rollers back at Crown - 7th January 2003
The Age / Fairfax)
With his rough smoker's voice,
Crown Casino's resident poker expert, Keith "Bendigo"
Sloan, goes around the green table and describes
the nine players.
look unremarkable, dressed in jeans, short-sleeved
shirts and baseball caps; ordinary men and a single
woman. The only startling thing is that most of
them suck on Chupa Chups and the white sticks
poke out of their mouths: the Casino banned smoking
Tino Letich from Melbourne, "an extremely
big gambler who plays this tournament for a bit
of fun," says Sloan of the Australasian Poker
Championship, now in its sixth year. There's Barny
Boatman from London, a full-time poker player
and promoter and "one of the best players
in the world by far". There's Trudy Saltana,
a real estate agent from Sydney, her hair up in
a high ponytail, two gold bracelets on each arm.
then there's Sherkhan Farnood, from Afghanistan
of all places.
travels the world playing poker and running tournaments
and he doesn't know Farnood, who won the competition
on Sunday and pocketed $47,000. He's a money changer
by profession and he peeks at his cards, then
looks into the distance as though what's happening
on the next table is more interesting. Poker is,
after all, a game of bluff.
10-day championship finishes this weekend, with
the "main event" costing competitors
$10,000 to enter. The 10 finalists will play for
$1 million, which makes the competition significant
by world standards. "They all want to win
it, not so much for the money, but for the trophy
and the bragging rights," says Sloan. "They've
all got egos as big as Mount Everest."
is as ritualistic as any sport, its personalities
as idiosyncratic, its tactics as intense. These
ordinary looking men (there are few women) have
nicknames as though they were wrestlers - Peter
"the Poet" Costa, "Mad" Marty
Wilson, Billy "the Crock" Argyros.
has a plastic crocodile in front of him, for good
luck. Trudy Saltana has a small elephant figurine.
She says poker is a macho world, and she tells
the men on either side of her to stop talking
about sport. They shut up for a few minutes, then
resume. For Saltana, playing poker is relaxation
after a hard year in business. She brought $50,000
to Melbourne, doesn't expect to win, but hopes
to go home with $20,000.
a relaxed atmosphere in the early rounds. The
players sip coffee, talk about the cricket, and
say "well done" when a player wins a
hand. They play with their chips, chink chink
chink, putting them into little piles of $25 and
Farnood was the first to fold, and Constantine
Harach, owner of a hairdressing salon in New Zealand
and the winner of Saturday's game, says "bad
luck" as though he means it. At the bar,
Farnood orders a black coffee and says he started
reading books about poker after losing in Las
Vegas two years ago. For him, poker is exciting,
a chance to test himself against his opponents.
worry about losing the money," he says. "Otherwise
playing is not interesting."
mid-afternoon, Harach, with bleach-blond hair
and wearing a holiday-style blue shirt, is on
his feet, a big cigar in his mouth - "If
I can't smoke it, I'll suck it." He's down
to his last chips. He thinks he has the hand won
with a pair of nines but he's beaten by a flush.
He bangs his hand on the table.
says he's disappointed, but that this was the
toughest table in the room. Besides, he loves
playing poker, he's good at it, and tournaments
allow him to see the world. He reckons he has
a reasonable chance to win the $1 million.
got amazing stamina," he says. "You
have to have the patience and stamina to sustain
waiting for cards. You get rag, after rag, after
rag, so without stamina and patience, you can't
win a tournament."
to battle the Donald