What did your father tell you when you were five years old? Eat your greens, tidy your room and don’t tell your mother where I keep those, OK. It was probably the same in the Roberts household in London in the 1990s, but there were other lessons being handed down from father Ben to son Jamie, which turned out to be far more important.
“We started just looking at five cards, and you had to say which was the best hand,” Ben Roberts said today in Sanremo, remembering the early poker tutorials he imparted to his then 5-year-old progeny.
“He gave me all the life lessons in poker, actually,” Jamie said. “About etiquette and how to act at the table. You’ve got to learn the other things yourself, really.”
Ben and Jamie Roberts are among English poker’s elite father and son duos. Ben, who is now 57, has been playing the game for a living for nearly 40 years. Jamie, whose first visit to a poker room was on his 18th birthday (ie, the very earliest time he possibly could), is now into his sixth year as a pro. He has never done anything else.
Both Roberts prefer cash games, typically in London’s casinos, but they have recently decided to hit the tournament scene together a bit more frequently, bringing them to Sanremo.
“We heard from friends in the Vic and the Palm Beach that this is one of the best value EPTs,” Jamie said. “They were right; it’s been a great tournament so far.”
He added: “Cash is the less variance game. There’s less emotional variance. But tournaments are how you win a house in five days, so you’ve got to play them.”
Jamie finished Day 1 with 144,700 chips, close to the overall lead. Ben had 26,200 but plenty of experience to know there’s no value in hitting the panic button any time soon. He took a steady approach to the early proceedings, sitting on a table featuring Dimitar Danchev and Jason Wheeler, among others.
But Roberts has dealt with sharks before.
Over the course of that 40-year career, Roberts has accumulated close to $1.4m in tournament cashes and played in all the very biggest cash games. His closest skirmish with outright superstardom came in 1998, where he finished sixth in the World Series Main Event and was eliminated by the eventual champion Scotty Nguyen.
Both Ben and Jamie continue to travel to Vegas every summer, where the younger Roberts slakes a thirst for enormous tournaments, while his father keeps it steady in the Bellagio. They were also both in Monaco for the EPT Grand Final last year, where the random seat draw first delivered the inevitable and put them on the same table.
“It had a positive effect actually,” Ben said. “We had to play straight.” It’s a charming thought that you save your best bluffs for the others and keep it A-B-C in the family.
Jamie had arguably the best teacher he could ever hope for for lessons about etiquette and table manners. Ben’s nickname is “Gentleman” and he is impossibly highly regarded by his peers. Today in Sanremo, he wears salmon pink, with a blue blazer hanging from the back of his chair, peering at the cards over rimless reading glasses.
When an opponent wins a hand, he taps the table graciously and pushes the chips away. He has a Skrill stress ball ready and waiting in his cup holder, but it barely seems to ever have been squashed.
Jamie displays a few more of the trappings of the younger pro: an chunky watch, a signet ring and a T-shirt whose v-neck redefines plunging. But he too is the measure of calm authority at a table that represents the full diversity of the EPT.
The Russian internet sensation Tatiana Barausova is there. Dori Yacoub is straight from the Lebanese old school, alongside Paul Berende, the Dutch high roller. It’s often mentioned how today’s young players can see as many hands in a few months as the old grinders have seen in decades-long careers, but it also applies to characters. A single trip to an EPT Main Event can introduce as many nationalities as it used to take 40 years to encounter.
Of course if anyone would know, his name would be Roberts.
Full coverage of EPT Sanremo is on the main EPT Sanremo page. There’s hand-by-hand coverage in the panel at the top and feature pieces below.