The New Golden Age
By Chris Hall
A 'New Golden Age', that's what some people in the UK have called it. The week had been looking all nice and rosy early on at the EPT Vilamoura final table, the top three of the final eight, Toby Lewis, Sam Trickett and former international footballer (the one you actually spend time kicking - hence the proper version) Teddy Sheringham accounted for 73% of the chips in play, Lewis eventually winning. A couple of days later, Jake Cody, who had won EPT Deauville earlier this year, picked up the first ever WPT London title, the rail including the aforementioned Lewis.
Jake Cody Wins the WPT London
Photo courtesy of Party Poker Blog
Finally, just when the collective British poker community thought it could recover its' breath and decided now would be 'a good time for a brew', Dave 'Dubai' Shallow or 'CrabMaki' as he's known on PokerStars, won the WCOOP High Roller event. The amount of money won combining these three results is (by some quick calculations) roughly equivalent to the GDP of a small insignificant African country, which is not worth any time or effort. Unless said country is discovered to have some oil reserves, in which case, it is very significant and must be liberated from the communists entrenched there.
But where was I? Ah yes, 'A New Golden Age', so when was the last one for us? Err...roughly 250 years ago, the Seven Years War between England and France (yes, they lost again) had just finished in the Americas, while just a few years earlier the British East India Company had beaten the Nawab of Benegal and his French allies (shock!) at the Battle of Plassey. So around 1763 or so was when Britain held both America and India within it's palm and arguably at it's peak.
Three different UK players winning an EPT, a WPT and the WCOOP High Roller event in the space of a few days in a game where nationality is virtually meaningless really doesn't compare. Purple patches of supposed dominance by certain countries will come and go, but really it's all just variance. Poker has evolved to a point where there is a steady stream of conveyor belt kids handed down a laptop, $100 in cash and told to go out there and win it all. The talented cream rises to the top, where you find your Codys, Lewis' and Shallows, don't fret about where the next superstar from your country is coming from, chances are, he's already half-way there.
Naturally, this process sees rapid changes of the guard virtually every few days, remember Luke "FullFlush" Schwartz? Rose up through the nosebleeds crushing some of the top players on his way up, the only thing you might see him crushing now is a leaflet explaining sandwich etiquette policy. He might get pages on pages written about him in the forums and media, as would Devilfish as the latter saunters into a tournament with a new girlfriend, most probably a doe-eyed blonde girl likely to be younger than his haircut. But none of them could wake up a public virtually comatose to the poker world, like a real celebrity. Certainly for poker sites desperate to break into the mainstream media to get maybe two lines written about them on page 47 of the Bullingdon Post, they've found someone who can actually play the game in Teddy Sheringham.
Sheringham is an interesting case, finishing 14th in last year's WSOPE and three cashes in the EPT including a 5th in Vilamoura means he clearly has game. Even in Vilamoura during interviews with PokerNews and PokerStars, you can the intense concentration of man who is incredibly focused and wants to win at everything. The fact that his €91,000 or so in winnings would've been less than two weeks wages for him at the peak of his career underlines this commitment and now he's even a 'Friend of PokerStars' (the most ridiculous of all PokerStars affiliate titles, you could be paying $10k a week in rake and PokerStars still doesn't consider you a friend. But if anyone wants to start giving me that much a week, I promise you will be my friend.)
Sheringham and poker haven't always gone smoothly however, there was a story back in 2007 that he had allegedly introduced some of West Ham FC's younger players to poker and promptly cleared several of them out for several thousand plans which was why he did not feature so much for the club that year.
The truth is though, that these younger players would not be the first ones to blow all their big earning on poker, many of the high stakes UK players padded their rolls rather successfully over the last few years thanks to the gambling antics of many a high paid Premiership footballer. England internationals and the like who would earn maybe £50,000 a week or more even just a few years ago were regularly circled by online poker players in the games on Ladbrokes or on the old Cryptologic site. There are well known stories of these players losing sums into six-figures from seemingly endless bankrolls, for many of the 10/20 and 25/50 players, that was their 'golden age'.
Football and poker do go hand-in-hand in many respects, from the youngsters with lots of money but no clue, to the numerous dollied-up women they chase and the sordid sexual tales about tail. The big difference is that football is still seen as having an element of romanticism, nostalgia and innocence from earlier years, when footballers and supporters would live in the same street and drink in the same pub. Poker doesn't have that, you go far back enough (depressingly you actually don't need to go back that far at all) and you'll find people crooked enough to try and sell you your own kidneys that they are extracting from your body as you are watching.
"Hey guv'nor wanna buy a kidney? Buy one, get one free! Can't say fairer than that!"
"But I just saw you remove them from my body."
"Nah, found 'em, fell off the back of a lorry so they did. Only used once before, the gentleman had no need for them after he was kidnapped and 'ad them forcibly extracted."
"But they're in your blood-covered hands and there's a massive hole in my chest."
"Oh, these aren't my hands sir, there...errr...blood...coloured...gloves, yeah. They do look like hands so I can understand your mistake. But despite that, I will still sell you these lurvely kidneys, can't leave home without 'em!"
The 'New Golden Age' of poker in the UK will probably happen at the same time it happens everywhere else in the world, you know, when the massive misogynistic atmosphere that courses through the game's veins has been expunged. When there is a uniform set of rules that all tours and bodies follow so that anyone can pick up a rulebook anywhere and know what they can and can't do. When known cheaters are named, shamed and issued blanket bans across all live tournaments as the rival sites work together to protect the integrity of the game.
When all this has happened, then maybe, just maybe we'll be heading in the right direction.
Chris Hall is a freelance journalist from the UK who spends far too much time watching Futurama. He will be covering the upcoming WSOPE for PokerNews. You can annoy him at @ChrisKPHall on Twitter.