From Football to Poker: The Incredible Story of Ramon Colillas

Football is a competitive sport, if not the most competitive sport on the planet. The percentage of academy prospects that eventually make the grade in professional football is as low as 0.5%. Recruitment of academy talent is notoriously fierce, not least in big cities like London where there’s so many professional clubs looking for the next generation.

It’s a similar story in the world of poker, where only a fraction of players graduate into the professional game and make the big bucks.

Spaniard Ramon Colillas is someone who’s experienced both industries. The 35-year-old was once a hot football prospect in his native Barcelona. After failing to make the grade at a professional level, he played in local leagues before enrolling in a degree in Physical Activity and Sport. Colillas also dabbled in football coaching after completing his degree, such was his burning ambition to turn his passion for the beautiful game into a profession.

Colillas turned his back on football for a future in poker

Nevertheless, Colillas would eventually divert his attention away from competitive football and focus on cementing a professional career in poker. He turned pro aged 24 and, in 2015, his performance at the Estrellas Poker Tour Main Event in Barcelona proved to be the turning point in his fledgling career. Colillas cashed at this tournament and gradually developed his bankroll to help him take shots at bigger events over time.

Four years later, he would fly over to the Bahamas to take part in the PokerStars Players Championship. Having finished at the head of the standings in the Campeonato de España de Poker leaderboard, Colillas was handed an immediate “Platinum Pass” to enter the $25,000-entry Main Event. The tournament featured a first prize worth $5.1 million – a sum of money that was the stuff of fairytales for Colillas before the event kicked off.

Colillas’ $5.1 million Caribbean payday explained

Before this tournament began, Colillas had won almost $10,000 in live poker events across his career to date. This was small fry compared with the prize money up for grabs in the Bahamas. Magnificently, he would eventually go on to prevail in the five-day competition, reaching the final table of eight entrants.

It was a very open final table, with almost every player still capable of going on to take the $5.1 million loot. At one stage of the final table, the game looked up for Colillas, who was down to his final 12 big blinds. Miraculously, he managed to win heads-up against Marc Rivera, a fellow Platinum Pass winner, to get back to something resembling a competitive stack.

In fact, his stack was competitive enough to go heads-up with Frenchman Julien Martini, who started the heads-up battle a 2:1 chip leader. Colillas would eventually go on to receive some huge fortune, landing a full house in a hand on the last card to leave Martini with less than 20 big blinds. Colillas eventually closed out the game to make history and clinch a monstrous payday. His impact was so significant that he would eventually be named as an ambassador for PokerStars, who he now represents at online and live poker events.

As of May 2023, Colillas has since posted career live earnings worth $6.3 million, moving him to sixth in Spain’s all-time money list of poker professionals. This means he’s raked in a further $1.2 million since his breakthrough win in January 2019. In 2021, Colillas also made a very deep run in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, the final year the series would be held at the off-Strip resort in Las Vegas. He was eventually knocked out in 14th place, narrowly missing out on the final table and a chance of landing a highly coveted WSOP gold bracelet. Nevertheless, 14th was enough to land another $380,050 pay day.

What can we learn from Colillas’ unprecedented poker success? One of the biggest takeaways is not to pigeon-hole people into certain industries or professions. After acknowledging a career in football wasn’t to be and studying sports science, Colillas proved that he had many transferrable skills for the game of poker. His determination and gutsy nature have proven invaluable in the biggest poker tournaments where survival is the name of the game, at least for the opening stages.