PokerStars Festival Dublin: Earning it with Michael Duberry
The player list for Day 1B of the PokerStars Festival Dublin today featured three names very familiar with British sports fans.
In addition to the PokerStars Ambassador Stephen Hendry, who has played once or twice before, the former Premier League footballers Michael Duberry and Wayne Bridge sat down for their debuts with a PokerStars logo on their chests.
Both are accustomed to making debuts: in professional careers spanning 20 years (Duberry) and 14 years (Bridge), they represented a combined 15 different teams across all levels of the football pyramid. Both are probably best known for their time at Chelsea, for whom they each made 87 appearances and became household names. (Bridge also represented England 36 times.)
But life after football is not always easy. The come-down from the dizzying highs of top-level sport can be abrupt and brutal, and the sudden end of long-entrenched routines can have severe repercussions on former players' physical and mental health. Poker has answered the call for several former high-level sportspeople, looking to sate an innate competitive instinct in an environment not quite so physically demanding.
For Duberry, poker is purely social but it would be difficult to find anybody who gets more of a thrill out of the game.
"I'm just buzzing," he said, ending his first three levels of play here at the Regency Hotel. "I love the atmosphere. I'm a poker fan. I love poker. I love what it does."
He added: "I love the whole not getting flustered, not letting a bad beat ruin your head, never showing any emotion. I use it as escapism. It's a different world, playing, keeping your wits sharp."
Duberry is now 41 years old, and last kicked a football in anger four years ago. But his thirst for silverware is undiminished, and he has had his eyes firmly fixed on the PokerStars "Spadie" trophies on offer to winners of events here.
He kicked off last night with a tilt at the media tournament, a freeroll event designed to allow journalists to hobnob with the special guests. But for Duberry, it was his first chance at a trophy and he approached the tournament with rare gusto.
"I came here and I thought: 'I want that trophy,'" Duberry said. "I saw Stephen Hendry won it in London and I thought: 'I want that trophy.' If I won a trophy, I can say: 'It's down there, in the book: Michael Duberry, PokerStars Media Event winner.' They don't give the trophy away, you have to win it."
Duberry made it to third place in last night's event, before perishing at the hands of Patrick Clarke, the eventual winner. Chris Moneymaker was second, and the chance to cross swords with the Team PokerStars Pro offered Duberry further evidence that poker may now be his game.
"All the different people you're playing against: rubbing shoulders with a World Champion, rubbing shoulders with a milkman, rubbing shoulders with a CEO, pitting your wits. It's all a level playing field. I love the social element to it."
He later related a story about playing a tournament in a club in Mayfair, where he found himself alongside Jimmy White, the snooker player, Kieren Fallon, the jockey, and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. "Jimmy White was like, 'I recognise you,'" Duberry said. "I was like, 'I recognise you too, Jimmy!'"
While many former footballers go into the world of coaching or punditry at the end of their playing careers, Duberry has steered a slightly different path. He is a trained executive coach and works mostly in the corporate sector, visiting companies to give keynote speeches and addressing leadership conferences.
"I take everything I know from football," Duberry said. "Footballers have a set of skills that they don't realise. They're resilient, they're competitive, they can bounce back. They're adaptable to change. I use that. I go into businesses and I help them think differently. In that world, they all think the same. I'm saying, 'Here's another way of thinking and if you think differently, there might be another way of solving a problem.'"
Duberry makes a very easy comparison with poker players and says he respects the level of professionalism in the modern game. "Elite poker players, elite footballers, what makes them different? There's a set of skills in them, the way they work hard, put the time in, the practice.
"To be really elite, like most things, you have to put the time and the work in. The level I'm at [in poker] is social. Maybe you get lucky, you run deep in a tournament. But to be consistent like some of these players, and to run deep time after time after time. Their minds are ticking, ticking, ticking. Like any elite thing, if it's football, basketball or poker. You have to put the work in."
It's something he admits he is also trying to instil in his children, revealing that game time at the Duberry household resembles that of the Fast Show's Competitive Dad. "I play Connect 4 with my kids, they have to earn the win," he said. "I play Rubik's Magic. They have to earn a win. Playstation? I don't like, 'Let him win.' No. They have to earn it. Always competitive."
The good news for Duberry's son is that his dad won an iPhone 6 for his exploits in the media tournament last night, and the prize will be passed down a generation.
As for the prizes in the PokerStars Festival Main Even, their winners won't be known until late tomorrow. But if Duberry gets one, you'll know that he earned it.