None of these poker faces

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There are some facial expressions around this table that wouldn’t look out of place in a hospital waiting room. 

Pained grimaces, contemplative stares into the middle distance, accusing glances to the heavens. 

You have to keep reminding yourself – these are the lucky ones. 

This is the final table of the PokerStars.net New Zealand Poker Tour Queenstown Snowfest and everyone who’s made it is taking home at least $11,000. 

The winner will pocket about $110,000 – almost triple the average annual New Zealand wage. 

But Aussie Dave Allan – who eventually wins the tournament – spends most of the evening looking like he’s been told his dog has died. 

“You really look like you’re enjoying yourself,” offers opponent Ken Damlakian, a tad sledgingly. 

It turns out Allan actually has the flu and is suffering. But for the rest of the table, their suffering is self-inflicted. 

It is a strange game Texas Hold’em poker – like a stunning but demanding French girlfriend, with bi-polar and a vicious temper, who likes a drink, and has a good left hook. 

It is well documented that it can send you loopy. Many of the top professionals now hire sports psychologists. It is an industry in itself. 

When you do lose it and start flinging bets like a monkey, it’s called ‘tilting’. 

And I’m surprised when it gets down to Allan and Damlakian that they can keep their calm. 

There are about 20 people surrounding the table in SkyCity Queenstown Casino’s tournament room. It’s late and everyone is on wine or spirits. 

Allan has about six mates in his corner, other young Australian professional poker players. 

They’ve been gently ribbing him about his sullen approach but cheering now and again when he wins a big hand. 

Behind Damlakian are two of his friends, drinking and chatting constantly and odd groups of people wandering in to see what’s going on – some munching Fergburgers. 

It must be difficult to concentrate – they’ve been at it for ten hours. 

Then there’s trying to get a read on your opponent, figure out their tendencies, their range of cards and possible actions. 

One of the surprising things about the two or so hours these two play is how often neither has anything, or maybe just a small pair in their hands. 

When they do both get a decent hand – Damlakain with two pair and Allan with a flush – it’s all over for another year.
Allan manages to break into a smile, just about.