Saturday, November 18, 2006

Community Cards

15th November 2006 - The River Card Club, 29-33 Church Road, Stanmore, Middlesex
£20 No Limit Hold Em + £10 Rebuys + Optional Single or Double Add-on
The Eric Entwistle Benefit Tournament

Once you've learned to ride a bike, you can never forget. The same is simply not true with poker. If you have any aspirations of improving, then only with diligent practice have you any hope of succeeding. I have remained stagnant for far too long.

My intention when I started this blog, was to write only when I have a strong opinion on something , and as a diary of my live sessions. After my last visit to Salford casino, I had become very disillusioned with playing live, even though I managed to make my first final table. So I hid away in the insipid realm of online poker, only my screen name betraying that I even continued to exist. I had to do something to break the spell, to break this monotonous routine and start enjoying life again!

I knew that this night was going to be special for many different reasons. This tournament would be the furthest I've ventured from home in order to play a game of poker. The River Card Club is located in Stanmore, Middlesex, which to my surprise isn't located anywhere near the middle of the country, but in the North part of Greater London. (I was never very good at geography). I decided to stay in Edgware in the Premier Travel Inn, based on Joe Beever's recommendation on The Hendon Mob forum. The room was excellent. They even included coffee and biscuits!

Setting off at 9am sharp, I made good time from my native Lancashire homeland down the 200 miles or so to London, and arrived at 2pm, despite a horrendous traffic jam on the M62, and three pit stops along the way. After checking in, I decided to explore Edgware. After walking around for an hour, I wish I hadn't, because there was nothing of interest, except for the "Change of Hart" pub. After carefully managing to miss my mouth and spill a quarter of a pint all down my jeans (this being my first pint in case anyone thinks I was drunk at this point), I decided it was best to retire to my room. I'm currently reading "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley so I got stuck into that. An interesting book, considering when it was printed, but not a scratch on George Orwell's "1984", which I consider the best piece of literature ever produced.

Soon it was evening and the card room was beckoning. Being a relatively new establishment, having only opened in January, the taxi driver was having a little difficulty finding the River Card Club. It made matters worse as I could barely understand his fragmented English. Still, I know Stanmore quite well now as we drove up and down it several times before stopping to ask for directions...... right outside the club! I thought these guys were supposed to have "The Knowledge". Here's me, not knowing my backside from my elbow, trying to direct a taxi driver around a town I had never been to before in my life!

After paying most of my re-buy money in taxi fares, and wishing him all the best, I trotted off upstairs to the club. It's based on the first floor, just in case anyone else has difficulty finding the place. I was expecting to find some dingy, smoke-filled room with a few poker tables thrown together. Instead I was very impressed. Despite being a total stranger, I was greeted with a warm welcome. A lady who has a close resemblance to Sharon Osborne, took my details and filled in a membership form. That's it, I was ready to play! So much has changed since I last played live. No more waiting 24 hours after becoming a member before you can play, or having your photograph taken, or giving fingerprints and blood samples. Even the tournament clocks have changed. Now you can see exactly what the blinds are, what they're going to go up to and how long you've got left. Last time I played, you just had a counter which counted down to zero.

The club is lavishly furnished with approximately 12 octagonal tables (which if my maths is correct can comfortably seat eight players each), and two large kidney-shaped tables with bumpers. They even have several internet terminals for those who crave an online fix. A couple of nice touches are the bar, although I don't know if they serve alcoholic drinks, and if you feel the need to smoke or simply cool off, there's access at the back to some fresh air. It hit home that the last time I played live, this wonderful place didn't even exist.

Having arrived with plenty of time to spare, I had the opportunity to chat with a few of the other players, before we got down to the gritty business of playing poker. Although at times I can be very talkative, this doesn't come naturally to me with strangers. It's a personal barrier which I'm trying to overcome in time. I think playing live poker has a therapeutic effect on me. I always end up feeling alive and refreshed after playing. Today, one day after the event, all I've wanted to do all day is party and write!

One person who I had a good chat with was "Indestructable" from the Hendon Mob forum. Winner of the television game series "Casino Casino" and a huge sum of money, he is instantly recognisable from his avatar, although the dinner jacket and bow tie were absent! However, it proved more difficult for him to recognise who I was as I don't look anything like a huge, lidless, all-seeing eye stuck on top of a tower!

As I've stated earlier, this was a special night. It's not often a £10 re-buy tournament attracts the likes of Joe Beevers, Ram Vaswani, Ross Boatman (I assume his brother and fourth member of the Hendon Mob, Barney Boatman was otherwise engaged elsewhere), Victoria Coren, Paul Alterman, and countless other high stake and exceptionally talented players. To put things in perspective, my yearly salary would be the equivalent of a buy-in for some of these folks. So a good question would be why would they bother playing in such a small tournament?

The same could have been asked during one of my first online tournaments, which ironically was also a benefit tournament. This was an event to raise money for an Oceans 11 casino waitress by the name of Kori Tallman, who had recently donated a kidney to a fellow co-worker, Steve Strauss. Among the many donations, both Phil Helmuth and Annie Duke contributed. That particular event started at 3am GMT but I was determined to participate! Three hours later I was on the final table playing against Russ Hamilton, or quite possibly Russ Hamilton's aardvark, as this was online after all. The result of the tournament .......

Playing the game, who played what and finished where, wasn't important. It didn't matter at all. We were there, we played, and had some fun doing so! What did make a difference is what Kori did for her colleague Steve. Without receiving the new kidney, Steve would have spent much of the remainder of his life having quite a miserable time on dialysis. What we did for Kori paled in significance.

It must have been one of the few moments in online poker history where people from many different nationalities and cultures have worked together towards a common goal.

I found many similarities playing in Eric's event. I knew, long before the tournament had even started, that there would be little chance of reaching the final table against the line up of players before me. It didn't matter, because it wasn't what I was there for. I wouldn't say that my reasons for being there were completely altruistic. One reason, as I've already mentioned was to get back into the feel of playing live. Another good reason could be that I've got an important live event lined up in the next couple of weeks, and I need all the practice I can get. One thing I knew for sure that would happen is it would get me writing again!

Both games could have been played at much higher stakes. But what of it? Sure, it would have attracted the big names.... at the expense of the exclusion of everyone else, including possibly some of the club members who are close to Eric. One thing I love about poker is that it destroys boundaries. It doesn't matter about your social, political, ethnic or, in these days, your geographical position; if your prepared to put your money on the table, you can play. It creates a level playing field. You can look your opponent in the eye as an equal. The way both tournaments were set up meant that anyone who was willing to play could do so. With Eric's tournament, being a re-buy, it also allowed those who wished to contribute more, the opportunity to do so in a discreet manner, which I think was a very appropriate touch. Nearly £5,000 was raised in total, an outstanding effort.

Another commonality between both games is that I know neither Kori nor Eric personally. Factually, this is the limit of my knowledge. I know that Eric's a dealer at the River Card Club, and that he recently suffered a heart attack. After a major operation, he has also suffered from a stroke. He's now at home recovering with the help of carers, families and friends. I could leave it at that. But I can't. I tend to judge people on what I see with my own eyes.

Sometimes you have to look deeper, into a realm which may seem invisible at first. What I saw on that evening wasn't simply any old poker game. There was a certain mystical aura about the place. The room was filled with laughter and merriment. A stark contrast with my experiences playing in Salford. (I was later to joke that I’d be pretty miserable too if I had to live in Salford, which brought a chuckle or two at my table). People were pumping up pots, busting out and re-buying without a care in the world. Not because it was the right thing to do in a poker sense.... but it was the right thing to do in a more humane fashion. All I know of Eric is that he must be one hell of a guy to have such friends. If you get a chance to read this, I wish you a speedy recovery Eric. Laughter is probably the best cure in the world, and the River Card Club has bags of it to spare.

Further details of the River Card Club can be found on their website

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Testing, testing, one, two, three..............