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Poker in the UK: Tournament Overload

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Aug 01, 2006

Mickey Wernick
Mickey Wernick

As the British summer tries to get out of first gear, poker players are getting ready to miss the 72 yearly hours of uninterrupted sunshine as they head into the next series of ranking events held around the UK. And judging by this May's set of tournaments held in a bunch so tight that even current number-one player Mickey Wernick would have had to develop teleportation to attend them all, the choice of festivals is not necessarily making players' decisions on their own local circuit easier.

There were festivals, including ranking events, running simultaneously in Sheffield (at Napoleons Owlerton), London (at the Western), and over in Barcelona at the World Heads-Up Poker Championship. Add to this the Blackpool Bonanza a couple of weeks earlier, and the Southampton £1,000 Freezeout, and you get the picture – the calendar fills rapidly and completely. Success in the main events at the end of the month fell to Luke Patten, who won the £1,500 no-limit hold'em event at the Western, and Kaz Siraj, who took the top spot in the Sheffield £750. While several of the biggest names were sunning themselves in Spain, there was a notable drop-off in attendance, however. The £1,000 event at Blackpool had 158 runners, while the numbers later on dropped to 60, 45, and finally 37 for Southampton. Similarly, the €5,000 buy-in Showdown Poker Tour events have barely needed four dealers (with one on a break). So, are cardrooms overly optimistic about demand, or supplying quantity over quality?

While watching the half-full (or half-empty, depending on your perspective) tournament in Southampton, I got talking to a local player who illustrated the complications of the poker boom in the UK with examples from the area. In the last two years, Grosvenor Casino has found competition springing up in the form of two other poker premises a short distance away, Stanley's Casino and the Harbour House. She said that in spite of a healthy student population feeding the popular pastime, there just weren't enough poker players after the initial frenzy to keep three cardrooms running at full capacity, especially for the bigger buy-in events. Not only that, but competition between the rivals had reached a ridiculous pitch, which actually turned players off the game rather than spoiled them for choice.

For example, when the Grosvenor poker room became nonsmoking, the Harbour House ran a special "smokers tourney with free cigarettes," encouraging the nicotine-favouring gambler to come and play while "smoking themselves silly." The venues' purposefully running clashing events annoyed the players, according to my source, and she ended by saying, "Poker players are notoriously fickle; they'll go to a cardroom that offers them incentives, like leagues and added value, and then go somewhere else when there's a better offer."

Innovation in format might be one of the ways to encourage participation. Bluesquare and Grosvenor's Poker 6 tournament in early July was a sixhanded shootout with the winners of each table progressing to a shorthanded multitable day two. The final six players from the second phase competed for the majority of the prize money (with £2,000 given to all players who won their first round). For extra originality, qualification was possible only through online and offline satellites, and there was also something called a "Starting Table Saver," whereby if the winner of the whole thing came from your original shootout table, you got £1,000. That kind of thing at least guaranteed a crowd around the final table.

Their summer shrinking didn't stop the action from being any less interesting, however. Southampton's ninehanded second day saw Sid Harris victorious, with freeroll qualifier Adrian Royce second. A deal was struck (as it so often is) between these two to split the remaining £21,600 nearly evenly, which was pretty generous, considering Sid's chip lead at the time, but they still played what the onlookers term "proper poker" until a turned two pair relinquished the remaining chips to Sid's turned trips.

The hand of the month, though, which also came from Southampton, had to have been the three-way all in between Antony Hughes, holding the Aspade Aheart, A. Miles, holding the 8diamond 8heart and Iain Abrahams, holding the Jheart Jdiamond. The money went in on a flop of Kdiamond 2club. So, how did someone other than the proud holder of the set of aces come out on top? Nothing so pedestrian as a couple of running diamonds; the turn and river were the 8club and 8spade.

Generally, in the run-up to the World Series, the same names were featured once again: Mickey Wernick remained on top of the rankings (as of the start of June), with six other Englishmen following, including Ash Hussain, John Kabbaj, and Paul "Actionjack" Jackson, fresh off his second place (€60,000) in the World Heads-Up Poker Championship. Marc "Mr. Cool" Goodwin had a phenomenal couple of weeks earlier in the year, while the young EPT Grand Final winner Jeff Williams looks like he hasn't been overwhelmed by European ranking events. Finally, J.P. Kelly has already won two events this year, with a second and a third to go along with them. But he won't be following the circuit as far as Vegas this year – as he's still only 20. He's one to watch on both sides of the Atlantic next year, however.

Jen Mason is part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.