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Online Poker News Archives - April 6, 2005

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Racing Post

April 6, 2005, Wednesday



Qualified online: French pharmacist Pascal Perrault scooped over £100,000 for winning in Vienna; John Gale: making it pay

THEYcall it turning a tooth-pick into a lumber yard'. Both the 2003 and 2004 outright winners of the multi-million dollar World Series of Poker did it. And so could you.

Chris Moneymaker won $ 2.5m in 2003; last year Greg Raymer scooped $ 5m. What connects these two big men of professional faceto-face poker - outside an apparent fondness for fried foods in large portions - is that their journeys to the top started online, in low entry-fee qualifiers. Moneymaker worked his way up from a $ 40 qualifying tournament on to earn his $ 10,000 seat and all-expenses package to the Poker olympics. Raymer stumped up $ 150 to take his first online step on the road to Vegas.

The online poker boom has given thousands of small-time players a passport to the heady world of the international pro-poker stars - and not just in the USA.

Last year saw the launch of the EUR5m Poker Stars European Poker Tour - a series of big-money televised tournaments across the continent - and online small-fry have been making a huge impact.

Never one to shirk the tough jobs, netprophet caught up with the tour in Vienna, to briefly compete in the EUR600,000 main event, and speak to one Racing P ost reader who has made the leap from online to big time.

In February, John Gale took his tooth-pick - a $ 40 qualifier on - and turned it into an all-in ticket to the World P oker Tour tournament in the Bahamas. He beat a field of 416 to win first prize, and trousered $ 865,000, or knocking on half a million quid.

I came face-to-face with Gale - 51-year-old father of four, soon-toretire City shaker, and horse-mad former jumps owner - when we momentarily went one-on-one at Table 12 of the 300-player Vienna cardathon.

I had raised, putting all my chips in. Gale stared at me. Like a honeymooning vet might observe a droopy sheep from his hotel window - curious, perhaps even intrigued on a professional level, but not enough to snap on the rubber gloves and get stuck in. He folded.

But let's set the scene for this moment of sporting drama - and the Bahamas it ain't.

From the outside, the Concord Casino seems an unlikely venue for the European poker elite to duke it out.

Think tandori takeaway crossed with a small DIY superstore, pop a brothel next door, and shoehorn the whole shebang into a carpark under a flyover on the wrong side of the tracks, and you have it - Austria's premier cardroom.

The Concord didn't exactly reek of glamour and dazzle inside either, though there was definitely something flavoursome in the eyewatering fug. Do hardening arteries give off a distinctive odour?

I watched one competitor prepare for the big event by eating a plateful of fried eggs and parsley, washed down with a glass of warm milk, into which he had carefully stirred half a dozen sugars. This was a non-smoking event, so he rounded off his warm-up with a few nourishing puffs.

He needn't have bothered, the house rules only required you to get up and move half a step from the table before you could spark up. Hour after hour, pale figures bobbed endlessly up and down through the smoke like darts players on a carousel. There's no denying that many of Europe's top poker stars are showing signs of wear and tear. But the sheer physical demands of the game are strangely brutal.

When I caught up with Gale on the morning of day two of the three-day event, he had managed just four hours sleep, getting back to the hotel at 4am, buzzing with adrenalin until 7am, after 13 hours intense scrapping at the table.

Short on chips, but still inthere fighting, that afternoon promised another motionless marathon.

You need a tireless backside in this game - but the mind is the muscle that counts. While on the previous day I had spent time between hands wondering what everyone was listening to on their iPods, Gale had been ruthlessly dissecting the play and the players on our table.

"What wereyou doing yesterday!?" he asks genially, before rattling off a card-by-card analysis of hands I couldn't remember playing, including the one that dumped me out of the running, in a head-to-head showdown with a Texan who could pass for Dennis Hopper's sweaty brother.

"His whole face lit up when he hit that ten," Gale offers gently.

I hadn't been looking, of course; worrying about playing out of turn again, probably; trying to work out when would be a good time to nip to the toilets.

"There's a lot of luck," Gale adds kindly. "No-one has ever won a big tournament without getting lucky. You could be the best player in the world and not win a major tournament - but the worst player in the world will never win."

IWONDERwhether the player who went out on the very first hand of day one thought he had been unlucky. According to Gale, that's at least as important a question as whether he played his cards correctly.

"It's a people game," he says, revealing that he, like a lot of the best players, keeps extensive notes on individual opponents, making use of the onscreen facility most major poker sites provide.

"When I play online poker I sit in my study or wander around the house with a laptop, and I record notes on everyone: their playing styles, what they do in certain positions. A lot of it is committed to memory, but I'm pretty methodical about keeping notes."

A career in finance, stocks and shares - Gale's company pitches IPO's - has seemingly equipped him well for life at the table.

A salesman's sense of the relativity of worth; a willingness to shoulder risk; combined with a keen sense of the bottom line. The latter would have kept him out of pro-poker - until the online boom. The qualifier that set him on the road to the Bahamas was just "something I thought would be a good way to spend an hour or so". It ended up changing everything.

Poker Stars in particular have "been brilliant" says Gale, a way in to an on-the-edge lifestyle that only the rich or reckless could normally embrace with steady hands. Online offered him a chance to prove himself, and now Poker Stars bankroll him at selected tournaments.

"What a life, travelling round the world. But it wouldn't have been easy to put up ten grand of your own money for your buy-in and travel to the Bahamas, just to have a go'. And you probably couldn't keep on doing it."

He's not alone in making the leap. Almost half the field at Vienna had won their seats and expenses scaling the pyramid of online qualification; three of the final eight players, including the winner, came the online route.

If you fancy joining them, Gale offers three golden nuggets of advice for wannabes: "Read as many books about poker as you can, even if you only take one thing from each of them.

"Take your time - you're never going to win a tournament in the first hour or two."

And, speaking as a man who relatively late in the day has seized the opportunity to try a dream life, and a warming lump sum, on for size, he adds: "Keep hold of your dreams and your aspirations - otherwise you might as well be dead."

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