Europe's leading poker professionals will be in London this week for the European Poker Classic at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino. Seven days of competition culminates in Saturday's main event, a £1,500 buy-in, no limit holdem tournament with a prize pool in excess of £200,000.
Blue Square has a fixed odds betting market open and betfair.com, the exchange betting site where punters can become the bookmaker and buy or sell odds with other traders, has seen over £5,500 matched in bets so far. As is the norm in poker markets, most money has been wagered on "the field", or any player other than the 99 listed individuals. The field is currently trading at the equivalent of around 3-1 while the current named favourites are chalked up at nearer 33-1.
These prices underline the difficulty in naming a single winner in a major poker tournament where there are usually more than 150 players and, ultimately, the fall of a card can be the difference between success and failure. Moreover, most of the top professionals adopt an exceptionally aggressive style, intent either on doubling their stack of chips early in order to dominate from a position of strength, or crashing out in the attempt. This means that those listed near the skinny end of the betting would also be among the favourites to depart first.
Blue Square has gone some way to making their fixed odds market more attractive than usual by providing an each-way option, paying out an eighth of the "to win" odds on any player making the final table - the last nine competitors.
High-profile professionals Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliot, Julian 'The Kid' Gardner and David Colclough, all of England, lead the betting at 33-1. Slightly further down the field Lucy Rokach, Europe's leading female player, is an attractive 40-1, the same price as Peter 'The Poet' Costa. Costa has recently been in excellent form, reaching the final table in the main event at last week's Four Queens festival in Las Vegas, and he has been a dominant European tournament player for several years, including a £165,000 first prize in the Aussie Millions at Melbourne's Crown Casino in January.
Some wise money could be placed, however, on any member of the Hendon Mob, a quartet of professional gamblers from London. The Mob, comprising Ram 'Crazyhorse' Vaswani, Joe 'The Elegance' Beevers and brothers 'Rocky' Ross and 'Barmy' Barny Boatman, are playing their first tournament in the UK since announcing a unique sponsorship tie-in with Prima Poker. The internet gambling site is staking the four players on a worldwide poker tour, paying all expenses and buy-ins for a number of selected tournaments.
Essentially, the Mob are therefore playing with someone else's money and the first leg of the tour, in Las Vegas, saw Barny Boatman beat his brother into second place for a $14,000 (£8,400) pot-limit Omaha tournament, and then Vaswani pick up $20,000 (£12,000) later in the week, edging Beevers and Barny Boatman into 4th and 5th places, respectively.
In London on Tuesday, Beevers won the opening tournament of the Vic festival - taking home £24,000 - leaving only Ross Boatman without a win so far on the tour. However, his pedigree is without question; the elder Boatman brother is the defending champion at the European Poker Classic having scooped £74,000 last October.
The Hendon Mob bet as follows: 40-1 Ram Vaswani, 50-1 Joe Beevers, 66-1 Barny Boatman, Ross Boatman (Odds from Blue Square).