Poker | Hippodrome London | Dominic Wells | New Year | part 1Cardspiel

Chinese New Year at The Hippodrome

God I love the Hippodrome on a Friday night. The happy clatter of steel balls in roulette wheels, the tinkly slot machine symphonies, and above all the riffling of poker chips between eager fingers like the sea frothing over a pebbly beach, the chip stacks rising and falling with the waves.

Tonight is even more epic than usual: it’s Chinese New Year, the Year of the Horse. Huge red lanterns are suspended from the 60-foot ceiling; the place is packed. Even so, I get seated within five minutes; there’s never a long wait at the Hippodrome. I prefer the fourth-floor balcony tables overlooking the casino floor way, way below, but there’s more in a downstairs poker room if needed.

The table is as crazy as the night. My first hand I get KQ. Someone raises to £8; I call. Someone else makes it £35, then another goes all-in for £150. Obviously I fold. The £35 raiser insta-calls with, it turns out, just A7. “Wow,” I say to the guy on my left. “Is this table always like this?” “Pretty much, yes,” he confirms.

This is fun. But scary. There’s only two ways to play this: surf the wave of random with the rest, potentially winning or losing a grand or two; or batten down the hatches and let the storm rage around you till you find a hand to make your stand. The second is more my style. As I like to tell friends who ask about my gambling: I don’t gamble; I play poker. Though eventually I get sucked in….

I resign myself to any pre-flop call costing £15, with another £40 on the flop. It’s expensive to look for draws, but you can get paid big. I drop about a hundred doing that before striking lucky with a gutshot draw, staying in against someone I thought was betting with air. Turns out he had trips on the flop, but I made a straight on the turn. That’s £250 in one hand.

Even so, I dwindle slowly without strong hands, and a while later I lose my whole stack with pocket 10s. I re-raise a raiser pre-flop to £70, and a tough-looking, bald-headed Mr Random to my left goes all-in. He could have Aces. He could have nothing at all. He’s that kind of player. I only have £125 left by this stage, so I call. He has Kings.

I’ve put in £250 + £100 so far. I rebuy for £300. I’m drinking, too, for Dutch courage in tight spots, which I don’t usually do when playing, but hey! It’s Chinese New Year. The vodka and Red Bull works. I’m in with K9 – much looser than my usual range, but I have position, last to act with four callers of Mr Random’s £10 bet. Flop is AJ10. Nothing but a gutshot – though a King may still be good if no one has an Ace.

We all call Mr Random’s £40 bet. The turn is a third diamond, a 9. And wait – I have the King of diamonds! And the Ace of diamonds is on the board! Now I might fluke a runner-runner nut-flush. This time Mr Random bets £75. We all call. I’ve now invested £125 in this hand – with nothing. But with three other players still in, the value now is pretty good for a 1 in 5 chance of a flush.

And the fourth diamond does come on the river! An 8. Mr Tight, first to act, bets £100. Why? With what? There’s an 8, 9 and 10 of diamonds on the board as well as the Ace. He couldn’t have a straight flush, could he? No way. Why would he be in the hand with J7, or 67, and only one diamond on the flop? I must be ahead.Now, how to get value from it? Mr Tight has only £120 left. The other two are loaded. I’d like them in the hand. If I raise, I’ll scare them off. Mr Tight will probably fold, too. So I flat-call… and sadly the other two fold anyway. They probably had nothing much all along. Turns out Mr Tight had a straight – no diamonds. Strange bet with three other players in the hand.So suddenly my stack is up to £800. And then the evening gets stranger.

> Chinese New Year Part 2

Image ‘The Year of the Horse (Gung Hey Fat Choi)’ by Beverley Goodwin

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