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Fish and Poker Chips in Oz

by 'Mad Marty' Wilson |  Published: Apr 01, 2008

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Katharine and I were so excited to be going back to Melbourne for the Aussie Millions. We'd had such a fantastic time last year and would have done nearly anything to return. My preparations for the tournament were basically reliant on recovery, after sitting next to a woman on the plane who was up and down more times than Crystal Palace has been in the Premiership. Once the long flight was over, however, I remembered how fantastic the Crown Casino was and how happy Katharine and I were to be there, due to the fact that she had won a qualifier on Blue Square.

There were three starting days, so early on, I located Charlie Coombs, a 21-year-old from Winchester, and his friend Alex, and I suggested taking them on a steamboat down to Williamstown. Williamstown is a place unchanged by progress since the day it was built. If ever you visit Melbourne, set aside one day to enjoy the hospitality of Williamstown. The steamboat journey took one hour, during which time we were lucky enough to see a pelican attacking a sea eagle that had gone too close to the pelican's nest and her chicks. Eat your heart out, David Attenborough. Obviously, the eagle had not considered the strength of the mother's love. Farther along, we noticed penguins, cormorants, and herons; yes, penguins in Australia.

Upon our arrival at Williamstown, we went to a world-famous fish and chippery owned by a man called Ian who cannot do enough for you. We all had red empress fish with chips, and, of course, good old-fashioned English tea. We were the kings and queens of all Australia that day. Back in Melbourne, we decided to have supper in the local Irish pub, Flanagan's. Lo and behold, they had a poker tournament going on! I raced back to the Crown Casino and got spot prizes from the tournament organizers, Brett and Tim, who gladly donated hats, shirts, and shoulder bags. Flanagan's was in for a treat, as I then did a running commentary on the whole thing.

A few days later, I hosted another tournament, this one back at the casino for all of the iPoker qualifiers in Australia. And guess what? Blue Square had all five of its qualifiers at the final table. What an achievement! The final two came down to an unknown Frenchman and an Englishman named Richard Scott. I had absolutely no idea who was going to win. First of all, it looked like France, then it looked like Richard, and then France again. But then Richard ordered a pint of Victorian bitter, which also happens to be my favorite drink in Australia. This was like giving Popeye a can of spinach. It seemed to give Richard added strength. His chips were like the bricks in the third little pig's house. Nobody was going to blow this guy away. He was a Roman centurion keeping the Celts out of England by standing on Hadrian's Wall. Richard was awesome, and he ground the Frenchman down to nothing. I don't know who was the proudest, him or me, when I stood on the stage announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention, please, for this year's iPoker champion." You could hear the rapture of hands clapping all over the casino.

I had already been knocked out of the Aussie Millions, and I'm not going to bore you with bad-beat stories. How could I be having a bad beat? I was in Australia, and nobody could rain on my parade. The next afternoon, we got a taxi into St. Kilda's Bay, and we ran into Rumit Somaya and Barny Boatman. We spent the rest of that afternoon drinking Victorian bitter and dunking bread into oils and balsamic vinegar with olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Basking in the afternoon heat, I remember thinking, "I don't want to be a millionaire. I just want to live like one." That's how I felt. Busy doing nothing with Barny, Katharine, and Rumit, it doesn't get any better than quality time with quality people. Barny and I met in 1997, and the only thing wrong with our friendship is that we don't see enough of each other. He is as sharp as a razor with his one-liners. I must remember the next time I am with Barny to bring a dictaphone and pinch all of his material.

Later that evening, I returned to the casino to see how the Blue Square qualifiers were getting on. Lo and behold, I heard two young men's accents behind me, and I thought I was back in Wolverhampton. Dean had come over with Vincent "Cool Hand" Campbell, who had won his seat at the Castle Casino in Dudley. I have not been in the Castle Casino in years, but I do remember that they once hosted the Great British Championships.

Have a guess who won it? It was in the late '80s, and I'll give you a few runners from that day. At the final table were legends Mickey Wernick, Chris Robson, Lucy Rokach, and World Series of Poker bracelet-winner Johnny Morgan. The tournament was only £100 to enter, and I struggled to get that, having to nip a few quid off my friends Spivver and Matt. I think first prize was £2,900, not even an entry fee by today's standards, but my prize trophy was a cut-glass brandy-styled vase, which still holds pride of place at my mum's house. I've gone from Dudley to Melbourne. I'll bet there are not many casinos farther apart and their passion the same - no-limit Texas hold'em.

Mad Marty Wilson is a professional gambler and poker consultant for Matchroom Sport.