Poker throws up some strange disciples, and I class myself as one of them. I’m a professional poker player who never flaunts his wealth. There are no Armani or Gucci shirts in my wardrobe. There may be an old Wolves shirt or a fleece from Primark. It’s funny how we will spend $10,000 to enter a tournament but we won’t tax our cars. I once had a diesel van, and in the 12 months I owned it, not one drop of white diesel went in the tank (just free red diesel from factories). We cut a lot of corners, but always make the major tournaments. I would pawn almost anything to get into a game. If I had an artificial leg and could get £20 for it, I would become the hopping champion of Great Britain.
You don’t just wake up and decide to be a gambler. At the age of 10, I would stay at my Nan’s. My mum would say, “Get round your Nan’s, son,” because she could never remember my name. If Wolverhampton races were on then, I would play truant from school and my Nan and I would go. I knew how to get into the track for free, but it meant climbing over a canal lock and holding up a picket fence for my 80-year-old Nan to crawl under! This became a bit more difficult years later with her wheelchair, but I still made her crawl underneath. I can remember one particular day in the spring. My hard-of-hearing Nan gave me the paper, asking me to read the runners in the first race. As I read Hard Ransom, she said, “That’s the one, My Grandson. We’ll back that.” Our 2-6d each way at 33-1 won, giving us £5-15 shilling, which was a fortune in 1967. We sat on the grass drinking milk stout and eating vanilla ice cream, courtesy of the hardest bookmaker who’d ever walked on a racecourse, Mr. DB Brooks.
That was the start of my gambling career, and for 37 years, I have been sleeping in hotel doorways and under canal bridges, and have loved every moment. To say that I’m compulsive is an understatement. To say that I’ve done most things to get money — sell road cones, pallets, metals, plastic lorry tyres, and helium balloons — is true. I’ve even sold acorns from Sherwood Forest — in fact, ones from the very tree that the merry men hid in. (Believe it if you want, but it worked in Las Vegas, where I sold 320 at $5 each and then turned that into $25,400.)
Disciples can also lose their way. For instance, in July, I had a £150 treble on three horses: Dido at 8-1, TightCircle at 16-1, and Senior Eduardo at 5-1; they all won and returned me £141,000. That was one of those days that I didn’t mind going astray, and was glad the shepherd did not find me strolling into the William Hill shop in Kingston on Thames. I was there working for another bookmaker, Victor Chandler, on a poker tournament, which was won by Harry Demetriou with Ram Vaswani coming second.
One of my proudest moments occurred when I was playing Situs Poker Online Pkv Games in the recent PacificPoker.com UK Open. I have a young son who is not very well and is under constant medication. One of his few pleasures is to play American pool. A few months ago, I was given an old cue and pretended to my son that one of his heroes, Matthew Stevens, had given it to me for him. Unfortunately, his mother’s car was broken into and the cue was stolen. He was devastated, and put signs up in local shops that read: “My dad will offer a £25 reward to anyone who brings in the cue with no questions asked.” The cue never turned up. Matthew Stevens heard this story and presented me with a signed cue before our semifinal heat. However, there was no emotion at the table, as Matthew outplayed me and went on to win the top prize of $500,000 and a gold ring with a ruby and 11 diamonds. After the presentation, Matthew gave me the ring. What a double that was, a cue for my son and the ring for me. Needless to say, I won’t be pawning the ring for a bet!