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Thursday 29th September 2005

More poker you poker hating fools. Turn away now or learn how to play poker. Poker is good.
I was taking part in a media tournament organised by pokerstars tonight. It was a free-roll (ie I didn't have to pay any money) and excitingly the prize was a place in any of the European Poker Tour events which cost about two to three thousand pounds to enter and where the prizes are massive bags full of cash. I was hopeful beforehand that I might acquit myself rather well and possibly have a shot at winning this. I didn't think there would be that many people taking part and that a proportion of them wouldn't know that much about poker, given they were mainly journalists.
However there were fifty or so competitors and I recognised many of them as poker officiandos, so became less confident. My new friend Norman "No Moustache" Pace was there with his wife, who also doesn't have a moustache (this may be what attracted them to each other in the first place). I knew from interviewing Norman that he wasn't a bad player, but that his wife is even better and has done well in some professional tournaments.
Then Greg Raymer walked into the room, the world series of poker champion 2004 who you may recall I met in Oxford earlier this year. He was with the previous year's champion Chris Moneymaker (and yes that is his real name) and strikingly beautiful and slim (especially stood next to Raymer) poker fox, Isabelle Mercier. I reminded Greg who I was and asked him if he was playing tonight. He said they all were. I thought that maybe my chances of doing well were diminishing.
John McCririck, the misanthropic tic-tac man and sexist was also there. He is one of the guests on my show on Saturday. At the press conferencene before the event he asked Isabelle why he thought there were so few good women players and why essentially all women are useless at poker and everything. He went on and on. People hissed him. He was an idiot. Isabelle correctly argued that 90% of women are bad players just as 90% of men are bad players, but because there are fewer women playing the men are numerically superior. As everyone applauded her wise words I decided then and there that I would marry her. The fact that she has won loads of money and was covered in diamonds was nothing to do with it. Apart from the jewels and the money she is very like Jesus and has no more possessions than she can fit into a suitcase.
I found myself sitting to the left of Moneymaker which was an intimidating place to be, but I was keen to impress on the pokerstars team that I am a good player and wanted to progress at least to the final 20, so I kept things tight. I was folding hands like A8 and A9 which once upon a time I would have played with glee - but now know are not very good (with ten players someone else is almost bound to have an ace and if they have a higher second card than you then you are likely to lose).
I only had one chance to go in against Chris Moneymaker and nearly raised on him even though I had a poor hand (which was still likely to be the best). He admitted afterwards that he would have folded if I had as he was on a straight draw, but I chickened out of my moment of glory (though to be fair I had 7 2 which is the worst poker hand, but a 7 had appeared on the turn and all the cards were low and rubbish).
Finally I got a good hand -Ace Jack. I merely bet the minimum, but the guy on the button raised to 250 (we started with 1000 chips). I called him which he looked surprised about and the flop came down 10, Q, K. This should have been totally brilliant for me - I had flopped the straight, but the bad news was that all the cards were hearts. If he had two hearts he was beating me. If he had the jack and ace of hearts he had the best hand in the world. The other guy checked and I surmised that he wasn't holding on to hearts and went all in. He called, which scared me (this was a big pot now) and it turned out he had a pair of Jacks, which should have been good news, but one of the jacks was a heart. He would win if another heart came up and we would split the pot if another ace (which wasn't a heart) appeared. He could get a full house if another jack and one of the cards on the board came up or if say two more kings appeared - very unlikely). The turn was an 8 of spades. He had about a one in four chance of making his hand. Alas a three of hearts came on the river and I was out. In less than half an hour.
Had he been playing for his flush or straight draw then he wasn't entirely stupid, but annoyingly he said afterwards he hadn't even spotted the flush and had just though two jacks looked good, despite the two overcards on the table.
It was terrible to go out to a pretty bad beat within the first half an hour, espeically when there was so much to play for. I had at least played my cards correctly, but it still stung. I played another game against the other first ten men out (I wasn't first by any means) and wanted to point out to McCririck that all of them were men.
Amazingly Norman and his wife both not only made it to the final table, but got down to the final three, along with my future wife Isabelle Mercier. One of them was thus guaranteed the seat as Isabelle was already in the competition. I stood behind her and she was kind enough to show us her cards on most hands and it was fascinating to see how a professional played at this stage of the game. She didn't bluff at all, which might have been because she was a bit behind on chips. Beverley Pace was also very impressive, but Norman had a bit of luck. He went all in against Isabelle with an AJ when she had AK, but the Jack came up so he nearly destroyed her. Isabelle, as you would expect from a wife of mine, fought back but was eventually taken out by Beverley who entirely deserved to win, but the married couple now down to the last two (though 66% of the last people in had been women McCririck) wanted to get home as they had babysitting issues and pretty much went all in on the last few hands and Norman won it.
I had been itching to take part and was very disappointed to have to merely spectate at this point and kept thinking about how different things might have been if just one of the thirty cards that would have suited me had come up on the river of my last hand, but will have to wait for another time.
Hopefully before too long I will be Heads-Up with Isabelle Mercier.

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