When he sat down to play Day 1b of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event in Berlin, Germany, Monday, 888 Poker Ambassador Nicolau Villa-Lobos couldn't have felt more at home if he was playing in his native Brazil.
The professional player, originally from Rio de Janeiro, exploded onto the European poker scene in 2013 with wins on the UKIPT for six-figures, online in the Spring Championship of Online Poker Main Event for $439,000, and topped it off with a second-place finish to poker superstar Daniel Negreanu in the 2013 WSOPE €25,600 High Roller for $608,248.
"I'm feeling great," he told PokerNews Monday. "I have always had good success in Europe. The first live tournament that I won was the UKIPT Edinburgh and after I won the SCOOP I went for a tour around Europe for three months. I made 18th at EPT Barcelona, 13th at EPT London and then of course the cherry on top of the cake was the WSOP Europe 25k."
Although the 2013 WSOPE was held at the Casino Barriere in Enghien-les-Bains, France rather than this year's Spielbank Berlin in Germany, Villa-Lobos actually has family in this part of the world, adding to his comfort level.
"I really feel great here," he said. "I have my parents here and I am staying at their place, so it feels really comfy here in Berlin."
This first few levels of the day saw Villa-Lobos flop the nuts only to get outrun, but he lost the minimum and soon found a double up with aces to head into the dinner break with some 60,000 in chips.
Villa-Lobos, who posted a 77th-place finish in the 2012 WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas, believes patience is the key in deep tournaments, like the Main Event is on both sides of the Atlantic, and that suits him just fine.
"It's a lot of fun for a poker player," he said. "And it fits my game well. I am actually a very tight player and prefer to choose my spots very carefully. Here, since you have 90-minute levels, it's very comfortable for me to play and I can play my best."
If there is one place poker is still booming these days, it's Brazil, and Villa-Lobos says with a number of local football stars floating to the felt, the Brazilian poker community is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.
"Poker has really exploded in Brazil. We've really had a boom these past two years," he said. "First Ronaldo was playing and now Neymar, it's on TV and it's just getting bigger and bigger.
"I was just talking to [WSOP TD] Jack Effel last year in Australia and I was saying they have to come to Brazil and make a WSOP South America or something like that. I know there are some tax issues, but they have to go, because outside of the World Series last year, we had the first and second biggest tournaments in the World. Three-thousand in one and 2,900 in another. The fields are huge and we represent a big share of online poker as well, with one of the biggest markets in the world."
The Brazilian government has recognized the game's growth and is now considering regulating the online game as well.
With huge rails behind them, Brazilians have come out on top in three WSOP events in Las Vegas the past few years, and although he didn't get that kind of support over in Europe when he came as close as you can to a bracelet without winning one, it still remains a goal of his to capture poker's most prestigious prize.
"Of course I was really happy with a second-place finish, especially against Negreanu," he said. "But even two years later I still often think of what I could have done differently. It's a bracelet. This year a very good friend of mine (Thiago Nishijima) won a bracelet. It was the third bracelet for a Brazilian. So of course, I am a professional poker player and this is what I am chasing."
However, that chase won't include buying into this year's €25,600 High Roller should he be out of the Main Event. Villa-Lobos actually won a satellite into the event in 2013 and would go that route again if need be.
"It's a huge buy-in and very good players," he said. "Like I said, I play solid and I prefer to make solid bankroll decisions outside the game as well. Last time I satellited in. If things don't run well here, I will try to get in with a satellite, but I'm really hoping I can stick around here for a few days instead."
And of course, he'll keep grinding satellites to events around Europe and beyond on 888 Poker as well.
"When I started my contract with 888 I played a lot of cash games, but since then the tournaments have been getting bigger and bigger," he said. "One of the best things they do is the qualifiers. I won a qualifier for the 2015 WSOP Main Event this summer in Las Vegas and I am always playing these qualifiers. They have every kind of buy-in you can imagine, so for like $1 or $30 you can win a seat in Vegas. I won my seat for $160. Imagine winning a $15,000 package for $160; It's great."
As the 2015 WSOP Europe rolls on, be sure to stay tuned to PokerNews for continued coverage.