MIAMI – The misfortune of a refugee from Afghanistan whose father was killed in a bomb attack there has taken a significant turn recently due to a missed flight and a pair of cards.
Ilyas Muradi, who was behind bars in solitary confinement a little over a year ago after federal immigration officials discovered his residency card had expired, waded through a field of more than 1,500 players to see the World Poker Tour’s first post after COVID- Win 19 Texas Hold’em poker tournament at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino earlier this week.
When Muradi arrived on Thursday, he said it was hard to explain how he felt when the last hand was over.
“It’s rare. The excitement. Then energy. It’s like you’re deaf,” said Muradi, who told online poker site CardPlayer.com that his win shows that “any dream can come true.”
For poker nerds, Muradi ousted his last opponent, poker pro Robel Andemichael, who went all-in pre-flop with an ace and six diamonds. Muradi, who called all-in with two fours, won the hand.
But even more incredible than his Tuesday night win is the story of what 32-year-old Muradi went through before and during his journey to poker glory.
In May 2019, the International Consortium of Journalists published a YouTube audio interview with Muradi after he was wrongly arrested by ICE agents who picked him up on obsolete residency requirements. During the interview, which used animations instead of pictures of Muradi, he formulated his name, said he had been detained since 2017 and had spent four months in solitary confinement.
“It’s like a cage, you know,” said Muradi.
The video does not say where Muradi was held. The producers say immigration officials told them Muradi was detained seven times while he was detained for acting.
“Sometimes you sit down and feel sad and cry,” he said in the video.
Muradi, who said he lost his father to a bombing as a child, came to the US as a refugee when he was 12 or 13, shortly after the US invaded Afghanistan after September 11th. He said he lost his green card in high school in 2007 after being arrested for possession of marijuana. He spent the next decade in the United States applying for a work permit.
Then, in 2017, he said he met a lawyer who promised to help him get his green card back. During the application process, he said he worked as a truck driver and while on a trip to Laredo, Texas, Muradi and some friends decided to take a taxi across the border into Mexico to blow off some steam.
The return trip was unsettling. At around 3 a.m. at the border, Muradi said, customs agents told him to get out of the car.
“They told me I was deported to Mexico myself,” he said.
Muradi spent the next 27 months in detention, most of them in Laredo. He was then taken to a facility in Oklahoma, but only for a few weeks before he was finally released in October 2019 after the federal government determined that he could not be returned to Afghanistan.
A request for information about Muradi to ICE had not been answered by Thursday afternoon. The online poker site Casino City Times published a story of Muradi’s victory stating that he was from Fort Wayne. On Thursday afternoon, the story of Muradi’s journey to becoming a poker star shot through the poker world’s social media.
He said he couldn’t play while he was incarcerated, but he never lost his love of the game.
“I missed it very much,” he said. “The moment I learned this game, I fell in love with it.”
Muradi’s victory and the story of his immigration detention, now legendary, were posted on the Twitter page of a prominent poker player named Ryan DePaulo, who goes by the nickname “Degenerate Gambler”. Another poker player named Johnny Moreno, who goes by the name Johnnie Vibes and also lives in Fort Wayne, posted on his Twitter page that Muradi’s journey began in war-torn Afghanistan.
Moreno, who describes himself as a “micro-celebrity” because of his content creations on YouTube and finished 93rd in the same tournament as Muradi, said the two had communicated on social media platforms for a few years, but only that met in person this week when the tournament started.
Muradi said he has been playing poker for a little over a decade, but mostly playing online tournaments. His win at the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open at Hard Rock only came about because he didn’t make it to the airport in time and decided to lose $ 400 in a smaller tournament that saw the winner get a place in Tuesday’s event. According to a story on the World Poker Tour website.
“I got an opportunity because I missed my flight. I played a satellite and here I am,” said Muradi. “This is just the beginning. You will hear a lot more from me.”
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