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A POKER FAIRY TALE

Imagine entering a free roll poker competition online and taking on 1500 eager poker players in one of many heats to progress to the next round. Your target is to finish in the top 28 players of this heat, which will enable you to progress into the next round. This is no easy task in itself. Your next mission is to achieve a top 10 finish out of a further 3990 players. Finally, if you have got that far, you have to eliminate another 9 players to achieve your goal and win the event outright. On the face of it, this is a nigh impossible herculean style challenge. However, the reward is spectacular and the dream of trousering a cool $1,000,000 makes the time and effort seem worthwhile.

Lee Biddulph was a poker unknown before his exploits in the paradise poker million dollar free roll final on 25 September 2005. By the end of that eventful finale, his name was on every body's lips and by the time he had mastered the field, he was the latest poker millionaire. In no way shape or form should his achievement be underestimated and special credit should be given to Lee, given his inexperience at live poker. To have made the final was an incredible effort, but to then win the event outright in only his second live casino tournament is a spectacular achievement by anyone's reckoning.

Lee, 28, played his first live tournament at the Castle Casino in Blackpool in a Ł10 event. It was not a particularly memorable performance and to coin a horse racing phrase, he did not trouble the judge and eventually finished half way down the field. Before that, he had been playing poker for about 2 years and had gained a modicum of tournament experience both online at Poker Stars and Paradise Poker and in small private house games in his home town, Thornton-Cleveleys near Blackpool.

Lee has an interest in most sports, with particular emphasis on football, which is interesting because a number of football enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, are taking up poker. You only have to think of Tony Cascarino, Teddy Sherringham, Alan Shearer, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen to mention just a few. May be having a fiercely competitive edge attracts them to this beautiful game. Lee had also watched a lot of poker on TV and loved to watch the playing styles of Gus Hansen and Devil Fish. I am sure both would be proud of his achievement in winning this event.

This win has obviously changed Lee's lifestyle for the better and he now has the opportunity to realise his dream of becoming a property developer. He has given notice to his current employers, a psychiatric hospital in Blackburn where he works as a chef and he now intends to build up a portfolio of properties, which he can develop and then rent out. In fact, he has just purchased his dream house with girlfriend Debbie Swift and will move in before Christmas.

Lee Biddulph & Debbie Swift

As you can imagine, Lee's enthusiasm for the game is now greater than ever and he harbours ambitions to win further big value tournaments. He intends to play in Blackpool's Northern Lights Festival this month and hope to continue his success. He absolutely loves Texas Hold-Em poker and to date has not chanced his arm at close cousins Omaha and Omaha High Lo. Like many other players, he cites bad beats as one of his major dislikes in the game and in particular hates it when players holding bad cards out of position are rewarded.

One thing for sure is that his favourite starting hand will be Ace of Diamonds, 10 of Spades, as that is the hand that landed him $1,000,000. Obviously he has now had time for his win to sink in and he vividly remembers how the final progressed.

The final was held in 5 star luxury in Costa Rica and all the players were guaranteed the holiday of a life time and $10,000, irrespective of where they finished in the final. That is apart from the winner who obviously was guaranteed to become a poker millionaire. However, one unfortunate finalist was discovered to be only 19 years old and as US law prohibits anyone under 21 years of age playing on line, he was disqualified from the tournament and his $10,000 guaranteed winnings were donated to a hurricane charity. Ironically, he was 3rd in chips at the time so obviously had a big shot at the first prize. May be this is one for our bad beat section.

That left 9 finalists to slug it out and Lee was always close to the pace, having started the final in 2nd position with $1.58 million chips in comparison to the chip leaders' $2.67 million chips. Lee played fairly solid throughout and almost always had the best hand when his money went in, as he kept it tight throughout. Eventually he managed to get heads up with the player who had been chip leader throughout the final table. According to Lee, this player had been arrogant throughout and as a result, most of the audience and other players were routing for Lee to win the money. That is always a good feeling and can only help your cause and confidence. The pressure was intense at this point, as Paradise Poker had forbidden any deals so as to guarantee the winner would be a millionaire. There are not many tournaments where the finalists all get $10,000 irrespective of their finishing position apart from the winner who gets 100 times that amount. I suppose it all adds to a pressure cooker atmosphere and provides plenty of excitement and entertainment. Lee's biggest fear was to finish 2nd, as to get so close to such a big fortune would be heartbreaking.

Lee Biddulph

Even though Lee had eliminated the 3rd place finisher to get heads up with the chip leader, he was still slightly behind in chips when the heads up commenced. He had one particularly hairy moment when he moved all-in pre flop and was on the wrong end of an Ace Queen versus Ace Nine coup. The flop came 4,4,4, but the turn brought a King and the river a blank to give a split pot and a huge sigh of relief from Lee. Obviously that was one of the major turning points of the tournament and a few hands later, Lee holding Jack 8 of hearts, flopped a flush and got paid handsomely. That was despite an anxious moment when a 4th heart arrived on the river. Luckily his opponent only held the 9 of hearts and as a result of this hand had now surrendered the chip lead to Lee. The finishing line was now in sight and the key hand was not long in coming. Lee held Ace diamonds, 10 spades and made it 360k to go. His opponent quickly raised to 1.2 million and Lee immediately moved all-in. The former chip leader called and proudly flipped over Queen 9 off suit. With a flop of 2,Ace,8 it was all over when a King came on the turn. It was only then that the euphoria of victory and relief could be released and Lee went straight to his girlfriend Debbie to share his moment of triumph.

This was how the fairy tale unfolded and it is a great story for all newbies and gives all us little guys in the game something to aim at and aspire to. I have to say I found Lee refreshingly honest and open in his admission that he is not the best player in his local home game, never mind the world. He still has his feet firmly on the ground and knows there is a long way to go before he can claim to be a top player. I must say, he seems a very likeable and down to earth guy and no doubt will be very popular when he plays a lot of live tournaments. I think a lot of people will be impressed with his attitude and image. This win is what poker dreams are made of and was all about the under dog coming good. Hopefully the poker fairy smiles on us all at some time.....just make my time worth a million dollars too please.

Mark "The Chaser" Greenwood


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