journey. I remember standing at the foot of this mountain, a 16-year-old boy, looking up with dreamlike wonder. Imagining what it would be like to scale its peak. I’m not at the foot of the mountain anymore, but my story has just begun. And although sometimes this mountain can seem dauntingly tall, I’m ready for it. And I’m grateful for this chance to climb it.”
Since coming forward, Macedo's life has taken on some noticeable changes. In a blog post, dated March 13, Macedo explained that he has received numerous messages of support along with the occasional request from friends to double their money if they gave him $50. He went on to say: "The whole experience has just been really overwhelming, my family and friends can't believe they can Google my name and read all about this alternate life I have, that they previously knew nothing about. A few shocked friends and family members have been calling asking how it's possible that they were unaware of my success . . . It's also weird being in school and everyone knowing about it, I kind of expect it from my friends, but when my English teacher asks me if I'm winning or losing, it's just really strange and hard to know how to react."
While Macedo, who claims to have purchased that house in Hawaii, has come forward to tell his story, many poker fans remain skeptical, especially in a thread on TwoPlusTwo dedicated to the Portuguese Prodigy. Some believe his story is too good to be true and that it is a pure fabrication, although more and more evidence seems to suggest otherwise. One thing is for sure, the poker world hasn’t heard the last of the “Portuguese Prodigy.”