You might expect what has been described as the most important poker tournament ever to have been won by an established poker superstar. Yet in true Chris Moneymaker style, the recent PokerStars Players’ Championship was not won by a big name, or even a name that most in the poker world had even heard of. Walking away with the prestigious title and a life changing cheque for $5.1 million, Ramon Colillas announced his arrival on the poker scene in some style.
Supported by his girlfriend Nesrine, Colillas beat a field of 1,039 of the world’s best poker players to take the prize. What’s more, his feat was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he won his way into the $25,000 buy-in tournament with a PokerStars platinum pass, giving him free entry as well as free flights and accommodation. So how did this quiet, unassuming figure, wearing shorts and a t-shirt and carrying a backpack, make his way to the final table at the biggest of all poker tournaments? It all goes back to a series of knee injuries that ended a promising career as a footballer in Spain.
Colillas was an aspiring football player who played for several minor league teams after studying physical education at university in Barcelona. If many promising boxers are said to fail because they have a glass jaw, then Colillas failed because he had glass knees. Despite strong determination that saw him repeatedly fight his way back from injury, Colillas eventually had to call full time on his footballing dreams and settle for an alternative career.
He spent some time as a personal trainer in the city, before moving back to his home village of Puig-reig to open his own gym. Although this new venture was a huge success, by this point Collillas had discovered poker and set his heart on reaching the big Bahamas tournaments that he saw on TV.
That, however, involved a $25,000 buy-in and several thousand more in expenses to attend the tournament. He had to find another way and the platinum pass provided the answer he was looking for, with one of these ‘golden tickets’ available to the winner of the Campeonato de Espana de Poker, the biggest of all Spanish poker tournaments.
The Spanish tournament took him back and forth across the country, playing everywhere from Alicante to Barcelona, Madrid to San Sebastian, collecting crucial points for the leader board at every stop. At the same time, he was struggling to manage his popular gym and serve his customers, who often wondered where he was. He was tempted to fold his poker hand and return to his successful business many times, but somehow he remained driven to achieve his goal. Part of the 30-year-old’s inspiration was the support of Nesrine, who told him that all she wanted for her birthday was a trip to the Bahamas.
Colillas is a quiet and private figure, but he does acknowledge the support of the man he calls his ‘poker father’. This unnamed mentor helped him back from a disastrous year in 2017, in which he all but blew his bankroll, adding sage advice and experience to Colillas’ own, self-taught poker strategies.
A cousin once told Colillas that to be happy in life, you have to ‘do what you like’. For Colillas those dreams were simple enough. “I wanted to have the freedom to travel and not have an alarm clock,” he says, describing a lifestyle perfectly suited to poker.
At the PSPC, Colillas beat fellow platinum pass holder, Marc Rivera, into third place, with pro poker player, Julien Martini of France taking second and a cheque for almost $3 million. As for Colillas, his breath-taking top prize of $5.1 million was appropriately presented by the man who started the online poker revolution, none other than Chris Moneymaker himself.
Today, Ramon Colillas is part of Team PokerStars Pro. “I have fulfilled another dream,” he says. “Champion of Spain, champion of the PSPC and now representative of the best poker room. Can you ask for more?”
“Ramón’s journey is the stuff of legends,” explained PokerStars’ director Eric Hollreiser. “His humility, spirit and personality perfectly reflect the aspirations we see among young poker players around the world. He is a great representative of the next generation of poker players.” High praise indeed for the man they call the Spanish Moneymaker.