Meeting the Poker Pro

Thinking about and knowing my father-in-law and actually, the whole of my partner’s family, I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just reading the Independent book on how to win poker wouldn’t take me to the win that I need. Thankfully, a gem of winning poker brilliance landed on my lap this week.

A client had asked me to tweet about an upcoming Texas Hold’em event called ‘Dusk till Dawn‘. It happened that they were having a press event at Asper’s Casino at Westfield in Stratford, London. This was an event available to any poker journalists or bloggers. It was a lightbulb moment. I pictured Christmas this year, my Christmas money hot in my purse….and staying there, because this event included a lesson from a poker pro! Perfect.

I donned my best red lipstick and cool converse and headed to the casino, a 130 mile round trip. The casino wasn’t what I had imagined, too many Bond films had clouded my judgement, but there were a group of people, standing next to a bar, looking smartly dressed. Damn it, no converse. I headed over and was offered a free drink, double damn it, I’m driving.

I found myself, shandy in hand, explaining to various poker journalists and professionals that I don’t actually play poker, but have an outright plan of family domination at Christmas, which I am documenting in a blog. I felt slightly foolish, until I spoke to Paul Zimbler, who was the pro due to teach us poker that evening. I explained my predicament and he looked fairly understanding, “So, that’s 7 weeks.” “Yes” I replied. I told him about the Dan Plan and asked how long he thought it would take to beat my father-in-law. “100 hours practice will win you a game, maybe 1000 to win a tournament.” he replied. So a minimum of 100 hours practice to win at Christmas, that’s 15 hours practice a week! A daunting, possibly anti-social, but achievable task.

There was a lull, the time had come to sit down at the poker table. I found the person who looked the most worried, it turned out she knew as little as me, we sat together. Around the table were people playing with their chips in a moderately intimidating manner so I looked down, only to see that Paul had left us beautifully bound copies of the rules of poker at each of our seats.

IMG_0134Brilliant, this has got to help. Sadly, the rules of poker don’t teach you how to win poker. That is something that I think you gain from lessons and experience. However, I tried to memorise the different winning hands before I put my book away.

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The lesson was fantastic. I don’t want to write too much here for fear of giving away Paul’s secrets, suffice to say that by the end of the hour I was pretty convinced that 100 hours was never going to get me the win, given my terrible knowledge of the 4 times table.

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I wasn’t going to let that get the better of me though and sent out the initial warning shot to my partner informing him that I was ready to beat his dad at Christmas. That shandy must have been strong. My partner didn’t reply, but I could sense a raised eyebrow winging its way through the ether. Overconfidence is a dangerous beast.

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The lesson ended and the game began. We were each given £5000 of chips. I looked around. There were 11 of us at the table, 3 poker journalists, 3 bloggers, 2 professional poker players, 2 people who play in tournaments, the girl next to me who couldn’t play poker and me. Shit. I’ll be honest, I was scared out of the first few hands, so much so that I missed out on a flush. The bets went high and even though the money was virtual, I was scared to gamble it. The girl next to me lost her final chips.

At this point I decided that I should go for it and started gambling. I was in a good position, far away from the dealer and had had some time to watch the form of the other players. I bet high on a definite two pairs, my head drumming through the 4 times table of odds. I won! Within a few hands I had £13,000 of chips in front of me. I felt powerful, victorious, foolhardy. Too foolhardy! I tried to bluff. Slowly, but surely my giant stack of chips faded before my eyes. I found myself going all in on a hand that I really shouldn’t have gambled on. I lost. I was emotionally exhausted, my brain felt broken. I’d only been playing for 3 hours. But that was 3 hours off of the 100 and I felt invigorated to go for a Christmas win. More than that, I felt pushed to work towards entering tournaments.

And so, within a week my focus has changed. I now have two missions, 1. to beat my father-in-law at poker this Christmas 2. To win a poker tournament.

What have I let myself in for?

The Background

Three Christmases ago, I was sat in my partner’s parent’s kitchen with his dad. It had been a long day. I had cooked dinner for my dad (his house was over the back from theirs), struggled to use the one hob on his 40 year old cooker to make all the required festive delicacies, eaten with him, pulled a cracker each, avoided The Queen’s Speech, drunk 2 bottles of wine together and watched as he drifted off to Only Fools and Horses reruns. As he finally dozed off, I had made my excuses and left to pop round the corner. It was a familiar routine that I had been repeating for 20 years. You see, I’m an only child and Christmas is only really ever fun when you spend it with other people.

As a teenager, around the corner had been a big family and every Christmas I would find myself sat around their dining room table, surrounded by uncles and grandparents, playing cards and being fed more Christmas food then you could imagine. The house round the corner was a generous and glowing one, which I was always welcomed in to. The only thing that I never felt good about were the card games. Now, I’ll freely admit, I am an ace at Solitaire, absolutely fantastic, but anything that requires other players is the end of me.

Flash forward to three Christmases ago and the conversation in the kitchen had moved on to poker. I’d heard it mentioned that my partner’s dad was a good poker player, known as The Fisherman, but I’d stupidly never really put two and two together. “Oh yes” I said “I’ve played poker before.” It wasn’t a lie, I had, once at a New Year’s Eve party and had lost all of the pennies in my pot. “Well” he said “Let’s play”. I remember the thought that I only had £50 on me flashing through my head at about the point that I was £50,000 down. “Ummmm….goodness….I seem to be losing”, there was a slight twinkle in his eye, “Yes….you have.” I bowed my head in mock shame and vowed never to play cards again.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the annual game of “Chase the Ace”. A game, that after 20 years, I still don’t understand. There are aces and a queen and one or the other gets passed around the table. I always lose. But, with that loss I get to sit back and watch the family. They all have that twinkle in their eyes when they play cards, from Gran all the way down to great-grand children. Whatever they are playing, you can see the mischief and the laughter in their faces. It’s a warming and rather moving sight to behold and something that has made me believe that a family that plays together, may stay together.

In light of all of this, I have made the life changing decision to become good at cards. There is a man in America who has given up his job to become a professional golfer stating that it will take him 10,000 hours of play and practice to achieve his goal, The Dan Plan. Now, I can’t give up work or start crowd funding in order to beat my partner’s dad at cards, but I can utilise any opportunities that are thrown my way and will happily accept any assistance that is offered.

I have just 8 weeks!