Still taking pot luck

He's a former World Snooker Champion, but now he's packed in playing and taken up commentating, he's turned his hand to another sport, Texas Hold'Em Poker

When Dennis Taylor went 8-0 down in the World Snooker Championship 1985, it looked like Steve Davis was going to bag his fourth world title. But Taylor clawed his way back and, for the first time ever, the final would be decided on the final black. That night, the Irishman with oversized glasses sank the black and cemented his place in snooker history. He has since hung up his cue and now commentates in televised tournaments, but is now a big fan of Texas hold’em, as Paul Cheung finds out.

You recently played on Showbiz Poker on Challenge TV. How did it go?

I went out with a straight! I couldn’t believe it. Linda Barker hit the flush on the river. That’s the way it goes. It’s very hard to play against beginners, as you don’t know where you are because you can’t play the same way against them as you would against the likes of Stephen Hendry or Mark Williams.

Was it your first TV tournament?

I’ve only played in two TV games, which is a shame because I really enjoy them. I played in one about three years ago and went out when I had three 9s and someone else had a straight. Ladbrokes invited me on its cruise, but unfortunately I couldn’t do it because I was doing commentary for the Masters at Wembley.

How did you first get into poker?

We used to play back in Northern Ireland. We played every conceivable game of poker back then – stud, closed poker. That was a game where you had five cards up and five down – that was real gambling! But when I moved to England, I stopped playing. Luckily, it was very popular with a lot of the snooker lads.

Why do they like it so much?

They’ve got a bit of time when tournaments are on. They go through various stages. It was ‘lie dice’ for a while, a fascinating game that, as you can imagine, requires a lot of lying. We have a little get-together during most of the BBC tournaments.

Do snooker and poker require similar skills?

I think you have to have a pretty good temperament. Most snooker players don’t give much away because they’re so used to performing under pressure. I think even the pros would find it hard to read their faces or expressions. The only difference with hold’em is that you can play against pros and if you get the cards, you can win. Like most sports, though, experience in poker counts in the long term. Both Matthew Stevens and Jimmy White have proved that.

Have you had much success in your own game?

Mark Williams took me down to a casino in Cardiff where there were about ten tables. I managed to win the whole lot and picked up £1,500. Another time, Mark decided to take me up to this house for a game. Stephen Hendry was there as well. I won two games there, which was very unusual, and was being called all sorts of things!

Does it give you an adrenalin rush to play?

Yeah, definitely. Even in a friendly game, you get a buzz. To sit on TV and play is terrific. It’s totally different to playing snooker. All the boys will tell you it’s nice to sit down to see if you can get the better of your opponent. The wind-up between Williams and Hendry is amazing – almost shocking. Good job they don’t televise some of those matches: they’d have to show it after midnight!

What’s your playing style like? Are you aggressive?

I can be. I’m not like Steve Davis, who plays like he used to play snooker: tight and safe. I mix it up a bit; I wouldn’t say I was any one particular style.

Would you ever go back to snooker?

It’s five years since I played competitively, but I’ve played all the top players – even O’Sullivan when he came on the scene. It’s only the newer guys who I wouldn’t have played against. I’m quite happy sitting in the commentary box.

Is Ronnie the best ever?

He’s got the chance to be the best snooker player who ever lived, but he’s got to win a lot of titles to win before he beats Hendry and Davis.

Has snooker had its heyday?

Not if you go by the TV ratings. There’s not many sports that overtake the World Championship. It’s not really fair to compare it to the 1980s when I played Steve Davis in the final. People always refer back to the 18.5 million who watched that final – after midnight! That’s a record that will probably stand forever. In comparison, only seven million watched Steve Redgrave pick up his gold medal – also after midnight.

Are you looking forward to the World Cup?

Yep. I’m interested to see what happens. England have got the capability to win it if they can just gel together.

Surely you’re not supporting them?

Well none of the Irish teams are in, so you have to support them!

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