Independent Pursuits: Poker

THE WORLD Amateur Poker Championships - a grandiose title for an event that attracted a dozen or 15 entrants a day - were held in London as part of the Mind Sports Olympiad. This event brings together players of mind games such as backgammon, bridge, chess, crossword puzzles, draughts and Go. Two floors of the Novotel in Hammersmith were filled with competitors, heads down, concentrating on a variety of weird-looking games, played on oddly shaped boards with pegs or cards or counters - all very intense and innocent.

The restrictive gaming regulations in this country meant that the poker had to be played without money (which you may think is a bit like going down to the pub to drink lime juice). Nevertheless, according to the arbiter Dan Glimne, a good time was had by all. The style of play was knock-out tournaments. The first day was five card draw, then seven card stud, draw lowball, omaha and finally Hold 'em. "I was always scared of losing all my money, so I never dared to play in a casino," one enthusiast explained. "Now I think I'll give it a try." Like many would-be poker players, he had not realised that in casino tournaments, the entry fees are often as low as pounds 10 or pounds 20. So the risk to a player's small change, let alone his life's savings, is not quite like the collapse of the rouble.

In fact one of the lessons of the Mind Sports Olympiad is that it is not necessary to play games for money. What counts is the challenge and the struggle. A lot of youngsters were learning new games and enjoying the experience of competition . The winners were rewarded with medals. Poker, admittedly, is different. Money, as the well-worn phrase has it, is how you keep score. The games at the olympiad were really for absolute beginners. The way they played omaha was so slow as to make watching paint dry seem like an active sport. No criticism intended - we all have to learn. Still, a less ambitious title than world amateur championships might be more appropriate next time around.

Good news from the Grosvenor Victoria in Edgware Road, W2: its re-furbished card room will open on 3 October. There will be four dealer-dealt and three player-dealt tables. Weekly tournaments will accommodate 50 to 60 players. "The card room will be smaller but the comfort will be higher," says the manager, Bill Slate.

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