Poker

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Randolph Fields lit up any poker game he played in. Some players thought he was good value because he threw his chips into the pot with such abandon. Others recognised that beneath this swashbuckling play, Randolph had a pretty sharp mind for cards. I often saw him demolish the table by his aggressive betting in tournaments. Above all he brought a boyish enthusiasm to the game, a zest for a good gamble, which is quite rare these days. His untimely death at the age of 44 last month leaves a seat empty which will be hard to fill.

Randolph had another claim to celebrity, beyond his poker. As co-founder of Virgin Atlantic, he sold his share in the company to Richard Branson, in return for a lifetime of free travel, first class. This entitled him to fly his friends over to Las Vegas or other resorts, all free of charge, whenever he felt like a new game.

I was the beneficiary of a trip to Foxwoods, the amazing Indian reservation casino in Connecticut, a year ago. Randolph played day and night, chortling over how he managed to terrify the Americans, who were not used to his style of high-flying pot limit. Our friendship did not stop Randolph running me out of several hands in the Hold 'em tournament. He would rake in the chips, grinning: "Knew you didn't want to risk your whole stack on an ace-king, did you?" Randolph would, and did. He took his own defeats with the same grace as his wins, which is the highest tribute you can pay any poker player.

In his working life Randolph developed an international consultancy, specialising in remote, marginal or otherwise arcane insurance claims. It was all very technical and far beyond my understanding. What was not in doubt was that he became an acknowledged master of this abstruse branch of the business, feared and respected. It seemed to me like another aspect of his poker game - daring to find value where others would drop out. Recently he opened a card club on the island of Jersey. His true motive, I felt, was to enable him to play poker closer to home and family, instead of criss-crossing the ocean.

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