In recent years, small poker clubs have sprung up across the country, providing ideal venues for amateurs to hone their skills. But with the big casinos against them and their legal status uncertain, the card rooms' future looks far from secureby David Flusfeder / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
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I was at the Gutshot poker club in Clerkenwell in January on the day that Derek Kelly lost his court case. That afternoon the jury had decided that Kelly, then chairman of Gutshot Poker, had profited from a game of chance without holding a gaming licence, in contravention of the Gaming Act of 1968. Kelly, a stocky middle-aged Irishman who has the energy and charisma to turn most things his way, had failed to persuade the court that poker should be regarded in law as a game of skill rather than chance. At the club, before the night’s tournament began, he made a short, bullish speech. “The casinos won today,” he said. “Big money won today.” At this, all the much littler money in the room booed the casinos and cheered the Gutshot; then the evening’s business—and pleasure—began.
Today, despite Kelly’s prosecution, the Gutshot continues to be open for business. Its premises are half the size they were before the case, but it has retained its core, new-generation clientele: the twentysomethings in their sunglasses and baseball caps, who sit at the tables wired into their iPods, riffling their chips and trying fancy moves, and sometimes (to the annoyance of the older players) bursting into testosterone-rush posturing—punching the air when they get a bit of luck, or shouting “Get in,” as if a Tuesday night £5 rebuy tournament in Clerkenwell were only a flop away from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
When I started playing poker, about seven years ago, I was instantly captivated by the game that is, as Al Alvarez puts it, “social Darwinism in its purest, most brutal form: the weak go under and the fittest survive through calculation, insight, self-control, deception, plus an unwavering determination never to give a sucker an even break.” Yes, luck is involved, but unlike such casino games as blackjack or craps or roulette, you’re not gambling against the house with its in-built advantage; it’s you against other people. Over the long haul, character and skill decide the outcome.
Despite the surface courtesy, it’s a world of sharks feeding on the fish. The best players try to make losers feel good about losing, so they’ll lose more. It takes concentration, stamina, practice, skill and self-knowledge to survive and prosper…