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Can this man become good at poker in one week?

Follow Time Out writer George Blew as he attempts to learn a new skill each week using celebrity tutorials

Written by
George Blew

I’ve always felt like the most average person on the planet. I’ve tried my hand at loads of stuff over the years, but I’ve never been able to find my hidden talent. I’ve tried drawing (other than a half-decent Darth Maul when I was 12, no joy there), drumming (using both hands and your foot? Madness), fencing (let’s not go there) and fishing (eight sessions, zero catches). I couldn’t even make the A team at football and my dad was the manager. So, as you can tell, bang-average (or worse) is pretty much where I’m at.

Then lockdown happened. Suddenly there were more hours in the day than I knew what to do with – a uniquely rare opportunity to get really good at something. So, naturally, I spent this time watching Louis Theroux documentaries and eating Kettle Chips by the bag. Then it hit me: I could greedily exploit Time Out’s partnerships in the world of celeb-studded online courses to make myself talented. After all, if Gordon Ramsay can’t teach me to cook, what hope is there? So, this is it. Through the power of MasterClass, I’m going to get good at one thing a week. Well, I’ll try at least.

Week two: Daniel Negreanu teaches poker

This is more like it. Unlike last week’s lesson, poker involves no physical skill whatsoever – the dream. Now, cards on the table, I have played poker before. Mostly with mates over a few beers (and they’ve got about as much skill as those poker-playing dogs in that famous painting) and briefly, but spectacularly unsuccessfully, online when I was at uni (that’s what maintenance loans are for, right?). But this time I’ll be playing with $30 of my own cash, with public humiliation on the line, so the pressure is on. 

The course: I quickly learn that Daniel Negreanu has six World Series of Poker (WSOP) titles, and is considered by some to be the best of all time. So I’m feeling confident after the first few videos. Then the maths starts. There is a lot to take in. A barrage of arcane formulas for ‘pot odds’, ‘pre-flop equity’ and something really important called ‘fold percentages’. It’s all a bit much. Negreanu tells me that all of this has become ‘like breathing’ for him. Feels more like drowning to me, Daniel. By the end of the course, I’m not sure how much has stuck, but the virtual felt is calling my name, so I fire up PokerStars.

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The game: I register for a $30 buy-in, six-player game and wait nervously as a series of terribly named players join my table (although I have to say I felt an inexplicable and immediate sense of respect for ‘BigTunna99’). First place is set to net $108.58 with $58.46 going to second; I’d happily take either. The game begins and I win a decent stack of chips on the first hand with a bluff. I am going to own these clowns. We get ten minutes in and I haven’t lost a hand – my confidence is through the roof. But then I get a teeny tiny bit big for my boots and start trying to bluff left, right and centre. Negreanu warned me about this but I'm lusting after virtual chips like a dragon with a cave full of gold.

When the first player goes out, I’m just relieved to not have come last. I regain some semblance of composure and carry on going steady as two more players crash out. I can almost taste the money now, and even briefly consider going pro. But it’s a short-lived dream as I am now bleeding chips at an alarming rate. I have the smallest stack of the remaining players by a long way, so when I get dealt a pair of fours, I go all-in. My heart rate skyrockets. I get a call, the cards get flipped and – he has a pair of fives. You have to be kidding me. I go out in third place. 

The verdict: To be honest, I’m happy with third place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s heartbreaking to go out one spot shy of winning some cash, but I’ll take finishing in the top half and I feel like I played a solid game. The best thing about this class is that once you learn the theory, you can start putting it into practice straightaway. I don’t think I’ll be challenging Negreanu for a title any time soon, but I like my chances of taking some money off my mates the next time we play. And in many ways, that’s even better.  

Next up: Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking 

Thank you to MasterClass for providing access to the course. You can check out their courses here

Missed last week’s lesson? You can read it here.

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