From the tall windows of the Club d'Aviation in Paris, brightly- coloured streams of people can be seen surging up and down the Champs Elysees, on pleasure bent. The scene inside the club, where the finals of the European poker championships are being staged this week, is equally colourful. Poker players from all over Europe, with British and Irish well represented, are playing with frenetic intensity from early afternoon to almost dawn.

This week celebrates the extraordinary growth of poker in Europe. Eighteen finalists came through a series of tournaments over the past year to contest limit Seven Card Stud and no-limit Texas Hold 'em events for the title of European Champion. The prize is 125,000 French francs (pounds 12,500), a trophy and a Jaeger Lecoultre watch, all organised by the club.

By way of side action for spectators, an auction of the finalists was held on Sunday night, the idea being that you can bid for a player and win 65 per cent of the total money raised if your man takes first place, 25 per cent for second, and 10 per cent for third. The auction realised 133,000 francs. Favourite, not surprisingly, was Dave "Devil Fish" Ulliott, who was bought for 16,000 francs. (A player has the right to buy back 25 per cent of his action).

Devil Fish is on such a flamboyant run of form, winning in Europe and competing strongly in America, that there seems to be no holding him. When he wins a big pot he likes to flash his new lighter which emits a laser-like red beam in a zig-zag over his chips. Not too encouraging for his opponents. In the opening Omaha event Ulliott dominated the field, at one stage raising 16 hands in a row before the flop, seeming to be both lucky and fearless. "Everyone has the same share of luck," he says. "I don't talk about my bad beats."

The success of the Euro-finals, which included players from France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria and Hungary as well as England (5) and Ireland (4), is due to the energy and enthusiasm of Bruno Fitoussi, director of the Club d'Aviation. Poker in Europe is ready to take off. The Players' Association now has 500 members, and tournaments this year will be held across the Continent - though not, alas, in Britain, where the Grosvenor Victoria's intended new card-room will not be big enough to host the number of visitors wanting to play. It is depressing that no British operator seems able to step into the breach to exploit this new market - a historic opportunity missed.