UK poker royalty Joe Beevers talks exclusively to PokerPlayer: “It’s a well-known fact that people perform better on home turf”

Joe Beevers and The Hendon Mob have been terrorising poker fields for nigh on 15 years

Joe Beevers is one of the most recognisable faces in British poker, having plied his trade since the game’s smoky backroom beginnings to the worldwide appeal it enjoys today. He first appeared in the public eye on Channel 4’s ground-breaking TV show Late Night Poker wearing his trademark black shirt, suit and dark glasses, with slicked- back hair, as he romped to his first of three Late Night Poker final tables.

The programme offered a tantalising glimpse into an exciting world that few had seen in the days before the internet revolution, and its success is the reason that many, myself included, learned how to play the game.

Beevers’ demeanour on the show – calm, composed, well mannered, whether winning or losing – was seemingly at odds with the old-school stereotypes of poker and one reason why he got his now well-known nickname ‘The Elegance’. Since those halcyon days the game has moved on of course, so in the current environment of overnight poker prodigies and hoody-wearing, table-thumping American prima donnas, is there still a place for veteran live pro players like Beevers?

The answer is a resounding yes. In the last 12 months Beevers has proved that he’s not a player of a bygone era by scalping the inaugural Great British Poker Tour Grand Final, registering cashes at the WSOP, GUKPT and EPT Grand Final, and making the final table of the WSOPE £2,500 H.O.R.S.E. event, for a combined return of $ 298,996. And to round off what was a fantastic year, there’s the small matter of beating the toughest Poker Million final table ever assembled to win a career lifetime best purse of $ 1m.

Rose-tinted spectacles

While 2007 may well have been his most successful year, when I meet Beevers at a trendy North London photo studio for our cover shoot he seems more enthused about the early days, when the game brought together all four members of UK poker collective The Hendon Mob.

‘I met Ram [Vaswani] through gambling, putting bets on the dogs for him and things really haven’t changed much in the last 20 years,’ Beevers happily reminisces. Then we started running a private game in Hendon which Ross [Boatman] started coming to and it wasn’t long before he started bringing his brother Barny.’

In fact, the quartet ended up getting on so well that they started travelling the European circuit together, sharing rooms while attacking tournaments in Vienna, Paris and Dublin. In the intervening years the four players have raked in a combined $ 7,949,085 in live tournament winnings (as can be seen on their online database, ‘Think of us as four brothers,’ says Beevers, ‘no one can join the family and no one can leave it. It’s a little like the mafia… actually, it’s more like the Ant Hill Mob!’

Although the days of sharing ripe hotel rooms are a thing of the past, as much to do with their success as settling down, the Mob try to travel to events together and still share what Beevers calls an ‘unwritten ongoing agreement’ to have a five percent cut of each other’s winnings whenever they enter the same tournament.

‘If one of them had missed out on the Poker Million they would have missed out on a nice few quid because five percent of a million dollars is a lot of money,’ says Beevers, obviously happy to share the wealth with his band of brothers. It’s a system that has served them well. Think about it – you get to watch one of your best mates win a major televised tournament and walk away $ 50,000 richer!

Shifting sands

The landscape of the poker world, where $ 1m first-place payouts can be found all year round, is vastly different from when Beevers cashed in his first World Series of Poker tournament – the $ 2,500 pot-limit Hold’em – in 1996. Back then there were just 180 runners and it was one of only two pot-limit Hold’em tournaments in the 24-event spread.

That year the $ 10,000 no-limit Hold’em Main Event had a mere 295 players competing for a $ 2,950,000 prize pool, while in 2007 there were 6,358 entries in the Big One contributing to an incredible $ 59,784,954 war chest. There were also three pot-limit Hold’em events, all sporting $ 1m-plus prize pools, and a six-week 54-event marathon World Series. So what’s Joe’s take on the way the game – and the WSOP in particular – has exploded?

‘The WSOP is now completely different,’ explains Beevers, ‘It’s become a lot more commercial. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing event, but it’s very, very different [from when the WSOP was held at Binion’s]. The social element and the friendliness has gone to some extent. I used to enter a tournament and know 80 percent of the people. Now I sit down and if there are one or two players that I know at my table I’m very lucky.”

“We [The Hendon Mob] used to stay at the Golden Nugget, and as we walked through Binion’s we’d have to walk past four bars and we’d get stopped to have a drink at each one! Some of that has been lost,’ says Beevers, genuinely looking regretful.

Change and evolution is inevitable given the influx of players and Beevers fully recognises that there are plenty of positive aspects to the growth. The Hendon Mob, for instance, are now sponsored by giving them access to tournaments all year round, and the explosion of players in the UK and Europe has led to Harrah’s hosting official WSOP bracelet tournaments in London, an inconceivable event just a couple of years ago.

If you’ve never flown half-way round the world and attempted to do anything more strenuous than lie on a beach or slowly pickle yourself in cheap lager, you won’t be able to fully appreciate how much travel and jetlag can affect you at the poker table. And the WSOPE was high time that the yanks received a dose of their own medicine, believes Beevers.

‘It’s a well-known fact that people perform better on home turf. It’s the same in poker as it is in football or any kind of sport. We’re able to get out of our own beds in the morning and drive in rather than fly 6,000 miles. You’re more relaxed and more focused.’

But when I repeat the claim made by Marc Goodwin in our WSOPE issue last year that the final table being dominated by young European internet players was not by chance, he reacts exasperatedly, the closest to a loss of composure that you’re likely to see. ‘Why not? It absolutely can be coincidence. Of course it can. If you play exactly the same field again this year you’ll get a very different result.’

‘There are a lot of young players coming in with many, many hands under their belt playing online. Some of them are fantastic players with a very different mindset and a very different style from someone like me who has been grafting for 15 years. In the WSOPE there were a number of top US players and you’d expect them to do better over time.’

He has a point. Gus Hansen (10th), Annie Duke (21th), Erick Lindgren (26th), Patrik Antonius (29th) and Jamie Gold (35) all live in the US and all cashed, and given a different card here or there things could have been different. But they weren’t. So what does Beevers think of the young players, and what are they successfully bringing to the game? ‘I felt that some of the young players who came through the online environment and did very well at the WSOPE weren’t polished,’ says Joe.

‘They had the aggression, which is a prerequisite of winning tournaments on a regular basis, but I wasn’t sure if they were able to change gears, adapt to different situations as well as people who have been successfully playing live for some time can. I don’t think that I could make a profit playing tournaments online, certainly not as well as some of these younger players. But I’m 40 years old. Why would I want to learn how to play tournaments online now?’

‘I’m happy playing cash online or live, and 15 to 20 very big tournaments a year where I’ve got the chance to win very big money, which I have done, thank you very much,’ grins Beevers, now back to his genial self.

Supply and demand

There is certainly more money in the game today thanks to the worldwide popularity of poker, and while most pros, Beevers included, have profited, they would be forgiven for saying that some of the romance has died.

The huge, predominantly American-facing, tournaments have become bright, glossy and televised, with more sponsor logos than Formula 1. But things are starting to come full circle in the UK. There are now so many eager players in the UK that several tours have sprung up to sate the demand of Hold’em: the Gala-backed Great British Poker Tour (GBPT), the Blue Square Grosvenor UK Poker Tour (GUKPT) and, for lower stakes players, the PokerPlayer-supported Amateur Poker Association & Tour.

‘The UK scene has exploded and it’s really great to see these new tours,’ says Beevers, ‘because it’s taking poker back 10 years. The [GBPT] has fields of around 100 to 150 players and you can actually see yourself winning these tournaments as opposed to facing 700, 800, or even several thousand. You’re playing with players from that casino. When you go to Edinburgh or Bristol to play an event you’re playing people from the local area. That’s a lot more the way that poker used to be.’ Beevers obviously has a soft spot for the GBPT, which is no surprise given that he is the reigning champion of season one.

Mr Happy

But like any player worth his salt, tournaments are not seen as his bread and butter, and you can often find Beevers breaking the short- handed Omaha action on Full Tilt at the $ 2/$ 4, $ 3/$ 6 and, occasionally, $ 5/$ 10 and $ 10/$ 20 levels. While the lower tables don’t sound like major balla’ action for a Full Tilt-sponsored player, you can’t underestimate how much more of an action game Omaha is compared to Hold’em. Even the $ 2/$ 4 tables create an average pot of close to $ 100 a hand.

‘People say to me, “You’ve just won a million dollars – why don’t you go and play $ 200/$ 400?” But playing at that level I could lose the million in a session. Why would I want to do that? I’m very happy and have a fantastic life. I play 100-120 hours a month on Full Tilt at relatively low stakes and regularly win $ 10,000 a month. And there’s sponsorship on top. I’m not greedy,’ says Beevers, who admits that he plays for larger stakes in the live environment where he can ‘see people and feel what’s going through their heads’.

Beevers also puts a lot of his recent success down to being happy, and as a long-term ambassador of the game you’d be hard- pressed to find anyone to begrudge The Elegance his success. He’s recently married and has twin daughters who have just turned two.

‘Having children completely changed my outlook on life. My responsibilities have completely changed. I’ve got life cover! How many professional poker players have got that? I’ve obviously grown up. You look at someone like Roland [de Wolfe] and he’s very happy living at home and travelling the world playing poker but I’m very happy with my wonderful wife and two amazing girls. I’ve got great friends and family, and life is good. Life is very, very good.’

One thing’s for sure, whether poker in the UK continues to grow or returns to its underground origins, you’ll find Beevers at plenty of final tables in the future, where he’ll be very happy indeed.

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