The Brit Pack

July 2011 cover

04 July 2011

Jesse May meets Jake Cody and Matt Perrins and spends some time on “The Pokerfarm”, the support network at the centre of British WSOP glory.

The final tables of the World Series of Poker this year have been all about the new British voice. It’s earnestness for the game that has them talking about hands and lines in place of bad luck and bad beats.

You only had to be on the rail to see how things have changed. Much has been made of the rising talent in British poker. But you had to be on the rail at the final tables during the first week of this year’s World Series of Poker to really see it. It wasn’t only about the winners, although the feel-good story of two lifelong friends from Rochdale winning bracelets within three days of one another provided a great spark.

It wasn’t only about those who were sitting on the top tier, although guys like Trickett, Akenhead, and Bord are happy to lead by results, with cheers and beers in hand. And it wasn’t only about the 50-strong souls under the age of 25 who never once stopped chanting, singing, and dancing while their man was still in the game, knowing for sure that their turn will come.

No. What the final tables of the World Series of Poker this year have been all about is the new British voice. It’s enthusiasm for poker born from a love of sport. It’s earnestness for the game that has them talking about hands and lines in place of bad luck and bad beats. You can forget about the pros you’ve seen on TV and the ones with their names on the tin. The new faces of poker were all surrounding the final tables during that first week of the WSOP. They’re young, they’re British and they love the game. The Brits have not just arrived, they represent the new generation of how poker should be played, and they have taken over.

Jake Cody and Matt Perrins: Fresh off a Win

It’s hard to imagine Jake Cody and Matt Perrins not being the number one story of the whole 2011 WSOP. All talk about British bracelets now centres on a small working class town in the north of England. In the space of three days, two friends who grew up only blocks apart in Rochdale and learned their poker in tandem have become the faces of British poker by both winning their first WSOP bracelets in emphatic fashion. For Jake, winning the 25k Heads Up event was the culmination of a whirlwind eighteen months that saw him clinch every leg of poker’s coveted Triple Crown.
For Matt, the 2500 2-7 NL bracelet was proof that his tournament poker game is so strong that he dominated a world class field in a variation that he had literally never played before the morning of Day 1. Magical stories, but far from coincidence. The results are payoffs for years of hard work and also the crest of a tidal wave of talent that roars throughout Britain.

Jake Cody and Matt Perrins aren’t just two guys from the same town. They can’t ever remember not knowing each other. “There’s actually a video of us roller skating at somebody’s birthday party when we were really young,” says Jake.

“Yeah, we were like six or seven,” adds Matt.

They’ve known each other long enough to finish the other’s sentences. And when talking about the old days, they always take turns telling the story.

Poker began for them at the age of sixteen. The boys played for a pub pool team every Sunday, and were invited by teammates to come and play five pound SnGs. “They weren’t like hustlers or anything,” says Jake. “It was just good banter.” Maybe good banter for the others, but Jake and Matt quickly found they had a knack for the game. “I don’t how,” Jake laughs, “but we used to win pretty much every single week.”

Says Matt, “I think we were really bad, but…”

Jake finishes the thought: “Maybe just slightly better than them. Maybe we were just more aggressive, that counts for a lot.”

Jake and Matt spent countless hours playing each other in heads up matches for a pound, eventually progressing to the internet where they would grind from each other’s houses. Learning together meant they improved faster, and as they started to meet other likeminded Brits the learning curve only intensified. As Matt says, “It’s one of the keys to being really good. You can’t be the best player you can be if you’re not talking hands over with really good players as well.”

Jake adds, “There’s quite a core of camaraderie at the moment among the UK players. Matt and I are probably right in the centre because we are friends with most of the young guys on the UK scene. Everybody’s good friends and everyone is talking about poker all of the time. There are a lot of really good British players coming through, players that we know really well that nobody has heard of who are going to win big things like EPTs and bracelets.”

Ask Matt and Jake why they are winning right now, and they both answer the same. It’s their competitive spirit. Says Jake, “We both have big hearts. When we play poker, we both just go with our gut and don’t get scared. I think we both come by that naturally.”

Matt agrees: “That’s a big key, to be honest. When you’re deep and you can see the finish line, you’ve just got to go for it and not be worried.”
This could all sound like bravado talk unless you’ve seen them in action. On his way towards winning his bracelet, Jake came up against Gus Hansen, who had won 12 straight matches against the best in the world entering their semi-final. Many thought the Dane unbeatable. Jake wiped the floor with him. In the final against Yevgeniy Timoshenko, the hottest tournament player in poker in the year 2009, Jake was again considered an underdog. But you wouldn’t have known it to watch the match, as Cody coolly dismantled the American to claim his bracelet. “It’s just a massive part of our mentality,” says Jake. “Second is like losing, basically.”

It’s the same with Matt. Even though he had virtually no experience in 2-7 No Limit, on the morning of the final he was cool as could be. And then he dispatched them all through sheer aggression, tournament strategy, and single mindedness. “Anything I play I want to win. I never want to come second or third. I want to win every single time. It’s like from back in the day when Jake and I would play heads up, you’d be annoyed for the rest of the day if you lost!”

But who would win if they played heads up for a pound right now? Says Jake, “Matt reads me a lot better than I read him. I wouldn’t like to get him heads up in a big tournament.” This time Matt adds nothing. He only smiles.

Sam Trickett and James Bord: The Top Tier

It’s 11am at a house in the Las Vegas suburbs just south of the Strip. The usual time for players to start down to the Rio for the twelve noon daily grind. But the Seniors event is on today, and none of the Pokerfarm players are even halfway towards qualified. So a large group is gathering for food, photos and plenty of kidding around. The mood is high. Everyone seems to be in the form of their lives.

Breakfast is already on. James Bord’s personal chef has been here since early, and poached eggs with beans on toast are on the go. Platters of fresh fruit abound. “Am I cooking bacon today?” she asks. “My boys usually eat healthy. I never cook bacon for them.”

The Poker Farm grinders come in, slightly muted until they’ve eaten. They had a late night at the club. “And we’re a man down,” says Alex Martin with a bright smile, not the least of which because he just cashed for 100k in the 1000 NL. Hence the night out. These guys are a tight unit – comrades. They don’t just live together for the summer, but grind in Manchester or Costa Rica year round. Alex Martin started as a mentor to guys like Eliot Peterman and Adam Reynolds. Now two years later they are among the most successful players on the iPoker and microgaming networks, internet forums proclaiming “Ctrlaltdegen” Reynolds the best player in the world at 6-max low limit. This WSOP trip is a bonus, a free shot at some tournament scores.

James Bord and Sam Trickett are in fine form. Bord gives a big slap on the back to Ben Vinson, who’s only been a couple of days in town but is already wielding a nice stack into a Day 2. “This guy five-bets even lighter than me,” he laughs. Bord is the current WSOP Europe champion, but also the Poker Farm founder. And Sam Trickett is the man who used The Pokerfarm as a springboard to take his rightful place at the top of the poker world.

For a man who doesn’t much like to talk, Bord is a bit of a philosopher king. “The old school players,” he says, “the effort they put into the game, their lifestyle choices, you compare that with someone like Jake Cody or Sam Trickett, it’s chalk and cheese. The young guys treat poker like a profession and they’re serious about their job. And with that comes far better results.”

Eighteen months ago, Trickett agreed to go to South Africa and mentor Pokerfarm players. Little did he know that putting in all those hands online would click his own game into place. As Sam says, “I was hungry because I was broke, and I was desperate for a result. I went to Cape Town and did a deal with James, where I got a package to play the World Series if everything went well. I never looked back from there.”

He certainly didn’t. Six cashes in the 2010 WSOP, more than three million dollars in cashes in 2011, and untold sums from pounding the highest stakes cash games in Macau. James is never shy in telling people that Sam is now one of the best in the world. And anyone who has watched Sam play over the last 12 months can’t help but agree.

Both James and Sam are big believers in the new crop of British players, of which they are part and parcel. “There are no pedestals in this group,” says Sam, “Everyone’s working together, trying to help each other’s game. That’s why we’re all getting good and that’s why the bracelets are flying in.” Both James and Sam were on the rail, cheering for Cody and Perrins on their big days. Says James of Jake’s final, “It was one of my best experiences in poker. You watched that British crowd with the older guys at the back. Pras, James Akenhead, Sam and me, not old but we feel like it with this crowd, basically generations going down. We have strength and depth from the new generation onwards.”

And the atmosphere on the rail. “The singing is great for poker,” Bord insists. “Poker needs to become a sport, where it’s more accessible to the supporters. The British crowd are leading the way to where poker becomes more exciting again.”

Trickett sees it all as a natural extension of British culture. “It comes from the football background,” he says. “How the whole country gets behind each other to go the World Cup, we all look at it as the same thing. We come to Las Vegas and we are all like a big team. We all want the team to do well when we get here. It’s brilliant.”

As for what part the Poker Farm plays in all of this, James says, “I was an online grinder as a young guy. But I never had any help. So when I had my bad days there was no one there. The Poker Farm gives players a bit of support. People need to realise it’s a job like any other. With good hard work and support you can do well at it, but if you take the other side of the coin it can be hell. Hopefully what the Farm can provide is a bit of stability for good young players.”

Sam Trickett knows that a lot of players look at him as living the dream. “I’ve got a few friends in a similar spot as I was in a year or two ago, and they’ve got the same opportunity right now to put themselves into the position I’ve got myself into. But a lot of them need to work harder on their game. Many people think they’re getting unlucky all the time and they don’t really keep on improving their game. I’m of the mind that in a live game there is no such thing as a standard play, that’s what I think. People don’t adjust as much as they should and that’s why a person can have a big edge.”

For his part, Bord seems committed to what the Pokerfarm is doing enough to overcome any short term results. “I just want to bet plus EV,” he says. “The boys will tell you that’s what it’s all about. A bit of upside variance is always nice. Hopefully we get a few good results.”

One thing is for sure. The way the British are playing poker, talking poker, and supporting each other loudly, the first couple of weeks of the World Series of Poker are only the first verses of a long song to come.

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