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16/03/2006 No.30
he Good Gambler
The Editor or one of our professional correspondants make regular contributions to coverage of the gambling world.
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Rio Hotel, Las Vegas
Rio Hotel, Las Vegas
Grosvenor Walsall
Grosvenor Casino, Walsall
Whats gone wrong with poker

Change has brought many a sponsorship deal and TV appearance but is the train comming of the tracks?

In July 2005, I witnessed strange goings on in Las Vegas, more precisely the Rio Casino and more precisely still, a convention centre behind it some ten tedious minutes walk from anything. It was of course the World Series Of Poker 2005 and of course not to be confused with any one that had gone before it.

If anyone was in doubt that poker had changed after seeing 2000 people play on each of the first three days of the Championship event at the 2005 WSOP, then the advent of the 'Poker Lifestyle' Convention immediately adjacent to it would have brought it finally home. Change it has and for some people this means a lot more money for sitting on their arse.

Another sad development in Las Vegas this year was the all too prevelant sight of the poker groupie. Not, you would think, young ladies trying to catch the eye of Wayne Flack before he falls over, but people, even players, having their shirts signed by Tod Brunson. Who? You might well ask for he is the son of God, or Doyle Brunson as he is known when he walks upon the earth. Tod is the next batton runner for the Brunson team and he can out eat his father and swear at journalists as well as Princess Anne.

At the end of the six week World Series Of Poker, the Championship event to produce the World Champion took eight hard days to complete. The final two of these were held downtown where until last year the WSOP had been home for 34 years. Once again there were plenty more autograph hunters, sycophants and general droolers getting under my feet in the eight day long Z-list celebrity party that ended in sad tribute to the way we were at the once Binion's Horseshoe, now named Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel. Benny Binion is turning in his grave.

Back in blighty, sanity resumed for me at the local £50 No-limit Holdem tournament but soon I was on my way to London to see what the tsunami of success had dropped on our shores. Bad news. At the CelebPoker event held at the Palm Beach Casino in Mayfair (late in July) bad things were afoot. Customers who had toiled over weeks to qualify for the big money televised event were shabily treated when actually competing in it. Firstly, after removing celebrities that had been shoe-horned into the event free of charge, they themselves were booted out of the event in lightening quick time by the most ridiculous blind and time structure ever seen. It made your average £5 thursday night rebuy competition look positively professional.

Having reduced the CelebPoker field down to 10 without much ado, the final was played on the Sunday in the casino restaurant with camera crews. The blind structure was stepped back two levels to lengthen the play. Thomas Kremser and his new wife Marina Rado were in charge of very little. The reason for the whole event was very evident, TV publicity of their website, playing poker a distant runner-up.

So onwards to the Grosvenor Grand Prix at the Grosvenor Casino, Walsall, England during 15 Oct - 16 Oct 2005. This was notable because the qualifying structure allowed for ordinary players to qualify around the country without top players being able to pay to enter, thus ensuring a value for money tournament. Pino Valentino (Italy) won first place but with money deals he picked up £50k instead of £100k. That wasn't the problem.The problemo was how shabily people were treated once the organisers had their captives at their mercy and the cameras were switched on.

All players had to turn up at 3pm Saturday yet only half could play at one time because of the venue size. The second half had to wait 6½ hours to play if you could understand the seating plan and timetable. Top seed Alan Vinson of London read the sheet and quietly sat 6½ hours at various gaming tables in the casino until 21:30 arrived. He was then informed that he was disqualified because he should have played at 15:00. Plenty of people will not be going back to that place ever again.

These events put me in mind to rest from the poker scene until sense had returned. Perhaps, I thought, I could watch a few "onTV" tournaments and listen to the erudite commentary. Yikes! Who are these people? The exception to the rule of TV poker seems to be the World Poker Tour programs with Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten commentating. Mike was a journeyman poker player, legitimately making a living from poker, albeit a thin one, before he lucked-in with the current poker-craze. Van Patten was once the 25th highest ranked player in the tennis world.

The WPT shows seem to conjure up some of the mystique of poker lost in the home grown (UK) product. Sexton's knowledge comes over well and Van Patten is there to provide some colour (a bit less than that, maybe color). It is a professional presentation which can actually be watched from beginning to end, which is singularly impossible with any I have seen from the UK. And those programs were really invented here!

Its now and this time its going to be longer than ever. Once more held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino from June 25 – August 10 2006. This year there will be no final day return to its old home Binions Horseshoe because once Harrahs (the owners of the Rio and for a short time Binions) had purchased the name Horseshoe they saw no point in keeping the downtown joint. It is now Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel and it still has the best Steak House in town.

John DuthieJust past (11-03-2006) was the 298 player event of the final EPT event (European Poker Tour created by John Duthie) won by American student Jeff Williams, 21 years of age from Atlanta, Georgia. He made it there from an on-line tournament and pockets $1,078,000. By the account of Anthony Holden (author of Big Deal and All In) the event was hearteningly enjoyable and maybe the train is still on the tracks.

We will be at Old Trafford in June to let you know!