Friday, November 30, 2007

Don't feed the animals

I’ve probably said this so many times over the last two years that it’s becoming more farcical with each utterance, but I REALLY want to play more live poker.
I recently picked up a sponsorship deal that evaporated almost before it had begun, when the company decided to almost instantly fuck off out of the industry (I’m only 90% sure that their departure wasn’t my fault).

Anyway, before the wheelbarrow of cash trundled off into the distance I managed to be late for two of the staked tournaments (days before the law changed to allow late appearances!) made the final table bubble in another comp, and – as I write – am days away from playing in the last of my sponsored games. I’m so glad I have a garage filled with branded T-shirts.

The key point here thought is not about the sponsorship (I just needed to get it off my chest) but about the joys of playing in live games.

Yes, it helps develop your game; yes, it helps you develop your reading skills; yes, it’s a more social ways to approach the game. Yes, yes, yes…

However, what I’d like to concern myself with today is the fact that playing live poker allows you to meet the freaks. Smelly, stupid, egotistical, bullying, know-nothing morons who play a £10 sit and go like it’s the WSOP and are more than happy to pretend they’re Tony G when it comes to slagging you off for calling their minimum raise with 8-8, hitting trips and cracking their pocket aces.

I recently found myself in a £20 afternoon freeze-out at the Gutshot as part of a media event. Things were improved by the fact that a fellow journalist and keen poker player was sat to my right, so I could at least enjoy his company (as well as re-raise him for chuckles every time he tried to enter the pot.)

We sat examining our table chums… and BOY had we struck gold! I kid you not, it was like the poker zoo was in town and all the animals had stopped at our table to graze.

Exhibit A: The Donkey.
He handled his chips like they were oversized carrots and, when he accidentally made an under-bet, was told by a friendly player ‘it needs to be at least double the previous bet’. The donkey looked insulted. “Yes,” he honked, “I DO know how to bet”. He then proceeded to prove otherwise by calling a raise and a re-raise for all his chips with that monster of hands A-Q off-suit (I, incidentally, folded before him with AhQh, so his chances were ‘slim’ at best). As he trotted off sans chips I wondered if he even knew how to spell ‘Bet’ let alone how to do it.

Exhibit B: The Ape
This physically large specimen was all over the table like a hairy rash. Lining up flops, tidying chips, sorting out side-pots that didn’t involve him… he didn’t care what it was; if it was happening on the table he was in charge of it. At one point I needed a wee and was worried he’d come down with me to ensure all was ship-shape in the trouser department.

He’d routinely pretend to be Thomas Kremser, spouting rules based loosely on the actual rules, but displaying none of the authority, poise, or actual knowledge required to take over a table in such a way. He was also the master of calling your hand, and even after 10 or so miserable failures, was still more than happy to announce “Jacks” with all the certainty of a man telling you how many feet he had regardless of the 7-8 in your hand. When he was finally out of the game, he was able to tell us all in great detail exactly why it was his fault for playing too well against such ill-equipped competition. Whatever. We didn’t care. We had all his hairy chips in our stacks.

Exhibit C: The Peacock
A magnificent puffed-up prancing cock with his glorious tail feathers on display for all to see. He was a hardcore poker pro who’d obviously been there, seen that, and had played poker for more years than you’ve had hot dinners (sonny). He even knew a chip trick. Yes, ‘a chip trick’. The only problem was that he had to bring his own ‘special’ chip (that his mum probably made for him) in order to do this trick, making it somehow less special, and also that much more sad. Oh, and he also had a lucky stone that protected his cards. Seriously, this boy was well kitted out for a £20 freeze-out. If he could have afforded to bring a masseuse to the room I’m pretty sure she would have been there; reluctantly squeezing his fat bonce while he played with his little pebble.

When my chum raised into his big blind, the peacock stared him down and spat: “the next time you raise my big blind I’m going all-in blind”. I don’t think our roaring, table-slapping, howling laughter and five minute piss-take was quite the result he’d hoped for, but it certainly made our day. He even stood up and put his jacket on every time he went all-in with the absolute nuts. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Anyway, you get the idea. Don’t sit at home enjoying poker, get out and enjoy people. Some of them are quite decent folk, and some of them are fucking hilarious. Happy hunting.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It ain't easy

Probably the Holy Grail for most poker players is getting some kind of sponsorship deal. The thought of being able to play with the best poker players on the planet without having to personally stump up thousands in cash sounds like a dream come true. Oh, and the prize money is hardly a put-off either…
I recently had this dream realised, when a company called WINunited decided to make me a sponsored player – representing them in a bunch of UK tournaments.

Now I always thought the tough part of the tournament circuit was the long hours of focus required at the felt; the punishing ‘fold fold fold’ of card-dead levels; the grim buffets; having Tony G slag your mum off to your face while Devilfish tries to get off with your girlfriend, etc. However, I’ve recently found that the hardest part of the gig is actually getting to the bloody games in the first place!

With the GUKPT taking place in nearby Luton, it seemed the perfect opportunity to unwrap my freshly-branded shirt and get things going at the tables. Having had the funds transferred to my account, I logged into the official GUKPT site just to be sure I had the details right. There it was: Wednesday 8th August, £300 PL Omaha, 8pm. Superb. With Luton about an hour’s drive from my gaff I thought I’d set out at about 5:30pm, giving myself plenty of time to get familiar with the venue, have a natter with anyone I knew there, and just generally prepare myself for the event. If the traffic was bad, I’d still be there no later than 7pm (7:30pm if it was REALLY bad).

I found myself too distracted to work during the day so ended up killing time playing Mah Jong for money (I’ll tell you more about that another time) until about 5pm when I thought I’d start gathering up my bits and pieces and prepare for the zip up to Luton. As well as the iPod, I’d also remembered to power up my trusty Tom Tom so that it could take charge of dragging my lazy arse up to Luton without having to think. I often worry that I’ve become too reliant on the Tom Tom. If it ever breaks down I’ll have to make a life for myself wherever I am at the time – I’ll never find my way back home without it.

Anyway, I decided to do a quick internet search to get the venue’s postcode for the GPS, so Googled the casino rather than jump direct to the GUKPT site I’d mostly been referring to. Up popped the address, along with the tournament listings. But something was wrong... On this site it had the £300 PLO as a 6pm event. The fools! They’d only gone and put the wrong time on their own site! How laughable. I mean… unless the official GUKPT site had got it wrong.... Nah. That was a ludicrous idea. I mean, how likely was it that the official site would be so stupid as to get the time wrong for their own event? Gulp…

I decided to call the card room anyway, you know, ‘just to be sure’: “Hello there. You’ll probably think I’m being silly (chortled I, nervously) but I just wanted to check that the time of the £300 Omaha event hasn’t changed.” “No sir,” I was reassured, “it’s still at 6pm.” AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGG!

Sadly, no amount of Tom Tom-foolery or disregard for British speed limits could get me round the M25 and up the roadwork-laden M1 in anything less than an hour and a half, leaving me standing in the tournament room watching everyone play in MY tournament. I’ve never really understood the phrase crest-fallen, but my ‘crest’ was not only fallen, but dragging along the floor like a prolapsed anus.

All I could do was use the opportunity to register for the £1k Main Event in two days time, grab a free coffee, and shuffle back to my car and the pitiful stare of my GPS. “Take me home Tom Tom, take me home…”

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monte Carlo or Bust pt.3

Well I’ll give you this – you’ve got stamina! I mean the EPT Grand Final was only, what, seven months ago, and here I am still prattling on about it! Then again, short of coming down to my office and holding a gun to my head there’s not a lot do to stop me is there? Why not click the 'close' button now and save us all the bother?
Ok – then let’s carry on…

As you’ll no doubt remember (possibly – I started this story a long while ago) the nice people from PokerStars’ PR agency very kindly flew me out to Monte Carlo to interview poker’s superstars and report on the EPT Grand Final. As is always the way on these trips, lots of ‘things’ happen to me along the way, all of which I’m more than happy to record on my ever-present digital recorder to later bore/entertain(?) you with. When I finished up last entry I had suggested that masseuses with large breasts were a great idea, and that Patrik Antonius had a head like a jacket potato. Really high-brow stuff then clearly. Let’s continue…

Having previously set up a nice little portable office outside my sliding balcony door, I wake up actually looking forward to getting outside and doing some work. Ordering the hotel’s signature ‘bloody expensive omelette’, I gather my bits together and head for the door. However, I’m stopped in my tracks, as there appears to be something outside my balcony trying to get in. I say ‘something’ rather than ‘someone’ because I can see a shape pounding against my door, but from only about two feet off the floor. Having gone to bed late and full of red wine - and therefore slightly fuzzy this morning - my barely adequate mental functions are unable to come up with any reasonable explanation for this, so I decide it’s probably best to just sit back down on the bed and wait for it to go away. Please.

After a minute or two the pounding stops and I decide to open the door. Peeking through a tiny slit as only really heroic men can… JESUS CHRIST! There is – no word of a lie – a seagull the size of a badger sitting on my balcony wall. In his beak – nay, his crushing jaws – he holds a large Coke cup that he has clearly been wielding as a battering ram. Whether he wants to come in, or simply wants me out, I couldn’t say, but I certainly didn’t want to take him on mano-e-gullo to find out. It wasn’t that I wanted to hand over my hotel keys to the vicious-looking bugger, but visions of headlines back in England to the tune of: “Pathetic Brit eaten alive by enormous seagull” certainly had me on the back foot.

As if to prove a point, the seagull/badger picks up the cup and starts bashing it up and down against the balcony. This clearly serves no other purpose than intimidation; showing me what he plans to do if he ever gets hold of my bonce. With this, I tip my hat in his general direction, and reverse back through the balcony door. In my mind I hear: “beep beep… this coward is reversing… beep beep”, but I don’t care. I want to get home with both eyes still in my head rather than being bashed up and down on a balcony wall until liquid gold (or whatever it is the gull thinks is stashed within my peepers) spills forth.

Rather than spending ten euros on a five minute cab ride, I can walk from my hotel to the tournament venue buy taking a not-unpleasant fifteen minute stroll down something called “The Champions’ Parade”. Though I personally struggle to think of anyone who came from Monte Carlo who might be considered a hero, I’m still rather surprised to find George Best’s hand and foot prints in the pavement. Now I’m not one to suggest they were struggling to find ‘champions’ from Monte Carlo and grasping at straws, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be too surprised to find Bob Marley or perhaps those two lesbos from Tatu wedged into the parade somewhere down the road.

I make it to the tournament (no sign of that seagull, you’ll be glad to hear) and go about the business of sweating a friend of mine (let’s call him ‘Arny’) who’s still in the main even. I’m particularly interested not note that three seats to Arny’s left is Mark Teltcher. Now I don’t like to bitch in these pages (*ahem*) but when I went to Google Mark’s surname to be sure I’d spelt it correctly, I was drawn towards the second result from the search engine. A link that led me to the blog of a popular young poker player, who let rip with: “I had the pleasure of playing Mark Teltcher, who won the London EPT last year. He was without doubt one of the biggest arseholes I've ever met.” So I guess you could say there’s no love lost there then.

I of course don’t want to get involved in this fight, but I will tell you that my friend Arny also happens to ‘dislike’ Mr Teltcher. In fact, Arny ‘dislikes’ him so much that when we were here for the EPT Grand Final last year Arny went up to Teltcher late one night in a bar and pretended to be a journalist who thought Mark was “The Future of Poker”, and asked if he might grab the golden one for an impromptu interview.

Mark – who I’m reliably informed has ‘a bit of an ego’ – obviously agreed to the interview, and for the next 15 minutes was quizzed by Arny who put on the plumiest Tim Nice-but-dim voice you’ve ever heard, and held up what was quite obviously a digital camera to Mark’s mouth as if it was a dictaphone. He also asked some of the most mock-sycophantic questions ever, including the likes of: “How can you be so bloody awesome at poker mate?” and “Do you think you were just born with this gift?” It wasn’t big or clever, but it was fucking funny.

Anyway, back in the tournament room a noise rings out that’s familiar to me but seems totally out of place and is therefore hard to fathom. This sound has clearly registered with a large number of other folk in the room, who are all now looking around like people in a lift who suspect someone might have farted.

I look up to the massive screens that show the tournament details, and realise why the noise was familiar - it’s an error alert that my laptop dishes out. The screens normally busy displaying all the information relevant to the tournament (players, blinds, time, etc) are now proudly announcing: “Low battery. You should change your battery or switch to oulet power immediately to keep from losing your work”. With that, pretty much every manager and dealer in the place bolts towards the same spot – presumably some nook with a magic laptop secretly running the whole European Poker Tour in Microsoft Excel. It’s like they pulled back the curtains and found that not only was the Wizard of Oz an old bloke in a dressing gown, but he was also on his hands and knees having a wank. Ah, the magic revealed…

With the laptop plugged in and normal service resumed, another emergeny occurs on table twenty three; this time a severe trouser malfunction. It appears some ‘youth’ - who clearly knows a lot more about poker than he does about wearing clothes properly – is suffering from an unusual condition that has lead to the waistband of his jeans falling level with the backs of his knees while his paisley knickers hang out for all to see. Regardless of just how bloody stupid this looks, I’m sure it’s very popular with the younger men. As a teen, I myself would often pull my socks up over my genitals and hang a Burton’s tie out of my arse. Fickle fasion eh?

Having seen quite enough for one day, I head back down the ‘Champion’s Parade’ keeping an eye out for the seagull. Luckily for me there’s no sign of the bugger, and I can only imagine he’s sitting on a hotel balcony somewhere, savagely tearing into some hapless Brit’s face.

Back at the hotel bar a group of us meet for a drink, but talk soon moves to thoughts of a quick game of poker. Though all present are keen on the game, we’re a mixed group, passing through all levels of ‘skill’. All the way from two hardcore Swedes who want to play for serious money, right through to a PR girl who thinks you need two decks of cards to play Hold’em. I can see we’re in for an ‘interesting game’, but comply none the less, trying to work out what we can use for chips.

Looking down at our table I notice a small box of matches in an ashtray… hmm.
Each box only holds twelve matches, but with a bit of thought – and LOTS more boxes – we might just make this work.

I explain my plan. We’ll break each match in two. The halves with the head are worth 100, the halves without, 25s, and the boxes are worth 500 each. Genius! Now we just need more matches. Leave this to me…

"Stealth". "Cunning". "Guile". Just some of the words that might be used to describe how I sauntered around the bar, ‘flying casual’ as it were, stealing boxes of matches en route. At one point I had about twenty five boxes in my trouser pockets. Had there been a fire, everyone could have gathered round and roasted marshmallows while I ‘genied’ like a roman candle.
At one point I catch the eye of the waitress whose job it is to ensure they tables all have clean ashtrays and matchboxes. She squints at me suspiciously; trying to work out why her job has suddenly become so much more demanding despite the fact that the bar is near empty. I chuckle to myself. The perfect crime!

I return triumphant to the table, but all eyes are over my shoulder. I turn around and find myself face-to-face with the waitress who is wearing the sort of face that practically spells out the phrase “you pathetic twat”. Without saying a word she drops 50 boxes of matches onto the table, spins around and stomps off. So much for the perfect crime... Anyway, who fancies a game of poker!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Monte Carlo or Bust pt.2

So… last time I attempted to entertain you with my take on the preliminary stages of the Monte Carlo EPT. The bad news? There’s more!

In the main tournament room, I’m scribbling away at my note book – making notes on interesting table draws – when Hendon Monbster, Barny Boatman walks in. I find myself hiding because I still owe him 50p (he lent me some change for a parking meeting outside the Ladbrokes casino a month or so back). It then dawns on me that, considering the company I’m in, hunting down a stray 50p is probably a long way down Barny’s debt collecting priorities right now.

An hour into the game and Hellmuth still hasn’t arrived. Famous for these late appearances, anyone with a spare seat at their table is literally playing every single pot in an attempt to get as many chips stashed away before The Brat arrives to rape them all. Metaphorically speaking, obviously.

A journo (who managed to trick the gullible PR team into buying him into the main event) waddles over: “I’ve got Chris Moneymaker on my table. I’m off for a shit.” Now whether these two statements are related or merely next to each other chronologically I couldn’t say. I personally love to play against such poker luminaries; but then again I had eggs for breakfast so am probably less likely to shit myself if a World Champion pushes all-in against me than most of these Red Bull-fuelled lads.

I bump into Katja Thater (magnificent at about 6ft 5” in heels incidentally). Out of 650 players, she somehow managed to defy the odds and draw the same table as her husband. One can only imaging the quality of pillow talk if one of the Thaters knocks the other out. I wonder just how long conjugal rights are suspended if you knock out your wife to the tune of €10,000?

I’m a big fan of Mr David Devilfish (as I like to call him) but he is gradually turning into that guy from The Fast Show (the one who’s your dad’s age, but is clinging onto his youth for dear life). Resplendent in leather biker jacket, ripped designer jeans, dark glasses… well, I never thought I’d say it, but I find myself wishing he’d go back to the old gangster suits. He does, however, make an amazing laydown on the river holding KK against a guy with AA who slow plays it to the river. Dave loses the hand but saves a considerable amount of chips. He turns round and shrugs at me. He’s seen this a million times…

AK is easily the most over-played hand I see all tournament. In one hand a guy with big slick can’t resist going all-in despite a board containing an ace (of course) a pair of threes and three hearts. Needless to say a slightly more cunning player has 7h8h and lets his AK-obsessed friend know how it feels to only have 1,000 in chips at only the 3rd level.

Almost as if the poker gods can’t help further punishing ‘AK boy’, he (now very short-stacked) pushes in with Q-8 on a queen-high board only to run into Q-K. He can only survive by hitting one of the three eights left in the deck, and on the river… he does. Those poker gods are sick bastards. What a silly silly game poker is. Never mind; I’m sure another AK will come along shortly so he can bust himself out the tourney once and for all.

I bump into The Fossilman, who loves to wear his WSOP bracelet while playing. On someone else it might seem a bit of a ‘bling’ show-off act, but on Raymer it doesn’t seem that way. You just get the feeling that he’s proud and happy to have it. God bless him – lovely chap.

It’s nice to be reminded that the subtle art of PR hasn’t died, as the Dusk Til Dawn contingent spills into the room. This basically involves lots of large-breasted ‘models’ in porno heels, hot pants, crop tops and too much make-up staggering around the room putting off any of the poker players who happen to be male and under 60 (i.e. 99% of them). Screw rakeback deals and deposit bonuses, THIS is how you capture your target audience.

I later bump into the DTD girls again who – having whipped up all the men into a state of total and useless arousal – are now relaxing by the pool. It’s a bikini-clad vision to be sure; right up until one of them opens her mouth and shouts, “Oi! Darlin!” in a voice not entirely unlike Grant Mitchell of Eastenders fame. It’s a jolt to the system, and I’m immediately transported from Monte Carlo to Romford Market, where I believe one can purchase ‘arf a pand a cherries’ for 50 pence. Delightful girl.

On the matter of attractiveness, I feel I’m capable of recognising a good-looking bloke when I see one, but with Patrik Antonius I just don’t get it. To me he looks like a well-groomed yet gaunt potato, but all the PR girls are gathered around him like snails in the rain licking the top of his head (metaphorically speaking). He even manages to get away with massive fashion faux pas such as flip flops with socks (generally a look monopolised by Greg Raymer and the over-60 crowd) and yet the girls STILL wilt as he enters the room. I REALLY hope this doesn’t become a trendy new look for poker players because, to be quite frank with you, I just haven’t got the socks for it. A few days later I bump into Patrik again, and can’t help but notice his spud-head appears to have been gradually cooking under the Monte Carlo sun. I don’t know whether to offer him some sunscreen or stick a fork in him to see if he’s done.

Back in the tournament room, a clearly silicon-enhanced masseur is touring the tables offering a damn good rub down to anyone with cash to spare. She’s bang-on attractive, and has become somewhat of a status symbol for the players. If you’ve got her boobs mashed against the back of your head, you’re clearly one hell of a player!

One particular chump has obviously been waiting hours for her to finally become free so that he can make his table-mates jealous, but doesn’t realise that he’s finally reeled her in only seconds before the dinner break starts. Just as he’s about to bask in the kudos (as her thumbs slip between five folds of fat where his shoulder blades used to be) everyone files out of the room to grab some chow and he’s left sitting there, missing his dinner, being given an over-priced backrub in an empty tournament room. Priceless.

At one point I snap a picture of the attractive masseur (just for research purposes, of course), and Gus Hanson spins around as the camera’s flash fires off; mildly disappointed that I wasn’t taking a picture of him. I’d personally have enough trouble playing against Hansen at the best of time, but how the fuck you concentrate with old ‘big tits’ rubbing away at your jowls I really don’t know.

Hellmuth is up to his usual tricks over on the far table. He spends five minutes thinking about folding pocket 2s against a board containing a ten, a Jack and an eight. When a player quiet asks if they should put the clock on him, he goes totally insane. Shouting the floor manager over Hellmuth demands a new dealer, insists he only took 80 seconds (which I can confirm is at least 450 second out) and even starts offering people to bet for money on exactly how long he took. It would be mildly amusing if it wasn’t for the fact that the level is ticking away while all this is going on, and most people came to play poker rather than watch The Brat Road Show.

Everything finally calms down on the Hellmuth table once no one cares any more, and I move over to a table featuring the key player who took all my chips from me out at the Ultimate Bet Aruba Classic. He seems pretty disappointed that I’m only reporting on and not playing in this game, but that’s probably just because it was all my poorly-played chips that helped him cash last time. I can only imagine that when he looks at me he sees a big bag of cash with $$$ on the side in much the same way a hungry cartoon Tom would see Jerry as a small roast chicken complete with trimmings.

And I am again, out of space. Who’d have thought I can say so much about so little. And even better, I think I might carry on next time. Bet you can’t wait…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Monte Carlo or bust

Let me just start by saying that to my mind there are two important positives to say about Monte Carlo. 1) It’s not Paris, 2) The local girlfriends. Now I won’t expand on point one (I think it speaks for itself) but as for point two, well… let’s just say that, if you can afford to reside in Monte Carlo you’re not likely to have a minging sow hanging off your arm dressed in anything less than the hottest, shortest, tightest, most expensive drapery. I could certainly never drive in Monaco; I’d be wrapped around a lamppost before you could shout ‘porno clogs’. Suffice it to say this is NOT the place to visit if you have a shoe fetish. You’d probably spend the whole time bent double in groinal discomfort.

The only problem with the ladies of Monaco is that the part of a woman’s brain that normally kicks in at the age where long hair and short skirts are no longer appropriate doesn’t seem to function. From the back – Bingo. From the front – Bingo Hall. It’s often like your Nan has been dug up and forced at gun point into an outfit even a Barbie doll would roll her eyes at.

Oh, and if you were thinking that maybe beer goggles might ‘iron out’ some of those wrinkles, let me just tell you that a bottle of Heineken round these parts will set you back €30. This could be a very expensive trip…

First up: the obligatory media tournament. Now this always creates a stir in the poker room, as anyone currently not doing anything else sharks about worried that they might be missing out on something. I get asked by random strangers (only about 23 times) how they can get involved. “A career in journalism,” becomes my instant, nay hilarious answer. Frankly I’m surprised I get through the night without having my head caved in.

The quality of play isn’t all that great to be honest, but in our defence most of us have been travelling since about four o’clock this morning. To describe the group as ‘a little unbalanced’ would be fair. If you brought a doner kebab Piñata into the room right now there’d be carnage. THAT’S how much Red Bull has been consumed.

Sitting down, I’ve managed to draw a table including Greg Raymer, Luca Pagano, Humberto Brenes and Victor Ramdin. So… nothing to worry about there then. I shan’t bore you with the game itself, but those of you who enjoy sob stories will be delighted to know that I chose to make my short-stacked move with 5-5 just as Victor picked up A-A, and I enjoyed the rest of the game from the party downstairs.

A friend of mine from an oily tabloid goes deep in the game, but gets an ear bashing from me about nearly throwing it all away when he goes all-in with T-J for no reason against Noah Boeken’s A-J. He’s fortunate enough to suck out and win the hand, but I ‘gently’ suggest T-J isn’t the sort of hand to piss about with. He proudly mucks T-J the next time it comes round, only to see a 7-8-9 flop. Oops. To suggest he gives me ‘daggers’ is to suggest that the Big Brother contestants are ‘a little bit stupid’.

He then goes into ‘fuck you’ overdrive, calling an all-in with 9-7 against pocket jacks. The flop comes 9-3-9-6-7, and at this point I’m pretty sure ‘maths’ has nipped downstairs to get twatted on €30 beers while the poker gods run amok upstairs with us.

The next morning we gather in the spectacular new tournament room at the Monaco Bay Resort for a grandiose opening ceremony. Strauss’ Sprach Zarathustra (that’s ‘the 2001 music’ to you and me) blasts out as the final table’s curtain rises on-stage to reveal an orgy of dry ice and felt. Everyone too close to the platform coughs their lungs up and attempts to keep last night’s Red Bull from erupting through their nostrils, but the onslaught is far from finished. Next up is a room-length curtain that veeeeery slowly opens to the melody of The Blue Danube. One hundred bloggers gasp in unison and grab their cameras, desperate to capture this wonderful moment. One can only assume that where ever these bloggers come from (where DO bloggers come from?) they just have bare windows. I also get the feeling that YouTube is about to be brought to its knees, as a thousand identical movies of a curtain being drawn are uploaded simultaneously.

It is truly spectacular in the room, and for once I don’t mind poker players wearing dark glasses indoors. However, as soon as the tournament actually starts, the glare of the harsh yellow burning sky-ball (I believe I heard one of the organisers refer to it as “the sun”) is too much for anyone to bear and they have to draw the curtains all over again. It seems poker really is a game you have to play in the dark. Of course, once they draw the curtains again not a single player removes their shades, and I can go back to calling them all ‘losers’. The balance of nature has been restored.

An hour into the game and I realise for the first time that music is being gently piped into the room – not something I think I’ve heard at a tournament before. The weird thing is, it’s a kind of soft, funk… well, porno music. I’m not entirely sure what kind of action this is mean to promote, but I’m secretly praying that the Dutch players all have their iPods on nice and loud. I mean, if any of those crazy guys catch whiff of these arousing twangs all hell could break loose.

Gus Hansen enters the tournament room late and everyone with a spare seat at their table shits themselves immediately. It must be nice to have that kind of a reputation. I personally still think he looks like a potato in jazz shoes, but that’s just me. He leaps athletically towards his table to play his hand before it’s mucked and manages to knock an entire table’s worth of glasses and bottles over. It’s nice to know that even the top poker players are still a long way from cool.

Chad Brown sits two seats to his left, and looks like he’s been working out… a lot! It actually looks like the gym instructor who put his program together got distracted having only written down the biceps exercises and then never came back. He’s like a modern day Popeye. They’re huge! I’m surprised he can move his chips around the table with those ham hocks swinging off his shoulders.

Some of the table draws are fantastic fantasy-poker affairs. Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius are on same table (with everyone else on that table looking like they are about to throw up). Flush favourite, Isabelle Mercier, and the Flying Dutchman Marcel Luske also share a lively table. Marcel is, as usual, busy playing top poker and telling great stories. It’s amusing to see the amateurs multi-tasking; simultaneously trying to 1) ignore him, 2) listen to him, 3) not be intimidated by him, 4) not like him. I must have watched that table for an hour and can barely remember a single hand played. Fantastic entertainment.

Sadly Mr Luske exits the tournament a little later holding A-K after two aces hit the flop and a guy who ‘didn’t believe’ put him all-in while holding 4-5. The turn was a 2 and the river was a 3. You’d feel bad for Marcel, but before they’ve even raked his chips he’s found a nearby camera crew and is busy making the best of it while chatting up a tasty-looking female presenter caught within his charm radius. What a fucking brilliant bloke.

As I wander round the room, I start to feel old and out of date. All the camera crews are crowded around one table filled with what looks to me like a bunch of 16 year old kids. They are clearly Swedish internet poker wiz kids, but I have absolutely no idea who they are. Where’s Doyle Brunson in a mobility scooter when you need him?

Vicky Coren – who I must say looks more attractive each time I see her (and no, it isn’t because she keeps winning more money) - fires off a dazzling smile in my direction and beckons me over. I feel like the cat who got the cream and quickly move towards her (‘sprint’ is such a nasty word). She greets me with: “You still haven’t paid me, Broughton”. Ah yes… The column… Issue 15… Shit! I dribble out some weak excuse and shuffle off like the cat that got no cream, but instead ended the day with a castration under its belt.

Anyway, Vicky remains a fantastic piece of work. Sitting in a room full of old men trying to be young; young men trying to be rich; and ‘cool’ guys in shades/enormous headphones trying to get a sponsorship… it all simply passes her by. Vicky instead is having a nice cup of tea and doing The Times crossword while she plays. I imagine (forgive me Vic) that sexual intercourse with Vicky is either a functional activity involving four minutes with the lights out and a courteous handshake to finish, or the sort of filthy all-night encounter that leaves you blind in one eye, covered in various rope burns and bruises, and sporting a permanent nose bleed for the rest of the week. It’s so hard to tell with these quiet, proper girls. Of course that’s pure speculation, so please don’t quote me on that.

And on that bombshell, I'm off. More from Monte Carlo soon...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Up in smoke

‘Life’s a bitch, Toti’ I say to my Egyptian friend, increasing my sofa-bound angle of recline to an almost horizontal aspect. ‘Indeed’, Toti agrees, a huge plume of strawberry-flavoured smoke rising from his mouth. The pipe between us issues forth its trade mark “hubble-bubble”.

He had earlier apologised for being a little late in replenishing my charcoal, but I waved his apology away as unnecessary. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I have all the time in the world’. He ginned back at me. ‘Yes. I suppose you do.’

For the record I’m on holiday in Egypt, but it actually feels like I’m in Russia (well, a version of Russia where the entire bar staff is Egyptian and the weather is a lot better). I have no idea why Russians love Egypt so much, but they’re everywhere. Not that I particularly mind - the Russian girls are hardly hideous. However, I can’t help thinking that the part of a Russian girl’s brain in charge of telling her when she’s hot clearly malfunctions. Many have been blessed with super-fit bodies and model-esque faces, but have a habit of trudging around looking like they’ve just been told their home towns have burnt down. It’s a case of bodies like Victoria’s Secret, faces like Victoria’s Arsehole.

If I knew the Russian for “cheer up love – it might never happen” I get the feeling I’d be saying it day and night. (God has also been doing that thing where he gives 16-year-old girls the most perfect large breasts imaginable. I, of course, hardly notice.)

Anyway, I’m staying at an all-inclusive resort in Sharm El Sheik, and it’s lovely. Any drink, any food, any… well, any thing really – it’s all taken care of gratis, just as long as I wear my identifying wrist band. I can see myself going home with nearly as many flaky Egyptian pounds as I came out with, and a big white tan mark round my arm.

The entertainment is also free, but seems mostly limited to a bunch of dances the hotel’s ‘super-fun’ team has perfected. They call themselves the “Animation Team” which, frankly, I find misleading. It might just be some quirk of translation, but I haven’t seen any of them even open a pencil case, let alone attempt to draw anything.

Though even the youngest member of the Animation Team speaks about seven different languages, I still manage to convince them I don’t understand when they ask me to play water polo every day. I unhook my iPod, adjust my sunglasses and do my best to look both confused and concerned until they bugger off and pester someone else. I do take an interest though when I hear one of the team – a young, blond Russian girl – announce ‘Arabic lessons’. Now I think this is a fantastic idea. Rather than play darts or ping pong, why not take the opportunity to learn the local dialect.

The missus looks bemused when I tell her I’m off to learn a foreign language, especially as she had realised that the Russian girl (who spends most of her life talking in German to Arabs and must get very confused) was actually announcing aerobic lessons. “Aerobic”… “Arabic”… all very similar to the human ear I’m sure you’ll agree. And anyway, I’ve never yet entered a room full of women on their hands and knees in bikinis and been disappointed, so I’m certainly not going to start now.

I return to my sun bed, safe in the knowledge that I’ll always be remembered as ‘that English bloke who couldn’t speak a word of Arabic but made a real effort in the keep-fit class.’

The missus asks me to say something in Arabic with a smirk on her face. Rather than simply tell her to “piss off” I instead take the opportunity to remind her that she was the one who looked at the sign saying “Please don’t bring your glasses to the pool-side area” and asked how people without contact lenses were meant to find their way around. With the scores settled, we go back to ignoring each other…

Sadly some yobbos have ignored the ‘confusing’ sign, and brought hundreds of beer glasses down to the pool in an attempt to make optimal use of the all-inclusive nature of the bar. During the course of the afternoon they manage to knock most of them over, transforming the path to the showers into a shard-ridden route that wouldn’t look out of place in a Die Hard movie. I’m ashamed to find that they are (of course) Brits, and do my best to disassociate myself from them by looking German. This mostly involves hiding my clearly-English reading material and squinting a lot in a ‘German way’. I’d need an extensive series of photos to show you how I achieve this, but can assure you it’s very effective.

When I’m not busy trying not to look English, I’m busy trying not to shit myself. I must be the only person to come to Egypt with a stomach bug already - normally that’s one of the ‘souvenirs’ you get to take home for free. Of course stomach bugs out in Egypt really know what they’re doing, so a part of me can’t wait to release my pasty, half-arsed germs into the atmosphere so they can see what real stomach bugs look like.

In my mind I visualise a gladiatorial arena, where my seven-stone weakling germs – decked out in flip flops, union jack boxers, and wielding small frying pans – shuffle about looking bewildered. They turn to the sound of massive doors drawing open in the side of the arena, as the behemoth Egyptian germs confidently stride into view. Enormous strapping bastards; each over 7ft tall, bald, bronzed and built like brick shit houses - their bodies bristling with armour and weaponry. These boys aren’t going to give you ‘an upset stomach’; these boys are going to have you involuntarily pissing rusty brown shart out of your hole halfway through the evening buffet. Maximus Shitus.

Beyond the inevitable gut-rot, sunburn is another friend of the traveller here. However, thanks to what many might see as excessive use of factor 45 sun cream (I believe the next factor up is actually just a blanket with holes for eyes) we’ve managed to get right through the holiday without taking on that ‘healthy glow’ (a.k.a. skin cancer) that the other Brits are sporting. It confuses the locals trying to sell us things at the beach, because they don’t believe us when we tell them we’re going home in a few days. As far as they’re concerned, any Brit who’s been here long enough to be going home in a few days should resemble something a little more crispy, and they’re having none of it.

In an attempt to get away from the sales reps I decide to take a wander along our private beach. It’s all very nice and I lose track of how long I’ve been walking… until I realise that everyone around me is staring at me. What’s going on? I have all the legally-necessary clothes on. As far as I’m aware I’ve not shit myself (well, not recently anyway). So what’s the problem? And then I notice something... I am the only one with a blue identity wrist band. Everyone else around me has a red identity wrist band. Fuck. I’ve wandered off my private beach onto another resort’s private beach. These people are preparing to form a human barrier around their bar in case I attempt to go for any of their all-inclusive beverages.

It’s like LOST. I’ve gone to THE OTHERS’ side of the island, and am not welcome. I wouldn’t exactly say I sprint back to the safety of my own beach, but certainly one or two camels look up in a ‘fuck me, he goes quite fast’ way.

Back at the hotel and it’s time for the nightly lottery that is ‘guess what’s on the buffet’. It‘s actually been pretty impressive, with all manner of international dishes and plenty of local delicacies. I’m embarrassed to admit that my favourite meal so far was when they put chicken and chips out. How very ‘Essex’ of me.

On my last night I order a ‘Bedouin tea’ and an apple shisha pipe (I did originally show an interest in the coconut tobacco, but Toti - The Pipe Man - looked at me like I was some kind of tourist so I immediately changed to something more traditional). He asks me what I do for a living, and I almost forget what the correct answer is.

Oh, and in case you were wondering if this story was ever going to become relevant to poker, I drove past two casinos on the way to the airport. There, is that good enough for you?

See you next time...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cheltenham Cherry

There’s only one word to describe walking through the gates to The Cheltenham Festival, and that’s “Fuck!” I mean it is abso-bloody-lutely huge! Something like 60,000 people are here today (the majority of which have already passed through the Guinness village and emerged the other site - totally shit-faced – before the clock has even struck eleven). Oh, and while we’re talking big numbers, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of pounds that will be won and lost by the time the Guinness village inhabitants vomit their way back out the gates come 6pm.

With poker being my only real gambling vice I really am a fish out of water here, and don’t recognise a single person regardless of their possible horse racing-related fame and/or fortune. There’s a panel of experts at the top table talking through each race, and while each one drops in some subtle link to a channel they present on or newspaper they write for, they might as well be contestants on Strictly Songs of Praise for all the chance they have of being recognised by me.

One face I do recognise, however, is Raj Modha – the winner of the Ladbrokes Million. How nice - I think - that Betfair would invite him into their private marquee. Of course there really is no such thing as a free lunch in the gambling game, and it turns out that Raj is here because he managed to clean up on the Betfair Casino site, scooping 3 jackpots on the slots for £120,000. I wouldn’t say the people from Betfair are manhandling him over to their betting booths to gamble, but let’s just say they wouldn’t mind it if he chose to have one or three ‘harmless flutters’ while in their company.

The most interesting activity for me right now is trying to suss out the people around me. I can’t help thinking that if only I was a degenerate gambling Irish alcoholic I’d be having a much better time. Oh, and before you stand up and shout “racist!” my previous comment is based purely on the simple fact that 95% of the people I have so far met have been 1) Irish, 2) Drunk, 3) Gambling. I’ll leave the rest of the maths to you.

The other observation is that everyone has a friend who has some ‘insider information’. Scribbled notes, beeping pagers, and hastily printed emails are strewn about the place, as various ‘friend’s dad’s mate’s daughters know someone who knows something about a nag that may or may not be in form for the 3:30pm’. I chortle in a smug fashion at their folly… just as my mobile beeps with a text from a friend who has discovered ‘something’ about one of the 2:35pm runners from a forum. Hmm… secret information, you say? Perhaps I’ll give it a go…

Heading outside for the first race of the day I’m struck by the fact that this is really just like being at a big fireworks display. There’s lots of standing round in the cold wishing you were at home, followed by brief bursts of interest accompanied by ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s. Ultimately, once the show is over, the mostly disappointed crowd shuffles off for a consolation burger (which in this instance I’ll wager probably contains a fair amount of last year’s winner).

It instantly reminds me of the losers’ walk from the WSOP main hall to the Rio exit. A shambolic parade of broken souls trudging along; their dreams in tatters – much like the discarded betting slips that pile up like ‘sad snow’ as the races tick by. However, rather than a never-ending stream of bad beat stories, the air here is filled with far more positive self-deluding statements, including such classics as, ‘I was winning until it fell over’ and ‘There’s always another one’. Indeed there is.

Back in the hospitality marquee things are deteriorating. Even though all drinks here are free, I still catch one particularly fat patron stealing my seat and surreptitiously tipping the remains of my lunchtime champagne into his own glass. Gypsy.

I’m trying to look and sound like I know what I’m doing at all times, and when a passer-by casually asks who I have in the next race I confidently reply, ‘Opera Mundi’. I say this because it was one of the horses mentioned in my recent text tip. He smiles, wishes me the best of luck, and staggers off (no doubt looking for some free champagne to ‘steal’). I feel rather pleased with myself… a sensation that lasts exactly three minutes, at which time I realise Opera Mundi ran in the previous race. Piss.

Having decided to discard the façade of knowing or caring about what’s going on I sit with a chap sulking in a corner. It turns out he is French and really wanted to bet on a horse called L’Antartique just because ‘it is French like me’. He was berated by his peers for such a childish reasoning, and told he should base his bets on form, previous form, the weight of the jockey, the weather, the ‘going’, and various other very important factors. Anyway, despite all that bollocks the French horse did win and this chap was feeling like a right Pepe Le Ploker who should have followed his heart and by rights should now be fanning himself with a wad of £50 notes. So much for form, eh?

A make a ‘horse radish’ joke that goes down so badly I’m not even going to repeat it here, and move on to annoy a different group of people. On the way across the enclosure I bump into a small child and turn to apologise, ruffling his hair in a playful fashion as way of apology. The surprising news is it’s not actually a small child, but Willie Carson – a jockey with an amazing tally of wins to his name. In the name of research I find his web site, which features so many impressive records and facts about the man that I couldn’t possibly list them all here. I can however tell you that he is available for corporate hospitality, weighs only slightly more than half my own weight and is – in my opinion – too small to exist. “Fuck me, that’s small for a human” offers a chap to my right, and I have to agree. The thought of him riding one of the magnificent beasts I’ve seen trotting around the paddock brings up only one image: that Ewok hanging off the back of an out-of-control speeder-bike in Return Of the Jedi. I’ll say no more on the matter.

It’s been an interesting day to be sure (see, I even sound Irish now) but the thought of the three-hour drive back to Essex, not to mention the additional hour finding my car in a field in a field in a field is going to take, sees me bow out before the final race kicks begins.

Before I leave there is however one thing left to do, and that’s to check my online Betfair account and see how all those tips panned out.

Good lord. I managed to turn £4 into £12. This time next year Rodney… this time next year.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A death in the family

When your missus shouts "I think you've just done something stupid!" from the kitchen, it's odds-on favourite that a 'slight mis-truth' has just been delivered by said spouse. I generally find that this kind of statement falls into much the same category as "Now look what you've gone and made me do," or perhaps that age-old classic, "Well it was your behaviour in the first place that led to me sucking that other man's balls while fingering his anus."

Now I'm fortunate enough to have never heard that last phrase (well, not since my history teacher died, anyway), but the first statement was recently thrown at me, accompanied by the delivery of what can only be described as a small, damp wad of 'something blue'. [See below].

Now I'm not an expert in damp artifacts or anything, but it didn't take me more than a nano-second to realise that this was (or at least had once been) nothing more than the total fucking record of everything that had happened to me for an entire fucking year of my life.

So... nothing major then.

Yes, the infamous "gay book" that I took with me everywhere had been murdered.

It was - obviously - my fault. Well of course it was. I mean, how silly of me to have not realised that the task my other half performs every single Monday of every single week of every single year (i.e. checking my pockets before putting things in the wash) was actually MY responsibility on this particular random Monday.

How foolish of me not to have checked that the single-most important item I owned - filled with a million concepts, inventions, ideas, observation and potential fortune-making thoughts - wasn't about to be eaten by an Indesit 1300.

If people thought I was shit at updating my blog before this happened, just imagine how bad I'd be now the 'source' had been destroyed!

However, I didn't spend my extended youth watching Indiana Jones over and over for nothing, so I set about recovering this lost treasure with nothing more than a steely determination and a set of tiny tiny tweezers...

Each sodden "page" (if indeed the word "page" can be used to refer to something that looked more like a piece of sponge cake than stationary) was gently peeled away from the the main wad, hung from a miniature washing line, and then gently caressed with a hairdryer on the minimum setting. This basically produced some kind of bastard child of a note pad and a bag of crisps, but some of the text was vaguely visible. Now all I had to do was piece it all together in some kind of order so that the contents made sense. However, considering most of it was utter bollocks before it went into the washing machine, this would be no mean feat.

Anyway, I have to abandon this entry now because I'm still trying to put together a story that currently appears to involve an old man moon-walking, a woman who puts all her chips in the pot with a pair of cats, and someone called 'Donald' who is either an ex-Cheltenham jockey, or possibly a dachshund. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Poker: The doorway to hell

Poker has opened many doors in my life. It’s put me in situations I wouldn’t have been in otherwise; introduced me to characters I would never have met otherwise (have you noticed in poker you never meet ‘people’, only ‘characters’); and exposed me to tales and stories that often took the hair off my arms.

One such story was about a seasoned poker pro who enjoyed himself while on tour by hiring a prostitute to travel round with him. She would keep him company, be his portable rail bird, and – of course – make sure he had something to smile about at the end of each day.

As the story went on, this particular player had a pretty bad run and ended up out of money. He managed, however, to find a hooker who was prepared to render her services for a percentage of his potential winnings. All it would take was 20% and she was onboard. And so it was that “John” took to the tables with a new kind of pressure weighing on his shoulders: if he didn’t get any action at the tables, he wouldn’t get any action off the tables.

Poor old John... He bust out of the main event, crashed out of a side tourney, and finally died horribly in a sit ‘n’ go he entered in one last desperate attempt to secure some poker-fueled jiggy-jiggy. And throughout each and every dreadful performance, his lady of the night glared at him from the rails, adusting her ample busom, applying gloss to her pouting lips, and eyeing up the guys on the final table...


Not really big enough for a seperate entry, but another story was with a well-known figure in poker who declined a drink, explaining that the last time he had a drink (many years ago) he went out for "a few" down the Kings Road and woke up two days later in Dusseldorf. Lightweight...