An Idiot's Guide To Poker: Back to the land of the living


Earlier this week I looked at my life and shrieked. Somehow it's fallen apart. I don't really have anywhere to live. The bulk of my relationships are in shreds. Debt collectors hound me. Children point and laugh at me in the street. I suspect I have a life-threatening illness. Either that, or a lump. There's other stuff, too, but you probably don't want to hear it. It's okay, I don't blame you - I wouldn't want to hear it either.

Then, on Wednesday, an idea that I've toyed with before crashed back into my head. What I should do, I rethought, is travel around the UK playing poker in each of its 140 casinos. I could be anonymous, make money, write a book. Someone might sleep with me. I could go to places that I've always fantasised about but never been to: Aberdeen, Wigan, Torquay. It might be great. 

There are a number of problems with this hare-brained scheme, the most glaring of which is that I stink at live poker, may well stink at poker altogether. Last night, I decided to start getting better and went to my local casino. I've played live cash poker only three times before. The first couple of times I played badly and lost. The third time I played badly and won.

But I'm slightly better now, having four or five tabled online cash for the last few months and was determined to showcase the army of skills I've picked up over the last few months.

It didn't begin well. I limp-called in a few pots early on and hated myself for folding to routine c-bets post flop. My £100 buy-in (playing 50p/£1) slowly melted away and I reloaded. Then, loveliness. In the cut-off I pick up red aces. I can't stop staring at them. The action gets round to me. A kid in a hoodie and headphones - typical internet whizz kid attire - has raised to £25. This is not typical internet whizz kid play: I've never seen anyone open so large - 25 big blinds - either live or online. I want to shove but find myself just repopping to £50. Hoodie calls. 

The flop comes down 10-4-4. Nothing about this flop is worrying. K-Q-Q might be worrying. 9-10-J might be worrying. 10-4-4 is not worrying. I look over at Hoodie's stack - he only has £15 behind. I stick in £15 and he calls. I'm looking forward to picking up my £130 pot. 

"It's good to mix it up," he says, tabling K-4 off suit. There are no words, I think, so I say nothing and just smile. 

"I'm surprised you didn't hit him," a player says to me later as we're hoovering up cigarettes outside. 

There are lots of reasons I didn't hit him. First, because he might have hit me back. Second, it's too early in my career to start getting banned from casinos. Third, and most importantly, because it's given me tremendous heart for my plan. Perhaps there are players scattered around the whole country who will raise 25 bigs with K4 off-suit. If there are, I'm going to be rich. 

I go back in, buoyed. Over the next six or seven hours though I play very ordinary - borderline bad - poker. I steal two small pots in position with muck. I win a couple of small pots with hands. Other than that, zip. Then, as things are winding down I hit everything. I make a set of queens and take down my biggest pot of the evening. I make a set of a fives on a scary-looking board and win my biggest live pot to date - £200 or so. 

Throughout the night my hands don't flutter about as I put money into the pot and my heart doesn't thump as dramatically as it's done before. I have a feeling that my plan might work. 

Play Unibet poker now

Read more from Steve Rowland