Love is a many splendored thing – but not usually at the poker table. In card rooms around the world at various times you see boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives sitting at the tables, but usually not at the same table. It is seldom witnessed, this pairing of lovers at most live venues, so when it happened at this year’s WSOP Main Event – it was big news.
If not for love, Erika Moutinho's odyssey through the 2011 World Series of Poker’s Main Event would have never taken place. It wasn’t her love of poker that took her to Las Vegas, but her love of a poker player, boyfriend David "Doc" Sands.
Moutinho’s path to the WSOP Main Event was paved when the pretty 25 year old met 26 year old Sands in 2005 while on a trip through Australia. Commenting on their meeting, Moutinho said, "We spent every day together in Australia, and he was playing online. I had no idea what hands beat what, but I started watching, learning subconsciously as we hung out. I eventually started playing. He put some money online for me, and I started playing some tournaments.” Remembering her first score, which led to the WSOP Main Event, she added, “I won a tournament when he was at Bay 101, an online $24 buy-in with 1,500 players for like $12,000, and I started playing more online. This summer I started playing the prelims and now this."
The seemingly quiet and shy Moutinho has also said that learning to play poker was partly done out of self-defense, because all Sands and his friends did was play and talk poker. Not wanting to be left out, she started learning the game to share what was a big part of her boyfriend’s life. She also quit her casting job in L.A where she worked on shows such as "The Biggest Loser" and "American Gladiators" to move in with Sands at Panorama Towers in Las Vegas. The Towers are well known for being the home of many up and coming poker hot shots, which threw Moutinho full force into the world of non-stop poker talk.
Sands is quoted as saying, "I think if you put together a list of the top 50 players in the world, Erika has participated in a poker discussion with about half of them." She has said, "I think at first I was just trying to be involved in the conversation," about why she first wanted to learn about poker. But when she started hobnobbing with the other pros she says, "Once I started playing more and really enjoying it, I was eager to learn, so having all these players over … it was a wealth of knowledge I could use to my advantage. I didn't know if I'd play at first, but as time went on, I realized what a unique opportunity it was to speak with these fantastic players. I eventually developed my own style but used a lot of what they taught me."
That is how love and poker blended together to eventually lead to a first time ever romantic rendezvous at the WSOP - a boyfriend and girlfriend seated at the same table in the Main Event.
Throughout the days of play, Sands and Moutinho could be seen talking, hugging, and kissing during breaks. They seemed to be happy and relieved that each other was still in the event and moving up the ranks to hopefully land at the final table.
If they had both made it to the November Nine, it would have been another historical event, warming the hearts of romantics and bringing out the wrath of cynics.
In most brick and mortar poker rooms, friends, spouses, and lovers are discouraged from playing at the same table. Management would rather avoid any hint of possible collusion than fade accusations from players who are looking for a lame excuse for losing. As the Main Event dwindled down, Moutinho was the last woman standing when the WSOP lovers found themselves at the same televised featured table. Although players are supposedly moved by drawing cards and not at the discretion of the tournament directors, many questioned if moving Sands to his girlfriend’s table was purposely staged to garner added excitement and attention to the game.
Whether it was a random luck of the draw move or done on purpose, viewers would have to be blind not to see the connection Sands and Moutinho share. They also share a deep respect of the other’s play and never got involved in the other’s pots. Avoidance at the poker table is not unusual. Many friends and spouses who are forced to play at the same table avoid each other like the plague unless they have a monster hand. The exception would be recreational players out for a good time with their buddies, those players delight in ramming and jamming their friends and taking their money – for them it is the main reason they want to play.
It never happened of course, but it is interesting to speculate just how the WSOP Romeo and Juliette would have played against each other if they had reached the final table. And what would have happened if they were seated next to each other? Would the flames have been fanned at various forums and live reporting chats on media outlets about the two perhaps having an edge through body language or more? The element of cheating is always out there, raising its ugly head in what would otherwise be a golden moment. Perhaps it’s time for the WSOP to start considering the possibility of how they would handle a ‘couple’ at the final table instead of waiting for it to happen and then listening to public outcries after the fact.
But since Sands busted-out in 30th place and Moutinho followed in 29th place, they settled for sharing something else - each has a $242,636 WSOP payday to their credit. Maybe they will dance under the wedding bells everyone has been hearing whenever these two young poker pros are around.