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The year of the Brit

The World Series of Poker Europe is always a good place to find the cream of British poker pros, so Gambling went to pick their brains on why it’s been such an incredible year for British players

If we had a pound for every time a British poker player had taken down a big event this year, we’d have enough for a big night out on expensive continental lager and enough left for an enormous kebab afterwards. Yes, quite simply, it has been a stellar year for British poker. So with the WSOPE in full swing at the Empire in Leicester Square during late September, we asked a range of British players – including Sam Trickett, James Akenhead, Karl Mahrenholz, Liv Boeree, Barny Boatman, JP Kelly and Jeff Kimber – why British poker is in such fine fettle.

With so many success stories coming out of Vegas this summer, it’s been a hell of a year for British poker. Why do you think the UK scene is on such a high right now?

Sam Trickett: The standard of British players has definitely gone up recently. We have a lot of good young players now who are always annoying to play against and are going to be dangerous at any table. Three or four years ago, we didn’t have that many you could say that about, but I think the online scene has been a big part of the improvement and it’s resulted in a massive year for us really. There’s been a lot of titles and a lot of big results, so it’s looking really good at the moment.

James Mitchell: A few of the Brits got really good last year and slowly everyone’s starting to catch up with them. There’s now a group of us who are top players and, on a personal level, my game has improved so much in the past 18 months. I basically got addicted to poker a couple of years ago and began to play every single day!

Karl Mahrenholz: Two years ago I’d never played a hand of Omaha at all and purely through talking to some of the other British players who are friends of mine and picking their brains, I’ve learnt the game to a good standard. I’m good friends with Jeff [Kimber] who was on the same final table as me this year and when he busted out he stuck around and we chatted about strategy over dinner. A lot of the other British players are doing the same now and that’s really helped us do well.

Liv Boeree: The Brits are absolutely killing it this year – I don’t know anyone who’s British who hasn’t won a major so far this year!

Jeff Kimber: When you see your friends winning you realise it’s attainable. When I first started playing poker winning a bracelet was like winning Olympic gold, but now when you see your pals winning them, you think “I could do that”.

Do you feel British poker players are starting to get more respect from around the poker world now?

JK: Ha! I saw somebody from mine and Karl [Mahrenholz]’s table tell a reporter that they were happy because they were on a table full of nobodies! I’m quite happy to be unrecognised and get it quietly to be honest!

Andrew Feldman: Generally, I think the Brits are certainly getting more respect. Last year at the WSOP it was pretty disappointing because there weren’t any big results for the Brits, but this year it’s a completely different story. We’ve had five bracelets and are now winning EPTs and WPTs too, so definitely I think we’re starting to get more respect as we improve. Poker is getting a lot bigger here and I think we have lots of players who people should be worried about facing.

Stuart Rutter: It’s fantastic at the moment the way that our kids are carving up not just UK poker and European poker, but poker worldwide as well. For Jake [Cody] to have won a WPT and an EPT is absolutely immense. As far as I’m concerned, it’s great to have my mates doing well, because obviously I’m pleased for them and it also means that the pacemakers in poker are people that I know and like and that makes it easier. My job is just to try and keep up with them basically!

ST: Speaking for myself, I’ve had some success around the World Series for the last few years, but now I feel I’m really starting to get recognised by the Americans and it seems like I’m on first-name terms with pretty much every player on the circuit. That’s really nice because it’s good to feel like you’re a part of a top quality group.

British players seem to be fantastic at helping one another out, whether it be offering advice or just cheering each other on from the rail. It must be great to have this support network behind you – it feels like a proper community.

KM: Oh yeah, it’s a big, big help. Usually it’s me railing other people at these big finals, so for my pot-limit Omaha final table it was nice to have one the other way round! We’ve obviously got a great camaraderie and we stick together and support each other, so it makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.

SR: I honestly think the fact that the world has realised that British poker is going through a really strong spell at the moment is down to the people on the rail. The run we’ve had recently with Toby [Lewis] and Jake winning on almost back-to-back dates is ridiculous, but those guys will continue to carve it up – as will a lot of other Brits.

JP Kelly: I was discussing with my friend Praz Bansi about making a few bracelet bets. He has two as well and we were thinking we might do a bet on who will win a third one first; but then we thought we don’t want to root against each other when we’re deep. I was thinking: imagine if he was here cheering when I got knocked out! We’re too closely-knit and I’d rather do that with someone I wasn’t friends with.

ST: It’s really good having support on the rail. I think it comes from the football background and it can get a bit like a football match at times with the chants that come out when an English guy is in the final. It’s really good because it feels like everyone wants you to win. You don’t feel like anyone is jealous of your results and you feel like all of your friends are behind you. We all want to see each other do well and that’s why we discuss hands with each other and try and improve each other’s games all the time. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’re doing so well at the moment because any marginal spot or tough decision we have, we’re discussing it with a load of other good players and working out the best course of action. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve had so many titles this year.

James Akenhead: The support is great, with all my friends around. If I make the final table, fingers crossed, they’ll be here supporting me. If I do make a final table there’ll be so many chants – the Empire will be full with yobs! It’ll be ten times better than the World Cup!

JM: There’s a lot of camaraderie but also a lot of competitiveness as well, which is always a good thing. We travel with each other, but at the same time we’re all trying to outdo each other and get better results. Before his WPT win I bet Jake Cody that I’d have more European ranking points than him by the end of the year, so we stay pretty competitive.

Is it a big advantage to be playing big events like this on home soil?

Barny Boatman: It’s totally different. It’s a bit weird actually because you feel like you should be somewhere exotic and glamorous when you’re playing these big events, but of course to everyone else it is exotic and glamorous to be here. It reminds you what a great place London is because everyone who’s come over here is so excited about it.

JA: It’s great. I can wake up in my own bed every morning and go to the gym before I come here. It really feels good to play poker on home turf.

LB: I spent a lot of time in the States and most of my best friends in poker are American and I don’t really change my strategy much. It’s great to have them all here though – it’s like a big travelling family!

JK: It’s weird playing here because we play the same players when we go to Vegas but they don’t who you are – whether or not you’re just a holiday maker. Even now they still don’t know the good players and the bad players.

KM: It’s nice playing with other English players at the table. It helps you feel a bit more relaxed to be honest. There are people here that you can talk to and share a joke with, but also I’m familiar with their games as well, so it helps me to play my game a bit better too.

SR: It’s interesting because whereas you wouldn’t normally know that many players at your table, at the WSOPE I was sat with a lot of guys that I knew very well from playing with them in cash games. In a way that makes it easier.

ST: The thing that really helps is that you get to play lots of live cash and you can get used to playing with the players. Sometimes I go down during the festivals and I don’t quite know how a guy plays because I’ve never seen him in a tournament before. So it’s good to play with the same guys every day and work on your reads.

Do you think it means as much to win a WSOP bracelet here in London as it would to win one in Vegas?

SR: I think there’s a real sense that a bracelet is a bracelet now and effectively they are all the same. Obviously among that there are some particularly good bracelets to win – the main event at the WSOPE or the Heads-Up would be an extra sweet one to win of course.

Tony Bloom: I think it’s tough to win any bracelet, so I’d be just as delighted to win something in England. Obviously the WSOPE is the biggest event in the UK, so it would be pretty special.

Jake Cody: I think the Vegas bracelet is the true one when you’re talking about the Triple Crown, but I’d happily settle for the WSOPE Main Event!

After we’d talked to all of these players, they went back to their chosen events at the WSOPE. Soon after, the £10,000 Main Event got underway – and what happened? A Brit won it, of course – James Bord adding his name to British poker’s incredible 2010. Let’s hope 2011 sees more of the same, in London, Vegas and at the big poker events around the world.
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