Poker in the Park

Last week, the biggest names in the poker world descended on central London from all directions.

But while Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel and others headed to the Mayfair Hotel as the WPT visited Britain for the first time, the real excitement was taking place in Leicester Square.

Poker in the Park came to the capital for the third consecutive year, with some of the leading lights of British poker in attendance. EPT San Remo winner Liv Boeree opened the free poker festival, which got fans in the mood for the upcoming WSOPE Main Event and introduced countless locals and tourists to the game just in time for the showpiece event at the nearby Casino at the Empire.

Other players to get involved were Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott, Paul Zimbler and Neil Channing, while Mel Judah and Andrew Robl made the journey over from Australia and America respectivly to offer free advice and anecdotes to wide-eyed fans in the Unibet tent.

But even among all the stars of the game, the biggest attraction was former World Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield. The boxer came along to promote Real Deal Poker, and fans could play for the chance to knock him out…of a single table tournament.

Holyfield played two tournaments in a purpose-built poker ‘ring’, and players could qualify by winning one of several half-hourly freerolls. While crowds gathered to watch the champ limp-raise with king-three offsuit, I got a chance to speak to Real Deal Poker CEO Gene Gioia, who explained the unique new online poker room.

Real Deal Poker uses a real deck of cards, including a cut card, in order to guarantee fairness for online players, something which Gene sees as very important.

“Players should demand that everything is transparent and fair, given the amount of money that’s at stake,” he said.

“I have been playing poker online for 10 years, and I didn’t realise how much enjoyment I lost from not entirely trusting the games. We want to make sure every game is a fair game, the way it should be.”

With companies like Real Deal Poker unable to complete on a level footing with established poker rooms who have bigger budgets, Poker in the Park provides a great opportunity for people like Gene to get their product known.

Another poker stalwart in town to promote a new venture was former WSOPE runner-up and CEO of Bidibot John Tabatabai.

He was a busy man throughout Friday, playing heads-up poker against a shark in the G Casino tent and taking on other poker pros in Red Hot Poker’s Ferrari simulator, while still finding time to share his expertise with fans in the Unibet lecture tent.

“I gave a talk last year as well, but I think it could have gone better so this year I changed it to a Q&A,” said the Welsh pro.

“I let people ask their own questions rather than coming armed with a script, although I did do a bit of a Channing and rambled on for a while,” he joked.

And John spent most of Friday drumming up enthusiasm for Bidibot, his penny-auction site which allows players to bid for credit in a whole host of poker rooms.

“Me and a couple of friends have been working on this for a year or two,” he said of the site, which launched only last week.

“We looked at other auction sites and thought: why can’t we do this for poker and other stuff that people want to get involved in but until now haven’t had the opportunity to bid on.

“Part of it is about trying to make poker more accessible to people who might not be able to afford to play in satellites – you can treat the bids as a cheaper way to satellite into a big event.”

And there was plenty of opportunity for newcomers to poker to get a taste for the game, with free tournaments whetting people’s appetite.

Bluff Europe ran a series of best-of-three heads-up battles on state-of-the-art poker machines, with winners getting the chance to compete for a trophy on a dealer-dealt final table.

Elsewhere Red Hot Poker and Unibet ran hourly freerolls, while Neil Channing and others offered free tuition in the Black Belt Poker tent.

But the real crowds were drawn to the Bodog poker dome, which offered hourly freerolls hosted by various poker rooms, with players treated to free massages from the Ibiza Angels during play. As well as receiving a trophy, winners of the shootout tournaments could get their photo taken with the beautiful Bodog girls.

Steve Bellis, of the Nuts Poker League, was the driving force behind one of these freerolls, and was impressed by how Poker in the Park has grown in his three years at the event.

“I really like how events like this make poker more accessible,” said Steve.

“The location is excellent, and it really does have something for everyone. Maybe in a few years time it could take over the whole park.”

And there were no shortage of suggestions for how the event might be improved next year.

Steve suggested adding a second event further north, to open up Poker in the Park to a whole new audience, while John Tabatabai devised a plan to bring fans from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North of England down to London at no extra cost.

“It would be good to get buses down from poker clubs all around the UK,” he said.

“Maybe if you charged £1 to people who turn up on the day, you could use that money to fund these buses. That way we could get more of the sort of people we want coming down, as well as getting new people into poker.”

But perhaps the best suggestion came from Garth Borain, a poker fan who was at his first Poker in the Park after moving to London from Durban, South Africa.

“It’s nice that it’s free to the public, and I enjoyed playing in the freerolls, but it would be even better if they brought in a beer tent,” he said.

1 Response to “Poker in the Park”

  1. January 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Nice thing to have pokers stars in your area, I wonder when i could have that experience without travelling long distances just to have that experience.

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Hi I’m Tom. I’m a freelance journalist, and I recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Cardiff University. In my spare time I like to play, watch and talk about poker. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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