Isle Of man
November 13th -19th,
||by Richard Whitehouse
|A Sunday afternoon when the sun decided to shine after a month
of rain and after a trip of 300 miles, I sat at the front of the ferry heading
towards the Isle Of Man. One hours sleep didn't help the feeling of foreboding
as the light of the day began fading into the Irish Sea. Eleven years earlier I
had been to Douglas (the capital) to compete in a Backgammon tournament along
with 350(!) other players and it was a roaring success that never was repeated.
Why? Well the only half-decent hotel was the host venue and they only
had 100+ rooms that were hardly up to the international standard. Since that
time, Stakis had purchased the hotel/casino unit and now it was Hilton, or
Ladbrokes, or Gala, or whatever. My only thoughts were that no one was really
ready on this Island for 200 irritating and irritated poker players to turn up,
and that included Ladbrokes.
I checked in to the best hotel (Sefton) on
the island that was a sensible distance away from the Hilton. It pays to try
and find a way of getting good sleep when playing for a week or more and being
next to people who come in and go out all night long is not the way. Straight
away I was off to the playing rooms down the road and got into a "dealers
choice" game. Many old friends were there and my feeling for the week turned
into 'at least we're going to have fun even if its a disaster'.
important in poker and if you can't control yours then you're never going to be
a success at the game. Fortunately I didn't have to worry about mine because in
a hand of Omaha, with a board of Q-Q-4-4, two players from foreign lands
decided to take-off against each other with a Queen each. Of course I had a
pair of 4's and never did anything but call until I was all-in. Isn't that the
way poker is supposed to be?
The first three days of the event involved
qualifying for the big one and an Omaha (£500) event. There was no sign
of a stampeed of Americans and although the organizers were continually tauting
the 200+ figure for the £6000 event I couldn't see past the 140 mark. The
dealers struggled to deal more than two cards to each player and what few
Americans had turned up were on the edge of their seats with the alien
procedures. Still it was all just holding together.
For a while the main
feature was the £10,000 Omaha game at one end of the cash playing room.
Ten Gs is a lot for a sitdown anywhere in the world and here it was more like
20. Multi-way all-in pots were the norm and the man from Greece, otherwise
known as George (aren't they all), wasn't doing so well at the rate of about
half a mil per week. Thankfully Slim turned up
on Tuesday and the real circus began to roll.
What one man can achieve
on the back of winning a one table poker tournament in 1972, that no one in
poker cared for, is quite astounding and admirable. Anyone in the promotion
business has to take their hats off to Amarillo "Slim" Preston because he never
will. Ladbrokes and Matchroom promoters were certainly happy with their money
spent on him. He performed for reporters and interviewers on cue and did the
"Big Breakfast" straight from a poker session at the Vic.
Quite why the
organizers were pumping up the hype on expected attendence figures was a
mystery. None of the press were ever going to be interested in that so long as
they could figure to get shots of Slim and
Jesus and piles of cash and
wacky stories. A Stetson in the Isle Of Man is worth two hundred anywhere
Back in the tournament room all my friends were winning their
qualifiers whilst I came sixth from a hundred and missed out (got a few quid
though). Also came 14th in the Omaha,
just out of the big spot again. I did manage to get a bet on the total number
of players and typically went all out for my guess when I could have got value
from the layer, Dave Mosely, who thought 190 was good. I took 140 (+/-5) at
10-1. Not bad!
So Thursday was going to be the day of reckoning. The
press conference had Barry Hearn leading the way with news that Ladbrokes had
added a further £250,000 to the original gaurantee of £1m. So the
prize fund was £1.25m and they would pay 20 places (with insulting
amounts at the low end). The figure for the number of players at 1.00p.m. was
140!!! But of course with that added cash others jumped in.
With fever running high in the tournament room, one hand
tables were being played (£600 for one hand against nine people - winner
goes into the big event). It was crazy and just added to the "Dunkirk Spirit"
as one player described the event. Final tally 156, although one player on the
list was definitely in Melbourne, Australia, at the time of
The first day of the big event went much more smoothly than
anyone had predicted. The expected screams over mistakes were completely
absent. It wasn't that there were no mistakes, for there were, but all the
players just accepted it like they were sensible humans. No one was more
surprised than me.
played in the place of snooker star Jimmy White, who had to cancel at late
notice. Barry enjoyed himself so much that at the dinner break he marched into
the press room and ordered two bottles of red, from which he took a couple of
glasses. Not the best prep. for a £6000 event but he was having the time
of his life so what the hell. By the end of day One there were
99 players left, including all seven
world champions, four of those well placed in the top 20. Barry made it too.
The most notable exit being T.J.
Cloutier who gave a lot of chips to Jesus.
Day two is always the big
moving day, as antes rise and the action intensifies, players build up or
dissappear. Banter of the good humoured sort flowed freely. As the day drew to
a close we heard T.J. shout across to Slim, "you still here, you started with
nothing at the beginning". Slim replied, "I had $17 and a bar of soap", where
upon Jack McClelland injected, "and didn't use either one of them".
2:00 a.m. Saturday morning the 21st place man finished to leave no champs or
famous players in the last twenty but one
woman. There were four relative unknowns from the U.S. and it looked for all
the world that the final could be a damp ending. Added to that the prize
structure (£1m, £100k, £50k, £25k, £15k and
£14k) was insuring that the final six would be heavily pressurized into
making a deal that could potentially ruin the final televised event. After all,
why play it out when you've already split the money up.
On the Saturday
the 20 played down, first to nine for some pictures of the final
table line-up, and then six for the
television bit. With two tables left an incident occured that showed the
reasons for the eventual winner. Duthie in last position flat called the blind
only to see the small blind bet and the big one call. Duthie said "deal" and
the man in the big blind position said "did you call". Duthie said "yes", and
the dealer dealt the flop. Of course Duthie had not called the raise because he
was in one of his trances, a factor that led me to believe that he could win
the whole thing.
Jack the Mac turned up. Duthie got the chance to call
the raise, which he didn't. The burnt card stayed where it was, as did all the
dead players hands. The remaining pack got re-shuffled and the flop dealt
again. No one raised an eyebrow of complaint. In Vegas a few people would have
And so the last day arrived. From here I'll turn you over to
the report of the final day's action. Just click here.
Poker Million has been and gone and a
few lessons were learnt by all people concerned and that includes me. I learnt
that if you strand 200 poker players on a remote island they behave better than
if they were at home or anywhere else for that matter. More importantly I
discovered that if you do everything wrong until the last and get that right,
then nobody cares about the rest - for now.
Ladbrokes Casinos paid out
about £800,000 for the event and got tremendous publicity through all
media outlets. Matchroom got a decent payday, especially Barry Hearn, and they
learnt a lot about poker in a short space of time. Poker players found out that
there just might be some gold at the end of a rainbow that they didn't even
know existed. The rest of the country found out that "Who wants to be a
millionaire" is rigged.
The TV coverage was a great success and even the
Americans liked it despite having little representation themselves. After eight
days of battling organisation and sleepless nights, 200 players and one hundred
or so staff left the island drained and with a good memory. So what could be
wrong with that?
Well, the problems created will not go away without
real understanding of what they have in their grasp. To start with, no one
wants to spend £800,000 again and someone has to realise that they don't
need to and never did. U.S. poker players want value-for-money, a simple added
prize fund of £250,000 would have had the island full. Sure you could
knock some percentage of the room and air fares, but making them free this year
has caused problems for next time.
This hasn't created a boom in the
poker industry in the United Kingdom because the structure of poker will not
change for some time and it has been that painful and old fashioned thing that
has destroyed the community of poker players in our own country. Meanwhile if
the Americans get it together then the top pros and celebs of the poker world
will rocket into another media-circus driven world. Good luck to
What can be done to get poker going?
Until real changes
come to casinos in the U.K. (I mean real) then the only step forward is Limit
Poker. Without the birth of thousands of new poker players through the soft
learning curve of limit poker then poker is going nowhere. Roy Houghton in the
Russell Square casino has shown that new players can be created with a little
work and a good idea. In a short time his beginners tournament and limit cash
games have created 500 new players, some of which were at the Poker Million
So we wait for the fallout. It could be great, it could be
disappointing. Lets hope that a sense of reality and a wish for more events
like this one prevail.
|Pictures from the Poker Million (2000)