Poker in Paradise

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Prive (South Africa) Summer 2010

It’s not often you get to play a national champion at poker. Daniel Ford heads off to the sun to beat the Bermudian champion.

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The giant leaves of the palm trees are gently rustling in the breeze while the Atlantic waves slap half-heartedly against the rocks as if the warmth of the day has sapped even their energy. The double doors to the balcony are wide open to frame the sun setting on another perfect day in Bermuda. I’m wearing shorts, slops and a T-shirt and am completely coated in that amazing warmth you get only on those days when you feel as if you can actually reach out and grab a chunk of the air and put it in your pocket for later. This is poker in paradise.

There’s only one problem: I’m sitting down to play against the Bermudian champion who has just returned from the World Championships in Las Vegas. A Canadian, who’s been working on the tax-free island for a number of years, had defeated locals and ex-pats alike in the months-long island-wide competition to earn the honour of representing the small country at the big tables in America.

“I made it right to the end of day one,” he tells me. “I went all-in on silly cards. I think it was a mixture of tiredness and wild confidence.”

The others sitting round the table are mostly financial people, here for the money and their own slice of the good life.

There are a couple of other South Africans sitting round the table and we swap tales of rugby, spit braais and where to find Mrs Ball’s chutney as you always do when you meet someone from home. Like everyone else they are here for the tax-free dollars. Talk abounds among all ex-pats of returning home laden with their booty and buying cars and houses in just a fraction of a time it would take to achieve the same goal at home. Maybe it’s simply a way of distracting ourselves as we prepare to lose our money to the national champion.

I’ve come across quite a few South Africans on the island (Facebook’s South African’s in Bermuda group has 98 members) some in the financial industry, of course, but many working as part of the many gardening and maintenance teams that keep the homes of the many rich and famous (Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are residents here) nice and shiny.

Stakes are pretty high, as you’d expect from a bunch of bankers on six-figure dollar salaries. I wince as the dollar notes with more than one zero start to be flung about. My friend nods across the table to indicate that he will cover me if I want to stay in. It’s just the Bermudian champ and me. Oh, what the hell.

I go all-in, he follows and we both flip our cards over. My six and seven really look rather sad against his pair of kings.

“What are you doing Dan,” asks my friend. I suppose it is his money after all.

The flop generously adds an eight to my wildly hopeful bid for a straight. The trouble is the tens mean he’s got two pair now. Oh well.

A three. No good to anyone.

Then a beautiful nine on diamonds to complete my straight.

“Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,” I declare as if he has just lost his eyesight as well as his sense of humour. I’ve just beaten the Bermudian champion. Vegas, Smegus, I think quietly.

“Sorry,” I tell him. “I was lucky; they were silly cards to go in on. I think it was a mixture of tiredness and wild confidence.

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