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Copyright 2005 The Scotsman Publications
Evening News (Edinburgh)
April 13, 2005, Wednesday
GAME THAT HOLDS ALL THE ACES
BYLINE: Adrian Mather
THERE'S probably two images that spring to mind when someone mentions
playing poker. One
is of a set of grizzled cowboys in a seedy Wild West saloon, reaching
for their guns as the fifth ace in the pack turns up. The second
is of a group of high-rolling businessmen, laying down gigantic
bets in the back room of high-class casino.
But the craze for poker is spreading beyond the mega-rich, business-suited
elite, thanks in part to the proliferation of online
sites, such as Ladbrokes and 888.com, allowing ordinary punters
to place modest bets from the comfort of their own homes.
Albert Tapper, general manager of LadbrokesPoker.com, the biggest
online poker site
in Europe, says: "There's been such a growth in poker being
shown on television, and we've seen that rise echoed online. More
than 25,000 people play
online poker with Ladbrokes every day, and at peak times we
have between 6000 and 7000 people playing on over 400 tables.
"In January 2003, the total global daily cash game turnover
for online poker was
just dollars 10 million (GBP 5.3m) and by 2004 it had risen to
dollars 60m (GBP 32m). Now, dollars 180m (GBP 95m) is wagered
in cash game pots in online poker every day."
But the craze is not just for online games. Fuelled by reports
of glamorous names such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Nigella Lawson and
husband Charles Saatchi, and Ben Affleck - who won the Californian
State Poker Championship last June - spending their evenings bluffing
and betting, groups of friends are setting up their own poker
Even Coronation Street has got in to the act when at the end
of last year viewers saw butcher Fred Elliott lose his shop to
Mike Baldwin in a high -stakes game of poker, just weeks after
they had started playing in the OAPs' club for mere pennies. But
for many the appeal is a sociable and intimate night's entertainment
- with no more cost than that of an average night out in town.
As Joe Tree, of Leith, who plays with around six friends on a
monthly basis, says: "We play a tournament style game where
everyone buys into the game with an equal amount, which is usually
around GBP 20 or GBP 30. Then we play to the death and the last
one standing takes home whatever cash is left. We usually buy
some beers and pizza with the pot, but there's still quite a bit
left over. And no one ever loses out too much because GBP 30 is
less than you would spend on a good night out."
Joe, who runs his own interactive media company in the Capital,
has been playing poker regularly with friends for the past two
years. He also runs his own poker website, which contains brief
updates about his games.
"We weren't particularly clued up on the rules when we started,"
Joe admits. "We'd just seen some poker games on TV and thought
that it would be a good laugh to do." He says that the group
plays standard Texas Hold 'Em rules when they meet - where each
player is dealt two cards and a further five "communal"
cards are placed face up on the table, allowing everyone to make
a five-card poker hand combination. But he admits that they don't
always stick to the rules.
He adds: "There was probably three of us who started our
poker group up, but it's grown since then and there's now a core
group of six. Sometimes one of us will bring along someone new
as well, so it's a good way of socialising and meeting new people
and we try to play every month."
And he says the games
aren't just about the money.
"Sure, if you win it's a nice wee bonus, but it's not the
real reason that we play. I won our last game and took GBP 108
away with me, which isn't bad for an evening's work, but it's
more the social side to it that is the fun part. It's all about
meeting up with a few mates and having a laugh and a few beers
with them for a whole night.
"It's probably far cheaper than going out clubbing and drinking
in the city centre."
JOE'S thoughts are echoed by Forth One presenter and Evening
News columnist Grant Stott, who has recently set up a regular
poker night with some of his close friends.
"There's a group of us who will all be hitting 40 in two
years' time," he says. "And we've planned to go over
to Las Vegas to do a spot of gambling. We used to play cards when
we were at school, but none of us has really had the chance to
play poker recently, so we thought we'd better get some practice
in before we go, otherwise we'll lose all of our money straight
"I looked on the internet for some poker gear and found
out that Texas
Hold 'Em was the popular poker version nowadays - as opposed
Card Stud, which is what we used to play when we were kids.
Since then, we've been trying to teach ourselves how to become
proficient at it, and we had our first real poker night a few
He adds: "We're all very much in the novice band, but it's
still a particularly pleasant and sociable way to spend an evening.
About five of us played at our first night, and it was just nice
to be able to have a few beers and relax with some friends whilst
"We're getting the hang of it slowly but we haven't played
for money yet, which is lucky because within three hands of our
first night I'd lost all of my chips.
"But then again, the only way that we'll get better is to
practice properly in front of other players rather than trying
to master it on the internet. We've got two years to get better,
so our poker nights should hopefully become something of a regular
Many players, of course, have taken up the game purely because
of the online offerings. One is Matt Milne, 21, an IT worker from
He says: "I started playing in May last year when I heard
a couple of guys from my old work talking about a tournament on
a site called Totalbet.
"I was intrigued and decided I wanted to try this whole
money for nothing thing, and the fact that you didn't have to
pay an entry charge made it more appealing."
He found the Texas Hold 'Em rules on the internet, read up about
them - and started playing.
"At first I didn't put any money in, but about three months
ago I started to play for real cash and began to put aside GBP
100 each month to play. I've entered online tournaments and won
a few now, so it can be a nice side income to have and I won dollars
1000 (GBP 530) on one last month.
"I also try to play a few tournaments at casinos as well,
although they are more for practice than anything else. It's usually
only the online poker that I make any money on."
And, according to Ladbrokes' Albert, being in Edinburgh gives
punters a head start in the good fortune stakes.
He says: "Out of the highest-winning cities that we saw
in the UK last year, Glasgow came fourth and Edinburgh was placed
second on the list."
But, of course, the biggest winners are the firms themselves.
As Albert admits: "This year, online
poker will provide more business for us than all of our other
online sports betting put together."
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