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Gibraltar News

by Tristan Cano |  Published: Jul 01, 2007

Gibraltarians, like the inhabitants of most Mediterranean nations, are avid game players. In the summertime, the beaches are filled to the brim with locals wiling the day away engaging in their favourite games and pastimes. Aside from the more traditional beach games like football and volleyball, beach tennis (known locally as la' pala') is a favourite on Gibraltar's beaches. However, in the scorching summer sun, less strenuous games are more in fashion, particularly amongst the older generation. Dominoes and various card games are popular choices, as is "la tablita" (a game that is similar to Ludo but is played on a homemade wooden board). However, despite game-playing forming such an integral part of Gibraltarian culture, a few years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find a serious poker game anywhere on this British colony.

Whilst the first years of the 21st century saw a renaissance in poker's popularity worldwide, Gibraltar had very little to offer poker players. Firstly, Gibraltar's casino did not host any games. There were ad hoc and infrequent games at the local gentlemen's club, but these were limited to club members, and guests were rarely allowed to participate. One local pub began running weekly tournaments, but these suffered from being disorganized and infrequent. However, as more and more gaming-company employees began to live and work in Gibraltar, the demand for regular poker tournaments increased. This led to unofficial poker games taking place in bars and pubs across the border in the Spanish town of La Linea de la Concepcíon. Something eventually had to give.

Following the success of a charity poker match at the Gibraltar Casino, changes began to take shape. The casino's director gave in and finally acknowledged poker's growing popularity on the local scene by announcing the advent of a new weekly tournament. Colette Stewart, an experienced poker player who had previously worked for the casino and was drafted in as tournament director, said: "We spread the word by mouth amongst local players and gaming companies, and over the weeks, our numbers slowly increased." Soon, a monthly ladies game and a Sunday afternoon game were added to the schedule to meet the ever-increasing demand.

It may have been a little slow to get off the ground initially, but the local poker revolution had begun. However, like many things in Gibraltar, nothing is ever exactly as you would expect it to be. For example, the casino operates under an unusual setup, in that at present, it does not charge rake or by the hour. Then there's the fact that at present, the weekly casino game is held on Thursday nights - not exactly the ideal evening for working professionals to enjoy late-night poker sessions. Notwithstanding, the poker nights are a fascinating get-together. Like the gaming companies themselves, they contain an eclectic mix of players from all over the world. This makes them particularly interesting to watch, as almost every playing style will be in attendance. Another bonus is that with many of the players working in the gaming industry, the standard of play tends to be fairly high.

Not wanting to be outdone on their own turf, Gibraltarians are starting to be attracted by the casino tournaments. Several of the tournaments held last year were won by locals, and with more and more Gibraltarians beginning to give it a try, their success will surely continue to escalate. Due to the popularity of the weekly game, the casino has not found the need to advertise its tournaments locally, and many Gibraltarians are unaware of their existence. This will change with the launch of a new casino at the multimillion-pound Ocean Village development, which is due for completion in 2008. It is hoped that the new casino will make poker available 10 hours a day, with the option of cash games, single-table, and weekly multitable tournaments. All skill levels will be catered for, and hopefully more locals will be attracted to make the step up from the extremely popular video poker games, which grace almost every bar and club on the Rock.

Whilst the local poker scene has been in existence for only a short time, there is every reason to be bullish about its future. Things have moved along very quickly in the last couple of years, and Gibraltar now even has its own dedicated poker website. Rob Spencer, who runs said, "We wanted to provide a free community site for poker players in Gibraltar with regular results updates and information on poker games from further afield." The existence of this website is indicative of poker's growing popularity on the Rock, and at the very least acknowledges the existence of a locally based poker-playing community. Furthermore, it seems that an adequate infrastructure is in place for poker to one day overtake la tablita as Gibraltar's national pastime.

Tristan Cano lives and writes about the gaming industry in Gibraltar.