Brits stun Vegas aces with pounds 2.5m poker haul

Las Vegas is used to the wild and weird, but this was really out of the ordinary: Brits and other Europeans whacking the locals at their very own game. They won more than $4m (pounds 2.5m) in the World Poker Championships, which ended last week at Binion's Horseshoe casino.

"European success this year has been more than all the previous 27 years of the World Series put together," said the tournament director, Jack McClellan, in congratulations. "You guys have been studying the books or something."

Sharp-eyed hustlers and Western dudes thronging the tables were stunned by the Brits' high action. David Ulliott of Hull (dubbed "Devil Fish" by Asian gamblers) won $180,310 and Chris Truby of Oxford $93,860 in the same event. Chris Bijorin, a Swede resident in London, picked up $217,960, but the best of the bunch was Mel Judah, a Londoner who took the $176,000 first prize in a tournament event before finishing third in the championship final, which was worth another $370,000. Altogether Britain boasted 20 finalists who finished "in the money".

The final was staged outdoors in "Glitter Gulch", the casino complex on Fremont Street, in a setting akin to a boxing match, with tiers of seats for the spectators. Water sprays around the edge did little to reduce the 100F temperature.

The game was Texas Hold 'em, a faster version of seven-card stud. The original 312 starters, who had put up $10,000 each to enter the championship, had been reduced after three days of play to a final of six players, first prize $1m.

Mr Judah, 49, whose success as a poker pro had long since eased him out of his day job as a hairdresser, carried British hopes. He started badly, losing aces-up to a flush, but fought back in a succession of all-or-nothing hands to take third place. "I was pleased with my performance to get so far, and always felt relaxed," he said.

Fortunately for American honour, Stu "The Kid" Ungar, now 43, recovered the form of his younger days. After winning the title in 1980 and 1981, he had so much fun he dropped out for 15 years and lost his poker skills.

"I decided to wake up," he explained. "No one has ever beaten me playing cards. I have only beaten myself." He is the first man to win three world championships.

A diminutive figure who wears tinted blue spectacles to hide his expression, The Kid bet, bluffed and bludgeoned his opponents out one after the other. His reward could not have been more tangible: armed security guards carried in a large cardboard box containing 100 bundles of notes each worth $10,000, making up the $1m first prize.

Not only did the pile of money on the table represent every poker player's ambition, the gambling industry was also hoping it might lure smaller players back to the tables and one-armed bandits.

For Las Vegas is not feeling too well at the moment. Gaming profits are down 9 per cent on the year, which is only partly attributable to a lucky run of wins at baccarat by Oriental high rollers, who like to wager $100,000 a coup. So many gigantic new hotel-casinos have opened, led by New York New York and Monte Carlo, that the older establishments - that is, places built five years ago - are feeling the squeeze.

Added to that, many residents feel that the influx of new casino workers has increased traffic, air pollution and pressure on schools and medical facilities, threatening to turn this desert city into the kind of urban hell-hole they came to escape. When Las Vegans are having an anxious time, it does not help that the Brits have come to win their money at poker.