Panama City, playing host to PokerStars Championship Bahamas, serves as a destination spot for many players. If they bust out of a tournament or two a bit earlier than they expect, they can experience one of Central America’s most vibrant locales by checking out the nightlife or spending time in nature in a jungle or on a beach.
For 27-year-old Michael Lech, those experiences would be just another day in his nomadic life as he continues a months-long journey exploring South and Central America.
Since 2014, Lech has been essentially homeless, backpacking his way through numerous countries
Since 2014, Lech has been essentially homeless, backpacking his way through numerous countries as he racks up life experiences that others take decades to gain. Lech has financed it all through his poker winnings, living out his dream of seeing the world, meeting new people and trying new things.
As “One Poor Bum” online, Lech racked up a few hundred thousand dollars in winnings, starting as an underage grinder when he was 18. After Black Friday in 2011, Lech migrated to offshore sites and continued to have success — PocketFives
Lech has picked up some skills along the way, too. He speaks decent Spanish now and can communicate some in Portuguese. He can also dance a little after a stop in Brazil.
“I was visiting a friend I met in Vegas who was a dance teacher,” Lech said. “So, I took dancing classes and went dancing in Samba school and underground clubs in Sao Paulo.”
Another time, Lech got a first-hand look at one of South America’s most profitable — and notorious — exports.
“One time in Bolivia I went to my friend’s coca plantation,” Lech said. “They have 1,000 hectares of coca leaf. It’s interesting to see that life and how they run it.”
I took dancing classes and went dancing in Samba school and underground clubs in Sao Paulo
All of that adventuring leaves very little time for poker, and Lech wouldn’t have it any other way. He finally broke through for a monster score at the 2016 WSOP, coming second in $888 Crazy Eights for $401,888. The elusive big score barely moved the needle for Lech’s everyday life.
“I think I’m the exact same,” he said. “I’ve invested quite a bit of it and skipped a lot of poker stops to not just blow it all.”
What he most remembers is the friends he has made across South and Central America tuning in to the live stream to sweat him. He received videos of people drinking and yelling as they sweated him, giving him the same treatment as they would their beloved national teams in the soccer-crazy countries.
Lech has taken some of the winnings and invested in a budding business in South America that he calls a potential dream job catering to fellow barebones travelers. So, despite the big score, he plans to be careful as ever with his bankroll here in Panama. He’s eyeing the $5,000 Championship but sees the hefty entry fee as “two months of traveling, all expenses paid.”
That’s not something he’s eager to part with, so he plans to approach the event just as he would have when he had nary a $20K live score to his name.
“I’m gonna try to satellite into it,” he said. “We’ll see how I do.”
* Lead photo by Neil Stoddart at the PokerStars Championship Panama, other photos via Michael Lech’s Instagram
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