Name Three Welsh Sports Stars

Name 3 Welsh professional rugby players?

OK – that was easy enough.

Name 3 Welsh professional golfers?

I guess that’s a little more difficult – “Ian Woosnam and 2 others”, I hear and depending on your age Dai Rees and Brian Huggett or Rhys Davies and Bradly Dredge.

Now for the tricky part – Name 3 Welsh professional poker players?

 Did you know that 21 years ago Wales had the World poker champion? This player was the first non-American to win the World Series of Poker final event and won a staggering $895,000.

This player who still plays today is Mansour Matloubi. He played top quality poker at a time before it became popular – phenomenally popular. It has been one of the fastest growing sports in the world every year since the turn of the century. It is estimated that 70 million Americans play poker and playing and an estimated £3 million is gambled online in Britain every day.Poker has changed a great deal over the past 21 years.

It’s moved well away from the description of an early game by perhaps the most famous player of all Doyle Brunson; in an interview in 2006 he describes the “rough and tough” poker days;

“There are so many memories, I really cannot distinguish just one of them. I think one of the most traumatic instances was when a guy walked into a game and just blew a guy’s head off who was sitting right next to me, and his brains splattered up against a back wall.”

Today it’s more likely to be at a new casino in Cardiff described as; “The addition of a brand new poker room, state-of-the-art gaming equipment and a plush dining area are just a few of the treats in store for guests at the new-look venue.”

But back to the question of 3 Welsh professional poker players;

Dave ‘El Blondie’ Colclough , born in Carmarthen . Dave has been playing poker for over twenty years and has earned around $2,500,000 in tournaments. He has twice won ‘European Player of the Year’ title and was the youngest player to be inducted into the European Poker Players Hall of Fame. He is widely regarded as one of the best Pot-Limit Omaha (a poker variation game) in the world;

Roberto Romanello, from Swansea has won over $2 million in Career tournament earnings in just six years of playing professional and has recently won two major Poker Events the 2010 European Poker Tour Prague Main Event and the 2011 World Poker Tour Bratislava Main Event;

26 year old Cardiff born John Tabatabai is a former Wales chess international He was the runner-up to outstanding Norwegian poker player Annette Obrestad in the first World Series of Poker Main Event in 2007. He earned £570,150 for this achievement. He has since won the All Africa Poker Tournament in 2008 collecting one million Rand ($127,584) and the Australian Heads Up Championship a year later.

So, why do people speak poker still have such a bad name? I guess there are still the connections with smoke filled rooms, guns, knives, drugs and sleaze. No doubt you can still find that if you look hard enough. However it’s the advent of technology and online poker that has changed this dodgy, seedy pastime into one where there are more people in Europe the U.K. playing poker than play golf.  Poker has became an extremely chic sport, especially in America where everyone wants to play. There is a huge list of high profile celebrities desperate to learn. Poker players in America like Phil Ivey and Phil Helmouth are as popular, and hang out with, Matt Damon, Heather Graham, Michel Phelps, Steve Martin, Tobey Maguire

In Britain the image is changing a little slower but due to sports stars like Jimmy White, Matthew Stevens, actors Keith Allen, Dexter Fletcher and writers like Victoria Corin it’s become far more acceptable and democratic.

Victoria Corin describes her poker skills; “My strengths in poker are definitely judgement and calculation — but you do also need a good knowledge of the game, a sense of money management and a bit of maths.”

It is a game of skill, strategy and nerve. There is, of course the usual warning. It can be addictive. People have been known to lose lots of money at poker – as they have with all forms of gambling. But the joy is that you don’t need money to play poker. It’s not about money it’s about playing and enjoyment.  There are hundreds of free online sites where you can learn, practice and play. It’s moved on a great deal from those smoke-filled, dimly-lit back rooms of Doyle Brunson’s day and Wales has players who may one day reach the ultimate in poker the winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas.

Twenty one years ago Mansour Matloubi from Cardiff achieved the impossible and beat the Americans at their own game. If you’re still unsure how exciting it can be watch the video on the 1990 tournament here;

M. Matloubi v Hans Lunn –