Over twenty years ago, I started a regular weekly poker game with a group of friends who had all recently gravitated to London. We had been inspired to do this by Anthony Holden’s beguiling description of the ‘Tuesday Night Game’ in his excellent book Big Deal. Holden – then probably better known for his biographies of Laurence Olivier, the Prince of Wales and the Queen Mother – describes the year he spent trying to make his way as an amateur in the world of professional poker, taking in a range of exotic locations from Morocco to Las Vegas and culminating in a creditable but ultimately failed attempt at the 1988 World Series of Poker. To men in their early twenties, with the responsibilities of family and the joys of a mortgage still ahead of them, it appeared an impossibly romantic lifestyle, and in our small way we were determined to capture some of it.
At first all went well and the game became a regular fixture which broke up the monotony of the working week. However, although the stakes were not high (a ‘big’ bet was signalled by the pushing of a pile of coins into the middle of the table rather than tossing in a wad of notes) I found my losses beginning to mount week on week. Clearly something had to be done. Ducking out of one of the week’s social highlights was simply not an option so I had to improve my game – but how? This was before the days when the game – through online gaming, coverage on Channel 4 and weekly tournaments in the local pub – became ubiquitous and before the Internet made information on even the most abstruse subject available at the click of a mouse. At that time there was relatively little information published in the UK on a comparatively obscure card game that you were most likely to have seen played in a smoky saloon in a Western and which was not common outside America – factors which, to be honest, represented a significant part of its allure.
I consulted Holden’s inspirational tome
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