THE chips were down for hundreds of poker players from across the country when they gathered in Renfrewshire for a special event.
It was a full house at the Normandy Hotel in Renfrew – in more ways than one – as the eagerly-anticipated PaddyPower Scottish Charity Open took place.
Paisley Daily Express reporter CAMERON HAY was among those who tried their luck at the tables.
Here, he explains how his grand plans to win enough cash to enjoy a very early retirement went badly wrong as the night unfolded...
EVERY gambler knows the secret to surviving at poker is knowing what to throw away and what to keep.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that it was what I threw away that cost me big when I tried my luck at the PaddyPower Scottish Charity Open.
The gathering of poker players at the plush Normandy Hotel in Renfrew comprised of many different types – the novice, the online shark, casino regulars and those who enjoy playing a few hands alongside friends at home.
And, although the majority of players were men, there were quite a few confident ladies ready to battle for the prizes.
Poker Buddies Ryan Conaghan, Jack Lauchlan, Paul Gethins and Stuart Colqhuhoun teamed up with well-known bookmakers PaddyPower to stage the poker showdown – one of the largest charity card events of its kind ever to be staged in Europe.
Over three weekends, card players gathered to battle it out for more than £60,000 worth of prizes and to support the Erskine charity for ex-servicemen and women, which received a fantastic £10 from each £12 entry fee as a donation.
The two bars and outside smoking area at the Normandy were packed as the organisers put the finishing touches to the seating arrangements before the first hands were dealt and the first stakes were placed with the dealers.
As I sat sipping my drink and taking short draws from my cigarette, I slowly scanned the area to see if I recognised anyone. It never does you any harm to check out the competition.
My friends and I noticed an older gentleman, decked out in an immaculate pin-striped suit and smoking a cigar.
Judging by the wad of notes he produced to pay for a drink, we knew we didn’t want to land on his table.
Among the gathering competitors was Paisley lad Allen Broughton, who cockily revealed he was ready to clean up at whatever table he hit.
He said: “I used to play a lot of poker with my mates but I tend to play more online now. You can win quite a bit of cash if the cards fall for you but, in a tournament like this, you can check out the strains and twitches on faces that can reveal a bluff, unlike playing on the internet.
“If the gods are good to me then I know I will be able to pick people off one by one and move on to the next stage.”
Over the past few years, poker’s public image has changed and the game has become increasingly popular.
Televised events, like those in the European and World Series, can attract huge audiences from across the globe, with the winners able to walk away with millions in prize money.
Internet poker also appears to have further invigorated the game, with millions of enthusiasts around the world logging on to battle it out for real cash or just for fun.
Poker schools in which friends come together to play have sprung up across the west of Scotland and minor pub poker leagues have become established.
The time had come to take our seats and, as I moved into the arena, I couldn’t get the classic Kenny Rogers song The Gambler out of my head.
I had my friend Richard to thank for that one as he’d been humming it constantly during the journey to the hotel.
As I took my seat, I nervously looked at the lads I would be going up against and the nerves started to kick in.
The first two hands came and went. I folded both times as I tried to size up the strategies of the other players.
The conversation was flowing among the group and this banter continued as the competition heated up.
Then my first real break came when I was given two high cards of the same suit.
A few folk round the table, including me, put in their stakes, while other players folded.
Then the flop landed and it brought a smile to my face. I was chasing a flush but I also had a pair and I knew the other lads still in were not as happy with the cards.
I raised the stake and a couple of competitors folded but the dealer questioned my hand and matched me. Then the turn came and it was kind to me. I had bagged a flush.
I raised the dealer, sensing he couldn’t outdo me, and he matched my stake again.
The time had come for both of us to show our cards and there was a sense of relief when I saw I had come out on top.
I grabbed the pile of chips from the centre of the table with glee.
A couple more wins saw my chips rise and, at one point, I was the leader at the table but then ... things went wrong. Very wrong.
A few daft hands caused me to lose my way and I bottled it when I folded with a pair of fours – only for another one to then be cruelly dealt from the dealer’s deck.
I was finally knocked off the table when my pair of Jacks couldn’t match the pair of Queens held by Erskine lad Paul Flynn, who eventually qualified for the next stage.
My pal Richard had gone out long before me and cocky Allen had gone ‘all in’ before I’d even left the table. I might not have pocketed a fistful of cash but at least I was able to walk away with my head held high – and my shirt still on my back!