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The Vic is Dead … Long Live the Vic!

by Keith Hawkins |  Published: Apr 01, 2006


I popped into the Victoria Casino, Edgware Road recently. I now live 250 miles from the home of European poker, but decided to pay a flying visit after trekking down south for a QPR game (they lost).

It was the first time in a while that I had been to the Vic outside of festival time. It was where I played my first game, and used to be my local cardroom; for a long time, I was practically part of the furniture.

But now, just a couple of short years later, I was pretty shocked at the sight that confronted me when I strolled into the cardroom.

The place was packed, and every table was full. The lists to get into the games were lengthy. What really stunned me, however, was the overwhelming number of poker players I didn't recognise. If I had gone into the cardroom in 2000, I would have expected to know about 90 percent of the players. The room was full, but I could count only five people I knew!

The famous five probably have been in there virtually every night for the last five years, so it should have been no surprise. They are consistent winners and the sort of players who hold a cardroom together.

The avuncular Michael Arnold was one. Michael is probably best known for his cry, "One seat here!" when a poor unfortunate loses his stack and skulks away from the table. Don't let his half-asleep-at-the-table routine fool you. Mr. Arnold is a fantastic player who has never been on tilt in the 20 years I've known him, and is probably one of the biggest winners in the Vic during that time.

Nouri was there, too. We go back years. He was the regular winner in the Reading game, where I used to play in the early '90s. Nouri is a great guy to share a beer or five with, but an awful guy to face across the green baize. He is relentlessly aggressive and forces you into decisions for your whole stack on regular occasions.

John Kabbaj was sitting in the dealer's-choice game. John and I started playing at roughly the same time. He has had considerably more success than I have. Near the top of any shrewd judge's list of top tournament players in Europe, he has a runner-up finish in a World Series of Poker event to his name, and numerous big wins around the world. A fearless and fearsome gambler, he will be around for many years to come, winning the biggest tournaments on the planet.

If you have been to the Vic, you probably have met Pedro. He is one of a kind. When I popped in, he was wearing a David Lee Roth tour sweatshirt from 1985. When talking to him, you get the impression he is making a borderline living at poker, at best. His classic saying, "I got out of it" – suggesting he is happy to break even – reinforces this impression. Don't be deceived. If Pedro is putting his money in the pot, I would bet he's got the best of it. Yes, he's eccentric, but he's a good guy and an excellent poker player.

Finally, there was Neil "Bad Beat" Channing. Neil and I went to school together. I even gave him his moniker. We were the school bookies. He could talk the hind legs off a whole herd of donkeys, but he has become a constant presence at the Vic, and more often than not, he's at the payout window.

Where were the other faces I grew up with? Where were Clint, the Clock, Vicky Coren, the Sweep, and J.Q.? There was no sign of the Choirboy, the Youngster, Mick the Taxi, Doctor Mahmood, or Adrian Holmes. There are more, a myriad of other names and faces I can only vaguely recall, come to think of it. I can only hope they were successfully getting the lot elsewhere.

Some things never change, however. Jeff Leigh was still clucking over the players like a mother hen, but doing his job as the best cardroom manager in Europe as efficiently as ever. In 20-plus years, I have never seen him make an incorrect ruling. That is some record.

The dealers and the other staff at the Vic remain the best in the business. Brian, Joe, the two Steves, Deano (soon to hit the big screen if the rumours are correct), Caroline, Max, Kevin, and even the Luton-supporting Niall (we all have our crosses to bear) do their jobs faultlessly and still have time to share a joke with the punters.

So, when the much vaunted expansion of the Vic poker room takes place, it is, thankfully, in good hands. The Vic I knew might well be dead, but with legions of new players to battle each other, the remaining backbone of regulars, and the best staff in Europe to make sure everything runs smoothly, the future is secure.

The Vic is dead … long live the Vic! spade

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 hometown of Darlington. Poker is his work, but Keith's passion is Queens Park Rangers. Keith's regular blog can be found at