How much would you pay to face a ball from Shane Warne? Could you put a value on playing a round of golf with Rory McIlroy or stepping up to the oche with Phil Taylor? It largely depends on your love for the respective game coupled with the depth of your pockets, which would have to be cavernous to realise any of those ambitions. Not so with poker.
This is the draw of the felt, a thrill that engulfs any aspiring amateur as he ventures into the world of organised tournament play. To be in a hand, know you’re ahead, raised, re-raised, caught with your fingers in the till, out-talked, out-thought or out-muscled by far better players causes a surge of adrenalin rarely encountered by most and is something so saliently life affirming about this wonderful game.
Experience has taught me that a live television broadcast produces a similar response in the brainstem and it makes my day job with Sky Sports Formula One all the more interesting.
Sportsmen are adrenalin junkies and none more so than racing drivers. To observe how they behave immediately after a race is to witness the effects of hours of adrenalin coursing through one’s veins. Drivers are elite athletes and have found ways to cope with this this adrenaline overload.
After a broadcast I get a similar, if more tempered reaction. But, just like poker, it keeps me coming back for more.
Taking part in the partypoker WPT National London Accumulator was the first time I had entered a tournament in over a year. It only took a few hands before my heart started pounding uncontrollably. I brought two friends, both tournament novices, who found the experience even more intense. They were buzzing at the prospect of being able to play poker with pros for only £200.
On my table sat 2010 WSOP bracelet winner James Dempsey, a man who has earned almost $2 million in his storied career. Warney would bowl you out five of six times, Rory would embarrass you on the course and ‘the Power’ would have a leg in his pocket before you close in on 400.
I figured, at least in my mind, that I had an evens chance against someone of Dempsey’s quality in every hand. For me, this is what elevates poker above any other game.
When Dempsey, or anyone else at the table spoke, I listened. The regulars converse in a different language and are so familiar on the felt they can focus on how others are betting to get a good read. It takes a lot of concentration to decipher their jargon and would be a full-time job to try and understand the full extent of their conversations.
I only played ace-king and aces in the first couple of hours but my target of survival was still achievable. Courtesy of those two hands and the ingenious strategy of laying down absolutely anything against Dempsey, I managed to remain above the average chip stack.
However, when the blinds went up I involved myself a bit more whilst carefully avoiding the chirpier players. I wanted to avoid at all costs a chat in a dialect I’m unsure of. My patience and miserly play began to pay off, allowing me to steal a few blinds, see a few more flops and pinch a hand here and there. My chip-stack, at around 40,000 chips, was intact in the last flight level with about half an hour to go.
I allowed myself, with the clock ticking, to open up and take a few punts. I drew a pair of queens and took out the man three to my left, who bemoaned not hitting a king. I hit a jack on the turn with a gut straight draw and raised large enough to scare off another.
I had a healthy stack in place for day two with 60,000 chips, about 20,000 above average. During the final hand, my eyes widened as [Ax][Qx] suited dropped into my lap. Those around me took the sensible option and readied themselves to bag up their stacks for the next day.
I figured the general consensus was to play cautiously, so I decided to raise 35,000 in an attempt to steal the blinds. I couldn’t and was called ‘all-in’ by an older gentleman with a straggly beard and an [Ax][Tx] which held up when a [Tx] was shown on the river. As he gently caressed his wispy chin and chuckled to himself, “nice bloody hand”, I was left wondering what might have been.
Leaving the casino with a broad grin stretched across my face, my head held high and adrenalin still surging through my veins, I felt proud and accomplished, the same way I do after a successful broadcast. I sat at the tables with professionals and lived to fight another day.
It’s difficult to put a price on the experience, but the £200 it cost to buy-in doesn’t even come close to how amazing it felt to be amongst the action. That’s the beauty of poker. I will definitely be coming back for more. Until, that is, the day I can afford a round with Rory McIlroy.
Get your adrenalin rush at WPT National UK Newcastle in April
The countdown is on until the latest leg of the increasingly popular partypoker World Poker Tour National UK (WPTNUK), which takes place in the fantastic North-East city of Newcastle.
Keep April 30 through May 3 free because those are the dates of the WPTNUK Newcastle festival, which features the exciting £200 accumulator format that Simon Lazenby enjoy so much in London. Qualifiers are running around the clock at partypoker and doing so with buy-ins as low as $1 so why not see if you can win your way to an action-packed WPTNUK Main Event for less than a packet of crisps!