Privé

Bet big. Just once

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Privé (South Africa) Summer 2010

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One day you need to stick your neck out. Bet big and feel the rush says Daniel Ford.

My friend Ray used to be in the merchant navy. From Singapore to Malaysia to Durban, a girl in every port, the sun on his back, life on the ocean wave and all that. The trouble is the ocean waves do get a bit big sometimes. Very, very big, and the waves can toss around even a 14,5 million tonne vessel as if it’s a leaf lost at sea. Which isn’t much fun if you’re stuck on the said leaf.

So why exactly did Ray decide to venture out to the crew deck as his ship passed through the edge of Hurricane Ida? Yes, a hurricane. Why did he scramble across this foam-covered deck with a pooping just waiting to happen and wash him off like an even smaller leaf, never to be heard of, or remembered again? And why did he wrap his arms into some iron bars on the deck for stability, stick his chest out, close his eyes and allow the powerful spray to pummel him so hard that it left speckles of blood on his face?

Ray did it because it was exhilarating. And he did it because he wanted to feel that burst of exhilaration that only comes from taking a chance.

Now, Ray was being a bit silly (silly, silly boy Ray) and he admits it’s the biggest chance he’s ever taken in his life but I know exactly what he was after because I’ve always believed that every betting (wo)man should take at least one BIG chance in their betting life.

It means sticking your neck out, breaking all the normal rules of sensible betting and making one big bet that sets your heart racing again (remember the excitement of that first bet?). I’ve been a betting man as long as I remember but it’s always struck me that never feeling the rush of stretching yourself is like going to a sumptuous feast and sticking to the tomato soup.

Bear in mind that ‘going big’ varies from person to person. What’s ‘big’ for you may be nothing to your friend. It’s not the actual amount that matters; it’s whether it takes you outside your comfort zone. Are you looking at your chips on the table and absolutely fascinated by the bet you’ve just made? Too often I bet and don’t really mind one way or the other because, as it should be, it’s a bit of fun. Of course I want to win, who doesn’t? But the amount I bet is well within my comfort zone. My pulse won’t speed up until a pretty girl in a short skirt walks past.

It comes down to adrenaline and stress. Stress generally gets a bad press, always associated with a hard day at work or a nightmare afternoon out with the screaming kids. But controlled stress can take us to a new level. If you never stress your muscles in the gym your muscles stay the same. If you never stress your brain at work your brain goes flabby. People who never stress themselves rarely get anywhere in my view. Get up, eat, tickle the dog’s tummy and go to bed.

And so goes the theory in my betting world. If I were to always bet within myself my whole life then I would never feel the adrenaline that stressing my betting brain brings.

So one day I decided to stick my neck out. I should explain at this point that although my experience of sticking my neck out ended in a win, I would still be writing this article even if I had lost because it was the feeling just before the bet was concluded that mattered not the actual win itself (nice though it was).

I’m on a weekend away with two friends and we’re playing blackjack, my friends’ favourite game. After an hour of going up, going down, trying not to upset the guy next to me by drawing the card he needs, I decide to scoop up my chips and move to my favourite game: roulette.

I put the lot on black. It wins and I let it ride. My friends join me and double up my bet. We win again. We look at each other and laugh. The weekend is paid for and more.

“Let’s leave it,” I say.

This is the moment that counts for me right now. Black comes in but it doesn’t actually matter because those few seconds while I stare at my (rather large) pile of chips and wait for the wheel to settle are amazing. Stressed I was. And not in a screaming kids sort of way.

Just for once, go out on the deck in Hurricane Ida.

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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.

Gambling glamour

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Privé (Autumn 2010)

This is the part of the magazine where all you women should make a cup of coffee (or pour a large glass of something stronger), sit down and prepare to shake your head at us boys and say something about us not really ever growing up. And I do mean boys, even among those of us who have long since forgotten what a school was (unless it’s a card school, of course).

We all long to be James Bond. Yes, I know you might have heard that mentioned before, but I mean we ‘really’ long to be James Bond. It’s shallow and it’s obvious. Good-looking, the fast cars, the women, all those languages he knows (without ever practising), all those gadgets he gets to play with; he is basically a collection of all the parts every boy wants in his personality and life. Ian Fleming invented him for us.

But however good Bond is behind the wheel, in bed or stopping a plot to ruin the world, it all amounts to nothing when compared to 007 at play in a casino. That’s when we ‘really’ want to be Bond. Is it any wonder so many scenes are shot with the backdrop of the green baize, colourful chips and rolling dice? And that the plot of the first novel (Casino Royale 1953) that set the hero on the road to stardom revolves around the action in the French casino at Royale-les-Eaux? James Bond belongs in a casino. In fact, let’s be honest, Fleming invented him for the casino, not us boys.

So here we are then. It’s so dark outside it’s purple, while inside the soft lighting round the tables is sultry and sexy, like the women in the long, oh-so-classy dresses that dance round their ankles. Bond is wearing an immaculately fitting black suit with crisp white shirt. He orders a martini (did you just say ‘shaken not stirred’? Thought so). The man is a risk-taker. This is no spy scuttling around the back alleys with a hood and a brown bag filled with documents. This is a man who, bold-as-brass, marches up to his enemies and tells them his name (this is the bit where you say, ‘the name’s Bond, James Bond’).

Then he buys a large stack of chips and settles down in a chair to enjoy the action. He doesn’t even stop playing when he has to switch the conversation to a strange foreign language or two or when turning down the attentions of the best-looking women in the place (at least for now, anyway) because he’s busy gambling and enjoying his martini.

Most of us come to play the tables in a casino to take a risk and to escape. We come to the tables to enjoy that touch of glamour surrounding us. And we come to the tables to feel that we are part of a movie scene just like the one described above.

Not everyone one of us can drive a car really fast, not everyone can attract the hottest women in the world and few of us get to play with really cool gadgets (sorry, your iPhone doesn’t count unless there is an app on it that sprays oil onto the road to deter the Russian spies who are trailing you). But around the tables we can be our own version of James Bond. Or for you girls who enjoy a touch of the high life, the girl who wants Bond. Or even Jamie Bondette if you prefer.

It is here, when sitting around the table with our pile of chips in front of us that we get to take our own risks. We don’t just want the thrill of winning; we also want the rest of the place to look up and wonder who we are when we are winning. Who is that well-dressed stranger, swanning into the place, tossing those chips around and really enjoying the whole occasion?

So when you’re next out playing, move around the tables and see the glint in the eyes of different players who are in the room playing their own film role. There’s nothing glamorous about being the kid at the back of the class who never moves seats the whole term. Sneak glances at the couple playing Blackjack who gently whispering to each other between deals. Watch the group of tall men discussing tactics on the roulette wheel in the middle of the room. And cast the girls sipping drinks at the bar as they chat loudly about which table to hit next.

Play big sometimes, play small sometimes. Enjoy the games. Order a cocktail. Hell, make it a martini, everyone else wants to really, trust me.

Dress up. Men for seduction, women for romance. Catch someone’s eye as they win, smile when you win and accept the congratulations from around the table. Really soak up the atmosphere; we’re all here to catch a touch of our own slice of glamour and romance after all.