Charidimos ‘Harry’ Demetriou, the thinking man’s poker brat, is one of the UK’s biggest poker winners. We talked to him about being thrown out of the WSOP: “There were things happening that brought into question the very integrity of the game”

Just five short years since taking up the game, Charidimos ‘Harry’ Demetriou has racked up $2 million in tournament winnings and is already establishing himself as the UK’s player of the decade

Harry Demetriou is the kind of poker player who makes it all look so easy. He only took up the game in 2001 at the age of 42, and in five years of play he’s netted $2m in tournament winnings, including two WPT and four WSOP final table appearances. He’s quite possibly the leading UK player of the 21st Century so far, but for him it’s still just a hobby. ‘I play poker for fun,’ he insists.

Demetriou has gambling in his blood; first as a successful sports bettor, and then throwing himself into poker with a quiet-minded fervour. He approached the table with a gambler’s instinct married to a disciplined, focused approach. It had immediate results, with Demetriou finishing third in the first WSOP event he entered in 2002. Despite his age and nationality, he is a carbon copy of the typical Scandinavian online pro. But, unlike the legion of bland faceless internet millionaires, he’s a live wire character who crackles with a passion for poker and for life.

He’s not afraid to speak his mind either – no matter what the cost. In fact, if you’re just getting to know Demetriou, then there’s another character you should also be introduced to. Meet Harry Demetriou – the thinking man’s poker brat. This is perhaps best illustrated by this year’s $2,000 hold’em shootout event at the WSOP, where he created such a fuss shouting the odds at floor staff he was thrown out of the tournament. But this wasn’t egocentric bad beat whining; it was a man standing up for what he thought was right.

The structure of the tournament should have been ten-handed, but due to a lack of entries the organisers decided to reduce it to six-handed shortly after the players were seated. It wasn’t even as if Harry wasn’t a fan of the short-handed format – he’d finished sixth in the $2,500 six-handed event the day before. No, it was just that Harry wasn’t happy with a number of things at this year’s World Series. And when Harry’s not happy then everyone knows about it.

Would you say you’re particularly opinionated?

Obviously, some will think I whine excessively. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere and mine may be in a different place to someone else.

Why so upset at the WSOP?

There were things happening that brought into question the very integrity of the game. Second day of the main event, at Gavin Smith’s table they introduced an extra 100,000 because some player couldn’t find his stack. You had floor people who made a bad decision, you asked them to explain and they turned around and said, ‘Do you want a penalty?’

What happened when you were thrown out?

They put ten stacks out on each table at the start of play, then around 15 minutes into play they removed four stacks from each table and said we were going to be six-handed. In my opinion this represented a gross deviation from the expected format, which wasn’t fair to the bulk of participants. At the time, I asked for a senior tournament official to come down immediately to address the problem, but a floor person decided to evict me from the tournament as I was causing a scene that may have led to players walking out.

So the problem stemmed from the people on the floor?

The floor staff seemed to be of two distinct types: those that knew something about poker and those that seemed to know next to nothing. Unfortunately, those that knew nothing were making decisions detrimental to the integrity of poker. As poker players we pay entry fees and are responsible for paying for all the expenses and putting up all the prize money for each and every event, and yet we have little or, rather, absolutely no say in how things are run.

So what happened next?

After I was ejected I had a meeting with five top Harrah’s executives, where they acknowledged mistakes had been made and we talked about opening up lines of communication. Harrah’s are entitled to make money from The WSOP, however, they have to be very careful because if they make too much out of the players and do not return anything to them then over the course of time someone will displace them.

Will you play there next year?

Much as I would love to win a bracelet, if things don’t get better, then I’ll just give the WSOP a miss. If something’s amiss then I’ll vote with my feet. If I don’t like it, I won’t play. But I may have to eat humble pie as I would probably have a hard time not playing in the main event.

It was still a good WSOP for you, but how do you feel this year has gone for you overall?

It’s always a good year when you get more money in than goes out. Every year since 2002 I’ve made money. I’m certainly not going to complain. I should have done better at the WSOP this year. Got to a final table, second in chips. Had a rush of blood to the head and made a dreadful mistake with a pair of Jacks. I’m human and prone to mistakes, but this kind of lunacy within me helps me do well in tournaments at times. I have to expect that I’m going to create problems for myself sometimes by overplaying hands.

Was it frustrating coming second in this year’s WPT Mirage event?

Yes and no. I really would like to land a big win over in the US. I’m confident that every year I play, I’m getting better. I just seem to adopt the wrong approach to my opponent sometimes. At the Mirage, I actually went card-dead at one point – unfortunately, that point was when I was heads-up. It’s very difficult because he who bets first tends to win.

One of the hands was pretty sick. How did you recover?

Yeah, it came when we were three-handed [he hit trip 2s on the turn, Stanley Weiss pushed all- in, he called and Weiss made trip 5s on the river]. Devin Porter had very few chips and I was about to have seven million except Weiss hit a two- outer on the river. I couldn’t complain. One card here, one card there and it would have been six completely different players at the table.

Do you want to be known as a great British player?

Greatness is defined by your achievements and my achievements aren’t that great. I’ve won a lot of prize money, but I’d have to win a couple of major tournaments before someone put me in the same bracket as people like Phil Ivey.

Do you practice a lot online?

Well, I spend about eight hours a day sports betting. I do soccer lines for about 28 leagues. I do well and get a reasonably decent income from that. I don’t play [poker] online. I’m so busy with the soccer that I don’t want to spend another three or four hours playing poker.

Ever considered playing poker and betting at the same time?

Listen, I have about two brain cells and they’re both working on the soccer. I have played before, but it’s not for me. I like the social interaction, I like one on one, I like seeing people, staring them down and making them sweat. I like reading people.

Do you and Tony Bloom [another sports bettor who is also a gifted poker pro] ever swap tips?

No we don’t, actually. I’ve never asked Tony Bloom what he fancies before a game. He’s a super nice guy and I think he’s the best player in England. I rank him up there with the best globally, never mind in Britain. If he ever applied himself, I have no doubt that he would be top ten in the world. He’s razor sharp and highly mathematical. Julian Gardner is also underrated. People who understand poker know how good he is. That guy is a really good player.

What makes a good player?

I teach beginners to raise or fold, not call. Call occasionally, but unless you’re willing to raise or re-raise, throw it away. You have to teach people to play their opponent’s hand, sense whether they’re weak and push them off. You can’t teach people certain things – like how to stick all their chips in with nothing. You’ve either got the gamble or you don’t.

What’s the deal with you and Martins Poker?

I had a bet with Martin de Knijff and I lost so now I have to wear a T-shirt when I get to a final table of a TV tournament. If I don’t win, I’ve brought shame on the brand name. Therefore I have to pay compensation to Martin. I’m $80,000 in the hole so far.

Would you ever be sponsored?

If the right offer came along, I probably would sell my soul. I play poker for fun. Maybe it’s my outspoken nature that puts me off signing.

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