Edinburgh Festival


I've just returned from my first ever Edinburgh Festival and would recommend it highly to anyone. I've always wanted to go to the Comedy Festival since I was a teenager and it didn't dissapoint.

After a 4 hour train ride we arrived and started drinking on the Edinburgh mile watching the street performers. It was a bit stressful at first because we had no bearings at all but found our way to the first show, Swingers, a play about, well swingers. It was ok, nothing special and regretably no boobies to report.

Then on to see none other than Frank Skinner it a tiny little venue. He was very good, did a cracking paedophile joke (which is the in thing at the moment with comics) and his banter with the crowd was top notch. The next show was a bargain, the BBC Stand Up show which featured 6 comedians including Adam Bloom who was good as ever. 6 comedians for 10 quid was great and they were all ok.

Now for the shite, Phil Jupitus. His show called Phil Jupitus reads Dickens was a little too literal than we imagined. We expected either a funny take on the work of Charles Dickens or him to crack jokes between paragraphs.

Nope, he just opened the book and read from it, for an hour, and he only stopped when his stopwatch went off. Call me a philistine if you want but an hour of watching a man read from a book is not entertaining and to charge a tenner for it is arrogant.

Thankfully Rich Hall and Phil Nicol were both excellent and nearly wiped the memory of a fat man reading a book from our banks.

Great week and christ did we walk, I bet we did 6-10 miles a day. Regretably most walks were to resteraunts or pubs so any benefit was swiftly nulified.

We're definatley going again next year.

Behind the Rail: Is Poker Cool?

Taken from my Pokernews column Behind the Rail

Of course it is.

When I tell people I make a living playing and writing about poker its always a mixed response. Surprise is always there, some people are fascinated, others are sceptical, some are jealous and some pity me. Whatever their own issues with the game, the also have a preconception about what a poker player looks like.

Some get very excited, women especially. They think Monte Carlo, James Bond, Tuxedos and men that can afford to buy them a lot of shoes. Some guys have images of you out until the wee hours every night with a bunny girl on each arm. Poker is cool.

Then there is the other, pole opposite, preconception. That poker players are in fact, nerds. That poker and Star Trek go hand in hand, their image of a poker pro is of an overweight bespectacled man playing online in his parents loft.

So which is it? Of course we all think poker is cool, its what we do. Fishermen think Fishing is cool, Landscape gardeners think lawnmowers are cool and darts players think Phil Taylor is their version of the Fonz.

Poker is Cool

The casino is an iconic image of cool. Its open til the wee hours of the morning, serves alcohol and has a lot of beautiful women walking around. Las Vegas is the gambling mecca and, although cheesy, is undeniably cool.

The casino and gambling in general has an element of danger to it, and danger is always cool. Whether it's the danger of losing your money or the chances that Robert De Niro is going to take you into the back room and smash your knuckles in with a hammer, there is always an undercurrent of risk, which is cool.

We then have the players who epitomise cool. The Devilfish is arguably cool, he looks like a James Bond villain and has a quirky name. Gus Hansen is one of those guys that men want to be and women want to be with. We even have our own bit of Hollywood in the form of Jennifer 'I can't believe she's nearly 50' Tily.

But the number one argument in the favour of cool is a recent one, James Bond. Casino Royale is the best Bond movie and rebranded the franchise with a grittier, harder and cooler Bond. Poker replaced Baccarat in this remake and, if we forget the final hand, Poker was painted in a complementary light. If Bond plays poker, poker is cool.

Poker is for Geeks

For every Gus Hansen, there is about 100 22 year old virgins who make a small fortune in their bedrooms while their Mum makes their dinner. For every Phil Ivey there is a Phil Hellmuth, for every Antonio Esfandiari there is a Phil Laak. If you go to any ranking poker tournament there s invariably a few spotty kids and a lot of overweight men.

The catalyst for all this is of course the internet. The internet is cool, because of its endless possibilities, but people who use the internet are not cool, because of the lack of a social and sex life. I'm sorry but if you spend most of your day infront of a laptop in your PJs then you are a nerd in the majority's eye.

Just like drugs are bad, mckay, so is problem gambling. It's very hard to argue that poker is cool when it can be linked with problem gambling. Drinking too much, smoking too much and doing drugs are all things those of us with a public conscience should go out of their way not to glorify, so even though we would all say Poker is not gambling in its purist form, perhaps its linked just enough for us to be irresponsible to say its cool? I'm not sure.

But perhaps the main argument poker being cool comes from something we all learnt very early at school. That Maths is very very uncool. Nobody liked maths at school and we were all well within our rights to bully the kids that were good at it. You don't need to be Carol Vorderman to play poker but you do need a solid understanding of odds and probabilities, and that I'm afraid is enough to warrant your head being flushed down then toilet by the older boys.

Napoleons Summer Festival £300 Freezeout

This was the first time I've played live since I chopped the £200 event at the other Napoleons last month, and I cant believe I've gone all this time without a live game. Only 60 people turned out for it (as most of the players are at the Gala Leeds event) but it was a very tough field, including Ash Hussein, Tony Kendall, Paul Gourlay, Barry Neville and Julian Thew.

I had a nice steady tournament, never really got short and slowly kept my chips above average throughout. When it got to the final table bubble I was actually 2nd in chips but a few moments of madness saw me nursing the short stack.

When we got to the final I got all in against the only person shorter than me, lost and found myself with 200 chips when the blinds were 800-1600 and the average stack had about 30,000. Amazingly I managed to outlast another player to take 9th place instead of my destined 10th.

It was a fun little comp, even though I did have to suffer the embarrassment of nursing less than a blind for an obscene amount of time. I also had the pleasure of playing at the same table as Julian Thew who is a true gent (unlike the dick who was sat next to him at one point who I wont name).

Its great playing in Naps now they dont allow smoking anymore.

Behind the Rail: Poker, the solution to problem gambling?


Taken from my UK Pokernews Weekend Column - Behind the Rail

This week I interviewed WSOP finalist Jon Kalmar and what a thoroughly decent chap he was. He told me that before he played poker he was gambling a lot and beyond his means. Then poker came along which presented a cheaper way to curb his gambling urges and eventually became a hugely profitable career for him.

This mirrors my own experience of poker (if we omit the $1.25 million WSOP cash). I used to gamble quite a lot (although to be fair always within my means) – I'd bet on football, boxing, TV shows and would go to the casino with friends quite a lot. I even convinced myself I was 'good' at blackjack as it is a house game I am actually up on. All in all I was a losing gambler, apart from boxing bets which I'm still very good at because I'm a big fan of the sport.

Then came poker. Of course it was gambling for a long time while I was having to learn the hard way that Queen-Five isn't the monster I thought it was, but after a playing for a while and reading a fare few books I started winning and several years later it is my career. Like Jon Kalmar I rarely gamble in any other way, I still bet on boxing, I rarely bet on football and I never play on casino house games anymore.

It would be easy to say that I'm simply getting my gambling 'fix' from a new outlet but I'm not sure that is the case. Getting good at poker has replaced my urge to 'gamble' with the urge to 'win'. With gambling the rush is in the moment of anticipation when the wheel is spinning, the outcome is almost moot, but with poker the rush is in the winning.

I was rarely accustomed to winning as a gambler (though that did make a big win special) but I am when I play poker (which does mean losing streaks hurt more). Now I don't want to gamble because I see it as a waste of money, money which could be better used playing poker.

I'm not alone in this viewpoint either; I know a lot of people who no longer gamble after they took up poker. There are of course plenty of players who are the complete opposite and can be found at the roulette table during the refreshment break at tournaments.

If you look at the Dusk til Dawn situation right now I think it highlights my point perfectly. Poker players want an option away from the casino to play poker, they want games to be run with good blind structures and where the floor staff has no hidden agenda to get them down to the blackjack tables.

The only people standing in the way of the clubs opening are of course, casinos, who want to be able to contain poker players within close proximity of house games If Dusk til Dawn eventually does open hopefully it will go some way to proving the point I am making; that poker, although a form of gambling, is radically different to sports betting and house games, that it is closer to chess than it is to blackjack.

So let's start a culture of getting poker out of the casino, not entirely of course, so we can show the uninformed majority that if anything it is a solution to, rather than a cause of, problem gambling.

Boring continuation post - no actual content

The Pokernews thing is going very well and Pokernews in general is becoming massive. We've got a forum starting on the UK site now, have a stanglehold on the WSOP blogging and the mypokernews section is, although a blatant myspace rip, proving very popular.

People talk about going on bad runs on these blog thingies which I hope I never do, but I am going on a boring run ie. I win a game I lose a game I win a buy-in I lose a buy-in etc. At least I get the most out of rakeback so I guess that means I'm up.

Not much else going on, I am playing in the Summer Festival at Napoleans Sheffield next week and then off to the (non poker) Edinburgh Festival the week after.
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