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Travels With the Camel

by Keith Hawkins |  Published: Sep 06, 2004


I made the decision recently to drag myself away from my comfortable chair in front of my computer screen and play more live poker. With this in mind, I recently ventured down the M1 to Sheffield to Napoleons Casino, Owlerton, for its three-day festival.

If you are ever planning a trip there, one important thing to remember is not to drive into the city centre to try to find the venue. I found out to my cost that Sheffield has the most confusing road network of any city I have ever visited. If you don't know where you're going, you will be driving around in circles for days.

The best route is to leave the M1 at junction 36 and follow the A61 to Sheffield North. Just past Hillsborough (Sheffield Wednesday's stadium) on your left is the Owlerton Greyhound Stadium and Casino.

Thanks to the UK's arcane gaming laws, you need to join more than 24 hours in advance of visiting a casino here. I did this on the Sunday prior to the festival. As I thought the first event might well sell out, I asked the reception staff if I could buy in then for the Wednesday event. I was told this was impossible (they didn't consult anyone inside the casino proper), as you couldn't buy in before the day of the tournament.

When I arrived on Wednesday, two hours before the tournament started, I was immediately informed the event was sold out! I was told all except 24 seats had been sold in advance and the remaining ones had been snapped up as soon as they opened.

Obviously, I sought out the cardroom manager and told him my story, and he managed to fit my traveling companion and me in, much to our relief.

This, however, is my only gripe against the staff, as the cardroom team was enthusiastic and hard-working, and the dealers were, on the whole, excellent.

The casino itself is pretty small, but proportionally has quite a big cardroom. They somehow squeezed in 110 players. It wasn't very comfortable for some, especially if they were sitting back-to-back with a fat bloke like me!

The standard of play was mixed, as is often the case away from the huge tournaments (The Vic, Luton, Walsall, and so on) around the UK. There were some very good local players, but also quite a few moderate players. There also seemed to be very few traveling professionals in attendance, which meant there was plenty of value in attending.

There was one major annoyance, however. Like many smaller casinos, Napoleons wants its tournaments to finish in one day. As its events had rebuys, in which they gave you lots of chips, they had to raise the blinds every 20 minutes to make sure they finished in time. This made the later stages of the tournament a lottery, in which you almost had to double up every level to survive, and if you lost a big pot, there was no time to recover.

The "crapshoot" nature of the tournaments understandably led to multiway deals in both of the first two events. I didn't bother attending the main event, as I was not prepared to play what was effectively a £1,000 tournament on such a ridiculously fast structure.

I think if Napoleons wants to become a major venue, it must address this issue. It is a great place to play, with an excellent staff, a nice restaurant, lots of parking, and a relatively big cardroom. But, when tens of thousands of pounds are at stake, it's my opinion that it is simply unaccept­able to play a tournament on a 20-minute clock.

Very Sad News
I've just heard that Peter Perera, formerly a supervisor at the Vic cardroom, has died. Peter was a true gentleman and never failed to put a smile on my face. My sincere ­condolences to his family and friends. I will miss him very much.

Keith "The Camel" Hawkins is a well-known presence on the European poker scene, as he travels to most of the major tournaments from his home in Darlington. Poker is his work, but Keith's passion is Queens Park Rangers. Keith's regular poker blog can be found at