The Early Days

Warning: This post is 13,500 words long.

Cliff Notes: I’ve been a gambling in general and playing poker in particular for a very long time.

Age 11

I think it was age 11, (1970) but my mother thinks it actually happened at an even earlier age than that. I don’t remember it at all, but when I was very young maybe 3 or 4 years old my mom’s brother (Uncle Les) came to stay with us for about 4 weeks. Apparently he had a pack of cards and one day to entertain me whilst mom was cooking, he sat me at the dining room table with him whilst he was playing patience. My mom says I was fascinated by him shuffling the cards and showing me some magic tricks etc.

Les liked a bet, frequented snooker halls and pre-gaming board gambling dens! So he was the black sheep of the family so not surprising I admired him!

As I say I really don’t remember it but my mom says I do take after Les in many ways so he was always blamed for my misspent youth!

My earliest memory of gambling

Anyway my earliest memory of cards was one day at the age of 11 whilst at school. I saw a group of lads’ playing cards on the grass at the edge of the playground. I knew most of them so went over to watch. It wasn’t just me watching quite a few lads had gathered round, the game was 3 card brag for “real” money, though the stakes couldn’t have been any lower. It was 1p blind 2p open for those of you who are familiar with “brag”. It was 1970 so it was “old” (pre decimal) money.

It looked exciting and dangerous (automatic caning if caught, corporal punishment wasn’t just allowed but positively encouraged in those days) so I watched with interest. I think I was hooked on playing cards from that moment on.

When the bell went I walked back into school with one of the lads and asked how to play the game. I picked it up quickly and became addicted to the game. I and 5 or 6 friends would play every Saturday night at my best mates’ house. His Mom & Dad would go to the pub every Saturday and leave us to baby sit each other.

Now the skill level in 3 card brag may not be that great but I always seemed to win. I didn’t know how or why at the time but I just felt that I was somehow “destined” to win. Later on when I learned more about poker and “tells” I realized that sub-consciously I was picking up tells from my opponents’ body language, how they bet, what they said, and how they said it, etc. As I said not too much skill/strategy involved in 3 card brag but without realising I had a small edge over my opponents with a slightly better than average ability to “read” them.

It was at this age just “fun” to me, though going home with more money than you went out with was a good habit to get into! I played in that “home” game and others like it on and off for many years. It also at a very early age introduced the idea to me that where there is money and gambling cheating is always a possibility.

In that tiny home game amongst “friends” we used to play 3 card brag with two’s wild, so having a two in your hand was a massive advantage.

As you may be aware if you’ve played brag people start off by betting blind and after a few rounds people will start to bottle out and “look”. Then if they wish to carry on betting have to pay double the blind price. Unlike poker you cannot have 3 or 4 way showdowns. No one can say “call” until there are just two left. No cards were exposed; all were face down at all times, so being a good judge of the strength of your opponents hand was crucial as you had no other information to work with.

As they were wild cards, being dealt a 2 guaranteed that you had a least a pair and also greatly increased your chances of having a flush or run etc. Now a pair would very often win the pot so the wild cards were crucial. Also if you knew you’d been dealt one it would give you a lot of confidence to go blind for longer. The younger brother of my best friend (who’s house it was) knew all this as well. So after playing in the games for several weeks and losing each week, suddenly he started winning all the time one night.

I wasn’t sure what it was but I sussed that something wasn’t right. But like most cheats he was a bad player and pretty stupid. On some hands he looked at his cards almost immediately and folded, when he knew someone else had been dealt a 2, whereas on other hands he didn’t look for ages and on these hands he had a 2. As I say I didn’t know exactly what was going on but I knew something wasn’t right.

I spoke to his brother privately about my concerns in the kitchen and he had a quiet word with him. (I think he had him in a headlock at the time) He admitted that he’d marked the 2’s in the deck. He had to give all the money back he’d won that night and he wasn’t allowed to play in the game again.

Now that taught me a valuable lesson and bearing in mind that I’ve played in some pretty dodgy pubs, snooker halls, homes and casinos in my time I don’t think I’ve ever been cheated since, though many have tried.

Age 15: Pub Games

Cards started to be a bit more substantial when at age 15, I started going into pubs!

At that age in Redditch their were only 2 pubs you could get served in, the “Rising Sun” and the “Wagon & Horses”. The Rising Sun was about the size of a 2 up 2 down terraced house which wasn’t surprising as that’s exactly what it was. It had just 2 rooms a back and a front one and an outside toilet, just one, for male and female punters. Though to be honest I never saw any women in there apart from the landlady. It had no light in the loo which was just as well as the smell told you all you needed to know.

The older folks went into the back room and us young ones in the front.

I had no income at that age so being able to play cards in there and win even a small amount of money was great as it more than covered the cost of my beer and fags. I used to smoke then which was just as well as the smoke was that thick in there you’d be inhaling it anyway.

The game in the Rising Sun was just between us young lads, most of which I knew and was very small stakes stuff. However when I started going into the Wagon the game in there was being played by “grown” men with jobs. They played worse than us but didn’t seem to mind losing a “couple of quid” in a night for the fun/banter of being in the game.

In the Wagon they used to serve their own brewed on the premises “Scrumpy Cider” which was basically fire water. You could only buy it in half pint glasses as it was too dangerous to drink pints. A lot of the old regulars died of Cirrhosis of the liver. (I’m absolutely serious about that fact it really did happen). It was the only pub I’ve ever been in where they genuinely had sawdust on the floor.

The cider was that cloudy you couldn’t see through it and it had bits floating round in it! When I first went in there I think it cost about 15p for half!

It reminds me of the old joke, “barman this cider looks a bit cloudy”. “What do you expect for 15p, thunder and lightning?” One thing I learned quickly is that drink and gambling don’t mix well. I had a few losing nights in the Wagon when I was literally blind drunk, and when I say blind I mean I actually couldn’t see!

After that lesson was learned I was never that popular with the landlords as I would nurse a glass of coke for 4 hours whilst trying to take the beer money of their regular drinkers!

In this game I started winning some pretty serious money, well for a 15 year old anyway, and realized that cards had some real profit making potential.

Age 16

When I was 16 I graduated to quite a big brag game which was played amongst some of the taxi drivers in or around the “hot dog stand” which was by the taxi rank in my home town.

Luckily for me the guy who owned the hot dog stand, Philip, was the older brother of my best and oldest friend Derek, so my friend and I were obviously made very welcome in the game.

I quickly made friends with the regulars and became an accepted member of the game. We also used to play a game called “spoof” which was great fun and some of the games were for really big money.

I was by this time playing 3 card brag fearlessly for ridiculous amounts of money. I guess it was the old “easy come, easy go” train of thought. I hadn’t “worked” for the money it was all money I’d won off other people. If I lost a lot of money one night I really wasn’t bothered.

Something else I learned about gambling at that early age was the devastating affect it could have on someone who was really addicted to it. One of the taxi drivers who played and lost in the games on a regular basis was also addicted to fruit machines. He ended up stealing money from the cab firm he worked for. He staged some ridiculous robbery to try and cover up what he’d done. I remember when he got sacked I felt awful for him he was such a nice guy.

On the whole though I was a winner and it seemed easy to me.

The variance was severe in brag though of course, and often I’d go broke and be back to square one. I’d then drop back down to the smallest games in the Rising Sun and Wagon, and start again.

Bankroll management hadn’t been invented in 1975, or if it had no one had told me about it!

Age 17, POKER!!

At age 17 I’d started frequenting different pubs as I could get served in most now. My two main card playing ones were the “Sportsmans Arms” and the “Crown”. The Sportsman still had outside toilets but there were a gents and ladies and they had a light in them. The Crowns toilets were inside, so I was moving up in the world!

Here they played 3 card brag for bigger stakes (though not as big as the taxi driver’s game) and also 7 card stud poker and 5 card draw (jacks or better). I kept away from the poker initially as I didn’t even know how to play it.

I was unaware even of the rules of poker or hand rankings but liked the look of 7 card stud as you could see some of the cards and it seemed (along with draw) to have a bit more thought to it than brag. I stuck to brag though as I felt comfortable with it.

Around this time (age 17) Philip, the owner of the hot dog stand, and Derek invited me to a terrific “private” poker game which became the mainstay of my poker life for the next 30 plus years. I still play home-games with Derek now, well over 40 years later.

It was each Sunday night at the same house and ran every week like clockwork. Back then you had to have at least £50 in your pocket when you showed up though the minimum amount you could put on the table at any one time was £20. It was pot limit with lots of action. I first played in this game in 1976.

Many of those players have sadly passed on and I’ve been to several funerals where afterwards we’ve played poker all night and told stories of the dearly departed as a mark of respect.

I can say without hesitation that although we were trying to metaphorically murder each other across the table week in week out, they were/are the greatest friends you could ever wish for. Some truly wonderful/colorful characters with stories that could keep you entertained even on nights when you were running bad.

When I first got invited to the poker game I was very nervous for two reasons, firstly for not having played the game before and secondly I’d heard loads about one particular player, Neil Huston, who magically “never lost” so I was extra worried about him.

I went to the local library and got out the only book on poker they had. It basically told you the rules but absolutely nothing about strategy. The game they played in this private cash game was mainly 5 card stud, full deck.

I did manage to find a poker book in WH Smiths but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called. It was an autobiography/story about a poker player but it gave his starting hand requirements and some of his strategies for the main games of the day. Draw Jacks or better, 5 and 7 card stud and some other games including playing with wild cards and Razz etc.

Fortunately for me the guy was a complete rock so the basic foundations of my poker strategy were laid on solid ground.

I’m almost ashamed to admit it (no I’m not really) but basically for 5 card stud I was playing Ax, Kx (Only if no Ace or king is showing round the table) any pocket pair and any 2 cards Ten or higher but these only if I couldn’t see 2 of my cards showing.

Now interestingly in our game the lowest card did not “bring in” but it was the highest card that opened the betting. We did not play antes either, so I could sit and fold all night for nothing! It was “Nit heaven on earth”.

Now my style would have been massively exploitable versus good players but in those days 99.9% of all poker players just played like it was brag. They just seemed to call all the way to 5th street and see what happens there. Even though I turned up the best hand at show down time after time it didn’t stop them from calling me!

Obviously I was folding lots of garbage hands and just playing the good stuff and versus players who were eternally optimistic of their chances of hitting runner, runner or hitting a middle pin straights meant I was always at an advantage.

Now the me v Neil thing was sort of built up before the game as the other regulars enjoyed trying to wind him up by telling him that a “shit hot” young brag player was going to give him something to think about. As it happened I did very well first game, got some good hands and won some decent pots. Neil also won and we largely stayed out of each others way. He was playing fairly rock like also, though not as tight as me. I realized some months later that he had just played steady poker for years against these guys and won thousands of pounds doing it. Though don’t let that fool you he was/still is, one of the best poker players I’ve ever seen.

During the second weeks game was our first really big clash. It was suggested about half way through the night that we should play “lowest hand wins” for a while. When I say half way through the night that’s exactly what I mean. These games would start at 11.00pm and go on till 7.30am when we would go to Pete’s café for breakfast then straight to work afterwards. Oh to be young and fit again!

I guess it was some form of lowball as it was still 5 card stud (1 down, 4 up) but Aces were low and runs and flushes didn’t count.

I was in a pot with Neil and 2 others when he paired his highest card (a 10) on 4th street and folded. The very next hand he made a comment on 4th street about having “the same cards as last hand.” (Though he didn’t have a 10 showing) On the river he hit a 10 but he had no higher card showing, so 10 high was the best possible hand he could have. I hit an open pair of 8’s on 5th street so my hand looked busted.

It was just me and Neil left in and he made a reasonably big bet on the river (5th street) which I just sort of pondered for a while. It seemed a daft bet as it looked like an automatic fold from me and surely if he had the best hand a small value bet might just encourage me to call with my 8’s. I start to think why has he bet so much? (A thought that has entered my head a lot versus many players over the years)

I remember his “same cards as last hand” comment and start to think he must have a 10 in the hole and has paired on 5th street, in which case my 8’s are good!

Our games were/are always noisy with lots of banter and stuff going on but it goes noticeably quiet at this point as I start to give it some serious thought. Eventually I call and he throws his cards in the muck in disgust. Wooosh, tension released and some of the other players don’t want to waste an opportunity to make fun of Neil start to rib him.

I win big that night and he loses so I leave the game feeling great. I won just over £30 and at the time I was working full time (40hrs) and earned £18 a week after tax and N.I

I repeated the feat at the next game, however at our 4th game Neil busted me severely and really taught me a lesson. By this time he’d really got my number and just took me apart. Now Neil is a talker at the table and used it as psychological warfare though he was always very clever with it. He never went far enough that anyone could get really upset with him but he just kept applying pressure like a dripping tap. I fell for it and went on tilt whilst playing poker for the first (and sadly not last) time ever.

He started saying I should “get off the fence” and start playing a few pots now and then instead of being such a rock. Quite a few people know me as “Drain” or “Fluence” online these days, but back then and still in that game to this day I’m known as “The Fencer” thanks to Neil’s “get off the fence” comment. I got used to it after a while and didn’t mind it so much. Though I was glad when they stopped calling me “The Creosote Kid”.

I lost £120 in that game which was my whole bankroll so I couldn’t play in the game the following week.

I could scrape the £20 together but not £50. I had to go back to the smaller pub games and play there. Fortunately the pub poker games were smaller stakes and even softer. Also as it was limit poker, so the swings were much less noticeable.

I was a very regular winner in the pub games and played in the Sportsman’s on Thursdays and the Crown on Fridays. For quite a while this was my routine, Thurs, Friday pub limit cash games, (mainly 7 card stud) and Sundays 5 card pot limit stud in the private game.

As time went by I started to like and admire Neil and obviously studied him hard at every Sunday game. I started to understand what he was doing and why, and learnt a lot from him. I was a consistent winner in the games right from the start and always noted down my wins and losses in a little pocket diary someone had bought me for Christmas.

In 1976 just playing basically these 3 games each week I won £1,000 when my wages were almost that exact same amount. I continued to record my results like this until 2003 when my wife and I split up and my diaries got thrown away. (more about that later)

Now apart from our Sunday Night game, I knew that Neil used to play in an even higher stakes game on Tuesdays in a small village not far from Redditch. After knowing Neil for over a year we’d become friends and he asked me if I wanted to play in it. You had to bring £500 with you, though the minimum sit down was £100. Neil said he’d lend me £200 just to show as I walked in, as I’d only got just over £300 in my bankroll at this point but I was not to use it if I busted out.

Just to put that in perspective £500 was almost 6 months wages for me, so that’s equivalent to me sitting in a cash game now with about £20k in my pocket!

He advised me to play tight, and then realised what he’d said and laughed. Just take it easy though he said as it’s a lot bigger than what you’re used to. He wasn’t kidding. There was no change on the table, unlike the Sunday game. On a Sunday the normal opening bet early in the night was 20p or 30p and it got a bit bigger later as the losers were chasing and 50p was the opening bet.

The minimum bet here was £1, “F me” I thought, that’s 2 hours wages for me at work! In those days £1 coins hadn’t been invented so it was pound notes!

I remember the very first pot someone got dealt an ace and opened for £2. I was bricking it. Luckily I got dealt some decent hands early and won a couple of smallish pots by their standards but it enabled me to relax and get into it a bit.

After a while I realised that the stakes didn’t make a real difference, the players were not any better, just better off! There were a couple of farmers, a bookmaker, and barber shop owner (He owned 4 shops, though sadly through gambling he lost them all and his house, at the Rainbow Casino in Birmingham). Also an antique dealer bless him who was a big a fish as I’ve ever seen. Over the years at stud, he used to say to me “I suppose I’ve got to pay to see your Aces”. He would never seem to tire of saying it and I certainly never got tired of showing them!

After my early good start in the game I caught for some unfortunate coolers and a couple of people out drew my big hands. I was down to £35 which really wasn’t enough to do any damage in this game. So I reloaded an extra £100 and carried on playing. Fortunately things turned my way and in that game I won over £100 and I was by no means a big winner, though it was my biggest ever win at that time.

One of the farmers lost £700 and didn’t seem a bit bothered about it. I’d have been positively suicidal if that was me. I didn’t bother going to work the next day something my parents weren’t too happy about but I thought sod it I’ve won over a month’s wages.

As you may have ascertained by now, I knew absolutely nothing about bankroll management at this stage of my poker life. I would almost always take my entire bankroll to every game I played in, though not the pub games.

I would have great winning streaks where I would be carrying round something approaching a grand and at other times I’d be borrowing £20 so I could go in the pub and play limit stud!

More to the point my bankroll management was about to get even worse when I started playing in even bigger games and betting on animals with four legs.

I started getting an unhealthy interest in horse and greyhound racing around this time with lots of visits to Willenhall and Hall Green dog tracks. Also all the local horse racing venues like Stratford, Worcester, Warwick and Cheltenham. I was also spending daft amounts of money on wine, women and song but at least I wasn’t wasting it!

I had some really big wins due to horses and greyhound betting but overall it was a huge net loss to me in the long run. The strangest thing I always found was, when I was loaded and didn’t need the money I always seemed to win at the track or betting shop. When I was broke and really needed the money I never won.

If I’m honest I’d have always been much better off if I’d been tight with my winnings but when I won money I liked to spend it. Often on completely stupid things. When I think back now I could cry at the money I’ve blown but it was fun at the time. As the saying goes, “youth is wasted on the young”.

Age 18, Casino Membership!

Just when you thought my life as a degenerate gambler couldn’t get any worse I started going to casinos!

I turned 18 in 1977 and soon after my birthday joined the Rainbow Casino in Birmingham and the Stakis which was owned by Ladbrokes I think, though it’s a Gala now. I learnt the delights of Blackjack and Roulette and on one of those early nights in the Stakis won £600 playing blackjack.

WTF £600 that was an absolute fortune in those days. There was no poker room at the Stakis only house games, but there was a card room at the Rainbow and that really interested me, for two reasons.

Firstly although the smaller games were not much bigger than I was already playing the “big” game was real big. We’re talking £2/4 blind (in 1977) that was truly huge.

Secondly they were not playing 5 or 7 card stud, but a “new” type of poker that I’d not seen before, called “Texas Holdem”. Wow what was this sh1t I thought!!! Flop cards that everyone used?

The action in that game was awesome. It was pot limit and players just seemed to be habitually betting “pot”. Rarely did a pot go un-opened and I saw some pots that had so much money piled up in the middle that a circus dog would have had trouble jumping over it. Once when someone said “pot” on the river and someone wanted to call, it took the dealer and card room supervisor 3 or 4 minutes to count it!

That looks interesting I thought! A few of us from our private Sunday night game including Neil went up the first night I joined, and we all watched it. It wasn’t long before we started playing it at our Sunday night game. Obviously I didn’t play that first night at the Rainbow but in the back of my mind as we were driving home I was already picturing me sat at that game.

This is when my bankroll swings would really get to nose bleed proportions. The way I managed my BR was totally awful, but back then how was I supposed to know any better? There were no books, (or at least if there were I was unaware of them) and all the things that new players can do to find poker knowledge now just didn’t exist. I was just learning from my mistakes and some of the people I would talk to.

If I’m honest “Holdem” was a bad thing for players like me and Neil . Don’t get me wrong it was still me and Neil who ended up winners at the end of each year at the Sunday and Tuesday night games but the variance meant that I would rarely win at more than 4 or 5 consecutive games.

Also you were never really safe in a game. If I was a big winner at stud there was no way I could lose all the money back during the game. But Holdem meant huge pots with huge swings and even at pot limit your stack could be wiped out in 2 or 3 hands.

By this time at stud I was so good compared to my opposition, (I’d really started to expand my game) that I would go 15-20 games without losing. I never ever lost at three consecutive sittings and even two was exceptionally rare. It was almost like clocking in at work I was so regular at the game.

With Holdem though, I’d have huge wins (bigger than at stud) and big losing nights also. It was a game that seemed to induce action and the gamblers loved it. “Any two cards can win” they were fond of saying. Whereas in 5 card stud if I got dealt wired Aces then any other 2 cards were really up against it!

In those early days players would pick up an opened ended straight draw and be re-raising like it was the stone cold nuts.

Unlike stud the pots just got way too big, too fast. The fish were still never folding and in this game they were having draws of all kinds and when players tried to protect their hand by betting the pot they were getting 4 or 5 callers.

When we started playing it in the Tuesday game in Alcester it got mental. We were having pots with the equivalent of a years wages in them.

It was ultimately worse for the fish though as instead of playing stud and losing £200 in the course of an evening they could murder that in two hands. I’m a great believer in the phrase “you can shear a sheep many times, but you can only fleece it once”.

People play poker for many different reasons and I’ve been lucky enough to have played against many players for many years that are happy to sit down and lose money throughout the course of an evening and just mark it down as a night’s entertainment. But when players are starting to lose significant sums on a regular basis the “fun” goes out of it.

I’ll give you an example of a builder who used to play at the Alcester game he would lose on average £100 per week. He would lose £200+ occasionally and have the odd winning night but he was good for £100 most weeks. He was a wealthy guy and played week after week for months, he was a real nice guy with a great sense of humor and we loved having him at the game. When we started playing Holdem he lost nearly £3,000 in the first six weeks and never came again.

You could buy a house for £12,000 in those days. Trust me £3,000 was an awful lot of money.

I remember one Tuesday game when I started off winning and running good. I was up £1,000 at one point and ended up losing all of it back and £600 of my own money on top! (My entire bankroll) That was the first time I ever felt physically sick when driving home from a game of cards. It wasn’t to be the last though sadly.

Now if that was 5 or 7 card stud you could have held a gun to my head and made me sit and play for a week and I’d never have lost a £1,000 back once I was winning it. But this new game at its worst base level was awful for me and great for degenerate gamblers. I used to get hands that you couldn’t fold. (Say top set) Yet somehow they got beat! Trips don’t lose in full deck 5 card stud, it just doesn’t happen.

Mad stuff but when it went well for me it really went well. I remember one time in the Tuesday night game I hit a running flush to the King. Someone had trips, another two pair and my third opponent had what he thought was the nut flush. The river paired the board giving two opponents a boat! I’m not even going to say how much was in the pot as frankly I could hardly believe it myself, so I doubt that you would.

Anyway the attraction of playing bigger and better games was eating at me. So after a few weeks of entering the Rainbow Casino for the first time I was back in there playing in the smaller £1/2 game for the first time.

Not exactly what I’d have described as small, but smaller than the other game anyway! Where I found this game differed to my Sunday and Tuesday games was pre-flop. In our games we did raise pre-flop but not every hand it was more like one hand in 3 or 4 that got raised. Often we’d have 7 or 8 limpers to the flop.

At the Rainbow pre-flop was more aggressive and pots were opened for a raise virtually every hand and some were getting three/four bet. This thinned out the field and reduced the number of players to the flop.

This sort of spoilt my normal game, as I liked to play pots with more players to the flop so I was always getting good pot odds to make my hand. If I had a small pocket pair or some nice suited connectors or maybe Ax suited I’d rather have 5 players to the flop. (One thing I’ve always tried to do in Holdem is to be drawing to the nuts and be getting a good price to hit it)

My first ever game at the Rainbow I burned money limping then folding to a raise pre-flop. I’d started with £100 on the table and was down to £60 before I realised what the F was going on. I hadn’t even seen a flop!

The longer I sat there the more I realised that their range of hands to be raising pre flop with was far bigger than mine. I knew I had to adapt my game somehow or it was going to get ridiculous. I stopped limping altogether and rocked up a bit initially and that helped. Then when I started winning a couple of pots I started to relax so I was calling raises in position with a wider range of hands.

I ended up losing about £40 on the night, after playing maybe two or three hours. Which, based on the fact that I was clueless wasn’t a bad result. I went back for more and started playing there one or maybe two nights a week. Never on a Sunday or Tuesday as I didn’t want to miss the private games and Saturday was when I went out with my non card playing mates.

I started to do OK at the Rainbow but also took some hits.

One night I was sat by an elderly looking gentleman, though as I was 18 and barely shaving so they all looked old to me, he was over 60 though. He knew everyone at the table, including all the dealers and waitresses. He seemed to command a lot of respect, though at that time I wasn’t sure how well he was playing.

In a hand about 15 minutes later I get pocket Tens and flopped a set against him. I check raised him on an Ace high board. He folded A,Q face up and said “well that’s beat”. I was astonished; no one I’d ever played with before with the possible exception of Neil would have been able to lay that hand down. Don’t forget you are reading this 40+ years after it happened, it might look an easy fold now but then 99.9% of people would have gone broke with that hand.

I got chatting to him as we played and he seemed a nice guy and really seemed to know what he was doing. His name was Lou Baxter and to me as a young impressionable lad he was Britain’s answer to Doyle Brunson. As I got to know him over the next 3 or 4 years I got to like and admire him even more. Though I wasn’t totally blind to some of his faults, you had to love him. A true gentleman gambler.

I’m not sure he ever had a job in his entire life, though maybe he did in his youth. He was in his younger day’s one of the best snooker players in the country, though I never saw him play. He was too old and his eyesight was not so good when I knew him.

In the days when he was top class there was no such thing as professional snooker only amateur. He used to travel the country (under an alias) hustling for money. The Midlands amateur champion wouldn’t play Lou for money without a 35 start. He would gamble on anything but always had the edge. One story I heard which sounds just like Lou was this.

A black guy I played poker in the Rainbow with a couple of times told me once that many years previously when he was still at school, Lou arranged to meet him at the snooker club to do him a favour.

Lou told him to come after school at a certain time and not to be early or late. He arrived bang on time and witnessed Lou chatting to someone who was handing over some money.

It later turned out that Lou had a bet (at big odds) that the next person through the door would be a black schoolboy! You gotta love him.

I started to play tighter and tighter at the Rainbow as I just really wanted to be sitting there to watch and learn. I was going back to the private games and playing the way they did at the Rainbow and it started to work for me there. As I got more knowledgeable at the game I started to work things out a little. In 5 card draw I knew the odds of completing a flush or straight with a one card draw. But Holdem was slightly different as you had two shots at it. I also started to understand implied odds, though we didn’t call it that in those days.

Eventually I started to expand my game at the Rainbow and it started to pay dividends. They say dogs can smell fear and one of my best skills was always that I could sense weakness. With my tight image I realised that I could take away a lot of pots from people who had hands like second pair or even top pair weak kicker.

Also my tight image and my “look” encouraged older more experienced players to try and bluff me, assuming that I would easily fold.

I was just 18 then and shaved once a week whether I needed to or not. Poker seemed an old mans game in those days.

Being cursed with boyish good looks or a baby face which ever you prefer meant that these guys thought I was a pushover. The average age of poker players in those days was 50+ there were just no other players at the table less than 30 years old. They played against me the way a lot of men play against female players these days.

Once I found the balls to start check raising on the river I started to win some serious money, without showdown.

Soon bolstered by some good results in the private games and moderate success in the Rainbow my bankroll was at an all time high (It didn’t mean it was safe though) and one night I asked the card room manager to put me on the list for the £2/4 game. He looked at me quizzically and said “Are you sure?” No not really I replied, but lets give it a go anyway!

Now Lou had given me the heads up on all the regulars in the big game which was a massive head start, but even so this was a big step up.

Youth knows no fear and here I was like a young Christian voluntarily going into the most dangerous lions den of them all. I’m a lot older and a little wiser now and if I could somehow be transported back in time there is no way I’d sit in that game now, though I’m really glad I did. What’s life without risk? Pretty boring IMO. My poker education may have been underway for some while but this was Oxford/Cambridge/Harvard all rolled into one.

The big game was the one in the private booth that had 3 covered in sides and a rope across the entrance where the railers stood. The big game was £2/£4 blind, and very few pots were not opened for £14. I was still only 18 at this time and although I had received a pay rise when I turned 18. I was now on 80p an hour. (£32 per week)

This game was a different kettle of fish altogether. Mainly because there were so few fish there.

I’ll never forget the first hand I played, someone straddled for £8 and I thought WTF! They didn’t often straddle to be fair but seemed to think it was funny to put a newbie like me under a bit of pressure. It was folded to me and when I looked at my hole cards found two black Kings and I made it £30 (I was scared to death of a rag ace calling me). Everyone folded and I was off and running!

This was around the time when I started to question why the hell I was getting up to go to work each morning for 80p an hour! I think the real answer was to keep my parents happy.

Again I reverted to type playing in the big game for the first time, tightening up my starting hand requirements. The 8 or 10 weeks of playing in the smaller Rainbow game had taught me a lot. I sat next to Lou Baxter as often as possible and we got chatty. This was great for me as he was an absolute mine of information and taught me a lot. Now I had really started to improve as a player and started to become a regular winner in the small rainbow games and more importantly became a much more consistent winner in the private games I played in each week.

This big game though had some truly wonderful players in it, some real bona fide professional card players. One of the absolute best was Lou’s son; Derek Baxter who was in my opinion the best player I’d ever played against at that time. In fact he’d be in my top ten even now, some 40 years later. I never really fear anyone at the card table (and certainly not then) but he did have the ability to make me feel distinctly uncomfortable!

This really was a different level, real premier league stuff. Around this table regularly sat some of the best players in the UK. There was no other casino playing Holdem for these stakes outside of London. In fact I doubt there were inside London either as many top players came to the Rainbow from all over the UK.

The Rainbow was the Mecca for all card players. In those days it was the best card room in the UK bar none. Though to be honest it was probably the only casino playing Holdem for a hundred miles in any direction.

If you ask any old time UK professional poker player if he’s ever played at the Rainbow the answer will be yes 100% of the time. Between 1975 and 1995 virtually every known pro would have played there at some point.

During my early days the two best players were as previously mentioned Derek Baxter and also a pro player called Derek Webb.

Derek Webb is the guy who made a fortune when he invented the 3 card poker game that all casinos have nowadays. He invented it in 1990 and sold the rights to it in 1999 to Shuffle Master (the company that sells the card shufflers to casinos.) I don’t know all the ins and outs of it but when he tried to get the game into America they had trouble with it and some company took out an injunction against them. The lawsuit was finally ruled on in 2007 and Webb was awarded $13 million plus costs.

The last I heard Derek Baxter was running a poker club in London and to anyone who says he perhaps might have been good then but would he still be able to do it today? The answer is yes. He final tabled the WSOP $10,000 pot limit Omaha in 2005 against a world class field finishing 4th. (Simon Trumper was 5th, Todd Brunson 6th, and Eric Seidel 8th).

During my early sit downs at the big game things went well. Perhaps too well as I won aprox £300, £600, and £200 at my first three games for just over £1,100 in the space of about 8 days.

Then I had one of those nights where it all went wrong and I had some of the cockiness knocked out of me with a crushing loss. I’d only taken £1,000 with me as I was on my own and was a little wary carrying that sort of cash around. I murdered it all in the game and drove home feeling furious with myself.

I’d made one or two errors though nothing major. It just wasn’t my night and instead of being patient I tried to force the pace and paid a heavy price for it.

I confessed to Neil when I next saw him and he said I was nuts for even playing there at all. To be fair he’d said it previously when I’d told him of my initial wins and how I’d been doing in the smaller Rainbow game over the previous weeks and I’d often asked why he didn’t play there.

The fact is he was too smart to play there. Was he good enough? Without question he was. He was at that time far better than me but he just kept saying “why do want to play against a table full of really good players, look for the bad players there are plenty of them”.

He kept drumming into me about game selection and I knew he was right but I was just determined to beat the game.

Now at age 50+ I can say that probably my greatest poker skill is table selection. Took a long time for the penny to drop but it did eventually. I’ve never regretted playing in that game though as I certainly improved beyond measure as a player in the next 3 – 4 years because of it.

I went back to the smaller Rainbow game and built my roll back up and was straight back in the big game. What was even dafter was when I won a few hundred in the small game and went and sat in the big game the same night! What a spin up that was.

I won big again that very night and I’d managed to invent a cycle of boom and bust years before Gordon Brown ever thought of it.

At the smaller private games I was doing better and better as I was constantly learning new skills that they were all unaware of.

Age 19 – 23 the serious years!

By this time I was a consistent winner at Holdem in the private games though losing nights were still an occupational hazard as some nights you will get big hands busted time and time again.

I started to keep my playing in the big game at the Rainbow down to one night a month after another talk with Neil. He suggested that I should play in my normal games putting half of the winnings to one side and build up a special “Rainbow fund” and only go and play with that. I think he was getting fed up with me blowing my complete roll and borrowing money off him to re-start at the bottom again!

This idea was a revelation to me and my first attempt at anything approaching bankroll management. I was inspired and it gave me reason to try even harder in the smaller games. It was like working hard to earn a treat; you enjoyed it all the more.

It also meant that I didn’t have to go back to the pub and try and win a poxy £20-£30 when I was broke anymore. That saved me some embarrassment, as after playing in the big games for thousands only to go back there wasn’t great. One night when I was broke and went back to the pub someone commented along the lines of “look Billy big shot is back”.

I suppose I deserved it, though the guy who said it was happy enough to take drinks off me when I was winning big and tap me up for sub till pay day when he needed it.

Sometimes half the feckers in the pub owed me money. That’s one of the greatest lessons in life I’ve learned. Never lend a gambler money.

When I was at the Rainbow from then on I was able to play without fear which is a massive help. These guys would often use the sheer weight of money to pressurise a player if they thought they could get away with it. As I only played there fairly infrequently the majority of players in the big game didn’t even know who I was and paid me little attention. Derek Baxter on the other hand knew exactly who I was and how I played as he never missed a trick. I’m also certain Lou would have given him the full SP on me and my performances in the smaller Rainbow game.

One night on my monthly big game expedition, I was sat immediately to Derek’s left. Sitting to his immediate right was not a good strategy! In a hand that he wasn’t involved in I got to the river with second pair and flush draw and missed. My opponent fired out a big river bet but I fancied he was on a draw also as there was a missed straight draw as well as my missed flush draw.

I tanked for a few seconds and called. He mucked instantly but the dealer made me show my winning hand. About 30 minutes later and a virtually identical situation arose this time with another player who thought he’d push me off the pot at the river.

As I scooped in the second pot Derek Baxter, who’d probably never said more than ten words to me in all the previous games, leant towards me and whispered “another one fooled by the baby face, well played son”. I felt about ten feet tall. To get a compliment on my play from Derek felt so good I can’t tell you.

Now my monthly trips were turning out to be break even. Big ups and downs but based mainly on how well I was running rather than bad play so I was very pleased. With my new “Rainbow fund” even when I had a bad night it wasn’t my complete roll going up in flames. I was starting to feel that I was somewhere near the level of these players, though obviously not at either of the two “Dereks” level!

Things were really going well poker wise but I’d started missing more and more days off work through tiredness and a general lack of enthusiasm for the amount of money I was earning by this time. I think they started to suspect I didn’t need the money when I didn’t bother to go up to the office and collect my wages on a Friday, preferring to just dash off home ASAP and pick it up Monday!

I quit my job just before they were going to do it for me and I knew it was the right thing poker wise though my mom and dad were terribly disappointed. It caused rows and I moved out not long after. I think that’s always been my biggest regret in life that I didn’t do something more constructive with my time and make my parents proud of me. They have always loved me just the same but as the middle one of three brothers I guess one of us had to be the black sheep.

From not long after I was 19 in 1978 till I was 23 in 1982 I didn’t work. My only source of income was gambling. I would never ever say I was a “professional” poker player as that suggests a much better skill level than I had. But I was winning serious money on a regular basis now and to work for living made no sense to me.

I was “earning” more than my dad for Christ sake and he’d got a really good job. I played golf 3 times a week and basically did what I wanted when I wanted to do it.

Around this time Lou Baxter pulled me aside one night to have a word. He told me of a casino in Walsall. This was the old Stanley one, not the new G Casino at Junction Ten off the M6 which came much later.

He said they played a small poker tournament on a Friday night, a £5 freeze out that was 5 card strip deck stud. By this time it was my favorite game as I was really good at it. The tourney was the first one I ever played in, though that wasn’t the reason for going.

Lou told me that all the regulars played a cash game of three card brag at the casino and never poker. But that he’d been once and almost persuaded them to start playing Holdem. He wanted me to go, not with him but separately, so I could also suggest Holdem and help him get a game started.

He said that as I “looked like a choirboy” they would never suspect that I was a danger to them and would be happier to play against me than if he took some of the bandits from the Rainbow.

I agreed and so I went up the following Friday. I got KO’d from the comp as I was playing it like a cash game and got blinded out waiting for a hand. I rigidly stuck to my normal game at every level! Lou didn’t even play the comp at all and was just hanging around.

Anyway as a few got busted from the comp Lou sat at an empty table and got a dealer to get some chips and stuff and it was suggested that a “friendly” game of Holdem should be played. He asked a few of the regulars and said to me “will you play young man?” like we’d never met. “I’m not sure I know all the rules of poker, but I’ll give it a go” I said. I may have looked like a choirboy but I was going straight to hell that’s for sure.

So to cut a long story short Lou and I started playing Holdem with 6 or 7 others who’d literally never played the game before. It was 50p/£1 but there was so much money up for the taking it was unreal. Lou and I kept out of each others way where possible but had “savers” with each other if we got into a multi-way pot together. Basically if the bet on the turn was £25 we’d have a £25 saver so if I missed and Lou hit or visa versa we’d get our £25 back. I know it may sound terrible but we never signaled cards to each other or any of that malarkey but we were just not playing to win money from each other.

Lou had some time previously taught me the finer points of “going south” (taking money off the table). The first few weeks were a monumental success. I started going there 3 nights a week and was winning shed loads night after night.

I was skilled, from playing in small private games for years, in the art of concealing winnings. If asked in a private game how much I was winning I always said I was winning less than I actually was, and on occasions when I was losing I also exaggerated that figure as well. Neil taught me years previously not to brag about your winnings to the losers. They really don’t want to hear it.

With this game I always kept my money so it was difficult to see how much I had on the table. Then after a while I’d lie and say I’d originally sat down with £150 when it was only £100. Within an hour or so if I was winning well I’d have the £100 back off the table and would be getting stuck into them with just the profit.

I always widened my range and upped my aggression level considerably when in a no lose situation. “Going south” isn’t something I would do nowadays and it’s not something I’m too proud of.

I took a while to decide to even admit to it here over 30 years later, and I thought about missing that part out of this account. But winning money was my only source of income at this time and I had bills to pay, so I wanted every edge I could get. Nowadays I never feel the need to do it as I’m playing for different reasons.

I realise now that as I was playing against poor players I’d actually have been better off keeping fully stacked but I felt more at ease playing this way.

It’s funny when I play in casinos nowadays as I regularly spot people doing it. It always makes me smile. I almost never say anything (pot/kettle) though I remember a young lad did it once at the Broadway a couple of years ago.

He’d been giving me rub downs earlier, so when he then went bust in a big pot, and got up to leave saying he needed to go to the cash machine I said “Why don’t you use those 4 pony chips in your top pocket instead?” He went crimson and left.

They think they are so clever at it but I rarely miss a trick, probably because I’ve done most of em!

Going south! As I say I wouldn’t do it now and I feel ashamed I ever did but I’ve never been a hit and run merchant. At least when I removed some or all of my original stake my winnings were all still there to be played for. So at least if you were losing to me you had a shot at getting your money back. Players on the other hand who win and run away make me wonder why they play at all if they’re that scared.

Things at Walsall went very well for quite a while but all good things come to an end. I was playing 50p/£1 there three nights a week and I was hardly in any danger of losing. Lou had found a goldmine.

Sadly Lou Baxter was unable to keep it quiet and told a “few” people at the Rainbow that he was winning big at Walsall. Within three months playing at Walsall was like playing in the small game at the Rainbow as all the bandits and sharks just moved there.

When Lou and I had been steadily winning, there were only two of us who knew what we were doing so others at the table had a chance. But when the sharks turned up mob handed from the Rainbow they just murdered all the small fish and they all went broke and stopped playing in the game. Partly because they were losing and partly because the idiots from the Rainbow didn’t just win off them but berated their bad play as well.

Fish always have and always will be fish but in my experience they will stop playing quicker due to humiliation than because of losses. I have always been schooled in the art of soothing the egos of fish. Something Neil taught me. “Oh bad luck you had to go with that hand” is always so much better than “a blind man could see you were drawing dead there you twat.” As I’ve gotten older and more of a moaning old git these days in tournaments I do tend to berate players more than I ever used to but you should never do it really.

Players always seem to think it’s their job to educate people, by pointing out where they are going wrong. But not Neil and I. He always used to say “they have to pay just to see my cards, lessons are extra.”

I remember once only quite recently when a complete whale sat down at a game I was in, he lost and reloaded twice in quick succession and then got a load of stick off the guy that won his money.

He was actually getting money out of his pocket to reload for the third time when the guy was still berating him, calling him an idiot. As the dealer was about to give him chips he said “well ok then I’ll go back to playing Roulette” and off he went. Words failed me. About 2 minutes later the empty chair was taken by the player regarded by many as the best player in the casino. I said to the berater, “well played” and he looked at me and had no idea what I was on about. Who was the real idiot?

But as the Walsall door closed another one opened as I found a really good 5 card draw “Jacks or better” card game on a Monday night to play in and that was great for me. I’d open and have 3 or 4 callers many of whom would have three flush or straight cards and pay to draw two cards to try and hit it. You have to admire their optimism. They would regularly keep AK suited and draw 3 cards, and it was the one and only game I ever played in where people would keep an Ace and draw 4 cards!!!

For those of you who have never played draw, basically any 2 card draw to a straight or flush is no draw at all and is only to be tried by the terminally bewildered. Also the game is called JACKS OR BETTER. The clue is in the name, that means if someone opens they have at worst a pair of jacks and if you have a pair of threes you are behind. THAT’S A FACT.

If you keep calling with pairs less than jacks in the hope of hitting you are sure to go broke eventually. All these players were totally awful and I consistently won big money at this game.

Again if I’m honest my wins had more to do with the appalling way my opponents were playing rather than anything else. I just had sensible starting hand requirements and an appreciation of the odds of making a flush if I was dealt 4 clubs, or a straight if I was open ended.

It’s difficult for me to actually assess how good I was at Draw poker as luckily I never played the game against good players to find out. I did play Draw with a strip deck on a couple of occasions and that was lively to say the least and a lot of fun.

About this time they started playing tournaments at the Rainbow. £5 re-buys or £10 and £20 freeze outs were the norm. I hated them to be honest and only went there to play cash. I didn’t like the blinds going up as it meant that I ran out of chips before I got a hand some nights! But the degen gamblers loved it, “lets just throw all our chips in the middle and see who wins” seemed to be their motto.

I played a few comps whilst just waiting for the cash game to start as most of the cash players were in the bloody tournament. I did very badly in them. Then I at least started to see the real benefit to the casino and me in tournaments.

Players were getting into poker a lot more and players who would never have sat down with £100 in the small or £400 in the big cash games were now starting to play in these £10 comps as they could play for relatively small money and learn the game.

Then as they got busted out they would sit and play in a small cash game. (£50) Great news for me, and I started winning loads off these guys at cash. I was still very anti tournaments but I loved the new blood they brought.

When one night I had a long chat with Lou about tournament play and he started to enlighten me on the differences to tournament strategy.

His son Derek was a consistent winner at tournaments, and though I knew how good a cash player he was I couldn’t understand how he could consistently go deep at tournament play as it seemed to have such a huge luck element to it. I just had no real clue about tournament poker.

Lou felt that with cash he aimed to play as consistently as possible day after day, continually making correct decisions based on the math’s, and he was more than willing to surrender a pot if he thought he could wait for a better spot. But tournaments were different as they often revolved around critical pots that you shouldn’t/couldn’t surrender. This is where Derek’s bravery and ability to fearlessly put his tournament life on the line was such an asset.

Lou explained the basic strategy that Derek used for early, middle and later stages of the comp and that was a revelation to me. (I won’t bore you with them, as it seems too obvious now) Until this point I’d been playing exactly the same the whole time I was in them!

He explained about the importance of how many chips you had in comparison to the average stack size, and in relation to the blinds. When he told me about “blind stealing” it was amazing to me. (You didn’t really do that in cash games in those days) There will be nothing new to anyone reading this now but this was 1979/1980/1981, and in those days this really was rocket science and a real eye opener to me.

I still preferred cash games and played it almost all of the time but now at least I started to do a lot better when I did play the odd comp when I was waiting for the Rainbow cash game to start. (At this time we still played 100% cash in the private games where I earnt most of my money)

I quickly racked up a few cash’s in the Rainbow comps and eventually won a £10 freeze-out one night. It was only for about £150, which was quite good but I could win far more than that at cash, so wasn’t sure it was worth my time.

One night though it was the normal £5 re-buy or so I thought it was when I entered but it actually turned out to be a satellite for a “special” £50 freeze out. £50 was a lot of money to most “normal” people in those days, though by this time I’d totally lost sight of the true value of money, so it wasn’t to me!

Anyway I won a seat and went back on the Sunday afternoon to play the event. It had a much bigger starting stack and a much slower blind structure and had just over one hundred runners. There were people in there who had travelled for miles to play this and it seemed a big deal. The slow blinds and big stack really helped me (as it was more like a cash game) and I started off well. Today all these years later I can still remember a couple of the key hands.

One was during the re-buy satellite, the card room manager announced “last three hands for buy ins” and I was BB. UTG went all in, as did UTG +1 etc. When it got round to me about 7 players had gone all in. Only the 2 big stacks had folded. I had just less than starting stack and thought F it, and shoved in blind.

I had 10c, Jc and the flop came Ac,Kc,Qc. There was uproar at the table and I don’t even remember what the turn and river cards were! I have played so many hands live over the years and yet that is the one and only time I’ve ever had a Royal Flush playing Holdem.

Anyway the second hand I remember was the last I played in the £50 comp. We got down to three handed and were playing for pretty big money (even by my lavish standards) with the prizes something like £1,800, £900, £450.

One of my opponents was a cash game regular called Tony who was nobody’s fool and a lady who’d luckily won a seat through the re-buy and had got lucky several times to make it this far. He didn’t say so but when she asked if we would do some “business” (deal making) I got the impression that the guy didn’t want to deal while she was still in and figured she would get knocked out next. So any talk of a deal was initially turned down.

Round and round it went, and we just couldn’t knock her out she just kept hitting every time she was all in. Eventually when we’d played an entire 2 levels three handed and the blinds were now huge, common sense prevailed and we agreed to take £900 each and play for the rest.

The very next hand I get AdKd and shove in and she calls with A,10 and hits the 10. So I’m out, and the next hand after that she does a similar thing to Tony and wins the extra £450 in two hands!

That was my first big tournament cash and at £900 bearing in mind inflation was probably my biggest ever. I’d guess it would be worth at least £10,000 or £12,000 in today’s money. I’d be quite happy if I won £900 today to be honest, but back then it was a really big score.

It started to get me noticed at the Rainbow. Previously I was largely under the radar, now everyone seemed to know who I was. People stopped trying to bluff me in the cash games so often which was a real shame!

From age 19 – 23 I got really quite good as a player (compared to my opponents at the time) and though I never really got to grips with tournament play, (I was still playing cash 95% plus of the time), I was a much better than average tournament player also.

Things were going pretty good for me. I remember outplaying Neil in a couple of big pots in a Sunday night Holdem game when I was 22/23 and he had a chat with me outside afterwards. He admitted to me that even though he still thought I was mad playing at the Rainbow I had become, in his opinion, a really good Holdem player.

99.9% of the time when someone comments on your game it’s usually derogatory as you’ve just sucked out on them, so when you get a compliment on your game it’s something that sticks in the memory. Especially when it’s from someone who you have respect for.

Apart from my normal games I also had the odd road trip which was great. I used to go to Cheltenham every year for the Gold Cup festival, and they were some of the best weeks of my life. Neil and I would go into the hotels (sometimes separately) where we and all the Irish were staying and play poker against these guys. We played all night every night throughout the festival, and won a bundle.

One week in Cheltenham we won £3,000 between us and I remember going to the bank to change some Irish money (punts) we’d won. The lady asked us what part of Ireland we’d been to. We said “Cheltenham!”, though to be fair it is like Ireland during festival week.

So things were going really well for me poker wise, though I was leaking big money at the racetrack and table games. What a waste, when I think back to the money I had pass through my hands it doesn’t bear thinking about.

So apart from my degenerate gambling leaks, things were rosy in my garden.

Then my biggest financial leak of all time kicked in. Women!

24-44 The Sensible Years

I’m not going to write too much about my life away from poker but the cliff notes are. Met girl ONE, virtually gave up ALL gambling and got a job. Just played the Sunday night game, which was with friends and for smaller stakes than other games. Split with her, went to live in London for 6 years to get away. Never ever played cards in London but did have games with friends on trips home which were every other weekend, and played tournament poker in various Midlands casinos when I was home. Now I was working for my money I was less inclined to play nose bleed cash games!

Met girl TWO got married (2 kids) moved back home to the Midlands and played a game of cards with friends no more than once a week on average. No horses or greyhounds and just the odd rare casino trip with friends and this was purely for tournament play. I hit the odd decent tournament win from time to time.

I was still profitable through all these years, though it was merely a modest addition to my salary that mainly paid for treats and stuff.

From that marriage I have two wonderful daughters and a grandaughter who is an absolute angel so it wasn’t all bad. When we finally split in 2003 I was actually in Las Vegas on holiday with 5 mates when she told me over the phone. Nice touch!

Even though I already knew she wanted to be with someone else I was still shell shocked and not so much fun to be around in the immediate aftermath. However determined not to let it spoil the trip, rather than hang out with the other guys I went off and played poker on my own. (None of the other 5 played poker.) I found that when at the table I didn’t think about the split and that was good.

I played virtually day and night for 10 straight days. I often left the table when totally shattered went to bed and when I just lay awake thinking got up and went back down to the table again so I could think about pot odds and picking up reads on my opponents instead.

I won a small tournament in the Plaza for $1,400 and over $10,000 playing cash. The cash games were all limit (this was 2003) starting at $1/2 in Circus Circus and I ended up at the Bellagio playing $4/8 and even some $10/$20.

When I was allowed about three month’s after the split to pick up some more of my clothes and stuff she told me she’d thrown a lot of my stuff away; including all my diaries. Nearly 30 year’s worth of results! How I didn’t strangle the cow I’ll never know.

When I look back at my marriage split there are 2 things I miss that still bring tears to my eyes even now. One was my dog Max, he was a brown Doberman we bought as a puppy.

My youngest daughter (she was about 9 then) and I took him to dog training classes every Monday night and often on a Sunday afternoon we walked him for miles over the fields. Working FT and running a pub it was the one bit of quality time I got to spend with my daughter and I really loved that dog. I remember once seeing  Max being taken for a walk by my ex’s new chap and that really hurt.

The other thing I really miss is those diaries. They were something I was so proud of. They documented every poker game I ever played in from 1976 till 2003. Where, who with, type of game, profit and loss for each game and the running total for the year. Also as I started to enter poker tournaments I recorded them as well and adding them to the profit/loss.

Nearly 30 years of results and every year I was in profit. I know my limitations at the game and there are millions of online and live poker players these days who can run rings round me now. But I’d like to see some of them play the game for 30 years and see if they can maintain that sort of record.

If I still had them it would have made writing this Blog entry a lot easier I can tell you.

Some things I can remember apart from being in profit every year, was that each year from when I started in 1976 to 1982 when I was 17-23 I won considerably more each year than the year before. By age 23 I really was a very good player based on the people I was playing against. I was even a profitable player at the Rainbow big game by the time I stopped playing there and not too many people can say that.

How would I compare to now? Well that’s sort of the sad thing regarding my poker, the fact that I never improved from 1982 onwards. Even now when playing live I’m a reasonable player at low stakes cash and more than a match for most in tournaments with a buy in from £25 to £75.

I’m still profitable but I know my limitations. I carefully select the cash games I play in, and nowadays I’m just looking to win money from fish not find and beat the best.

But turn the clock back to 1982 and all of a sudden I look like a world beater, as the standard of play in those days was so terrible compared to the game today.

Would I change anything? I would never have put a dime on a horse/dog/blackjack table/roulette wheel/crap table/ right from day one. If I’d just stuck to poker I could have been a wealthy man.

Even when I started playing more often again in 2003 when I split from my wife it was still relatively easy for me to win money playing poker. The “Moneymaker” effect hadn’t started and online play wasn’t so big or so sophisticated as it is now and live play still seemed easy to me.

I won a £100 re-buy at Walsall for nearly £6k and had loads of tournament scores over £1k in quick succession.

After my divorce and losing my home & business in 2004 my bankroll took the biggest hit of all time. Also my eleven year old daughter came to live with me so I had no option but to dramatically reduce the number of times I could play.

So I just played homes game most Saturdays with some of my friends from over 30 years ago. I go to the casino once a week and play small cash games (50p/£1 or £1/1) and in comparison to my younger days its nano stakes.

I’d enter very small tournaments and try and satellite into bigger ones.

My poker life has almost gone full circle as today, its young internet kids who look at me and think they can push that “old timer” off a pot. I love it when I surprise them, like I did when I was the young kid of 18 all those years ago and the old timers tried to bully me.

Happily by using a bit of guile and experience I’m still profitable in the games I play now. It’s like when I first played 3 card brag at age eleven.

I still manage, more often than not, to go home with more money than I went out with. It was a good habit to get into then and it still is now!

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