IPT Malta: The short but glittering reign of Berardino Palmieri

There's a rule in the British Parliament that states Members of Parliament cannot formally accuse each of being drunk. It's only been broken once in recent memory, in 1983.

Back then the late Alan Clark MP, a maverick parliamentarian and diarist, arrived at the dispatch box to give a late night speech on employment figures after a session of intense wine tasting. Opposition MP Claire Short, aware of the rule, stated instead that Clark was "incapable". Clark waved off such nonsense, put his head down and shoved on with the speech, admitting in his diaries later that perhaps the wine had gone to his head.

Now, I don't want to say that IPT Main Event chip leader Berardino Palmieri is drunk on duty, because he isn't. But I can't quite find the right euphemism for being intoxicated by life such as he is right now. Physically he's the chip leader and delighted. Mentally he's already in Disneyworld.

tournament_room_eptmalta_ipt_d2.jpgPalmieiri's kingdom, before his untimely demise

It's not usually the one thing to act so confidently in what are still jus the early stages of this event. But Palmieri doesn't care. For in the 18 and a half years that he's been around, he's never been chip leader of an IPT Main Event, because he's only played two of them, including this one. So right now he's as proud as hell to be the youngest IPT chip leader ever (who knew we kept records like that?) And why not? As far as he's concerned the chip lead makes him a king. So he came back today determined to act like one.

It started as he took his seat, his hair nearly gelled, a sweater round his shoulders, shirt open at the neck with sunglasses hanging from the third button down, and a pack of Marlboro Reds in his breast pocket.

Berardino_Palmieri_iptmalta_d2.jpgBerardino Palmieri

He swigged what looked like a cocktail ("no, no, it's just coke"). While that raised eyebrows, his demeanour was more Godfather than hangover. He sat side on to the table, left arm draped over the back of his chair, right arm riffling chips on the table, with his chips arranged in a large triangular block with a phallic tower on top, tipped with a single red chip worth 25k.

He set about shaking hands with every floorman who walked past. They were doing their job, but to Palmieri, they were paying their respects (except for one woman who left muttering something). For he was chip leader, lord of his domain and worthy of the admiration of others. And to prove he would be a benevolent ruler he wished everyone good luck, making a circle with his finger to let those at his table know he meant them.

With the cards in the air he set about picking up where he left off. But whether it was nerves, adrenaline, or just his natural manner, his hands shook as he moved chips forward. It was as though his chips were electrified. As he played he leaned his head forward, as if walking into a strong wind. But even with the shaking, noticed by all, and the leaning, he was winning pots again, to the bewilderment of those who dared tangle with him in the first place.

His reaction was always the same, blithe cheerfulness. He winked at one player he beat, as if they were keeping a secret from the others. Yesterday he bluffed a player and then insisted that player buy him a beer. The man did.

So who knew what this 18-year-old Midas was capable of today, seemingly invulnerable in spirit, if not at cards. In Clark's case he never really achieved the heights of British politics he envisaged for himself before he died in 1999, but to this day he remains one of its most entertaining diarists. Being drunk on life at poker's despatch box seemed to suit Palmieri, or at least it did before he crashed out a few moments ago. His "hangover" will leave no lingering effects, except maybe on those who played against him, for they couldn't help but like him immediately.

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Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.