My biggest mistake : Businessman Santa Claus

Losses on the cards

"About two years ago, I'd just split up with my wife and had a cheque for about pounds 1,500 to come, covering part of the proceeds from selling the house. On the day the cheque came, I had a poker game organised.

We were playing seven-card stud. Each player is dealt two cards face down and one face up, then there's a round of betting. Remaining cards are dealt face up. Quite often we would bet blind on the first round.

I remember I was showing a queen, and the guy opposite me a king. He bet pounds 5 blind and raised me another pounds 5. It all got a bit mad until we've got pounds 50 in the post without even looking at our cards.

Anyway, I've looked at my hidden cards and I've got two more queens. So I've got three queens straight away. He looked at his cards and then at me. Everyone else had seen sense and dropped out.

The next two cards came down - two sixes for me and two nines for him. I had a full house of three queens and two sixes and there's only a couple of dozen hands in the game that can beat that. So I'm pounding in the money and he's raising me and I'm thinking: `This is a dream, I've got him!' Eventually, I put the last of my money in and he said: `Well?'

I'd got a full house and he did too. So I said: `You've got three nines, haven't you?' And he said: `No, I've got three kings.'

After about 24 hours of poker, I sat down with shaking hands and wrote out a cheque to the guy and thought: `Shit - what did I do that for?'

I was 23, I was earning about pounds 15,000 and I'd never lost more than pounds 400- pounds 500 before.

When something like that happens, everything seems detached. You're wandering round, you can't read, you can't think, you can't eat.

The lesson it taught me was that if you're going to gamble, set aside a separate bankroll and don't use the money you need for other things.

How much I set aside to play with depends on how my luck's been. I might take pounds 300 with me and if I lose it, I lose it. On the other hand, I might not bet anywhere near that amount.

I started playing poker about four years ago.I like to think my skills have improved since I lost the pounds 1,500 but I'd far rather have lost that money than never had the experience."

Santa Claus changed his name by deed poll from Ashley Cotter Cairns to promote his business providing Father Christmases for children's parties. He was talking to Paul Slade.

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