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The Butcher and the Christmas Brag

by 'Mad Marty' Wilson |  Published: Dec 31, 2008

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It all comes back to you when you pull off of Junction 8 of the M20. When you see the sign for Bearsted, you know you are only a mile away from the Tudor Park Hotel in the heart of Maidstone. This is where it all started for me five years ago, my first job as both tournament coordinator and director. There have probably been more people from Bridgnorth and Wolverhampton in the 888 Poker Open, now in its fifth season, than from any other nation on this planet. But I had the shock of my life this year when, after day three, I strolled into the bar to hear a high-toned voice say, "Fancy a pint, Wils?" Wils is a nickname I haven't heard for 30 years, and there standing at the bar was an old buddy of mine named Mick Ryan.

I asked Mick what he was doing in this neck of the woods. Mick said, "You are gonna find this hard to believe," and I surely did, "but I won a freeroll on 888.com and am now playing in the Poker Open V tomorrow!" He was absolutely made up, Mick was. I hadn't seen him since I was in my 20s. Back then, Mick had a full mane of hair and chiseled good looks, and the years had barely changed him. OK, there was a bit of hair missing off his bonnet, but all the distinctions were still the same.

Mick and I used to play three-card brag in the Hotpole Pub in 1983 and 1984. And he reminded me of a brag game we had there one Christmas Eve. "Can you remember the local butcher?" I shouted. "And the roofing manufacturer?"

"Aye, you know we all used to be mates," Mick said. "But that was a long time ago and they're all deceased." We played brag in a room at the pub called The Loggy, and all the regulars were in the game that night. There was Mark and Sharky and Mick Ryan, and a man who owned a cement mixer, and one who used to always say that he needed the money for his carpets. Anyway, the butcher had had a record-breaking year, it was Christmas Eve, and he had completely sold out of turkeys, beef joints, and geese. He had so much money, it was stacked at least a foot high on the table.

Now, the highest hand you can possibly get in brag is a prile of threes, which is three of a kind. I was dealt them, and the butcher was dealt a prile of aces and the roofing contractor was dealt a prile of kings. This was pure heaven for me, but it was hell for those guys. Back then, I'd always have a load of dough. I lived off my wits and could spot a mouse moving from a mile away. And I always had good credit with the landlord Dickie Moore. Dickie would sometimes lend me the day's takings, and on this night, the lot went in. I had played the hand blind for £100, forcing the butcher and the roofing contractor to put in over £200 each, as the blind man has to put only half in to see his cards. When I looked down and saw those threes, it was one of those golden moments in life that you never forget, and whenever I'm sad and blue, I reflect on the moment that my eyes cast upon those three threes.

The butcher's foot-high stack of money had dwindled to nothing, as it was all in the pot, when he asked for 15 minutes to go back to his butcher shop and get the rest of the Christmas takings. His wife stood like a statue overlooking the card table as her husband the butcher put on his Linford Christie shoes and ran back to the shop to get more money.

I sat there for 15 minutes with my prile of threes, just hoping and praying that he'd be back as soon as could be. The roofing contractor's credit was good, and anyway, I had a few slats loose on my roof. You could have heard a pin drop when I put the three threes on their backs. Not a word was uttered for 30 minutes as I gave the butcher £50 credit to get him through the Boxing Day, when he was going to reopen his shop. I put £100 behind the bar that day; beer was only 80 pence, and Christmas Eve was spent drinking and laughing courtesy of the butcher and the roofer.

I once worked out the odds of a prile of threes and a prile of aces and a prile of kings all coming out on the same hand on a Christmas Eve. You could have filled the room with zeros and still wouldn't have gotten the chance of it happening again. It was a sweet Christmas in the Wilson household that year. The Boxing Day sales could not come quick enough. I cannot tell you how great it was to see my old friend Mick Ryan again and reminisce about those great days. As for the 888 Poker Open V, you'll have to watch yourself to see how Mick got on, but I can tell you that he was absolutely outstanding from start to finish, even if his best game will always be those that were played in The Loggy at the Hotpole Pub.

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