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Copyright 2005 The Financial Times Limited
Financial Times (London, England)
May 14, 2005 Saturday
London Edition 1
HEADLINE: Log on, light up and look out for
the losers HOW TO PLAY Ex-bookie Tommy Grimes gave up the day
job to play
online poker. The gamble paid off, writes Dido Sandler
BYLINE: By DIDO SANDLER
Tommy Grimes has an enviable lifestyle. He makes a living playing
online poker from his villa in southern Spain. He gave up
his day job as a bookie in Gibraltar, and has earned Pounds 104,000
in two and a quarter years of playing.
"I have a fantastic way of life... A life of absolute luxury.
The profits (from poker) have paid for a hell of a lot."
Grimes loves the sun, the people and the lifestyle of southern
Spain. Making his living on the internet means he can reside anywhere.
He describes himself as a "third-generation bookie"
having worked previously as a trading manager for offshore bookmaker
Victor Chandler, a Pounds 50,000-a-year job. Originally from Enfield,
Grimes has a London accent, and the mathematical fluency with
which he rattles off the odds on a poker game is a bit like listening
to City trader patter.
What differentiates poker from games
such as roulette and slot machines is that the former is a skill
game. You can actually win if you're good enough. Grimes plays
a variant called Texas Hold'em, which dominates the worldwide
online gaming community.
According to Andrew Lee, leisure analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort
Wasserstein, Hold'em is 70 per cent skill. There is no house edge,
the operator takes 2.5 to 3 per cent of winning pots from ring
games or 6-10 per cent from tournaments. "If you play roulette
and slot machines you will definitely lose in the long run,"
The existence of so many high-profile professional poker players,
some of whom had been around for 30 or 40 years, suggested to
Grimes that money could indeed be made this way. When he took
paternity leave for his second child he won several thousand pounds
over a couple of months. So he set to work, studying book after
book, website after website, understanding odds and learning strategies.
The biggest gamble of Grimes' life was to jack in the day job.
It was high stress, and he was constantly on call. Since then,
however, he says hasn't looked back.
Grimes saw how it could be relatively easy to win. "It's
amazing how many bad players there are out there."
Global online poker
is growing at a phenomenal rate - by around 4,000 people a week.
There are plenty of novices, many of whom prove easy pickings
to the likes of Grimes. The key to his game is finding "a
fish", or someone you can make money from.
He can spend an hour looking at other peoples' games, trying
to find players he can beat. One morning, for example, Grimes
logged on and saw a couple of players who weren't concentrating
on their game, as they were chatting online about that day's Trisha
"It was like a dream come true. Within 20 minutes I'd won
It's equally important to avoid the good players. To this end
Grimes makes notes about the players he comes across, and their
individual playing styles.
He's online perhaps six hours a day midweek. But weekends is
when Grimes makes the real killing. "It's like Christmas
every Friday and Saturday night. You're playing against the drunk
He logs on at UK pub closing time, and cleans up among the half-cut
Brits. "People don't understand why they don't win. They're
not mentally prepared," he says.
At other times in the week Grimes chooses opponents from across
There are two key skills with Texas Hold'em, he says. First you
need to be able to read other players. Second, you need to calculate
rapidly the odds of a situation, and only play when they're in
your favour. Working out the odds can be a complex business, but
it is relatively straightforward for Grimes.
"I've been involved in gambling all my life, and it's easier
for me to understand." You also need a good memory for cards.
The ex-bookie prefers playing online to meeting others in the
flesh. "I'm no good as a live player. With live poker you
have a 'tell'." That is, you can read players' cards by their
body language. Grimes says he's too legible to the experienced
player, and prefers the invisibility of the web. He uses Partypoker.com
and, to a lesser extent, VC Poker and Pacific Poker websites.
There are three types of Hold'em
Limit and Pot
Limit (see sidebar). Grimes plays all three. But his favourite
ring game is pot limit, as novices often fail to understand how
much they can lose, and may place large bets on weaker hands.
Grimes plays mainly ring games, that is, discrete games where
you play for cash. Sometimes he participates in tournaments where
you pay an entry fee, and the winner, rather than bagging the
money, goes on to the next round. The eventual overall competition
winner can pick up hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars
in prize money.
But Grimes has a warning for all would-be poker gamblers. Playing
poker online requires discipline as it is extremely addictive.
"(It's) the biggest drug of them all," he warns.
Texas Hold'em is a poker
game for up to 10 players. The dealer gives each player two
secret, personal cards each, then as the game progresses, five
"community cards" are dealt, face-up in the middle of
the table. Players select from a total of seven cards to make
the best five-card hand.
Before any cards are dealt, the two players to the left of the
dealer place the first bets - the "small blind" and
the "big blind". After the "hole cards" -
the first, personal pair of cards - go out, there's a full betting
round. Further rounds follow after the "flop" - when
three community cards appear. Then after "the turn"
and "the river" - cards four and five.
Players decide whether to "fold", that is, to throw
in the hand. Whether to "call" - match the existing
largest bet. Or "raise" - ie increase the amount wagered,
or "check". To check is to opt not to bet, and you can
only do this if there are no preceding bets in the round.
There are three types of Texas
Hold'em. With Limit Hold'em there is a betting limit in each
game and on each round. In No
Limit games a player can bet as much as they have on the table.
Professionals tend to play more No Limit, while amateurs gravitate
towards Limit. Under Pot Limit rules, the maximum bet is equal
to the total pot at the time of the bet.
In online games the dealer is notional - the "dealer button"
indicates the theoretical dealer, and moves clockwise to the next
active player after each hand.
Punters can log on at any time of the day or night, and sit down
to a game with players from all around the world. Individuals
may chat online as they play. There are practice games where you
don't have to gamble. And 5p/10p versions are available. In actual
casinos such small bets are unviable.
There are poker tutorials for beginners on most poker sites.
Grimes recommends VC Poker as a good place to start practising.
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