Celebrity Poker Club Two
Forty-two more poker playing faces square up to do battle it out for £25,000 and the title of Celebrity Poker Club Champion. Ever wondered how Britain's most famous cheats - "Nasty" Nick Bateman, Nick Leeson and Charles Ingram - would fare at the green baize?
Find out if psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud can get a read on peoples' heads, if Matt Le Tissier can live up to his billing as a fearless gambler and whether or not Steve Davis has the form to clear the table. Other great names game for a piece of the action include Colin Murray, Brandon Block, Dexter Fletcher, Howard Marks, Louise Wener, Eric Bristow, Tom Parker Bowles, Mark Williams, Jesse Birdsall and Darren Campbell.
The series champion bags the winner trophy and the £25k cash prize, but it's not just the overall winner who'll be in the money. Everyone who makes it through to the final table will take away a piece of the fantastic £35,500 total prize pool.
Celebrity Poker Club is a televised poker tournament. The game they'll be playing is No Limit Texas Hold'Em.
In each of the seven heats six famous faces square up to do battle around the green felt of the poker table. The winner of each heat secures a place at the Grand Final. The second place finishers go through to the Semi Final where one last seat at the final awaits the winner.
Every Tuesday and Thursday on Challenge from June 29th. Programmes one and two: 10.30pm The rest of the series airs at 10pm
Welcome To The Most Famous Game In Town - IT'S CELEBRITY POKER CLUB
42 of Britain's most well known poker enthusiasts sweat it out at the country's coolest card club for an amazing £25,000 cash prize.
Want to see Rory McGrath finding the funny side of a bad beat, or Stephen Hendry, Dennis Taylor and Mark Williams demonstrate that they're just as good at potting pots as they are at potting shots? See if gambling guru John McCririck can prove his prowess at poker and watch stars of British cinema Keith Allen and Dexter Fletcher sweat under the pressure. Maybe you're keen to find who comes out on top out of two super brains Sir Clive Sinclair and Martin Amis? The series Champion will walk away with the winner's trophy and the cool cash prize of £25,000.
But it's not just the Champion who'll be in the money. Everyone who makes it through to the final table will take away a piece of the fantastic £35,500 total prize pool.
Celebrity Poker Club is a proper poker tournament. The game they'll be playing is No Limit Texas Hold'Em. In each of the seven heats six faces square up to do battle around the green felt of the poker table. The winner of each heat secures a place at the Grand Final. The second place finishers go through to the Semi Final where one last seat at the final awaits the winner.
Catch all the action on Challenge, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11pm.
Commentors: Jesse May & Barny Boatman .
Actor Dexter Fletcher first started playing poker as a child but he didn't get serious about the game 'til he was filming on the set of Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels". He now plays in a monthly cash game with friends.
Where would you find Martin Amis rubbing shoulders with Clive Sinclair and Rory McGrath? Victoria Coren joined them around the table for a new TV series - Celebrity Poker Club
For a long time, I have believed in something called 'celebrity cyberspace', a sort of law of physics by which all famous people are drawn towards other famous people sooner or later. It doesn't matter how different they seem or how disparately placed in the culture: like lines on a Tube map, somehow and somewhere they all connect. It was celebrity cyberspace which brought about that touching 1990s wedding between Freddie Trueman's daughter and Raquel Welch's son. It was under the same law that celebrity rapist Mike Tyson was once yelling at his girlfriend, south London-born model Naomi Campbell, when he was sternly told to 'leave that girl alone' by the elderly Oxford philosopher, A.J. Ayer. Now that's what I call a cocktail party. But we should not be surprised, for between any two people who have appeared on television there is only ever one degree of separation.
A couple of months ago, I was in Cardiff for a poker tournament. Usually when I travel to poker tournaments in Britain, I would expect to see: professional poker players (25); used car dealers (7); people who 'buy and sell things' (30); jewellers, or pawnbrokers who describe themselves as such (5); taxi drivers (8); men 'in the security business' (9). There will also be a few visiting Germans, French or Dutchmen who, one assumes, do much the same things in their home countries.
But this particular tournament was being filmed, for a series called Celebrity Poker Club. And 'celebrity' is a category all its own. Thus, it was no surprise to see Martin Amis ready to do battle with bizarre racing pundit John McCririck. There was nothing peculiar, given the law of physics to which these people are subject, about world snooker champion Mark Williams and royal stepson-in-waiting Tom Parker Bowles preparing, in all seriousness, to take on ventriloquist Roger de Courcey.
One should not pinch oneself at the sight of slender Welsh filmmaker Jon Ronson squaring up against giant cricketer Gladstone Small. Quite normal that hairy comedian Rory McGrath should be frowning thoughtfully at petite author Cindy Blake, and that Keith Allen, the hard man of Dickens adaptations, should feel a thrill of fear as bespectacled inventor Sir Clive Sinclair entered the room. These people were bound for an encounter eventually. It just happened to be across a poker table.
Besides, gambling, like celebrity, has a draw and equality all its own. A £25,000 prize was up for grabs, and the starry punters were not obliged to put up stake money. A true gambler can smell that kind of deal from several counties away. If there's one thing I can say for these people: gamblers they truly are.
Mark Williams was so keen for action that he couldn't even wait for his heat in the TV tournament. It turned out that Stephen Hendry and Dennis Taylor, his colleagues on the snooker-poker border, felt much the same way, so the three of them started hustling for an all-night warm-up game. They needed an appropriate location, of course - somewhere cool, smoky, macho and underground. A seedy dive of cigar fumes, cheap bourbon and pure male aggression. On the other hand, Steve Davis's mum's house was only five minutes away. Round hurried the boys and played cards into the small hours. I hear Dennis Taylor cleaned up.
Poker has turned out to be a natural next step for snooker players, requiring similar patience and calm. The recent high-profile Poker Million tournament (intended for professionals) was won in a dramatic late-night coup by Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White. And this very weekend, Dennis Taylor and Mark Williams are taking on 150 of the world's finest at the main event of the Irish Winter Poker Festival in Dublin.
I started to suspect that there may be a link between fame or success in the public eye which, inevitably, involves adrenaline, risk, ego, strange hours and a variable income, and gambling. Martin Amis had actually cut short a lunch with Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace to make the game on time. That's a conversation I'd like to have heard. 'Sorry Phil, your stories are great and the swan's delicious, but there's action going down in Cardiff.'
As soon as the poker heats were over, Amis was in the bar of the Hilton challenging allcomers to Scrabble for 50 quid a go. I bet on him immediately to win. What a beautiful package that man is: rock-star drawl, hand-rolled cigarettes, terrifying vocabulary. Over the years, I have asked a lot of people what they like about poker, and the answer is usually: 'Oh, you know, the thrill, the risk.' Only Amis could reply: 'People often compare politics to chess, but it's closer to poker because egos are involved. On a chessboard, the properties and powers of a bishop are permanently fixed. In poker, it's all wobbled through the prism of personality.'
You want to take on that guy at a mind game? I have rarely felt more confident of a bet than when I lumped it on Amis to win at Scrabble.
I lost the lot. To my horror, in the closing stages of the game, Amis failed to notice the word 'soirées' hidden among his tiles, and thus conceded defeat to journalist Grub Smith. To be fair, he had drunk the best part of a bottle of whisky.
Meanwhile, Rory McGrath had barely got off the train before he was claiming that he could name the capital of every state in America, and offering to prove this for £5 per state. Even the lunch breaks were no rest from gambling, as the Marquess of Worcester insisted on borrowing the TV company's poker chips in the hope of winning an extra few quid off Craig Charles. And win he did; noblesse oblige.
Actually, poker is the most egalitarian game there is. It doesn't matter how much money you've got - if you're not clever enough to hang on to it, all normal hierarchies are suspended. Clive Sinclair, not a man you would expect to be daunted by a footballer when it comes to mental skills, came over all nervous to find himself facing former Irish international footballer Tony Cascarino across the baize. These days, Cascarino describes himself as a poker pro. Nevertheless, Tony himself was terrified to take on Channel 5 newsreader Fiona Foster, as he believes that he can never beat a woman at cards.
And Tom Parker Bowles, whom one has to assume has moved in some pretty exalted circles, was suddenly all of a quiver because Al Alvarez was in his heat. Alvarez boasts many impressive achievements in the worlds of poetry, criticism and biography, but Parker Bowles saw only the man who wrote The Biggest Game in Town, one of the all-time great poker books.
Everybody had discovered the game in different ways. Old Etonian socialites Parker Bowles, Ben Elliot and Zac Goldsmith play at Aspinalls Club in Mayfair, a sort of child school of the notorious old Jimmy Goldsmith/John Aspinall/Lord Lucan poker game of the 1960s, and are due to take their seats in a new club at 5 Cavendish Square, which has opened to accommodate the growing demands of society poker. At the tournament in Cardiff, they met footballers and cricketers who play at the other end of the scale - picking it up in sweaty locker-rooms.
The snooker players were sucked in via an addiction to the poker website, Ladbrokespoker.com; it is Ladbrokes which has sponsored them to contest the Irish Festival this weekend. The internet is responsible for a huge surge in poker's popularity: in fact, the world champion, the amusingly named Chris Moneymaker, is a casino novice who won his seat at the world championships in an online tournament.
Actor Dexter Fletcher was taught by his parents as a child, and refound a love of cards when he made the gambling movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Rory McGrath was taught by Mel Smith; Marc Bannerman (EastEnders' Gianni di Marco) was mysteriously roped in 'by a bunch of Greek chaps when I was absolutely bundled and prepared to bet on anything'. Al Alvarez chose it as an escape route when his first marriage was breaking up, and Keith Allen learnt 'accidentally at the National Theatre'.
As for me, I've been playing in poker tournaments for the best part of 10 years. I've seen some of the greatest players in the world across a card table, but these celebrities were the craziest bunch of gamblers I have ever encountered. During the game, it was impossible to work out what the hell they had, because they seemed prepared to bet on anything. My episode was broadcast on Thursday and having watched it I still don't have the clearest idea of what was going on.
I'll just say that I entered the game as odds-on favourite (according to the green-room bookie who must remain nameless for legal reasons but was taking huge sums in the unofficial betting) and ended up conceding defeat to Zac Goldsmith - which was an embarrassing turn of events in front of 'the poker community' and a swift kick in the teeth for my inner inverted snob, but very good for the soul, I'm sure.
I actually found Zac to be a rather lovely chap, which is not something I expected to find myself saying about a tweed-jacketed millionaire who hopes to become a Tory MP, but as I say, poker is an egalitarian game.
At the end of the week, I couldn't help feeling relieved to say goodbye to Stephen Hendry and the Marquess of Worcester and go back to Dave the Hat at the casino. The tournament was an irresistibly surreal lark, and is making great TV, but you know where you are with Dave.