Pursuits: Poker

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The Independent Culture
SIXTY-SIX PLAYERS signed up for the European Poker Championship last weekend at the Aviation Club in Paris - amazing, given that the entry fee was 30,000 francs, or just over pounds 3,000 a head. First prize was pounds 80,000 and a Cartier watch.

"All I can tell you is that our success here is due to hard work," beamed an elated Bruno Fitoussi, the club manager. "This kind of tournament surpasses anything you ever had in London. My plan is to develop a European final of poker on a par with the World Series in Las Vegas. I hope we can get 100 players next year."

Why not? Poker in Continental card clubs is on the up and up, with the year-long European Superbowl the next big event, at the Concord Card Casino in Vienna on 21 March. The festivities in Paris also attracted a good number of American players, none of whom got into the money in the final event.

The new European champion is Paul Testud, by profession a jeweller and by temperament a high-stakes player in private games. He discovered casino poker and tournament play only quite recently. He fought a long, fluctuating, very good-natured duel in the final with Pascal Perrault, a tournament player par excellence, who manages to find time from running his pharmacies in Paris to tour the world's poker festivals.

Perrault was always in command, going all in - as the French say, tapis - again and again. But each time he had his opponent down to a handful of chips, Testud bounced back, grinning broadly. Eventually a dinner break was announced. Testud came back in and hit a pair of 10s against a straight draw to take a decisive lead for the first time.

"What did you drink at dinner?" I asked him when it was all over. "Beaucoup, beaucoup!" (a lot), he grinned. By contrast Perrault, the loser, took only two glasses of red wine. Seems to be a moral there.

It was all very French, with the finalists cracking little jokes between their chain-smoking. The new European champion may not be the best player around, but he gave a constant impression of enjoying himself, win or lose. As a leading British player summed up the week: "Good games, good food, good drink". In the spirit of the occasion, Testud donated his Cartier watch to the dealers, as a prize for their own tournament.