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26/05/2002 No.5
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren writes for the Guardian News Group
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Leaving Las Vegas: the British poker ace who lost - and walked away with a million

Victoria Coren speaks to the 24-year old Briton who made it to the final of poker's World Series .

Julian Gardner, known as 'The Kid' or 'The Harry Potter Of Poker', yesterday made history at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. In the small hours of Saturday morning, the 23-year-old from Manchester became the youngest-ever World Series millionaire.

Although Gardner took second place, behind new World Champion Robert Varkonyi from New York, the Harry Potter of Poker won $1.1m which, in true story-book style, he carried from the casino in a large suitcase.

The British contingent - including John Shipley from Solihull, who came seventh to win $120,000, and Londoners Ross and Barny Boatman, who broke records earlier in the World Series by becoming the first brothers to be in a final together - then moved on to the Bellagio hotel and ran up a $5,000 bar bill on Cristal champagne.

The World Series is the most prestigious of the international poker tournaments, and Gardner's prize is the biggest ever won by a British player in Las Vegas. The world title itself has only once gone to a Briton, in 1990 when Mansour Matloubi of Cardiff won the main event, but in those days the top prize was a measly $895,000, compared with this year's $2m jackpot.

'It's a bittersweet feeling,' says Gardner, who turned professional as soon as he left school. 'I'm delighted to finish second, but gutted not to win it.'

Although he's won many tournaments in Europe, Gardner was unsettled by the sheer scale of the World Championships. 'Since I was 16 I've played poker most days of my life, but this time was different. The World Series is that big, it's that special, it puts a different perspective on the game.

'Playing in the middle of cheering crowds, with loads of cameras and $3 million in cash right there on the table, turns everybody into a hero and makes it tougher.'

The World Series runs for a month, incorporating many different competitions but the world title goes to the winner of the final event: No-Limit Texas HoldEm with a buy-in fee of $10,000.

The one thing that baffles Gardner is his new Harry Potter nickname. It can probably be put down to his youth, and the round sunglasses he wore for the first three days of the tournament - but which were abandoned on the last day, as he'd been hugged by so many people the glasses got crushed.