Sam ‘TheSquid’ Grafton makes his debut TV appearance and finds a friend in the make-up room…
My non-poker friends look disappointed when I tell them I’ve never appeared on TV. For a lot of people, appearing on the box marks the point at which you’ve made it. Now, thanks to the Sky Poker TV cash game, I can hold my head up high having finally mixed it up in a TV invitational.
I was a big grinder of TV poker when I first started playing. I was lucky to be watching in a golden age of TV poker. Everyone was a lot less self-conscious and new stars were being reated on a weekly basis. If you watch the first few series of High Stakes Poker it’s as if there’s a cash game taking place, which just happened to be filmed. It has an air of authenticity that’s missing from many subsequent programmes. The characters were just being themselves. The suits were loud, the table talk brash and the pots meaningful. In retrospect, the poker was of a shockingly low standard, but the swagger of Sammy Farha and Eli Elezra made the game I was learning seem all the more intoxicating.
As such a big fan of TV poker I was both flattered and excited by the idea of appearing on Sky Poker’s cash game. The game was originally intended to have £10/£25 blinds, and I deposited a dauntingly large amount of money in my Sky Poker account in anticipation. Due to the non-appearance of certain key players though the blinds were lowered to £5/£5. This was no bad thing from my perspective as it seems like a good idea to be over-rolled for my first TV appearance. The starting line-up included my good friend James Dempsey, godfather of UK poker Neil Channing, the ‘Mad Turk’ Yucel Eminoglu and Sky cash game pro Ryan Spittles. This was a somewhat tougher line-up than I usually look for when I sit in a cash game, but the fact we were five-handed certainly meant I knew there would be lots of action and the chance to play some big pots.
As a tournament player you have to put up with the sense of superiority held by cash game players. As if they were playing chess and you were playing Ludo. So I was keen to give a good account of myself and demonstrate that tourney pros can hold their own alongside their cash game counterparts. That said it was always going to be tough being out of position to Channing and Dempsey – two players far more experienced than me in this format. Dempsey in particular arrived metaphorically equipped with policeman’s hat and whistle and wasn’t prepared to let my opens or four-bets get through unchallenged. It took me a while to adjust to James’ aggression and I definitely will make a number of improvements to my game, having watched him play. Most notably he had a much wider three-betting range than I have. I’m pretty sure that over the course of the game he three-bet almost every pocket pair both in position and out. This is something which seems counter-intuitive to a tournament player but at a certain stack depth, say 300BBs plus, it may well be correct.
Deep in make-up
I certainly didn’t play perfectly for the entire duration of my time in the Sky Poker studio, but I really enjoyed myself. I got used to playing under cameras and lights pretty quickly and probably only half an hour in I largely forgot I was being filmed. Everyone was super-friendly and they were very indulgent of me arriving so late on set each day. It’s normally the preserve of film stars to arrive two hours late on set. In fact it might be easier to get George Clooney and Matt Damon to arrive on time than two poker players. I even became fond of the daily trips to the make-up room. It was nice to see the dark rings under my eyes I carry around with me being smoothed away by layers of foundation. The poker also went well. I don’t want to spoil the show by revealing how I ended up. But I will say there was a hand towards the end of filming that I played with James Dempsey that will linger long in the memory. We played a £3k pot that if imitated by those that watch it on TV will either set poker back ten years or move it forward twenty. It’s impossible to know. Either way, hopefully it won’t be the last time I appear on TV.
Watch out for the Brits – Vegas should prepare for another British invasion this year at the WSOP
Everyone always wants to talk about the latest superstar. The new kid on the block who’s crushing everyone on the way to the top. This summer, though, when the bracelet race draws to a close don’t be surprised to see some of the more established UK pros rocking the bling. I’m not talking about the Devilfish and Mickey Wernick here but the generation of internet pros who were my idols when I first started playing. People like Paul Foltyn, Chris Moorman, Toby Lewis and JP Kelly. They’ve won almost everything in the game between them, but it’s only JP that has a bracelet to show for it. So when you’re composing your WSOP fantasy draft don’t forget these boys, I know they’re all hungry and as the saying goes – they’re due.