Poker in paradise: Mazagan Deep Stack

If you’re planning a poker holiday there’s a new destination on the map that offers everything you could want, and then some. Dave Woods goes deep at the Mazagan

Covering poker tournaments can be a thankless task. One assignment could see you dispatched to a grey casino, just off the motorway in the UK, with only a Frankie and Bennys for company. Once the tournament has packed up for the night you can retire there for a burger or stay in the casino bar and listen to the bad beat stories.

However, covering poker tournaments can also be one of the most wonderful jobs ever. I’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed the best players play in the most salubrious locations around the world – the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Atlantis in the Bahamas, Monte Carlo and Las Vegas are right up at the top. Poker might be poker wherever you play it, but the extras make these places shine.

They’ve now been joined by the Mazagan Beach & Golf resort in Morocco. The huge 5-star hotel in El Jadida is home to the biggest casino in Africa, which plays host to regular tournaments and the quarterly Deep Stack – the €3k buy-in event that I was coming out to watch.

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After a bit of digging I heard rumours that some serious names were going to be out there too. Roland de Wolfe (possibly the prime candidate for poker’s ‘Where are they now?’ treatment), James Bord and assorted high stakes cash game players, along with footballing legends Tony Cascarino and Teddy Sherringham, and snooker world champ Ken Doherty. Bring it on.

Plane sailing

I was sat on the plane waiting for takeoff when an email pinged through from the Mazagan. ‘You’re getting a car to the hotel with Tony Cascarino, Teddy Sherringham and Ken Doherty – look out for them, they’re on the same flight as you.’

Sure enough, about five minutes later they appeared and settled straight in business class where they played Kalookie for the entire ight, leaving me back in economy with my Kindle.

I hooked up with them after the flight and in a blur of anecdotes from the football and snooker worlds, we arrived at the Mazagan Resort where we were all blown away by the scale and grandeur.

It was already 10pm and with the tournament due to start the next day we spent a couple of hours in the fantastic fish and seafood restaurant, had a couple of beers and retired to our rooms (after a quick stroll round the casino, of course – just to get the lay of the land!).

Special guests

Coming down to the restaurant for breakfast the next day, literally the first person I bump into is Roland de Wolfe. De Wolfe – who coincidentally used to work on a sister magazine Inside Poker in the same of office as PokerPlayer – had a meteoric rise to fame in the poker world, winning the WPT Grand Prix de Paris in July 2005 for €479,680 before coming third in the WPT Championship the following year for $1,025,205.

He went on to complete poker’s triple crown – only the second person to do this, after Gavin Griffin in 2008 – after winning EPT Dublin in October 2006 and the $5k PLO WSOP event in June 2009. Not much more than a year later de Wolfe had disappeared from the poker world.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. De Wolfe stopped playing tournaments but you could still find him in some of the biggest cash games in the UK, at Les Ambassadeurs casino in London.

I asked him if this marked a return to the tournament world? ‘I’m not playing the tournament,’ he replied.

Further grilling confirmed that he was out here for a big cash game but probably wouldn’t be playing tournaments again. De Wolfe has no interest in headlines or recognition, preferring instead to get it extremely quietly through a mix of cash games and sports betting.

He’s doing well for himself too. De Wolfe and his entourage arrived by private jet and whenever I saw him he was gambling, whether round the poker table or the breakfast table, where he made money throwing sugar packets into a bowl.

A friend tried to get him interested in the tournament and we almost had a breakthrough. ‘What sort of last longer would make you play the tourney?’ his friend said. ‘100k,’ de Wolfe replied. ‘I’d want odds,’ said his friend. ‘6/5,’ came the snap reply. ‘Get lost.’ and that was that.

Playing poker isn’t a requisite at the Mazagan though. The huge resort caters for everyone, with an 18-hole links golf course designed by Gary Player the jewel in the crown. I’m still a golfing beginner so, while the gamblers headed out onto the course, I holed up at the Nike Golf academy, where I was treated to a hi-tech examination of the limitations of my swing. After that I took a quad bike out onto the beach and then made the mistake of trying to ride a horse. That’s one thing I won’t be doing again when I come back.

One out, one in

One player who did sit down for the tournament was another young UK star, James Bord. Like de Wolfe, Bord had slipped off the face of the poker world after making a big splash when he won the WSOPE Main event in London in 2010 for £830,401. He went on to stake a lot of players and cashed pretty consistently in 2011 before calling it quits, bar the odd WSOP appearance.

Bord now splits his time between Vegas, where he plays cash games, and London, where he’s hoping his beloved Spurs can win the premier League for the first time since the 1960/61 season. ‘If they’re still in contention come the run-in, I’m hiring a box’, he said.

Bord, Sherringham, Cascarino and Doherty were all still in contention come the final day of the Deep Stack event too, which was a massive success. Helped by the half-price re-entry, it attracted 54 runners and 64 rebuys, creating a total prize pool of 2,270,400 Dhs (around $230k), smashing the 1.5m Dhs guarantee.

With 22 players returning to play to the money at 15, Doherty was in the best position with a 352,000 stack good for fifth spot. Sherringham was in 12th with 223,500, with Bord and Cascarino hoping to spin their short stacks up. Come the start time though, Bord wasn’t at the table and his short stack was getting shorter. He’d last been seen at the Alias nightclub doing the exact opposite that most strategy books would cite as the perfect preparation for a long day and a shot at a final table.

He turned up about 15 minutes late, ordered a coffee, a cheese panini and – more in hope that anything else – some Nurofen, but busted before they arrived, getting it in with Jacks and losing a flip to A-K. Crippled in more ways than one, Bord was eliminated the next hand, which was also responsible for taking most of Teddy Sherringham’s stack.

With Bord all-in and looking like he was walking, Sherringham wasn’t for folding and called three streets with what turned out to be A-K-high. His opponent was definitely polarised but unfortunately had it after flopping the straight with 4-6. Sherringham shoved his last few chips shortly after and left to watch Man U v Arsenal in the sports bar.

It was turning into a massacre for the Brits. Tony Cascarino was next to go when he had to call a shove from UTG with the optimistic 8-6. He couldn’t have hoped to have been in much better shape when UTG turned over pocket Fours. It got better on the flop when he paired his Six and much, much worse when his opponent turned a Four. It left all UK hopes pinned on Ken Doherty, whose face was a mask of concentration at the table. Unfortunately, he lost a big pot when he flopped two pair and his opponent – who’d paired his Ace on the flop – turned a bigger two pair. Doherty couldn’t recover and he was in the sports bar with Sherringham in time for the second half.

The final countdown

It left local player David Haziza as the big chip leader going onto the final table, which was played in the flash surroundings of the Alias nightclub. the main dance floor provided the stage, with seats all around a huge bar. There was still plenty of play in the stacks and after starting at 4pm the chip lead swapped several times throughout the evening until Haziza found himself heads-up against another local, Fahd Kaabat.

Kaabat had played a solid final table but he too found himself short against the player who had dominated the past ten hours of play. The final hand proved the adage that when it’s your day, it’s your day. Kaabat got his chips in with T♠-Q against Haziza’s K-Q♣, was rewarded with the T♣-T-J♣ flop, only to see the A♣ arrive on the turn. There was no way back and at 2.30am, Haziza celebrated his biggest career win.

The Mazagan runs regular tournaments all year, with a quarterly deep stack. We’re also hearing rumours it might be hosting an international low-stakes tour later in the year. Find out more at

What’s so good about the Mazagan?

There’s a lot more to the Moroccan resort than the poker. We give you a guided tour

1. The food

The food is awesome – from the top-end fish place Sel De Mer, through Morjana (Moroccan and Lebanese) and La Cave (French). The highlight was ‘Loup rôti, mijotée de chou de Bruxelles au magret fumé & champignons, écume de coquillages’ which is ‘Roasted sea bass, sautéed brussels sprouts with smoked duck & mushrooms, seashell foam.’ Any chef that can do this with brussels is a star.

2. The golf

Designed by Gary Player, this 18-hole links course is brilliant. And tough, especially when the wind’s up. If you’re not a golfer, or just want to improve after getting tonked on the course, you can get lessons in the hi-tech Nike Golf Academy.

3. Quads, buggies & horses

The Mazagan has 7km of stunning beach to explore. You can wander off and find your own bit of paradise or go exploring on a quad bike. The quads are a great way to get a buzz – fast enough to make you feel like an action hero and actually slow enough to be safe for everyone. We also tried a spot of horse riding, which was terrifying.

4. The Nightclub

The Deep Stack final table played out in the middle of the Alias Club on Sunday. On Friday and Saturday nights, it played host to James Bord and the rest of the high stakes poker fraternity. When we saw Bord on Sunday he said, ‘I’m not sure if the bar bill last night was $5 or $50k, but I paid it. Everyone else left.’ Now that’s a party.

5. The Spa

Scoff if you want but the massage we enjoyed at the Mazagan was the cherry on the top. We asked for medium and it was about as medium as we could take, but it took away all the aches and pains associated with standing next to a final table for eight hours.

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