Independent Pursuits: Poker

ANYONE WHO thinks gambling offers an easy way of life is seriously mistaken. Just how badly mistaken can be seen in a new television programe entitled Winners, which shows a trio of the best poker players in the country in action: David Mosely, Dave "Devil Fish" Ullyott and Surinder Singh.

The poker scenes are intercut with the progress of a professional horse- race gambler. Together, they provide a dramatic and illuminating picture of the gambling life. The players all stress the same point: the hard work involved. The horse-race player gets up at 5am every day and works through the racing form, barely stopping his travels and other activities until late at night. The poker players keep at it, by their concentration, physical training and long hours.

True, they have their "freedom" to live as they please. There is no 9- to-5 about their jobs. In fact, it's far harder than that! With no assurance at the end of the day or the end of the month, that they are going to come out ahead. They may make between pounds 100,000 and pounds 300,000 in a good year or they may go broke. The programme, originally shown on Central, will be sreened on Carlton World on digital at 7.30 pm and 10.30 pm on 20 April. Your poker columnist also appears, to provide a running commentary.

The sheer exhilaration of poker, which is what sustains all these players, is well described in the novel Shut up and Deal, now published in a British edition by No Exit Press. This is a feisty, funny, unrelentingly poker- focused confession of a young guy (not a million miles from the author, Jesse May) gambling his head off round the American circuit. Does he win? What kind of question is that, for heaven's sake! The point is he is in action and hangs in there, no matter what.

Anyone who has wondered what the poker life is all about should read this book. It brings the players to life in a series of brilliant set pieces. Whether the author will ever sit down and write a "proper" novel with characters, a plot and a love intererest is another question. The main thing is, at the end of it all, he's still - just, but only just - in the money. "Because that's all that's important. It's the only thing."

`Shut Up and Deal' is available from Gamblers Book Shop, 21 Great Ormond Street, London WC1 3JB at pounds 6.99