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From Walthamstow to the Caribbean

by 'Mad Marty' Wilson |  Published: Apr 01, 2006


Unable to make the journey to Paris to spend New Year's with Padraig Parkinson and the lovely Veronique, I was able to catch up with some poker friends before the year ended. The Hendon Mob invited us to a night at Walthamstow Dog Track. Despite not picking a winner, I came away with a healthy profit after having a side bet on the result of the forecasts being odd/even. It wasn't till the fifth race that my victim questioned whether there was an equal chance of each result. (No, it wasn't one of the Mob who fell for that one!)

I extended my stay at the hotel to include New Year's Eve and the following few days. An hour before we were about to welcome in the new year, I put out my last cigarette and found myself with a dilemma. I had a bet with sports promoter Barry Hearn that we'd both give up smoking on New Year's Day; the first to crack pays up £500. It's a gentleman's agreement, but should anyone see him having a crafty one, your photo will be worth £250! So, I now had an hour of smoking left, but didn't want to buy a pack just for the sake of a couple more cigarettes.

New Year's Day found me fidgety and doing all I could to keep myself busy. With my walking boots and waterproof coat on, I was all set for a long walk when I heard a familiar voice in the bar; it was Barry himself. After spending half an hour peeking around the corner to try to catch him out, I gave up and went over. He then told me he'd already done 10 days and was feeling fine – just as I was facing the worst of cravings. To add insult to injury, he then invited me to the semifinals of the World Darts Championship, basically an enormous pub where every other person is smoking.

There, I bumped into one of the semifinalists, Phil Taylor, who told me to watch the matches live, rather than from the players lounge. He said it was a totally different experience, and he wasn't wrong. The atmosphere was amazing; the lights, the smoke, and the players' entrances. Throughout the match, the crowd didn't stop singing and dancing. The only people who looked unmoved were the players, who were totally focused. This is what poker should be like, the players calm and focused, and the crowd cheering: We've got it back to front!

The darts event was sponsored by Ladbrokes, whose poker cruise was setting sail from Miami a few days later. Phil Taylor had booked his seat on board, and asked me what to expect. Before I could reply, Ladbrokes kindly offered me a place; so, from the Walthamstow dogs, I ended up on a Caribbean cruise.

The poker cruise was unlike any event I had ever attended. It's a fantastic idea that involves the whole family: Win a poker cruise and take the wife and kids! There is plenty on board to keep everyone entertained, and on the days you dock, there is no poker. With a turnout of more than 100 players for the ladies event, poker is no longer the game that separates people. Aside from the tournaments, there were cash games and sit-and-go tournaments. The only thing I found peculiar was players introducing themselves by their online aliases first, and sometimes not even bothering to follow up with their real names! It's a whole different world, and I wondered whether the players could speak face to face without having the urge to hit an imaginary enter button at the end of every sentence (the same urge I get to press the brake pedal on the passenger side when my son is driving!).

The final of the cruise's main event took place three days after the last six players had been reached. All of the finalists seemed to cope with this, insisting it wouldn't affect their games.

If I had found the darts entertaining, it was nothing compared to the show Jesse May and his team provided for the final. I introduced Jesse, and as the music started, he came out in a suit and bright turquoise shirt and tie. His opening speech is a must-see; I only hope I can find which network it is being shown on! Pre-match interviews with the players were shown on the big screen before each arrived through the smoke to their own theme music. Brilliant. All of the finalists had their own crowd of supporters, and whilst I can't tell you their real names, I know that Norflush beat Eskobet heads up after initial favourite Skalie exited third! spade

"Mad Marty" Wilson is a professional poker player from Wolverhampton and a poker consultant for Matchroom Sports.