is in the cards, by James Norman - 8th May 2004
Fairfax - The Age)
Competition poker has become an
unlikely spectator sport thanks to a television
series and a new documentary, writes James Norman.
got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold
'em Know when to walk away and know when to run."
the lower ground floor of Crown Casino, buried
beneath the chirping sea of pokies, the Poker
Room feels like a portal to that bygone era Kenny
Rogers was singing about in The Gambler. The card
tables are spiffy green, '70s-style lamps provide
perfect mood lighting, and the crowds are elsewhere.
It is here that I meet up with Australian poker
legend Keith "Bendigo" Sloan, and young
gun Emad "The Bullet" Tahtouh, both
entrants in this weekend's Melbourne "Hold-em"
Poker Championships. In a tournament, each player
pays an entry fee for a set number of tournament
chips (which have no cash value); the winner in
each round is the player holding all the chips.
a couple of hands, an improbably large pile of
chips accumulates in front of me. Surely the real-life
game can't be this easy? Emad opts out early,
and I am lucky enough to have been dealt aces
high. Still, it's easy to put on a brave face
when it's just for kicks. "For me, it's no
more about gambling than playing the stockmarket
would be," says Tahtouh. "You're pitting
your knowledge and skills against others, taking
risks, and keeping the final objective upper most
in your mind at all times."
is an unlikely spectator sport but it has attracted
a cult following through the TV series Late Night
Poker on SBS. Initially screened at 1am on Sundays,
Christopher McDonnell of SBS television says the
program was moved to a more user-friendly timeslot,
thanks to its popularity, as a result of acerbic
commentary and special under-the-table cameras
that offer a unique insight into the game. Though
in the British Sky Channel-produced Poker Millions
program, contestants (often celebrities) are wired
up to a heart monitor so audiences can track how
players react under pressure.
Melbourne-based film producer Steve Jeffares,
the appeal is not so much the game itself as the
personalities playing it. His new documentary
Poker Kings follows the high-stakes lives of five
poker-obsessed tournament players over 12 months
leading up the World Series of Poker, the $7.8
million poker "Holy Grail" played in
Las Vegas every May. The event has more prize
money than the US Open Tennis tournament, the
Australian Grand Prix, or the US Super Bowl, although
participants have to pay up to $10,000 to enter.
says his initial interest in making the documentary
came after he attended the inaugural Aussie Millions
tournament at Crown in 2002.
discovered that the world of poker was so rich
in personalities, and that a film had never been
done exploring the lives of the players,"
he says. "One of the myths that were blown
apart for me early on is that people make a lot
of money out of poker. Very few people do. They
do it for the lifestyle and what it does for their
ego, not for the money."
Kings follows the five players as they attempt
to weave their increasingly turbulent personal
lives around the international jet-setting poker
of the featured players, Garry Bush, disappoints
his Russian wife by failing to make it to the
birth of his son in St Petersburg, owing to poker
tournament commitments. Another of the contestants,
Carlo Citrone, whose love of the playboy lifestyle
is evident throughout, winds up in jail after
losing a few tournaments and resorting to criminal
extortion as a sideline income.
says he hopes Poker Kings will help explode some
of the myths about poker in its current incarnation.
"We get drip fed information about how gambling
can destroy lives, but with poker there is more
a mix of skill and luck. You can see in the documentary
how people juggle poker playing with their personal
lives. Some come out on top and others don't,"
bigger picture is that in poker, like in life,
you have to live or die by your own decisions."
Melbourne poker championships take place this
weekend in the Poker Room at Crown Casino, with
the "No Limits Hold-em" tournament starting
at 12.30pm on Sunday. The tournament is open to
the public with an entry fee of $450 and an expected
prize pool of $50,000. The world premiere of Poker
Kings screens next Tuesday at ACMI - for bookings,
tel 8663 2583. It will then be screened on SBS
television on Thursday, July 15, at 10pm. Late
Night Poker screens on SBS at 10pm, Thursday.
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News Update: Mediaman Poker