Hilly The Fish’s pub poker league: #1 Vegas (via Chippenham)

Join Steve ‘HillyTheFish’ Hill at his local for a little game with Redtooth Poker…

Following a poker journey that has encompassed thousands of air miles, train miles and car miles, this latest fishy venture sees me heading to a local pub on a Thursday night to play for a fiver. The kicker? A week in Vegas – a prize the top 100 players in the Redtooth Poker League are battling to win.

The new season starts tonight, and for me it begins in the historic Chippenham Hotel, London W9. Despite its proximity to fashionable Maida Vale, this is what is termed a proper boozer, all flapping sports screens, pool table and unpretentious fare. In terms of clientele, it’s more Arthur Daley than Kate Moss, but nevertheless, it’s a bit of an overreaction for special guest, erstwhile editor Mark ‘Shafty’ Stuart, to skulk outside in the doorway, waiting for me to arrive and escort him in. To be honest, The Chipp has probably seen more lively nights, not least when Joe Strummer strutted his stuff here with The 101ers, before changing the world with The Clash. 

Chips for chips

Safely ensconced inside the civilised bar, the first lager of the year is ordered, and the barman asks, ‘Are you the international poker star?’ I’m taken aback, but having played on four continents, technically he’s half-right. Arguably more of a star given his form is the boss, Dave ‘Kid Unknown’ Woods, who joins us late and heads straight for the fruit machine. We reconvene for a meeting with the landlord, a huge rugby-loving Irishman who goes by the name of Mango. Explaining the eccentricities of The Chipp, he informs us that extra (poker) chips can be acquired by ordering a main course, with a similar deal in place for drinks. 

Swerving the terrifying Mango Manwich – 18 quid’s worth of heart attack that is free if you eat it in record time – I opt for the Chipp’n Ham: a slab of gammon and brace of eggs on a generous bed of chips. I am face-deep in pineapple as the tournament begins, shovelling food into my grill from an impromptu side table situated directly behind me. As a player called Pinky points out: ‘We ain’t in Vegas.’

The turnout has been reduced to two tables by the biblical weather allied to a tube strike, and Shafty, sat to my left, is about to launch into a tirade against the latter when the lady to his left, aka Cougar, informs us that she works for the tube, and is on strike. 

Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag of punters of varying poker knowledge. Believe it or not, there are great swathes of casual players who neither know nor care about polarised hand ranges, someone calling himself Durrrr, or indeed online poker. It’s a refreshing reminder of the concept of playing for fun

Mango Unchained

Play is predictably erratic, and I take advantage by regularly getting my chips in with the best hand, which occasionally holds up. A few people simply seem happy to be out of the house, but Pinky means business, taking an aggressive line despite a number of relaxing smoke breaks. You can tell he’s serious when he turns his baseball cap around like Stallone in Over The Top. Checking my flopped flush, he makes his obligatory big bet, and is forced to fold by my trademark shove.

Acquiring chips from all angles – food, drink, poker (less so) – I even pick up my own bounty by surviving to the last eight. At this point, Woods joins us for the final table, and the railed Shafty is cajoled into being designated dealer. Never have you seen a more cautious deal, with each card robotically placed in front of its recipient, Shafty seemingly in terror of receiving a pasting should he make the tiniest blunder. Either way, he does me no favours, with my A-6 coming off worse to a young lad’s K-6. With blinds rapidly rising, I shove again with K-J, and the same player goes into the tank before turning his cards over to reveal 7-6 of spades, and then eventually folding. I once lost a WSOP event with K-J, so it’s good enough for The Chippenham, and I stick it in yet again with four big blinds. The fact that Woods gets his chips in before I’ve barely touched mine doesn’t bode well, and his K-K sends me to the rail in 6th while propelling him towards heads-up. Astonishingly he overturns a huge deficit to claim a chop, and indeed win the points in a freak one-handed face-up shootout, with Shafty dealing A-K v 9-9, then the victorious King on the flop.

A strong opening gambit then, and one that leaves me feeling a bit like the new character in a soap opera, albeit one trying to integrate with characters known only as Pinky, Sorry, Cougar and The Laugh. Whether I turn out to be Danny Dyer or Dirty Den remains to be seen, but for the time being this is my new poker home. Viva, The Chippenham!

Get involved!

Redtooth Poker is the UK’s largest pub poker league, with thousands of establishments around the country playing for the right to be local, regional or national champion. But it’s not just pride and trophies. Each year Redtooth Poker flies 100 players out to Vegas for a weeklong holiday in the poker capital of the world. HillyTheFish is already on the plane this May and will be reporting on the shenanigans – will you be going too?   

Steve ‘HillyTheFish’ Hill is playing season one at the Chippenham Hotel in Maida Hill, London. He’ll be there every other Thursday looking to irk the locals by stealing a spot in the regional finals. 

 Each Redtooth Poker season is 13 weeks long and a player must have played a minimum of four games in order to qualify for the regional final. The top three players from each pub qualify for the regional finals. There are 17 regional finals and the winner of each gets a trip to Vegas. The runners-up at each regional final (numbers vary) are invited to play at the next national final (two per year) where the top ten win a trip to Vegas.

 2014/15 dates

  • Season 1 – Sunday Feb 2 – Saturday May 3
  • Season 2 – Sunday May 4 – Saturday August 2
  • Season 3 – Sunday August 3 – Saturday November 1
  • Season 4 – Sunday November 2 – Saturday January 31

 Find your local game by entering your postcode at www.redtoothpoker.com!


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