It’s the nature of things that we should be more interested in today’s poker “heroes” and “superstars” rather than those of yesteryear. However, I am one of those who believe that you must be aware of history. Without it, you can neither learn from past mistakes nor put your own successes or failures into proper perspective. First, you win a few tournaments or you can’t put a foot wrong in cash games, and the next thing you know, you’ve become a legend in your own mind. Then, when the wheels come off, you start to flounder and cannot understand why the chips are not coming your way. After all, they should be coming your way. You’re a hero, aren’t you?
An awareness of history can also help you to avoid becoming a poker brat, one who thinks the poker world revolves around him and doesn’t appreciate that many people have worked very hard behind the scenes to make poker what it is today. The problem with brats is that they usually abuse dealers and social poker players, and therefore help to give poker a bad name, which in turn is not at all good for sponsorship.
So, here are a few words of thanks to some unsung heroes to whom we (European) poker players are indebted.
The first is the late Terry Rogers, bookmaker by trade, who introduced tournaments to Ireland and hence to Europe. Rogers went to Las Vegas in the late ’70s, where he met and befriended Benny Binion. Rogers opened the Eccentric Club in Dublin, and no-limit hold’em took off. Many of today’s great Irish poker players cut their teeth in the Eccentric Club: Donnacha O’Dea, Padraig Parkinson, Alan Betson, George McKeever, Scott Gray, Tom Gibson, Colette Doherty, and Liam Flood are but a few. Such was Terry Rogers’ influence that the crème de la crème of American poker players — Doyle Brunson, Jack Straus, and Stu Ungar — attended his tournaments at a time when Americans ventured abroad even less than they do now.
At about the same time, Barry DeLacy (general manager of the Rubicon Sporting Club in Wolverhampton) was also busy promoting cards in his casino. DeLacy was responsible for the first major tournament in England. The entry fee was huge for the times — £100! That’s chicken feed these days, but such were the humble beginnings of tournaments in Europe in the mid-1980s. The Rainbow Casino in Birmingham followed suit, and for many years its pot-limit Midland Masters was the best-attended tournament in the UK. In fact, it was the highlight of the English poker calendar, and only a staggering £100 to enter.
But the one person who really ignited the European poker scene must surely be Mickey Finn. Mickey wanted to get a better deal for poker players. He wanted better-structured tournaments, better organization, and better deals on accommodations. So, with help from Lothar Landauer, Matthias Ronnacher, and others, Finn set up the EPPA (European Poker Players Association). Mickey devised a ranking system, the culmination of which was a freeroll tournament with added money. All of a sudden, everybody was travelling all over Europe to get ranking points, which brings us to present day, when there is a poker festival in Europe almost every week.
Casinos today try to look after their travelling punters either by getting them good room rates or offering dinner, or both, and for this we can also thank Mickey Finn. He took upon himself a lot of work and aggravation, received scant recognition or thanks for his efforts, and did it all for no pay or financial reward. In fact, what Finn did get was a lot of flak from shortsighted, selfish, ungrateful poker players who couldn’t be bothered with doing anything for themselves, yet expected Mickey to devote all of his time to improve their lot — and all for no pay! Personally, I don’t understand why Mickey Finn persevered for so long with the EPPA. And now, the situation is such that TV people are making fortunes out of Poker Online Pkv players, and we’re paying for the privilege and signing waiver forms! It’s incredible what some people will do to appear on the magic box.
Last but not least, we all should thank Robert Gardener, who first produced Late Night Poker for television. He had the bright idea of letting viewers see the holecards. What a breakthrough that was for poker. So, thank you, gentlemen, for all you’ve done for us poker players.