Daily Express

Poker-playing grandad who scooped $1m

John Hesp, a 64-year-old caravan salesman from Hull, has reached the final of the World Series in Las Vegas and could even take his winnings to $8m

- By Virginia Blackburn

IN SOME ways it’s a modern day fairytale. An amateur poker player, who has never played the game for more than £10, has found himself in the spotlight at the most famous tournament in the world. At the very least John Hesp, a 64-year-old British grandfathe­r, will take home $1million (£770,000) but if his luck is in later today he could walk away with more than $8million from the 888poker-sponsored World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas. Little wonder that he has just written on social media: “I wanted to let you know that I am having the most surreal experience of my life.”

And who could fail to root for John, a caravan salesman who has been enchanting onlookers with his snazzy jacket and natty trilby? “I am to poker what Donald Trump is to politics – an amateur,” he told Pokernews. com. Mind you, if he does half as well as President Trump has done, amateur or not, who’s complainin­g?

Now in the final after the 7,200 players who entered the tournament have been whittled down to nine, he could become the oldest winner of the World Series since 1974.

Nor is he the only Brit at the gaming tables: former sound engineer Jack Sinclair, from London, is also in with a chance. The 26-year-old also has a guaranteed sum, in his case £408,000.

But it is John who intrigues. A native of Bridlingto­n, Hull, he first started playing cards with his sisters Ann and Carolyn when they were children, graduating to seven card stud poker as an adult before switching over to Texas Hold’em after it became popular in the UK.

But you could hardly call him a high-stakes gambler: playing once a month at Napoleon’s Casino in Hull, his total winnings until now were just over £1,500, while his biggest one-off win was £785 last month.

But now he has turned into an overnight hero: “I am living the dream,” he declares. “I wanted to play the tournament to tick it off my bucket list of goals. Overnight I have become a global poker superstar – completely by accident. I have been getting messages of support from all around the world.”

John has four children and seven grandchild­ren and the dream began about three months ago when he confided to his wife Mandy that playing the Las Vegas tournament was one of his ambitions. She gave him her blessing and off he went, one of the 7,221 men and women who paid $10,000 to take part.

“I said it was on my bucket list and asked if she would mind,” John explains. “We have been together 20 years and married for 13 years and in all that time we have never spent this long apart. I have promised her a holiday when I get back. She can go anywhere she wants. But she will probably choose our caravan holiday home in Pateley Harrogate.”

Caravans are in fact John’s real preoccupat­ion in life. He establishe­d the Bridlingto­n Caravan Centre 31 years ago and built it into a business selling static caravan homes with a turnover of £10million. Poker is very much second, with John describing himself as a “recreation­al player”, but his natural talent is now clearly coming out.

“I have been bold and unorthodox in my playing style,” he says.

“Since the start profession­als from all over the world have been coming up to me saying, ‘We simply can’t work you out.’ And that’s the way I like it. I have never read a poker book or had a coaching lesson.

I go with Bridge, near the natural instincts of my head and my gut.”

No poker face he. John has been nonplussin­g fellow players with his friendline­ss and openness, even offering to show them his cards after he has won a pot even though he is under absolutely no obligation to do so.

“The whole week has been about interactin­g with players,” he says. “Some of the profession­als are normally very quiet. Even they’ve been opening up and smiling and starting to laugh. If I have achieved anything I like to think I’ve managed to get some of them to lighten up and have fun while they’re working.”

At the outset he had no idea how far he would go. “This is something I’d quite wanted to do for a while now and when I started just hoped I could make it into the top 1,000.

“I would like to thank my wife Mandy and all my family and friends back home for supporting me in this and hope that I’ve done them, Bridlingto­n and East Yorkshire proud.”

HE HAS certainly done that. “I won a bit and lost a bit – but only very small stakes,” he says of his days starting out. “Then 10 years ago I played a live tournament for the first time at Napoleon’s. Once I had planned my trip to Vegas I went a few more times for practice and last month I won the tournament and £785 in prize money, the most I have ever won – before this week… But it was still my dream to play the Main Event. It is just something I wanted to do.” The rather natty appearance is chance too. The floral jacket was loaned to him by a friend of his son-in-law and the hat was purchased to protect him from the Nevada sun. And John is sanguine about it all: “I came here to play poker the John Hesp way and I’ve had the most awesome, life-changing experience.”

 ?? Picture: WWW.888POKER.COM ??
Picture: WWW.888POKER.COM
 ??  ?? BIG DEAL: John Hesp, top and right, is proving himself in the toughest poker tournament in the world
BIG DEAL: John Hesp, top and right, is proving himself in the toughest poker tournament in the world

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