Starting out £100 ahead

Sometimes, travel is just hard. For instance, if you're traveling from the Isle of Man to the U.S., the most natural itinerary is through London. However, flights from the Isle of Man go into Gatwick Airport, but most flights to the U.S. go out of Heathrow. So somehow you have to get from Gatwick to Heathrow. There's a bus that takes you around the M25 for 75 minutes, so it's not particularly "hard"; it's just a £25 nuisance.

Anyway, I was contemplating that a while ago as I was flying into London from the Isle of Man. It was evening, and I had a flight back to the U.S. out of Heathrow the next day. I had a hotel all booked at Heathrow and was planning to get on the bus from Gatwick to Heathrow. Where I'd wait for a shuttle bus to the hotel. Then try to find a decent meal in hotel wasteland at Heathrow. Then sit in a completely generic hotel room and read my Kindle.

But then, as will happen in times of crisis, Jimi Hendrix came into my head: "There must be some kinda way outa here..." What if I went into London from Gatwick, spent the evening in town, and then took the Heathrow Express back out to Heathrow (round trip cost: £40)? Not the most direct route, but then I could eat a fun meal and do something interesting in the middle of London rather than sit in a hotel room at Heathrow.

Worked like a charm. I caught the Gatwick Express into Victoria Station and took a cab over to Leicester Square. Food was first on the list, so I headed to the Yo Sushi near Piccadilly Circus and gorged on salmon rolls. Then I walked to the Hippodrome Casino (full disclosure: the poker room at the Hippodrome is PokerStars branded) and dropped my bags off. Sadly, PokerStars employees aren't allowed to play poker at the Hippodrome, so I walked a block to the Empire Casino at the top of the square. One of the £1-2 NL hold'em games had a seat open.

Already I felt like a genius.

It was probably about 10:00pm by the time I got my first hand. Two hours later - midnight-ish, I was probably £50 ahead or stuck - I literally don't remember - I just remembered that my mobile rang. I didn't recognize the number.

"Mr. Jones?"


"This is the (hotel at Heathrow) calling. You have a reservation here this evening..."


"So, are you planning to stay here?"

"Well, yes - why?'

"We're running out of rooms so I'll need to lock one up for you."

Hendrix again: "...we'll watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea..."

"So, what if I don't use the room - can you cancel my reservation and I won't get charged?"

You could hear the relief in his voice. "Oh absolutely - we'll drop your reservation and your card won't be charged."

"Awesome - let's do that."

"Thank you very much Mr. Jones."

As we hung up, I signaled the waitress, "I'm going to need coffee."

As I turned back to the table, with the inimitable calculus that only poker players can do, I knew I'd just won a pot with £100 strange money in it.

What amazed me was how quickly the hours flew by. Players came and went, a couple of games broke and we collapsed down to two games (but never fewer than that). At 3:15am, I ordered a grilled chicken salad and conditioned the waitress that every time she refilled my pint glass of fizzy water, she got a £1 chip. I got moderately stuck at one point - maybe £300-£400, but I was alert and sober - many of my fellow players were neither.

A brief sidebar on that point: this was the first time I'd pulled an all-nighter poker game since getting right with my health and exercise, some two years ago. People, it makes a difference. I kept watching myself for signs of fatigue, loss of focus, mis-reading hands or boards - but it never happened. I looked around the table and thought, "If I just sit here and play good poker, things are likely to turn around."

And so they did. I had permitted myself to play until 7:00am, to ensure that I got out to Heathrow in good time for my flight. In the hour from 6:00am to 7:00am, I recouped all the losses of the wee hours. The final large pot came no earlier than 6:30am, when I got £150 in the middle on an A-3-3 board, holding AQ. I knew my opponent could have a trey, but more likely had a worse ace. I tabled my hand and he said "I need a king to split or running deuces." None of the above happened and when I counted the chips I was literally £35 ahead.

Not to mention the £100 profit gained by abandoning the hotel room.

At 7:00am, I wandered out into the gray light of an early London morning and made my way to Pret a Manger for breakfast. Caught the Heathrow Express and used £75 of my profit to purchase a legroom upgrade on the trans-Atlantic flight. Woman across the aisle from me said, "God, I can never get any rest on these flights - it's 11:00 in the morning and we're supposed to sleep?"

I smiled and nodded, but I was thinking, "Nah man, it's easy. And you make a £100 profit by doing it this way." I put in my earplugs, put on the eyeshade, and slept the sleep of the +EV all-night gambler.


(Photo from a night in Isle of Man when I didn't stay up so late)

Lee Jones is the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars. He first joined the company in 2003 and has been involved in the professional poker industry for over 25 years. You can read his occasional tweets at @leehjones.
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