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UK News

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Oct 01, 2007

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A Parallel Circuit?
July perhaps marked the beginning of the new UK poker season, if the World Series is its yearly climax, although it was merely an interruption on the burgeoning Grosvenor UK Poker Tour. The popular series of £1,000 no-limit hold'em tournaments, with their structure grudgingly admitted to be "decent" by the hard-to-please circuit travellers, shows no signs of slowing down, with the latest one held in Newcastle being won by Mazhar Nawab. This was the second final table for the Sheffield-based player (his first televised appearance on the tour will show him finishing in sixth place in Brighton, the event that propelled Dave Smith to the top of the leader board). He appears for a good deal longer than in Brighton, however, as the final table took its time in getting to heads up - with Darren Fuller being Nawab's final opponent - and then there were three additional hard-fought levels to determine the eventual winner of the top prize of £76,000 plus entry into the £3,000 Grand Final tournament later in the year.

The pleasing reluctance of the organisers of these events to reduce the final tables to crapshoot status means that hopefully when they start to air in September, some actual interesting poker may be shown on TV for once. Obviously, an 11-hour final is not an easy thing to squeeze into one programme, something which has in other shows often meant unexplained jumps in chip stacks and blinds in between commentary on all ins. Having individual situations in a poker tournament make sense out of context is always tricky, and it will be interesting to see how the newest focus on UK-specific poker deals with the challenge.

Also making the final at Newcastle was Christine Ward, the first female to make a final table on the Tour, who came in fourth, just behind Richard Trigg. Trigg had started the final second in chips to Tony Horn (who finished in sixth place), while Ward had come back from less than a third of his stack size to challenge the leaders. Undoubtedly, she was asked how it felt to be some kind of landmark, but when quizzed about strategy, she merely replied, "To win." Fair enough; one's gender is generally the last thing on one's mind when about to play out a final - and I reckon for every female player who thinks of her sex as either an advantage or disadvantage, there is a good handful who don't really care. It's as bad to underestimate a player because she is female as to expect good players to fall into the clichéd "trap" of assuming weakness when you are the female player yourself; either way, the no-nonsense approach of Christine Ward seems to be the most sensible one.

I happen to know that side bets have taken place on the likelihood of a female winner of a GUKPT event, and those feeling comfortable with their odds after the first five events passed must have been momentarily rattled in Newcastle. Going just by the numbers of entrants, female winners of festival events in this country in general are unlikely. For every regular female player like Katherine Hartree or Lucy Rokach, there is half a room full of men - a state of affairs that the recent resurgence in popularity of "women-only" events doesn't seem to be doing much to alter.

The last few months have seen the promotion of many one-off ladies events, plus the start of the Betfred Women's Poker Tour, the first of its sort to hit the UK. With a buy-in of £100, the tour stops at eight locations around the country, with the winners of each leg facing off in a televised final. For the champion, there's £20,000 in sponsorship, and probably a good deal more publicity than the buy-in and attendance would usually warrant. For those who question the need for, or even the legality of, gender-specific tournaments, or predictably call for a men-only one in parallel, the usual response (that it is an encouragement for otherwise reticent women) is given. It's not really the discriminatory aspect that annoys players of the excluded gender, however, but the fact that added money or, in the case of one held in Walsall in July, a seat to a GUKPT event gets offered to an artificially restricted set of players. It's impossible to argue that that aspect in particular isn't unfair - but it leaves female players with both an eye for added value and a general dislike for the concept of segregated poker sitting hypocritically at tables full of other women, few of whom seem to have made the move to "regular" tournaments, as is predicted defensively by the promoters.

We are lagging behind our American brethren (if that is the right word) with regard to this; the LIPS tour (Ladies International Poker Series) was mentioned to me at last year's WSOP by an extremely enthusiastic organiser, and it now boasts 30 "casino partners" and regular fields topping those of most tournaments in this country, not to mention an eye-poppingly pink website. Looking at these numbers might have given UK sites and cardrooms an unrealistic expectation for their own tours; sure, there are more female poker players stateside, but there are simply more poker players. With the online ban affecting everyone - including the quiet hordes of women who took to the virtual game as much as anyone else - there is perhaps more interest in these segregated events than there would be if it were revoked. Maybe the way to get more women playing in UK casinos is for online poker to be banned here, too.

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