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The Poker Million “Flop”
European Poker
by Nic Szeremeta

One of the undoubted assets of poker players is their ability to read situations—not just at the table but in what passes for real life. So it came as no surprise to most inhabitants of the European poker village that the much-hyped Poker Million (not to be confused with the successful Million) was called off just three weeks before it was due to take place in England from March 29–31. The choice of venue—a conference suite in the London Metropole Hotel rather than a licensed casino—had raised a few eyebrows. The organisers, Matchroom Sports, had cleared the legality of the £7,000 buy-in no limit hold’em event with the Gaming Board of Great Britain. Because it was a tournament being played behind closed doors and no live cash action would be provided it was deemed to have the status of a private game—the equivalent of a Friday night round; the kitchen-table affair albeit a bit bigger.

The guaranteed £1 million first prize meant that over 140 entrants were needed just to pay the winner. With this size field there would be no prize money for anyone else—unless of course deals were struck. And of course deals were strictly outlawed. While the organisers remained upbeat about the size of the field the sages of the poker community were shaking their heads and doubting that even a couple of hundred players would be prepared to ante up the buy-in without an in-house satellite or cash game in sight. A handful of satellites were held in UK casinos but in several of these the winners had opted to keep the cash instead of taking a seat. There were also doubts that the dealers—some of them novices—would be able to cope with the pressure.

Still it was going to be shown on Sky Sport TV—some play from the Saturday night and the final live on Sunday—so everything would be all right wouldn’t it? Enter the London Metropolitan Police. Without any warning the organisers put out a statement to the effect that the police were not convinced that the event was legal—despite the gaming board approval and the thumbs up from the organisers’ own lawyers.

Apparently the police said they could not guarantee they wouldn’t raid the joint! Now that would have made real good TV if they had. Not surprisingly the organisers didn’t see it that way, pulled the plug, and said they were postponing rather than cancelling.

Watch this space for the new dates they said, and don’t worry, anyone who has paid will get their money back.

The screams of protest could be heard from L.A. to Oz as those who had paid for non-refundable flight tickets peppered the online poker discussion groups with complaints.

Questions were asked. “Why weren’t the police asked for their views six months earlier?” was pretty typical. Cynics advanced the view that the police attitude was merely an excuse and that the real reason was the fear that the hoped-for field would not materialise. Such an unfounded observation was, of course, vehemently denied by the organisers who pointed out that they had spent the past year and a stack of money on promoting the event.

So what are we left with? In poker terms it is rather like losing in a big pot.

The loser ought to be asking himself: “Where did I go wrong?” Or, “Should I have been in the pot?” Or even “Should I have been in the game?” The latter question ought to be the one that the organisers address pretty quickly. The use of the word “postponement” implies that they may have another shot. If they do this maybe the triumph of optimism over a grasp of reality. The Poker Million had something of a credibility problem even before it was postponed. Its credibility problem is somewhat more severe now, possibly even terminal.

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