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9/07/2005 No.9
he Guardian Poker Column
Elkan Allan in Las Vegas writes for the Guardian News Group
Sunday July 10, 2005
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Another young Scot for Britain to cheer on

The 5,700 poker-players who each paid $10,000 to enter the No Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship have already been reduced to around 1,800, and on Sunday played another round to cut them down to to 500.

Most of the online qualifiers who paid a few dollars or pounds to win an online tournament to get here have already been eliminated, leaving the proportion of professionals to amateurs more or less even.

But it was online amateurs who won the title and millions of dollars last year and the year before.

Today, a young Scot who qualified online is among the highest-stacked chip-holders, and looks certain to reach the next round - and hopefully even the one before the final table.

Graeme Harrison finished the first three-day round with $142,700's worth of chips, putting him among the top five chip counts. He has almost five times the amount of the next Brit, Joe Beevers of the Hendon Mob, and 20 times the stack of the 2003 winner, Chris Moneymaker.

It was the aptly-named Moneymaker who transformed the image of poker when he showed that amateurs could successfully compete with the poker pros and reap millions of dollars and the coveted diamond and gold winner's bracelet. He was followed onto the winner's throne last year by patent attorney Greg Raymer who won a $5m prize. This year, with even more entries, the prize will be even bigger.

Both Moneymaker and Raymer qualified via the online poker room, PokerStars. This year, that company paid for an amazing 1,100 entries into The Big One. Thousands more qualified through other online websites like PokerRoom and PokerParty.

Harrison is among PokerStars' qualifiers, as he was last year when he was knocked out in a heads-up with British pro, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott. This year he is among the leaders and Devilfish has already crashed out in the first round.

Harrison is a soft-spoken 36-year-old from Peniciuk near Edinburgh. He is not quite an amateur as he earns his living spread-betting on the internet, having been deprived of his main source of income, blackjack, after being barred by 30 casinos for card-counting.

Casinos regard counting cards at blackjack as cheating, although there is nothing underhand about it. Counters simply remember how many high cards have been revealed and bet when mostly low cards are left. But the casinos naturally don't like losing money to people with prodigious memories, and they ban players with near-total recall.

So today Harrison is using his superior memory at the poker table. Sitting hunched up over his cards and his huge stack of chips, wearing a baseball cap with the word SCOTLAND emblazoned on it along with a cross of St Andrews, he is another young Scot for Britain to cheer for.

How succesful he is depends partly on luck, but, as John Gale, currently Britain's biggest poker winner - and still in the hunt here - says: "While poker in general is probably more skill than luck, in major tournaments the proportion of skill goes up to 80% because of the quality of the opposing players."

There is a galaxy of big poker names left in the tournament - but so is Harrison.