The Nuts Poker League’s Top 5 event held at the impressive Genting casino in Stoke can be compared in football terms to the Champion’s League.
As the name suggests all of the 115 hardened poker players who have eschewed the glorious sunshine for a long day at the tables have successfully negotiated a season of donk-outs and tribulations to finish in the higher echelons of their respective leagues and though it may not be continental – yet – a broad sweep of areas are represented here including Shropshire, Lancashire, Merseyside, Denbighshire and Staffs.
To be eligible to play here you’ve earned it and though the dialects differ there is a shared, knowledgeable language of the game with plenty of overheard discussions on c-betting and whether an opponent was actually priced in to call.
All those present know and love their poker but its easy to spot the outright champions of each league by the cool manner they tossed in chips – an arrogant flick of the wrist like a Bourbon monarch dismissing a court minion. Regardless of trophies or bragging rights however each player began the day with the same 10k in chips.
In a similar vein to UEFA’s flagship tournament there is also tantalising riches on offer: a prize fund of over £1200 with an additional GPS seat for the overall winner along with two £100 seats in forthcoming events for the runners up and ten national finals spots up for grabs. This may be a fun day out played in a friendly spirit but the stakes are high.
Along with the familiar terminology pattered around the room there is also the obligatory bad beat tales imparted by the early departed to their friends at the break. “I had pocket queens so I raised…” Their mates listen politely but their eyes tell you different. Really they’re re-devising their own strategies, willing themselves to either tighten or loosen up depending on their fortunes from the opening ninety minutes.
That hour and a half took Jon Milsom to a marginal chip lead but he had more pressing matters at hand; a raging toothache that necessitated his chip tower to be fortified by Nurofen packets and tissues. Jon’s discomfort was only heightened later with an exit close to final table.
Dafydd Joseph meanwhile was experiencing a more speculative pain as his quad Jacks trumped a full house only to see his opponent marvellously fold to a river raise.
Such disciplined skill was typical from the day but what was entirely unusual was the absence of any chip monsters bulldozing their way through the field. I’ve been lucky enough to cover a number of these events now and never before have I seen such an evenly distributed chip tally, something that persisted throughout the whole course of the day until the final ten loomed. This deprived the audience of one of poker’s finest sights – the bully in full flow – but meant at least that ample flops were seen with hands played to a conclusion.
As the sun dipped over the potteries all-but a handful of starters were now heading home or trying their luck on the roulette and blackjack tables and with the substantial rewards now within touching distance the mood noticeably changed amongst the remaining few. Serious stares set in replacing the jovial banter from before. Declarations became terse as the drama ramped up. The short stacks shoved and prayed with the escalating blinds threatening to swamp them whilst those coasting along nicely were reluctant to risk their gains on anything less than premium fare. Even so, with eleven players left and the bubble upon us, finally now chip leaders came to the fore. Tim Smith took two bites of the cherry to dispose of Gary Guille and amounted a healthy stack. Brian Parcesepe and Nathan Snelson were shoo-ins for the final table unless they clashed and continuing the shrewdness that had brought them their commanding stacks they wisely chose to sit and wait for the bubble to inevitably burst.
That unenviable position fell to Sean Jones who busted 11th one short of the feature table but due to another player having already qualified for the national finals at least that slot was passed onto him – a significant consolation for a fine day’s performance.
So our final table was complete.
Understandably with so much at stake the opening encounters were cagey affairs and with the blinds a colossal 10/20000 with 2000 antes there were scant flops to be found. A pattern quickly emerged of one shove per hand with everybody else folding, usually with a player in late position agonising over a marginal calling hand prompting browed sweat from the all-in. This pattern continued until Richie Lewis shipped with A-J only for Brain to wake up on big blind with the bullets. An insta-call resulted in Richie’s departure, with forty quid a reward for a snarling show from the player nicknamed the ‘Rottweiller’.
Soon after it was Terry Howard who suffered the same fate of running into the dreaded aces and the very next hand brought Adrian Russell’s demise; a light shove due to the approaching blinds encountering pocket tens.
Youngster Ricky Leese then benefited from two players making rare pre-flop raises: his following shove gaining him a welcome windfall. Alas it was Leese who exited next after quarrelling with A-K. Kudos is due though for a mature display throughout.
Jon Maybury doubled up when his inferior kicker proffered a full-house and though the hand was entertaining in itself it’s mentioned for a player not involved in it. After seeing an all-in and call before him Gareth Bowen reluctantly dumps his pocket jacks. When a further jack hits the flop his head slumps in dismay only to witness a runner-runner that means his brilliant fold has spared him an agonising departure. For that – and hours of thoughtful poker – Gareth deserves better than to exit next but as we all know this fantastic game has a cruel streak and sure enough the blinds overwhelm his diminishing stack.
Five remain and the individual prize money has risen into the hundreds. Matthew Brunsden leaves with £120 after a superb showing whilst Tim Smith is £210 to the good after coming off second best in a battle of the blinds.
The trio left have all secured a bumper pay-out along with the aforementioned tournament seats and after doubling up back into contention with a full house Jon Maybury’s wife declares the next step is the WSOP. Quite frankly none of those written about here would disgrace themselves in such illustrious company.
Sadly it is Jon who falls next, wishing the heads-up duo all the best which leaves us with Nathan and Brian. Both have excelled with some sublime poker – especially their chip management throughout the latter hours – but a mouth-watering heads-up battle is alas never on the cards as Nathan’s commanding lead is just too great. An ebb and flow of raises from each does bring some tension but ultimately it’s Snelson’s day.
“It was an unbelievable experience and I can’t wait to come again” said our victor as he clutched his trophy and rubbed at tired eyes. It’s an experience that you too can enjoy simply by checking out the Nuts site http://www.thenutspokerleague.com/ or liking their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Tnple.evee