Poker players flock to football ground to play for £25,000 prize

A hand at the Grand Prix Poker Tour at Newcastles St Jamess Park.

A hand at the Grand Prix Poker Tour at Newcastles St Jamess Park.

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More than 2,000 poker players anted up for the chance to scoop a £25,000 top prize at a North East football stadium – and I was among them.

St James’s Park in Newcastle hosted the latest leg of the Grand Prix Poker Tour, a series of low buy-in tournaments taking place at football grounds all over the country.

Our man Mark Payne tries his luck on the Grand Prix Poker Tour.

Our man Mark Payne tries his luck on the Grand Prix Poker Tour.

I have been playing small stakes games for around five years so when event sponsors partypoker offered me a seat I snatched their hand off.

I arrived at St James’s Park around an hour before the tournament, run by the UK’s biggest poker club Dusk Till Dawn, in Nottingham, was due to kick off.

Grace McMillan, head of PR at partypoker, explained how the tour gives players of all abilities and bank rolls the chance to play for big money in some of the country’s most iconic grounds.

As an added attraction a well known former footballer plays at each event with former Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee back at St James’s Park to try his luck.

The Grand Prix Poker Tour at St James's Park.

The Grand Prix Poker Tour at St James's Park.

Rob, who has been playing poker for around a year, said: “I will either be there at the end or out straight away because I’ve got no patience so I go all in a lot.”

With an entry fee of around £70 it is a lot cheaper than many live tournaments.

We are playing No Limit Hold’em, the most popular form of poker played today.

Each player is dealt two cards which only they see. Three cards are then dealt face up, called the flop, followed by a fourth card (the turn) and finally a fifth called the river with a round of betting between each.

Former Newcastle player Rob Lee at the Grand Prix Poker Tour.

Former Newcastle player Rob Lee at the Grand Prix Poker Tour.

All players still in the hand can use any combination of their two cards and any of the face up cards to make the best five card poker hand.

In tournament poker each player starts with the same number of chips – 20,000 here – and you play until you have won all the chips or lost all of yours.

To make a profit you need to still be in after around 90% of players have been knocked out.

The first hand I play is to make a raise with an ace and a jack – an above average starting hand.

But I fold after an older player suddenly re-raises. It turns out to be the right decision as he reveals two aces.

A few hands later I call a raise with Ace-Queen which improves to two pairs on the flop and my chipstack increases to around 26,000.

For about the next hour I go completely card dead, folding unplayable hands like 7-2, Queen-4, 10-3 etc.

But I rake in a nice pot with my 9-10 which improves to three nines.

Despite things going well my downfall was not far away. I look down to see two aces – the best starting hand in the game – and make a raise to 2,000 which one player calls.

The flop is Jack-6-7. Confident I still have the best hand I bet another 3,000 which gets called.

The turn card is another seven and this time I bet 9,500. But my opponent announces he is “all in” meaning I have to put in the rest of my chips to call or fold.

The fact there are two sevens showing means it is less likely my opponent has one in his hand.

Given I have committed around half my chips already and feel he could just be trying to bully me into folding I call. But I get the bad news when he shows King-7 giving him three sevens to my pair of aces.

With no ace dealt on the river and I gather up my things and head for the door.

But there is always another tournament around the corner.

The next leg of the Grand Prix Poker Tour is at Elland Road in Leeds on April 9-10.

For more details go to www.grandprixpokertour.com