Poker | Hard way to make easy living part 1| Dominic Wells |Poker FictionCardspiel

A hard way to make an easy living by Dominic Wells

‘Sit down! Sit down bruv or I’ll batter you, I’ll ****ing batter you!’

It’s a little before dawn. Three nights before New Year’s Eve. I have just been playing poker non-stop for 14 hours, and all I want is to get home to south London and crawl under a warm duvet. Instead, I’m being screamed at.

The man shouting, literally spitting with rage, is in his late twenties. Maybe older. It’s hard to tell. He has the hard-lined face of a crack user. Five minutes ago, I was offering him a cigarette. Now the two of us are grappling on the top deck of the 152 night bus.

If I turned my head, I’d see the great bronze lions of Trafalgar Square through the window, and Admiral Nelson standing sentinel on his column high above. But I can’t turn my head. The man has one hand around my neck trying to force me back into my seat, and the other hand balled into a fist.

Why aren’t I more scared? I’m a writer, not a fighter. The man’s face is contorted with fury, eyes bulging almost out of their sockets. I ought to just sit down and do as I’m told. But, to my own surprise, I’m going to do no such thing. Instead, I’m going to look him squarely in the eye, and say, for the third time, “Give me back my money.”

A few years ago, I would never have squared up to a mugger. I would have avoided confrontation, kissed the money goodbye, played it safe. But that was before I got into poker.

Poker brings out the Clint in you. The “go ahead, make my day”, the “do you feel lucky, punk, well do you?” part that’s usually buried under a mountain of paperwork.

I think that deep in everyone’s collective consciousness must lie that same dream of poker, the one peddled by old Westerns, in which white-stetsoned slickers with gold watch chains play on paddle-steamers down the Mississippi, or men with graveyard faces and itchy trigger fingers sit at round tables in saloon bars where can-can girls show their frilly white bloomers and piano players stop dead if a stranger steps through the swing doors.

As it happens, that’s more truth than bluff, more hit than myth. This quintessentially American pastime sprang out of the French game of poque in New Orleans in the early 19th century, where four players were each dealt five cards from a 20-card deck. It paddled up the Mississippi on steamers, crossed America with the gold rush and the Civil War, until eventually there was a table in every saloon in the land.

By the mid-19th century the deck had grown to 52 cards, allowing flushes and games of up to ten people, and mated with the English game of Brag to produce draw poker.“Draw” poker: the very name sounds like a showdown at High Noon.The game has now been supplanted by the more complex Texas Hold ‘Em, but that name too carries the taste of chewing tobacco, the smell of gunpowder.

Twenty years ago the game was dominated by stetson-topped men with names like “Texas Dolly” (Doyle Brunson) and “Amarillo Slim” (Thomas Austin Preston Jr.). More recently a new generation of upstarts took them on: Mike “The Mouth” Matusow; Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth.

And they in turn are now being replaced by fearless cyberwarriors who play more hands in a week, multi-tabling for 18 hours a day online, than these veterans would play in a month.

> Part 2 here

Photograph by Babycakes Romero. Copyright: Babycakes Romero No: 357: From ‘Me and my camera in my home town, my capital city, my london’

> Photographer’s Website