"P" is for Polo

"P" is for Polo

It may have been developed in ancient Persia and disseminated by the Brits, but these days, polo's home is indisputable. The most important matches anywhere in the sport belong to the Argentine season, which peaks every December at the Campeonato Abierto de Palermo in Buenos Aires.

In a few short weeks, the 123rd Palermo Open will draw sports fans, horse-lovers, sun-worshipers, and Chandon-swillers from around the polo world. As the last of the tournaments comprising Argentina's storied Triple Crown, Palermo is as good as polo gets—for both the seasoned and the rookie spectator. The venue is accessible, the tickets affordable, the spring weather irresistible, and the players the greatest on earth.

The Open kicks off November 12th, with matches every Saturday and Sunday until the December 10th championship. Go before the quarterfinals, and you can snag a ticket for as little as ten bucks—or sit with the VIPs for $65. Be sure to bring a sunhat and shades, and if you're looking to get more out of it than a healthy base tan, it probably wouldn't hurt to brush up on your polo ABC's beforehand... 

Adolfo Cambiaso. Polo's answer to Messi, "Adolfito" is the top-ranked player in the world and captain of La Dolfina.

Bocha. A polo ball or a "scoop" of ice cream. Hopefully, context will tell.

Chukker. Most matches consist of six 7-minute chukkers; in the case of Palermo, they consist of eight.

La Dolfina. The defending champs and the only team comprised of four 10-goal players.

Ellerstina. If you're not facing Cambiaso and La Dolfina in the semis, odds are you're hoping to take down the Pieres brothers and their cousin, Pablo.

Facundo Pieres. The Ellerstina captain, who became a 10-goaler at only 19 years old, is currently ranked #2 worldwide.

¡Gol! As long as the ball threads the goalposts, it counts, whether knocked in by player or pony. NB: opposing teams switch sides with each goal scored.

Handicaps. They range from zero (if you're a total beginner) to ten (if you're Cambiaso). Only 40 of Argentina's 5,000 polistas are high-goal players—that is, players with a handicap of seven or above. Campeonato participants must have at least a seven.

Juan Carlos Harriott. Widely regarded as the best player in history, "Juancarlitos" won the Palermo Open 20 times before retiring in 1980.

Kings. As in the original polo aficionados, Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans for whom "the sport of kings" is nicknamed.

Lía Salvo. Last month, Cambiaso asked polo's leading lady to be his teammate in a major tournament (NBD). Women have their own official handicap system these days, and Salvo, 29, is one of three 9-goalers in the world.

Nacho Figueras. Heard of him? The 2009 runner up for "most handsome man in the world" has a 6-goal handicap and a 16-year modeling career with Ralph Lauren. He met his wife, Delfina, at the Palermo Open in 1997.

Olympics. In 1924, the Argentine polo team won the first gold medal in the country's Olympic history. The last time polo was played during the summer games? 1936. 

Pato. Polo is not the only contact sport in which Argentine riders routinely risk their limbs. Scrappier and even more dangerous, pato, once popular among 17th-century gauchos, is played without mallets. It is still Argentina's official national game. It is no longer played with a live duck. 

Patrón. An amateur player of means (often North American or European) who hires high-goal players (often Argentine) to play with him in a tournament. Yes, that's a thing.

Petisero. The lead groom is the vital liaison between a player and his horses. He's tuned into each animal's strengths, weaknesses, and maybe even mood swings. Which is why he's responsible for pony selection on game day (typically, a player brings between 12 and 15 ponies to the field!).

Pony Line. Yes, it's the equestrian-chic cocktail lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel. But it's also the designated area where players, grooms, and ponies prep for the game and rest between chukkers.

Right of way. The player who last made contact with the ball has the right of way, and his opponents cannot cross the "line of the ball" (the imaginary path along which the ball travels) in front of him. Most penalties in polo occur when players inappropriately cross this invisible line.

Stick-and-ball. Oh, just a fancy name for a mounted practice session.

Taco. By which we mean a polo mallet, not a folded corn tortilla.

Uruguay. There are only nine players in the sport with a handicap of 10, and eight of them are Argentine. David Stirling Jr. (a.k.a. Pelón) is the lone Uruguayan. He's ranked #3 in the world and currently plays for La Dolfina.

Yegua. The legendary players may all be men, but 75% of polo ponies are mares. Sure, stallions are more powerful, but mares tend to be faster learners, and thus easier to train.

Zone A vs. Zone B. At Palermo, eight participating teams are divided into two four-team "zones" or brackets. This year, you can watch La Dolfina, Alegría, Washington, and Cría Yatay in Zone A—and in Zone B, Ellerstina, La Aguada, El Paraíso, and La Irenita.

Interested in learning about polo first-hand? Reach out to one of Gyde & Seek’s polo gydes, such as Thomas or Marcos & Silke.

Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure

Buenos Aires Radio

Buenos Aires Radio