If you have any knowledge of low-cost air travel in Europe, you will know all about that airline from Ireland that pretty much just prods you in the back with a stick until you’ve walked to your destination (and then charges you for the privilege), and also that other one that actually isn’t from the Netherlands despite its vivid orange livery.
The idea of both is that you get to the places you want to go but for significantly cheaper, but also that you can pay for certain upgrades that make you feel one notch higher than the real plebs. On the orange airline (by far the better bet, by the way), you can cough up for so-called “Speedy Boarding”, which gives you a different queue at the check-in desk plus a different side of rope to stand when getting on. It’s money well spent.
At Gatwick Airport in London on the eve of the main event of the PokerStars and Monte-Carlo® Casino European Poker Tour Grand Final, there was a very tall, thin man, wearing a plain T-shirt, comfortable trousers and complicated trainers standing in the Speedy Boarding line. A couple of hours later, he was installed on a plane to Nice, his early embarkation complemented by one of the emergency exit seats. It is a godsend for the lanky; even a two-hour flight sitting as a grasshopper is deeply unpleasant. The man was idly flicking through a magazine, any troubles apparently far from his mind.
Three days later, that same man was spotted in a pizzeria on the Monaco promenade, calmly sipping at a glass of water and quietly sharing conversation with friends. He was wearing a similar plain T-shirt, similar plain trousers and similar complicated trainers. Someone walking past whispered to their girlfriend: “You see that man over there? No, the one on that table. He has won more than $17m playing poker. No, not that man, that man. Seventeen million. He’s one of the best in the world.”
The girlfriend seemed unimpressed, sceptical even. But on they walked and the man sat still.
Flash forward another seven days and that same man, wearing the exact same expression of attentive disinterest, is sitting in one of eight comfortable leather chairs around a poker table in the centre of a space-age television set. His leg occasionally jiggles beneath the table, and occasionally he is required to flick a chip out of his stack and into a pot, but otherwise he is about as unmoved as he was in the airport or pizzeria.
He has a hairstyle that is probably politely described as monkish, a gold wedding band on his finger and today is wearing a black zip-up sweater, which conceals a plain green T-shirt. Every now and then he stretches his spindly arms above his head, maybe yawning, and holding them there like a child “becoming a tree” in a dance class. Otherwise, it’s the same as it has ever been; no words, no changes in expression, even when the stacks of chips grow or shrink or shrink or grow.
The tournament the man is playing is the €100,000 Super High Roller event and there are only nine players left. The man is one of them. If another two players are eliminated, and one of them is not the man, the man will win another €218,300 at least, and maybe up to €1,746,400. Assuming the guy whispering to his girlfriend was right, that could put the man close to $20m in tournament winnings, which would be the most of any player in the world except the top two finishers in the One-Drop in Las Vegas last summer.
The man continues to go about his business today almost in silence and without any fanfare at all.
The players entering the Super High Roller event here get a hotel room given to them for the duration of the tournament, as well as a full concierge service (including food). It means that this man may be be looking at a list of expenses that runs to one pizza and one Speedy Boarding supplement.
Who is that man? I do hope the man can afford it.
Keep an eye on the Super High Roller page, which includes all the hand-by-hand details and latest chip counts.