Lee Davy continues his confessions series with a look at the way poker unites people, who under normal circumstances, would never have met.
Did you exist in a caste system when you were growing up?
I know I did.
There were two categories of people: cool and uncool. My entire childhood was a battle to be at the head of the cool gang. It meant more to me than family.
My choices in life were dominated by ego. It was poker that eventually broke down those barriers. It was poker that gave me the opportunity to see past the glossy front covers, and delve deep into the tea stained pages.
We often joke that my local home game is like a United Nations conference. There is an Iranian. We all assume that he is a Muslim. We joke about him being a terrorist (he looks more like Super Mario). We don’t like the taste of his food.
Then there was Turkish Kurt. He was bald. His head was huge. I used to squirm in my seat as beads of sweat would drop into his drink during a tense hand. He sometimes wore a flat cap. I was glad when he did. He was the fish in the game – a true gambler. He was also hard as nails. You wanted this man beside you during a fight. I loved Turkish Kurt. He died of cancer. The only fight he ever lost. I didn’t even know his real name.
Louie has to be watched like a hawk. If you turn your eye for one second he will steal your big blind, Terry is the local drug dealer, Steve and Gary are the more mature types who hold the game together, and then you have the odd visit by Jeremy the Spaniard, Danny Mac and his hundred kids, and Alan the Bookie. I mean, what game of poker doesn’t contain a Bookie?
Only a Guy Ritchie movie has a more eclectic character mix than my home game. And yet we all love each other. We don’t think twice about making loans. And we have each other’s backs. We even love loose-fingered Louie. We know he is a wide boy, and yet we still love him. He is part of the family.
It’s not just the home games, where people who ordinarily would never mix, do so with ease. Take the first round of interviews I did whilst in WPT Amsterdam.
The first person I interviewed was Paul Newey. You look at him and think: ‘That’s my Dad’. He doesn’t fit into this picture I have painted. And yet in the summer he cashed for $1.4m in the WSOP Big One for One Drop. He is a multi-millionaire businessman. He plays poker full-time for a hobby. He even brings his assistant with him wherever he goes. His assistant also plays. And yet I can imagine him going home to see his Mum on Sunday’s. eating roast dinner, then winning a few hundred thousand on the online slot machines whilst he watches Last of the Summer Wine.
Then I interviewed Andrew Chen. The man underneath the blue baseball cap. He has won over $4.4m playing poker. He looks so young. When I talk to him it’s clear that he is more introvert than extrovert. Yet recently he went out on a limb and posted a note on Facebook standing up for the rights of the EPT Dealers. He is the reluctant hero. Outside of poker he spends time with his girlfriend and plays more poker. I picture him in a laboratory solving the world’s problems.
Samantha Abernathy is a beautiful American girl. Once again she looks to young to even be in a casino. She looks out of place. Like a rose planted in the mess of a portaloo in Glastonbury Festival. But don’t be fooled by her looks. She is aggressive. It’s a trait she picked up from her gymnast days. She is also highly creative. She is an artist. And yet here she is in Amsterdam, dragged here by friends who thought it would be a great experience for her. On Day 1A someone kept breaking wind at her table. I was always there. She kept looking at me. It wasn’t me Samantha.
Then there is Dominik Nitsche. This skinny German kid who somehow managed to carve out a career earning millions of dollars playing what is ostensibly a video game. A kid who was then bold enough to leave his bedroom and play live poker. It’s no exaggeration to say that poker turned him into a man. Everything he has learned about his life, he has learned playing poker. I often want to be inside his head. I want to know what he is thinking. I bet his parents haven’t seen him for years.
This is poker.
It’s so much more than a card game. It’s so much more than cool and uncool kids. It’s life and death. It’s family. It’s a bond that you will struggle to find in most other games and sports. It’s an eye opener, a showstopper, and I am forever grateful that they opened up their arms and let this ego in.