It’s London calling, as Hilly heads to Croydon
I never thought I’d be so happy to be going to Croydon. How happy? Running round my house punching the air happy. The fifth Home Games freeroll was a tense affair, as I returned home from Wembley Stadium just in time to see Croydon’s David Godfrey going heads-up against previous host Scott Walker of Dundee, with a joyous backdoor flush rescuing me from an arduous return journey to Scotland. It’s a slice of luck that sees me cut a somewhat tragic figure at Clapham Junction on a Friday night, shuffling onto a commuter train while grappling with a poker table, chipset and obligatory can of Stella.
For once I’m on time, and am greeted by host Gareth Walker, who has apparently spent two days cleaning his house and putting up pictures in preparation for my visit. A ‘Croydon Mansions’ poker table is already in place, replete with immaculately prepared chipstacks, all of which have to be jettisoned in favour of the 888 Poker equipment. It’s even more important tonight, as we have a special guest in the shape of 888 Poker marketing manager, Lucy Martin, something that has sent the dirty half-dozen of 30-year-old gamblers into a minor frenzy, with gentle giant Richard Boles declaring, ‘I’m only here for the dolly bird.’
Initially reticent to even play, we let her buy-in for free, and she is installed as a 9/1 outsider by bookie Gareth Walker, who has compiled a ‘100% book’ on the game that has me as 7/2 favourite, albeit with no backers. It adds an interesting dynamic to the game, although it fails to speed it up, with some turgid opening play enlivened only by Boles’ F-bomb, with my standard reraise greeted by a standard ‘F… you then!’ as his cards hit the muck. Arguably London’s answer to Bury’s legendary Alan Waterfall, Boles – a Brentford fan with a Toblerone fixation – admits to having spent the previous two days stalking me online, and spends the evening randomly quoting things I’ve written, something that is simultaneously gratifying and unnerving. He is, however, an aficionado of both Half Man Half Biscuit and Countdown, and so earns my utmost respect. As such, it’s almost a shame when I eliminate him with A-J against his K-T shove. At least he’s not first out, that dishonour going to freeroll winner Godfrey, who garners some ruthless piss-taking when he asks me, ‘Do you ever get a laptop with a clock on it?’
I LOVE LUCY
Finally they start to fall, with silent assassin Lucy Martin doing a lot of the damage. Almost impossible to put on a hand, she balances her range nicely by flat-calling with such diverse holdings as 6-4 and K-K, gradually building up her chips and receiving a number of compliments on her impressive stack. She seems set to lose it all with Q-J against my A-9, but escapes with a Jack on the turn, much to the delight of Boles, who has had two quid on her. ‘When I see the Queen of hearts I just get aroused,’ shares the big man. Another fairly big man hits the rail when I put Simon ‘Harry’ Hayward on a large Ace and call his all-in reraise with 2-2. The deuces hold up against his A-K, adding insult to injury after I’d asked him if his name was spelt the same way as the pickled onion-maker, recalling bitter childhood memories of being known as ‘Pickles’.
Four-handed, myself and Lucy are locked in a private duel, and she openly announces that, ‘I just want to beat him.’ Meanwhile Boles muses aloud, ‘How much duty is there on a Toblerone?’ The remaining two players are, of course, on the bubble for the grand final, but Lucy ruthlessly takes chips from both of them, finally eliminating Nick Woods when she turns a set against his flopped pair of Aces. This puts 7/1 shot Paul Humphries into the final, causing murmurs of discontent from his supposed friends, with a suggestion that he isn’t up to the job. There’s even an attempt to convince me to invent an alternative winner, but no money changes hands.
Humphries departs in third, leaving the small matter of a heads-up between sponsor and sponsored, with bragging rights at stake. Seemingly unbeatable, all Lucy has to do is play any two cards and let the board do the rest. It’s a rule that is proven when I shove with A-7 and she makes one of her more creative calls with 9-4, rivering a barely credible split pot with a Broadway straight. It all goes in again, with my A-6 against her K-2, and she naturally hits a King to take it down, to the delight of Boles whose £2 bet has earned him ‘three days of fags’.
With Lucy honourably refusing to take the money, we play for it using an intriguing Croydon creation dubbed Spaggage (look it up). My anger subsides when I win the first leg, and the second leg sees me going heads-up against Lucy whereby her 6-3 naturally beats my J-7. Given my luck I probably shouldn’t go anywhere near a casino, but against my better judgement I decamp to Leicester Square with a hardcore of degenerates. At 4am a man in a Queen T-shirt recognises me and shakes my hand. Don’t stop me now…