Former Tory MP is flushed with success as poker player
The ability to bluff, play mind games and keep your cards close to you chest are essential skills for any self-respecting politician.
So when Sir Andrew Bowden lost his parliamentary seat after 27 years, his next career step was obvious.
Years of wheeling and dealing in the corridors of power appear to have paid off for the former Tory MP for Brighton Kemptown, who has found a new occupation on the card circuit.
The 76-year-old, who lost his seat in the Labour landslide of 1997, earns thousands of pounds a year in prize money and has been ranked 72nd best player in Europe.
He regularly pits his talents against fellow amateurs and professionals in tournaments around the world.
Sir Andrew, who first learnt to play poker in his twenties, only took up the game again two years ago and has surprised himself at how successful he has been.
"I am a reasonably gifted amateur but that is the best I would say," said the former MP, who recently won £6,000, coming second in a tournament against amateurs and professionals.
"My political experience has certainly helped," he said. "I did 10 years on the Council of Europe as well as 27 years in Parliament and when you're trying to get amendments through or get your point across it is very useful to watch the people around the table for their reactions and body language.
"Those skills translate very well to the poker table.
"The more accurately you can read your opponent, the more accurately you will begin to understand his play and his hands. I find that having played Texas Hold'em for two years, I can deduce pretty accurately two out of three times what my opponent has in his hand.
"It's a very useful skill."
Sir Andrew claims not to regard poker as a new career but rather a perfect way to relax while at the keeping his mind alert and wits even sharper.
"Whole cross-sections of people play poker - from top professions to guys doing very important but humble jobs," said Sir Andrew. "I was sitting next to a postman the other day, a super chap and a red hot poker player. Poker has become very popular in recent years and it's a great way to interact with people." The image of poker used to be of stony-faced men sitting solemnly around a card table smoking cigars and sipping whisky.
However, the surge in popularity of internet poker is changing the face of the game. Many amateurs are making a decent living from playing the game online at virtual poker tables, often against players in different countries and time zones.
"The internet has made it take off," said Sir Andrew, "But a lot of people are getting bored just playing it in front of a computer screen and want to play competitions with real people around the table.
"I am not the least bit interested in just pressing buttons and playing on a screen. I played it once on the internet and I was totally bored."
Sir Andrew said that often when online poker players make the switch to the real game they find it difficult to get used to the human interaction.
"We sometimes get players coming to the Rendezvous Casino at Brighton Marina, where I play. They might have had a lot of experience on the internet and have done quite well financially but they find it hard to get used to playing against other people."
Sir Andrew's initial tip for any budding poker players is to never pick up your cards first. "When you sit down and the cards are dealt, watch everybody else pick up their cards. Watch the others and see if you can read anything from them. Over a period of two hours you can learn a great deal about that person, whether they are a tight player, a reckless player or unpredictable. It can give you a competitive edge."
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