writes the Guardian Poker Column
TheEditor on any
Playing tennis, or football, a language barrier doesn't matter.
But poker is about the quips, the banter, the flirting. They're also what makes
it bearable to sit there for the best part of a day.
Ah, the Oscars.
The dazzling glare of a hundred Aertex shirts. The old-time glamour of a
B&H butt stubbed into an ashtray. That certain je ne sais quoi of a lady in
rhinestone jewellery swearing at a croupier.
I speak, of course, of the
'Poker Oscars', happening in two weeks' time at Casino Ray in Helsinki. This is
a new idea, suggested by Nic Szeremeta of Poker Europa magazine: to hold a
glittering awards ceremony with prizes for best player of the year, best
rookie, best individual tournament performance and so on. But the spiciest
title, giving rise to the most debate, is 'Poker Personality Of The Year.'
I am delighted to report that, of the five nominees in this last
category, three of them are British. Best player of the year is likely to be
Marcel Luske from Amsterdam, known (of course) as 'Dutch Marcel', who is
currently top of the European rankings. This year, the man has won Pot Limit
Omaha tournaments in Vienna and London, No-Limit HoldEm tournaments in Prague,
even a Limit 7-Card-Stud High-Low tournament in Paris. He seems to win at every
variation of the game, in every city, at every level.
But, far more
important of course, the Brits are leading the field for best personality. Hot
favourite for that much-debated title is Mad Marty Wilson from Birmingham.
There are several reasons why everybody loves Mad Marty. Firstly, he's the
friendliest guy you could hope to meet. Secondly, he's a ducker and diver:
always devising crazed schemes to get enough money for gambling. One year he
claimed to have bought his entry ticket for the World Series by collecting
acorns outside Las Vegas and selling them on as 'the genuine article from
Sherwood Forest'. Another year it was stolen whelks.
And thirdly, he has
the most fantastic way of telling disguised jokes. However cheesy the imminent
punchline, you just never see it coming. 'There was an Iranian guy next to me
at the poker table,' Marty once told me gravely. 'He had scars all over his
There was a pause while I reflected on the possible reasons for
this. Marty let me think. Eventually he went on: 'I said to the guy, "You won
your appeal then?"'
At the filming of Late Night Poker in Cardiff,
Marty and I shared a taxi to the local casino. 'The name's Wilson,' Marty told
the hotel receptionist when he booked the cab.
'For now?' she asked.
'No,' he said, 'it's always been Wilson.'
When the car came,
Marty told the driver all about how he himself was once a cabbie. 'Gave it up
in the end,' Marty told the nodding man at the wheel. 'I couldn't stand people
talking behind me back.'
Of course, the jokes and the 'mad' handle
disguise a shrewd and cunning poker player. And Marty is only one of many
lovable and funny folk around the poker scene. I asked Jurke Inisalo, the poker
manager at Casino Ray, why they were giving a prize for 'best personality' and
he said, 'Everybody likes a "character" at the table. These nominees are all
good players, but it is their likeable qualities which really improve the
I was in Amsterdam recently, and went down to play poker at the
Holland Casino on Leidseplein. I learned two things. One is that the nickname
of 'Dutch Marcel' doesn't quite have the same edge in Holland. The other is
that poker becomes surprisingly dull when everyone around you is speaking a
language you don't understand.
Playing tennis, or football, a language
barrier really doesn't matter. But poker is all about the quips, the banter and
the flirting. They're vital in getting 'a read' on players and judging them
accurately; they're also what makes it bearable to sit there patiently for the
best part of a day. Without any chat, poker is just check, call, fold; bet,
raise, fold; check, bet, fold. The hours pass, the chips clink, and life slips
away. Without the cloak of funny chatter, I saw the stark bones of the game: a
long, lonely chase after money.
I sat next to an elderly Dutchman who
kept forgetting to 'post his big blind'. Eventually I tried reminding him in
I'm sorry,' he said, 'I was dreaming.'
aces?' I asked.
'No,' said the old Dutchman. 'I was dreaming about when
I was young.'