Experiences of the PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) do not come much more dramatic than that of Franco Spitale.
Back in 2019, Spitale played a live satellite in the Bahamas to book his place in the tournament, qualifying with half of one big blind.
He clutches his chest as he tells the story now, betraying the desperate fear of someone clinging on to meagre scraps in a bid to survive the final turmoil.
“It was very stressing for me,” he explains, “$25K or nothing.”
But this battle wasn’t even the half of it.
During the PSPC itself, the biggest buy-in tournament of his career, Spitale felt pain in his chest for real — something that pointed to a recurrence of a serious lung condition he had endured all his life, the result of a birth defect.
Blaming the stress of his qualification, he played on through Day 1, and even continued into Day 2 when the pain was excruciating.
“I could not breathe, I had a stinging in my chest,” he says. “But I went to play anyway. I will die before I give up my chips.”
Unable to focus on his game, but determined to continue, Spitale was knocked out narrowly before the bubble. On his return to his native Argentina, he went immediately to the hospital and into surgery. Doctors diagnosed, then remedied for good, a collapsed lung.
Spitale now has the top of his lung stitched properly in place, ensuring no more unwelcome collapses. He plays football, padel and poker of course. He is fighting fit again.
“I have a healthy life,” he says.
THE CHARITY CAMPAIGNER
The fact that Spitale survived this scare, and returned to good health, is a bonus for many other people beyond his immediately family.
Spitale is not one of those poker players obsessed only with growing a personal bankroll as large as he can make it. He has other more charitable motivations for remaining at the top of his game.
Together with four friends, including the poker streamer Pamela “Pamsi” Balzano, Spitale is the founder and administrator of a charity named Pone tu Ficha, which is doing amazing work with lower-income families in Argentina.
Pone tu Ficha, which translates roughly as “place your token/chip”, invites poker players, among others, to place their chips where they can be of most use: specifically in soup kitchens and children’s homes near to where Spitale lives, in Mar del Plata, and Buenos Aires, close to his collaborators’ homes.
The organisation converts financial donations into food, clothing, toys and other necessities, which its managers, including Spitale, deliver themselves. And it often also provides those crucial services that cannot be loaded into the back of a truck.
“We specialise in helping with the necessities of the young, but it’s not just with a gift or a toy or some clothes,” he says. “The principal thing that moves us is the education, something that can help in a profound way. They might sometimes need someone to talk to. They might sometimes need someone to share things with.”
Shortly before Christmas, Spitale helped write and deliver more than 100 letters to Santa, for example. Just before the school year begins, they run through a list of essentials for the classroom. “When you see the faces, you see the love,” Spitale says.
THE GENEROSITY OF POKER PLAYERS
On the whole, poker players are pretty generous people. There are several other charities linked to poker in one way or another, including Raising for Effective Giving (REG), founded by poker pros Liv Boeree, Igor Kurganov, Philipp Gruissem and Stefan Huber, and Dan Smith’s “Double Up Drive“.
Spitale suggests that the poker world, defined by dizzying sums of money being won and lost, sometimes feels like an alternate reality, but that players do not always lose sight of what’s happening elsewhere.
“I have a lot of poker players who, when they have a big score, they say, ‘Hey, I want to be part of this too. Take this,'” Spitale says. “My family, when we were young, was very poor. When you are living that reality, the first time you have the chance to give some help, you snap.”
He continues: “Things in my house were difficult. We didn’t have a proper dinner every night. So I know what it’s about. I know my mother did her best to be with us and to give us everything we needed, [but] with my first salary, I went and bought myself a football, because I always wanted one but I never had one. It sounds crazy, but I know what it’s like.
“I found poker and it was very good to me, right from the start. Suddenly I passed from one reality to another. It was shocking. Everything that I always dreamed of having, I could provide. So I had a feeling that I wanted to share. I felt the empathy.
“I’m so grateful to do this for a living. I love poker. I fell the passion of playing poker, the challenge. It made me grow a lot. And I want to share this as much as I can, have as great an impact as I can.”
‘YOU HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO SPEND IT’
Spitale is under no illusion as to the difficulty of the task in hand. He says the five friends are committed to the project and still feel as though they are infinitely rewarded for their efforts from the sight of the good they are doing. But he confesses that they still have a lot to learn.
“It’s a lot of work for just a few people,” he says. “We started with all of our heart, but at this moment we need to be organised more seriously. We all trust each other, we all want to help. But you can say, ‘We need more money’, right, but you have to know how to use it. It’s not like we can just say, ‘Great, we have a lot of money, let’s buy some more toys.’ We want to have an impact. A lot of toys is good, but we want to make lasting change to their education, their health.”
In the short term, Spitale is hoping to persuade more poker players to pledge a portion of their winnings to the cause, perhaps wearing a patch as they sit at the tables detailing the percentage they are prepared to give.
And he’ll have the perfect platform to further the cause when he heads back to the Bahamas at the end of this month to have a second stab at the PSPC.
PLATINUM PASS EASES THE PATH
After the drama of his qualification for the first PSPC, Spitale found it considerably easier the second time around. He won a Platinum Pass through the Mega Path back in January 2020, climbing rapidly from the $2 level to secure the $30K package, barely breaking a sweat.
Originally looking forward to a trip to Barcelona, the coronavirus pandemic intervened soon after he won his Platinum Pass. But it allowed Spitale more time to focus on the charity at a point that its beneficiaries needed assistance the most.
But, as a poker pro, he also continued playing online and has been in good form ever since. He has notched numerous tournament cashes over the past three years, both online and on the live circuit, bolstering a resume that already featured significant triumphs in SCOOP and WCOOP (he’s “rojorulez” on PokerStars) and a pair of victories in major tournaments in Argentina.
Now, he is eagerly anticipating another chance at the PSPC, fighting fit and with an even greater motivation to succeed.
“Here in Argentina, one dollar is a lot of money,” he says. “We can make a big difference to a lot of people’s lives.”
MORE PLATINUM PASS PROFILES
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