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by: Carl 'The Dean' Sampson.
Bluff writer Carl “The Dean” Sampson’s pursuit of a good poker game has led him into the kind of places that you thought only existed in British gangster flicks. Let’s follow him into the twilight world of the English poker scene’s bedraggled underbelly. In the following article, the names have been changed to protect Carl’s thumbs.
It was the middle of November 2003 when I received my first invitation to Big Mik?s cash game. My good friend Andy called me one evening to ask me if I was interested in playing. For Andy calling me like this probably meant that the game was good.

?What do they play?? was my first question.

?Dealers choice pot-limit, mainly Omaha and Stud,? said Andy, ?and its £1,000 (about $1,800) minimum buy-in with 10/20 blinds.?

?Do we know anybody??

?I know a couple of people, but it?s run this Greek guy called Big Mik,? explained Andy.

I had heard the name before and suspected it meant trouble. ?Is this the same Mik that once hospitalized a guy who slow-rolled him?? I asked.

?He?s done far worse than that, and he?s also a 300lb mountain who?s a very sore loser. Some of the guys who will be at this game will be there because Mik invited them, which means that they are going to be either complete psychos or local mobsters.?

?Count me in,? I said, without waiting to think it through. ?I?ll only bring a couple of thousand just to be on the safe side?.

I don?t trust private cash games of any description, especially ones that have utter low life for opponents. But according to Andy, this game was very, very good. Andy also informed me that a local casino poker dealer would be dealing the game on his day off. While this is no proof that the game would be straight, it offered, at least, a slight reassurance.

?How?s your pot limit? Are you still playing mainly limit??

I hadn?t played any pot limit for about six months, but I felt that I could comfortably feel my way into the game. ?Just make sure you keep your mouth shut and don?t piss anybody off,? was Andy?s parting advice. ?Oh, and by the way, don?t stare at anybody.?

On the night of the game, I had a 100-mile drive to my appointment with doom. I had been pro for about six months, but about 90% of my play had been on the net. I had played in sizeable live cash games before, but always with respectable people. All kinds of thoughts were running through my head as I drove, and, by the time I arrived, I had formed a battle plan.

My instructions were simple: I was to call a cell phone number when I was in the area and would then be directed to the house where the game was being held. I was surprised to find myself in a respectable suburban neighborhood ? not at all what I had expected. I had no need to ring the doorbell; the door swung open as I made my way up the path, and a dead ringer for Odd Job stood framed in the doorway. It was a clear indication that any trouble would be swiftly dealt with. Hopefully, Odd Job wouldn?t be the one causing the trouble.

I was led upstairs into a very large room, which, to my surprise, was crammed full of people. There must have been about 50 of them, of which a quarter were women. As I walked up to the table, I immediately saw Andy who gave me a wave and summoned me over to take the remaining empty seat. ?Looks like your friend can?t tell the fuckin? time,? spat a large, menacing guy at the table. This, then, was the infamous Big Mik who I had heard so much about. ?If your poker?s as good as your time keeping, boy, then you?re screwed already.?

I just smiled back. I was determined to not let this guy get to me. Andy had warned me that this was a part of his game and that he loved to mess with players? heads and tilt them. I took my seat quietly and instantly recognized the dealer, a guy in his twenties called Danny, who worked for a local casino as a croupier and a poker dealer. This is strictly forbidden as, in England, it is taboo for any casino employee to have contact with customers outside of the casino. I simply nodded in recognition and said nothing.

I had already decided not to put the entire two thousand in play straight away. If I needed more funds, then Andy could fix me up and he knew that I was good for it. The sensible thing to do was to buy-in for the minimum and sit and watch for a while. My buy in of £1,000 ($1,800) was met with yet another remark from Mik. ?Thought you came to play poker, boy, is that all you can afford?? This guy was starting to annoy me, and I began to imagine what it might be like to
introduce his head to a cricket bat. But I remembered what Andy had said, and I resolved to make controlling my emotions my first priority of the night. Despite the fact that I was in my mid-thirties, he still insisted on calling me ?boy.?

?We don?t play any of that limit shit here, boy.?

Andy had told me that he?d been telling everyone in the game that I only played Limit Hold?em on the net. If the other players bought this, then I could use it to my advantage. Big Mik was certainly talking the talk, but from what I had heard, that was about all he could do. He had about fifteen thousand on the table ? easily the largest stack. He was big on intimidation, but any guy who had as many underworld connections as he did was intimidating without even opening his mouth.

Another story that had circulated about Mik was that he had once had two of his guys bust the fingers of a couple of players who he had suspected of collusion in his game. He couldn?t prove anything, but that never stopped Mik. It was then that I remembered that my best friend was at the table with me, and Mik knew this. Suddenly I didn?t feel too good. ?What the hell am I doing here?? I thought, and I hadn?t even seen any cards.

Looking around the room, I couldn?t help but notice a number of shady-looking types engaged in business meetings. I certainly wasn?t going to ask what was on the agenda, I was just going to keep my nose clean and just do what I came here to do. A smartly dressed Chinese guy to my left, who was on the button, elected to play a form of poker that no one at the table had heard of, much to Mik?s annoyance: ?I hope we aren?t going to spend half the fuckin? night explaining rules,? screamed Mik. For once, I had to agree.

I do not like being dominated in cash games, but here, I had to be cautious. You might ask why, if I was not sure about the integrity of the game, in heavens name was I playing in it ? a question I was now seriously asking myself. I was spending more time looking for anything suspicious than I was studying the players and their patterns. ?Andy better be right about how good this game is,? I thought.

I had noticed Mik staring at me a lot and I kind of got the feeling that he was looking for a confrontation. For reasons known only to himself, he had targeted me from the moment I?d entered the room. I had been playing about 30 minutes and Mik had raised probably half of the total pots played. I was down about a hundred, when a player on the button called ?Hold?em? as his game of choice. Mik, who was four seats to my right, open-raised the pot, making it £70 to go. This came as no surprise; he had been doing this constantly, his confidence buoyed
by the fact that the table seemed happy enough to fold behind him.

Everyone folded to me. I was in the big blind and I looked down at my hand and saw aces. I knew that Mik would attempt to move me off this hand; it would be just a matter of when. He had barely seen me play a hand in half an hour. This was a situation where I could either let him bet his money off and rake a sizable pot, or it could cost me a fair percentage of my money. I quickly called the extra £50 without thinking through the complications ? it felt the right thing to do. The pot stood at £150 and the flop came A-8-7 rainbow.

A lot of players had been betting weakly and Mik had been calling and then taking the pot away from them later in the hand. I felt that this is what he would do to me. A bet of £70 would let him think that I was trying to take the pot without risking too much on a hand that I was not overly confident about. Mik called very quickly and the pot now stood at £290. The turn brought an offsuit non-connecting low card and I quickly bet £150. Mik instantly tossed £700 into the
pot, whispering menacingly, ?I raise you all in.? It was £550 to me and I was holding the nuts; I gave Andy a look and he knew what this meant.

If I lost this pot to an outdraw, I would curse myself for playing it this way, especially as I only had one buy-in left. I called quickly which seemed to visibly shock Mik. I showed my aces; Mik threw his cards at the dealer ? literally ? one of them hit Danny in the face.

to be continue...

(© 2006 BluffMagazine. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)

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