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Camden New Journal - By SIMON WROE
Published: 31 January 2008
Guy Stafford, Ragnhild Wright Ousland and Richard Steele playing poker at the Royal George pub
Guy Stafford, Ragnhild Wright Ousland and Richard Steele playing poker at the Royal George pub
Poker ’n’ pint as law change gives customers a new deal

But author objects: ‘It’s a deep game not a way of passing time in the pub’

POKER has become the latest pub craze, but one of the game’s experts, Al Alvarez, will be sitting out the bar-room card schools.
Mr Alvarez, the Hampstead author who has written books on poker, believes he would not be able to concentrate in pub tournaments.
His comments came as a series of pubs began to hold group poker games – now permitted under recent changes to the Gambling Act.
Mr Alvarez has been a serious poker player for more than 50 years. He took part in the Poker World Series, where players must put up a $10,000 “buy-in” for a place at the table.
He said that poker was for him “a deep game”, not a way of passing the time in a pub. “If you want to play poker properly you’ve got to concentrate,” Mr Alvarez added. “I would have thought the noise and music might make it difficult.”
Poker, according to novelist Raymond Chandler, “as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find outside an advertising agency”, is usually associated with lavish casinos or smoky back rooms.
But a visit to the Royal George pub in Eversholt Street, Euston, on Monday evening, revealed the game being played amid muzak, football on television and a deer-hunting arcade machine.
Conservative councillor Don Williams, head of licensing in Camden, insists only poker “of a light nature” will be played in pubs.
He said: “You can’t gamble your wedding ring and you ain’t gonna win the mortgage. Some people will find it despicable but we’re not taking a moral position on it. I can tell you some of the councillors were looking forward to trying their skills.”
Vicki Neveldsen, lic­ensee at the Royal George, said: “We wouldn’t have even contemplated doing something like this prior to the licensing change but at the moment poker is a big draw for people.”
Adam Aranjo, 19, an early casualty in the pub’s Texas Hold ’Em competition, agreed:
“It makes a nice change from just drinking and there’s always been gambling machines in pubs so what’s the difference?”
The Royal George, like many pubs turning to poker, favours a “sit-and-go” style of competition, in which players pay a set £5 entry fee, with the winner taking a percentage and the rest going into the pot for a tournament final at the end of the month.
One of the conditions of the new law is that poker cannot be run by the pub for profit.
Across town, the 3one7 bar, in Finchley Road, claims to be the biggest poker pub in the country, drawing up to 70 players on a good night.
Anna Anosova, 24, said: “I like the atmosphere – all the people that play here are very different ages and characters. I know people can get into trouble but at this one in particular you’re not going to spend a lot of money.”
Professor Mark Griffiths, gambling expert at Nottingham Trent University, said: “The obvious concern is the mix between alcohol and gambling – the longer people drink, the less they can make informed choices.
“I’m not anti-gambling but it should be done in an environment that’s dedicated to gambling, where you know what you’re walking into.”

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