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October 27, 2005

The William Hill Poker Grand Prix

I was lucky enough to be invited to play in the 1st ever William Hill Grand Prix last week. 56 players (and I mean ‘players’) would battle it out for the £150k first prize (buoyed by the £144k added by William Hill), but at £6k to enter I would only be in for 50% of the winnings as I decided it best and most sensible to sell 50% of myself to some nice friendly backers – I have a mortgage now you know and I got to be careful not to overplay my bankroll on too many occasions. I wasn’t initially in the competition and didn’t make the list for the first televised draw but due to some late drop outs (scared runners IMO :-) ) I managed to get in. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to be asked to play as I am sure this will be the event that everyone will be talking about in 2005 as the structure and line up was just phenomenal.

The event was being filmed at the Enfys studios in Cardiff by the same company that put together ‘Late Night Poker’ (the very program that first got me into this beautiful game). I traveled down to Cardiff on the Friday night as my heat was on the Saturday. I intended to get there late evening and just settle down for the night so I was fresh and ready for my heat, however… I spoke to my good friend Julian Thew (who was also playing) earlier in the week and he told me that the whole experience was just amazing (from the studio, the set, the green room, the food and the hospitality) so I decided to head down a little earlier and hopefully catch some action from the Friday heat.

When I got there, I realized Julian wasn’t bluffing… William Hill and presentable Ltd had put on an awesome show and really had gone to town on making this feel like a massively important event. The set was amazing and all the action could be followed live (without hole cards of course) by the audience and other players in the lounge style green room on a huge plasma TV from the comfort of a big plush sofa… yes, it was heaven. Friday’s heat ended around 10pm and we all headed back in the people carriers provided to the Hilton hotel in Cardiff city centre.

I knew the line up for my heat and immediately set about introducing myself to the rest of the guys I would be up against (I knew them but they didn’t know me sort of thing). I met Brian ‘the rookie’ Wilson who let me try on his WSOP bracelet (which looks a bit like cheap tat but on closer inspection is solid gold and contains real diamonds – wow!). Brian is a really interesting guy who hasn’t actually been playing poker that long but he’s full of confidence, enthusiasm and is a pleasure to have a drink with. I also ran into Barney Boatman, who is a real gent too and I met up with Marc Goodwin, who is big cash game player and mates with Dave Colclough and strangely enough he also knows the entire Warwickshire County Golf side, which I know so well myself and so love to beat. The Scandies in our heat were either flying in the following morning or were in their rooms playing a 1 million – 2 million limit hold em’ game.

I was loving it; I felt part of the game and couldn’t wait to get going the following morning. Bed time for me - later than planned at 1:30am – grrrr! (Poker stories mixed with poker players and free booze = late night).

To be honest, I didn’t sleep that well, partly due to the noise outside my room at 3am but mainly due to some excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead for me the following day. When I finally got out of bed I had an hour for breakfast before our driver was due to arrive to collect us at the hotel. I thought I would be nervous but I really wasn’t – I knew I could win my heat; I just needed to stay focused.

We arrived at the studio and I was immediately called into make-up - WTF? (Oh well, I suppose wearing foundation and concealing cream is a small price to pay for being on the telly). The TV interviews were swift and I thought mine went well – probably a few too many ‘er’s’ and ‘well’s’ but we’ll see when it’s shown. I was then asked if I would pose for a few still shots and sign a poker table, which was to be auctioned for charity – of course I will, I couldn’t wait to get my name on the same table as all those stars. The charity table was an awesome site, with the baize almost full to the edges of the names of all the top players that had participated throughout the week. As my heat was the second last one there wasn’t much room left and nearly everyone had signed their names already. I just stood there looking at all the names and then it hit me… I was where I wanted to be, playing in a TV tournament with all the big names that I had grew up admiring and I just felt so at home and so ready to win. – Let me at em’, it was time to show the world what I was capable of.

With the sound checks completed, final foundation applied, instructions on how to place your cards on the glass completed it was over to 8ft 4inch giant Thomas Kremser to issue us with our final instructions. The excitement was building, the sound of riffling chips increasing and the fight for dominant male was about to begin – and I for one wasn’t about to let myself get eaten up and spat out by these guys. – “shuffle up and deal”.

You’ll have to wait until it airs on channel 425 in December though to see the action as I am not allowed to reveal who won or how it went but one thing is for sure it will make GREAT TV and I can’t wait to watch it.


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