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Copyright 2005 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
The Evening Standard (London)
June 3, 2005
HEADLINE: FLUSH! I DOUBLED MY MONEY WHEN I JOINED
THE £5.5 BILLION INTERNET POKER PARTY
BYLINE: CHARLIE METHVEN
I HAD always thought it would be complicated, but in
fact it was almost disturbingly easy. With two clicks of my mouse
and a brief registration process, which involved handing over
my credit card details, I was off and away, the latest addition
to the burgeoning ranks of Britain's army of online
The first question I had to resolve was just how lucky I was
feeling. Did I want to play on a table where the "blind",
or initial bet, is a whopping $60 - necessitating having $2,000
or so to gamble with in total - or should I start more cautiously
with a group putting down blinds of $1 a game? (Because it is
a "global" game, the online currency is the dollar).
I plumped for the latter, and found myself on a table of nine
players - five men and four women - with poker names such as Three
Spots, Carla69 and GiulioB. Electronically seated at the top of
the virtual table, I was rather pleasingly decked out in a brightly
coloured mid-Eighties suit of the kind once worn by Duran Duran.
Less than five minutes after accessing partypoker.com, it was
time for my first slice of the "action", as poker folk
call betting. It's an astonishingly simple concept, and one that
looks like netting the handful of shareholders in PartyGaming,
Party Poker's owner, around £5.5 billion when the company
lists on the London Stock Exchange later this summer.
For the online poker
virgin - I had only ever played the game in casinos before - there's
something oddly disorientating about playing cards when you can't
see the people you're competing against. I was also discombobulated
by the speed with which the game takes place. No time for chewing
on your cigar and thinking things over here: the powers-that-be
at Party Poker decree that you have a measly 10 seconds to make
Fortunately, I immediately hit a run of form which precluded
the need for choice. First up, I "hit" pocket aces (two
aces) and cleaned up. Next hand, I pulled out a nigh unbeatable
"quad jacks" (all four jacks) and gave Carla, Giulio,
Three Spots and the rest of them another hammering.
Having started with $30 in reserve, I was now up to $60. My pulse
By the time I made my grudging exit a few hands later, I was
hooked. And that is the beauty of online poker. No need to stray
from your sitting room, but all - well, almost all - the adrenaline
and mental challenges that you'd look for if you were playing
the game "live" in a Las Vegas casino.
The success of these online
poker sites might seem to have happened overnight, but the
industry has been growing swiftly for some time. The boom took
off at around the time its ill-fated elder brother, the dotcom
boom, was coming to grief five years ago. Here was a way for the
internet to be used which was light on labour and actually involved
money changing hands.
Those advantages were clear from the start, but what no one predicted
was that online poker would soon become a massmarket activity
- an industry which would involve, as it now does, £100
million a day being gambled worldwide by millions of players.
What is particularly striking is the profile of those who are
betting hard cash playing poker online.
Some, of course, are inveterate gamblers, but far more would
never usually bet anything more substantial than £10 on
the Grand National. Tom Parker Bowles, a keen player himself,
says that poker "is becoming the middleclass game of choice",
adding, "I play with doctors, lawyers - I've even played
with Sir Clive Sinclair."
An even less expected development has been the significant proportion
- now standing at well over 50 per cent - of online gamblers who
are women. Albert Tapper, the chief of Ladbroke's online
poker site, said recently: "More women play online because
it's a path to making money in a non-threatening situation."
THE potential to make money certainly shouldn't be ignored. The
poker boom quickly led to the emergence of a new career option,
as an "online poker professional".
Lee-Anne Smyth from Belfast quit her job with the Halifax two
years ago to gamble fulltime on the internet. Since then, she
estimates that she has made more than £150,000. "Who
needs a proper job when I can make what most people earn in a
month in a couple of hours?" she asks.
Unlike in most sports, there is also the glorious prospect of
the occasional amateur making it into the big time. Two years
ago, a small-town Tennessee accountant called Chris Moneymaker
paid a $40 entrance fee and qualified online for the World Series
of Poker. A week later, he walked away with the first prize of
$2.5 million. His win, together with his apposite surname, made
Moneymaker an instant celebrity and he subsequently turned professional.
The glamour of eventually making it to the tables in Las Vegas
has proved a massive draw for the online sites, with tens of thousands
paying their entry fees in the hope of emulating Moneymaker and
rubbing shoulders with the stars. Celebrities such as Matt Damon,
Jack Nicholson and Sarah Jessica Parker are all keen on the game
and can regularly be found watching the big tournaments in Vegas.
One such punter who found his way to Vegas on the back of an £11
online bet was 33-year-old Jonny Popper from Willesden Green,
north London. He walked away with a prize of $66,532 - around
£36,650. "I was thrilled. I couldn't quite believe
it. I had never played the game face-to-face before and then suddenly
I had won $66,000."
The past five years have also seen the top professionals - men
like UK No 1 Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott - become stars
in their own right. A few weeks ago, Ulliott - one of the few
non-Americans ever to have won a World Series of Poker event -
could be found at Newmarket, presenting the trophy to the winners
of the 2000 Guineas, one of horseracing's most prestigious events.
The chance to get seriously rich quick, celebrity glamour and
easy access - no one should be surprised that this is the business
story of the 21st century thus far. The question investors will
be asking themselves when Party Poker lists is: can the online
poker boom last? Well, if Party and co can persuade enough new
punters to get involved in the action, then it can.
And as for me and my big $60 win? I'm sure they will wrestle
it back off me the next time I join the party.
GRAPHIC: 1.THE STANDARD'S STORY YESTERDAY ABOUT THE PLANNED FLOTATION
2.COOL HAND: CHARLIE METHVEN CONCENTRATES ON HIS GAME 3.RIGHT:
JADE JAGGER, ONE OF THE CELEBRITIES AT THE UK LAUNCH OF PARTYPOKER.COM
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