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Travels With the Camel

by Keith Hawkins |  Published: Oct 06, 2004


The highlight of the August poker calendar for British players was the Grosvenor UK Open at the Grosvenor Casino, Luton. This event holds special memories for me, as in 2002, I was fortunate enough to take the main event, the biggest tournament I've won so far in my career. So, it was off down the M1 for the final four days of the event.

This casino and tournament were a bit of a Curates Egg1. The cardroom staff, led by the excellent Carmel Pryce, is keen and on the whole well-trained. The tournament structures were absolutely magnificent; they were very player-friendly. For every event, players were given plenty of chips and the blinds went up quite slowly. Bizarrely, some players complained that there was too much play in the rebuy events and not enough chances for the loose gooses to show their rebuy prowess. This just proves that some poker players are never happy! The event has been marred in previous years by the lack of air conditioning in the cardroom and very hot, sweaty conditions. A couple of portable machines alleviated the problem somewhat, but this year's improved conditions might have been as much due to the appalling summer temperatures as the machines. We shall find out next year, I guess.

I cannot be wholly complimentary about the event and venue. Firstly, the casino is not situated in a great area, and unless you can get into the small supervised car park, you have to take your chances in the supermarket car park. A couple of years ago, my car was vandalized to the point of being written off in this car park; I know there have been a couple of assaults there, too. The lonely walk from the casino to the car park (including a very dark alleyway) is certainly unnerving late at night. I believe the casino could and should provide security staff to both patrol the area and escort patrons to their vehicles.

Another personal gripe was the unfriendly and unhelpful behaviour of a member of staff toward my girlfriend in not allowing her to bring various items into the casino. It was not the rule that bothered us, but rather the "jobs worth" attitude and the rude way he spoke to us. Whatever happened to "the customer is always right"? I know I have never been spoken to in this manner by anyone at a casino in the United States.

The lack of cash action after the tournaments was a further worrying factor. In years past, there would have been three or four cash games running late into the night during tournament time, but this year there was usually only one game. It seems players are interested only in tournaments these days, a sad development for cash-game players, to be sure.

As for the tournament itself, the main event had a very popular winner in Willy Tann. Willy has been a permanent presence on the UK tournament scene for a long time, and many will testify to his good humour and calming influence at the table. Indeed, he has mentored a lot of young players over the years. I'm sure everyone will join me in congratulating him on a great result.

The main event itself proved that the biggest-value tournaments in England today are medium to high buy-in events at provincial casinos. It was a £1,000+£30 freezeout with 10,000 chips and one-hour levels. There was so much play in this tournament that there was absolutely no reason to get busted in the first three levels, unless you were hit by a cold deck (set over set, kings against aces, or such).

So, how many players do you think went out on my table during the first level, when the blinds were just 25-50?

If you guessed five, award yourself a gold star. Amazing, huh? And all of those exits were totally avoidable. There are some tremendous players in these events, but more than enough dead money to mean that if you get the chance to attend and can afford it, don't hesitate. Just play.

Overall, it was a great week. The atmosphere was good and the casino tried hard to put on an excellent event; the free buffet they provided for main event entrants was a very nice touch. I will certainly be back next year to try to regain my trophy!

Heard at the Bar
Every year the smaller buy-in events at Europe's most popular tournament, the Master Classics of Poker at Amsterdam's Holland Casino, are sold out. For the last few years, a handful of unscrupulous players have bought up to 10 tickets each, and in the minutes before the events start, have attempted to sell them for well over face value. For example, ¤200 tickets for last year's no-limit hold'em tournament were selling for over ¤600!

Hopefully, the black market will be a thing of the past from now on. Not only are there going to be extra tables this year to cater to the huge demand for seats, but for the first time, if an event is sold out, alternates will be able to take the places of players who are eliminated during the opening few levels. This will foil the scalpers in one fell swoop!

1. Curate's Egg – Something that is part good, part bad; a mixed bag. The expression comes from a 19th-century cartoon in the British humor magazine Punch: A nervous young curate (in Britain, a junior-grade clergyman who is usually an assistant to a more senior member of the clergy) is served a bad egg while a guest at his bishop's breakfast table. Asked whether the egg is to his liking, he stammers: "Parts of it are excellent!" From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions by Elizabeth Webber and Mike Feinsilber (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1999).

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