It’s on the cards

THE world of a professional poker player may sound like it involves spending a lot of time in dark, smoky rooms with some of life s more seedy characters. Not so according to a man from Comet country who has been playing professionally for 10 years and sa

THE world of a professional poker player may sound like it involves spending a lot of time in dark, smoky rooms with some of life's more seedy characters.

Not so according to a man from Comet country who has been playing professionally for 10 years and says the game couldn't be further from the image most people have of it.

Paul Samuel, 46, of Bedford Road, Hitchin, said poker is becoming increasingly respectable with poker websites advertised on billboards and famous names such as Clive Sinclair among its growing army of fans.

For Paul it is a passion he has had since his early teens and one which is now helping bring home the bacon, making up around 90 per cent of his income for the last year or so.


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Paul developed his enthusiasm for poker from watching his father play.

He said: "I used to sit up to the early hours of the morning watching dad play with his friends.

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"I just always knew I was going to want to play poker."

He now plays on the internet every day and also takes part in live games in Luton as well as festivals across Europe.

Paul maintains the only time he has found himself in a dodgy situation was in Sweden where poker was illegal and had to be played secretly.

He can still recall the fear he felt the first time he had to track down a covert game.

"I thought 'what have I got myself into?' and then when I walked in it was a bunch of guys playing poker in a scout hut," he said.

A father of six, Paul has been happily married to Michelle for eight years.

Paul said that Michelle supports him in his poker playing because she knows how fond he is of the game, although her patience does occasionally wear thin.

"It gets on her nerves sometimes because I can be on the internet for hours and hours," he confessed.

Paul's passion caused a stressful start to the marriage after he got caught up watching a poker tournament in Austria.

He had travelled with a friend for a week of poker and his friend managed to get through to the final.

Paul had a stake in his friend's game and remained with him to see how his investment was turning out.

The final lasted until 4am on the day of the wedding, and on just one-and-a-half hour's sleep, the pair had to fly to London and then drive across to Bristol.

Paul said: "The drive from the airport was a bit hair-raising because we were both so tired.

"If you look at the wedding pictures I've got these big black rings under my eyes."

Paul's professional career has seen him play at the same table as Trigger, from Only Fools and Horses, and snooker legend Jimmy White.

His biggest win from one hand is a whopping £4,000 but his favourite games are not necessarily the big winners.

A game in Holland, with a quarter of a million dollar first prize, may not have seen him walk away with the cash but Paul said he played his "best ever" poker.

He also enjoyed a game in a casino in Germany, not for the big money but for the museum-like surroundings.

"It's the most beautiful casino you've ever seen," he said.

The life of a poker player, however good they might be, is not without its down periods, though.

A bad game is known in the trade as a bad beat, which Paul described as "when you basically do all the right things, have got the odds massively in your favour and you still lose".

He recalled playing a game in Luton where he had put all his money down and looked to be on to a sure thing.

"That was a bit of a high, it was the difference between losing a big pot and winning a big pot," he said.

The only card which could help Paul's opponent was the six of spades, and unfortunately that was just what he was dealt, and Paul had to kiss the big pot goodbye.

"Poker's very unjust. There's times when you do everything right and the other guy does everything wrong and he still wins," Paul said.

According to Paul, poker is not just a game of luck as mathematical ability and observational skills are also essential.

Emotional strength is also a key attribute for anyone looking to play poker successfully.

Paul said: "The most important thing in poker, apart from the psychological side, is the emotional control.

"You see people visibly throw their money away because they're upset.

"You have to be very emotionally strong to get through it."

* Paul is now offering one-to-one poker lessons. For more information, ring 07831 192937.

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