Can celebrity poker regular Helen Chamberlain really play or is she just very lucky?
Three hours into my first PokerPlayer assignment and a bra-less Helen Chamberlain is enthusiastically shaking her booty inches from my face.
It’s an interesting experience and one that is entirely justified. We’re in a windowless room in a London hotel, and the Soccer AM presenter is ostensibly here to promote the Ladbrokes Poker Million final.
Effectively the Tiswas of football programmes, Soccer AM has been lulling the nation out of its collective hangover for an astonishing 13 years, with Chamberlain providing a glamorous lower division foil to co-host Tim Lovejoy’s Chelsea smugness.
Originally from Somerset, she’s a devoted Torquay United fan, lured by the bright lights of Plainmoor during a spell working on the English Riviera’s holiday camps. She’s still a regular on the terraces, with Soccer AM going off air at noon, making home games a shoo-in. But, despite her laddish image, Hells-Bells doesn’t drink, preferring to drive home to her two dogs, Spanner and Elvis (so named as he shakes like he’s shitting glass), and her boyfriend, a non-original member of the reformed pop group Level 42.
Remarkably, Chamberlain is a relative newcomer to the world of poker, picking up her hole cards in earnest for the first time earlier this year, under the tutelage of ‘Mad’ Marty Wilson. And in what could have been an expensive error, she originally attempted to get out of the Poker Million tournament, citing the ‘scary mofos’ and the fact that she has to work Friday nights.
Fortunately, both of these stumbling blocks were overcome. Her heads-up victory over Barry Hearn on the celebrity table was witnessed by his good friend, Sky TV boss Vic Wakeling, who found it so hilarious that he agreed to give Helen the Friday off should she make the final.
As for the ‘scary mofos,’ early tournament favourite Ram ‘Crazy Horse’ Vaswani of The Hendon Mob was promptly dispatched in ten hands.
Which brings us back to the windowless hotel room, where a hyperactive Chamberlain bursts in and goes straight into a sit-down with the assembled press. A whirlwind of chat, she manages to talk me out of my stack within minutes, before moving on to the main business of the day – an eight-handed online tournament against a selection of pros and qualifiers.
Deciding to hang around until she’s knocked out, this proves a shrewd move. Despite fielding a selection of press and TV interviews mid-hand, she effortlessly moves into the final three. And when 2005 WSOP champion Joe Hachem is knocked out, she’s guaranteed either a cruise or $80,000. With a boat of her own already, she has no interest in the cruise and fearlessly goes all-in with J-10. Her opponent shows a pair of Queens, and she’s already out of her chair when she hits the flush on the river, prompting the aforementioned bout of bogling, and a chant of ‘I took your money!’ When she’s stopped throwing herself about, she asks, ‘Where’s that c**t who said I was just f***ing lucky?’
‘I don’t give a crap what happens on Friday,’ Chamberlain later claims, but Friday soon comes, and she finds herself playing in the richest televised poker tournament in Europe – live on Sky. So while the other players spill out of stretch limos, Helen simply walks out of her office and down the corridor.
The rest is history, as in an epic encounter, she sees off all bar eventual winner Tony Jones to snag a cool $400,000. I should be so lucky…
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