Any Stars in The Game?

by Vicky Coren on Tuesday, 23 March 2004 at 9:49 pm

I’ve just got back from Cardiff where the second series of Celebrity Poker Club was being filmed. Don’t ask who won, because of course the results are strictly embargoed until the show goes out on Challenge TV in the early summer. If anybody knows, please don’t post it on the forum and spoil the ending. (While you’re at it, don’t tell me how Sex And The City ended either. I still haven’t seen the last show – but I’m hoping that Carrie wins, after her queens stand up against Miranda’s AdKd.)

I think the new CPC is going to make great viewing – there were good people playing, lots of funny banter, and the standard of poker is much higher this time. It’s never going to be the WPT, but pretty much everybody in it this time is a regular player and has an idea what they’re doing. It’s an entertainment show rather than a sports show, and a lot of the fun comes from finding out whether familiar personalities play poker as you’d expect or whether they play against type.

For example, some famously underhand people have sneaked into this second series. Jailed stock trader Nic Leeson and Nasty Nick Bateman are playing, as is Major Charles Ingram (the man who was accused of cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) and his wife Diana. It’s pretty irresistible to see how they all fare in a game where deceit is actively encouraged. I couldn’t help expecting Major Charles to suddenly cough ‘Nut flush!’ while Diana was considering a difficult call.

The celebrity drug-smuggler Howard Marks, meanwhile, played EXACTLY as You’d expect from a lifetime dope-smoker. If you ever wonder what marijuana does to the short-term memory, just watch that guy playing a hand. He has to look back at his hole cards every six seconds.

Howard Marks also does everything five times slower than the normal human speed. There was one moment when he looked suddenly excited, but it was only an unfortunate misunderstanding when Matt Le Tissier shouted ‘Pot!’

The first heat was delayed because the dealers (lovely Thomas, Peter and Marina from the Concord) got fog-bound in Vienna. The players ended up sitting down to the game at midnight, and continued past 4 a.m. This was a bit of a problem for TV psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud who was due to address a conference of nurses at 9 a.m. back in London. ‘They’re not even normal nurses’, he moaned, ‘They’re wound-healers! It’s an incredibly difficult and dedicated branch of nursing. If they thought I’d been up all night smoking cigars and playing poker, they’d be rightly horrified.’

The ventriloquist Roger de Courcey was back to play again – and this time, to everybody’s delight, he brought Nookie the Bear into his post-match interview. It was hilarious but rather unsettling.

The relationship between man and bear is disturbingly close. When Roger explained how difficult it was to see the flop across such a big table, the bear went cross-eyed. When Roger said ‘I don’t think I played aggressively enough’, Nookie shouted ‘Too aggressive, more like!’ I genuinely think it was two sides of Roger’s brain fighting it out. My own mind has similar arguments with itself after tournaments – I think maybe I’ll invest in a puppet. That way, when I’m beating myself up for going all-in with two jacks against obvious aces, my bear can shout ‘You did nothing wrong! He could have had a pair of tens!’

Like I said, this is an entertainment show so I hope nobody’s going to get too snobbish about the standard of poker. That’s not the point of the exercise. The standard is perfectly fine (most viewers don’t understand sophisticated moves anyway) and the main point of it is fun. There’s also plenty of gripping needle – Phil Taylor and Eric Bristow are both playing, for example; and Steve Davis, Mark Williams and Willie Thorne line up against snooker promoter Barry Hearn – don’t tell me those people don’t have a very pointed agenda about who beats whom.

The good news is that because the players in this series are more experienced, they’re more relaxed at the table. There’s a lot more chat and laughter than happened last time. In one cute heat, athlete Darren Campbell and Radio 1 DJ Colin Murray appeared to fall in love over the baize. They were giggling like teenagers throughout the game, and when Darren survived an all-in coup Colin hugged him and cried ‘I’m so glad you’re still here!’. I considered trying that on Mike McGee when he was at my table in the Vic tournament on Saturday, but sadly I couldn’t get up the nerve.