Poker: Vegas brings no poetry in motion

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POET and novelist Al Alvarez drank deep from the cup of misery on Monday. For a year he had been looking forward to playing in the World Poker Championship. Not many poker players can turn their hand to poetry. But every poet worth his rhymes longs to take on the top players of the world in his chosen sport in Las Vegas.

Within three hours of the first deal, Alvarez was busted in 232nd place. No disgrace in that. Three former world champions bit the dust before him, as the laws of chance turned against them.

So it was with Alvarez, playing Texas Hold 'em, which is the game of the World Championship. He was dealt two queens in the hole, and with some dollars 7,000 in chips in front of him, raised the opening bet. One player called and immediately re-raised.

Alvarez called - in the heat of battle, a man can hardly be expected to put down queens back-to-back. Even so, on the opening of the World Championship, when everyone plays very tightly in order to survive, a re-raise should have been a warning.

Out came the flop, with a king on board. His opponent set Alvarez in for his remaining chips, which were by then only dollars 1,000 or so. There was really no choice. Alvarez called the final bet only to discover ace-king in his opponent's hand, outranking his own pair of queens.

Afterwards friends and supporters gathered round to console the hapless loser, telling him that he had done the right thing. But like so many others in this cruel game, luck had deserted him when he most needed it.

As Alvarez himself admitted, there is a 'quantum leap' between the ability of British and American players. In his heart he knew this, but in the moment of decision, it proved sadly all too true.

Mansour Matloubi, the only British player to win the World Championship, explained that a pair of queens is a dreadfully difficult hand to play - too strong to throw away and too weak to go all-in on. 'When I got queens in the hole tonight, I threw my hand in. I might have been wrong, but I'm so happy to have survived to fight again tomorrow.'

Other British players fared quite well in the first day's play. Best placed is Surinder Sunar of Wolverhampton on dollars 25,600, followed by Matloubi on dollars 15,275 and Colin Kennedy, hanging in on dollars 7,500. In a record field of 268 entrants, the winner will be the player who knocks out all the other competitors to win the dollars 1m first prize.