Poker's biggest cash games get bigger still

Timothy Barber
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A NEW book by writer and poker player Victoria Coren detailing her career in the game, called For Richer For Poorer, contains some fascinating descriptions of London&rsquo;s pre-poker boom cardrooms and private games. In these shady games played by shadier high rollers, the gamblers and cardsharps would butter up wealthy poker enthusiasts to make sure they kept on playing and donating their wealth to the poker economy.<br /><br />The passage of money from weak to stronger players &ndash; from the fish to the sharks that feed on them, in poker parlance &ndash; has always been the essence of poker&rsquo;s classic format, the cash game. But if you had a casual interest in the game, you&rsquo;d be forgiven for thinking that it&rsquo;s principally a tournament game. That&rsquo;s because tournaments, in which players have a finite number of chips and play down to the last one standing, proved extremely suitable for the TV coverage that brought the game to the masses a decade ago, changing poker for good.<br /><br />In tournament poker, increasing blinds pressure the action, forcing short-stacks to get their chips in &ndash; and once your chips go, you&rsquo;re out. In cash poker, your chips equate to real money, the blinds remain constant and you can play for as long as you like so long as you have the readies.<br /><br />Predictably, major live tournaments in which players put down several thousand dollars to play for a first prize that could run into millions have been where the glamour is at in poker. But that&rsquo;s shifting. The internet&rsquo;s biggest cash games are these days played for amounts that dwarf such tournaments, with tens and even hundreds of thousands being exchanged in a single hand. And the players who participate in these games, such as America&rsquo;s Tom Dwan and Phil Galfond, Finland&rsquo;s Patrick Antonius and Ilari Sahamies and Denmark&rsquo;s Gus Hansen are gradually replacing famous live specialists, like Phil Hellmuth and Doyle Brunson, as the gods of the game. Only Hansen and Phil Ivey, seen as the world&rsquo;s best all-round player, truly span both worlds.<br /><br />Right now, Dwan and Antonius are involved in a fascinating tussle. Dwan, known online as Durrr, issued a challenge in January stating he&rsquo;d play anyone heads up for 50,000 hands, and if his opponent was ahead by then, he&rsquo;d pay them $1.5m on top of the winnings. If Dwan is ahead, his opponent only has to pay him $500,000. Antonius accepted the challenge, and currently holds a slim lead of around $35,000.<br /><br />Dwan, who at just 23 is arguably the world&rsquo;s most feared cash player, also issued a live version of the challenge &ndash; 500 hands, with a $500,000 buy-in, to be played in one sitting with $500/$1,000 blinds. It&rsquo;s a collision of tournament and cash formats, but the big surprise is the player who has taken him up on this. Rather than the famous high rollers Dwan regularly plays, the person who has stepped up is a portly, shaven-headed Englishman who might have rolled straight out of one of Coren&rsquo;s old London cash games.<br /><br />Sammy &ldquo;Any Two&rdquo; George, whose nickname relates to his willingness to play any two cards, is a colourful character who has caused a few ripples in some of the big games in Europe but is largely unknown beyond poker&rsquo;s inner circles. A wealthy young businessman with a lot of gamble, he&rsquo;ll be seen by most as the fish to Dwan&rsquo;s shark in the contest that&rsquo;s set to take place any time now. George talks a big game, however, and has said he believes he&rsquo;ll have the edge over the young American.<br /><br />If he gets lucky, we could yet see an English underdog scalping the world&rsquo;s most dangerous shark.<br /><br /><strong>PLAY AGAINST CITY A.M. </strong>WILLIAM HILL TOURNAMENT<br />City A.M. readers will have the chance to get stuck into the action at William Hill Poker later this month in our forthcoming tournament. Entry to the tournament is $20, and you&rsquo;ll have the opportunity to take down some of City A.M.&rsquo;s friends from the professional sports world.<br /> <br />The tournament takes place on Wednesday 14 October. To get practised at the game in the meantime, go to and sign up using the password CITYAM1. You can claim a bonus in which the money you deposit will be matched by William Hill up to a total of $400.