South west London has a rich history of gambling and card playing.
Although the notion of card clubs has a distinctly dated feel, there are still plenty of licensed card rooms around the capital catering for those whose urge to test their skills and their nerves remains unsatisfied by the digital trappings of the 21st century.
Increasingly poker players and blackjack fans are able to get their kicks online.
Barely a week goes by it seems without another online casino opening its virtual doors, but there remains a core of gaming fans for whom the real world, face to face intimacy of a real live game simply cannot be matched.
For those hard-core players, London’s card clubs represent the last bastion of a bygone era.
Age-old games take a modern form
In truth London’s card rooms are still doing good business. It’s just that the ubiquity of card play – so much a feature of pre-Victorian London for example – has been replaced by more contemporary pastimes.
And while it’s easy to imagine a kind of Arthur Daley back room, backstreet business today’s card rooms are fully licensed, fully audited and self-consciously respectable.
The Mint card room at the Genting Casino, Cromwell Mint, is one of south west London’s more relaxed gaming rooms.
Ordinarily there are three or four games in sessions per evening, with a steady band of regulars rubbing shoulders with any unfamiliar faces.
Opened in May 2010, the Mint’s staple is poker, although blackjack is not unknown.
Game buy-ins are in the mid-range – typically between £40-£60 – although higher-staked special events are a regular feature.
Blackjack is back
There appears to be a backlash against the way poker has become so prominent in recent years.
While poker is undeniably in vogue, blackjack’s popularity is founded on the basis of a game that pares down the simplest of playing mechanisms while losing none of the strategic complexity that a game of 52 cards allows.
Blackjack the game of choice for many serious professionally-minded gamblers.
The game has a rich history and a distinctly quirky place in contemporary culture.
Blackjack has its own mythology and a raft of films and books themed around the tantalisingly straightforward demand to make 21.
South west London hosted the London Blackjack Tournament in May 2015 at The Park Tower, Knightsbridge, which provides another, larger and undeniably more lavish gaming room dedicated to card play.
Knightsbridge is hardly short of high-end gaming rooms, with the Gloucester at Harrington Gardens among those offering the full West End luxury experience.
More modest entertainment is to be found further south.
Surbiton’s Takeagamble makes no bones about what it is about and it provides the setting for regular poker nights as well as blackjack events.
Cashinos in Morden, where you find the odd unusual occurrence, similarly have rooms set aside for those who –to coin a phrase – like to put their cards on the table.
Both venues could be described as mid-range in terms of the regular level of players they attract.
More modestly perhaps, and more in keeping with the historical roots of London’s card rooms, is the Pollards Hill Poker Club (PHPC).
This is the sort of down to earth, low stakes setting that once upon a time would have been the staple of night-time entertainment throughout the city.
The club is privately run, and although it is staged in the unlikely setting of the Royal Surrey Social Club, it regularly attracts 30 players to its bi-weekly gatherings.
Events are held on four nights a week, Thursday through Sunday.
Stakes are low – certainly by West End standards – with micro-stakes 50p games a regular staple.
For anyone interested in exploring their potential as a poker player, the PHPC and its ilk represent an affordable, forgiving and thoroughly sociable environment in which to do so.
Gambling goes mainstream
Internet gaming is enjoying a remarkable global surge – figures suggest that the rate of global growth is in double figures, just as it has been for the past decade.
The 24/7 availability and convenience of being able to play online, combined with extensive advertising, has given games such as poker and blackjack an exposure that they only previously enjoyed in niche areas.
The result is a groundswell of interest in all forms of card play, and that is spilling over into the mainstream.
Casinos and card rooms are reporting growing numbers of new players passing through their doors.
In the process, the age-old business of gathering together in private rooms in order to pass the time playing with cards has assumed something close to a fashion status.
If the current level of interest is anything to go by, London’s rich history of gambling and card playing looks set to extend well into the future.
Picture courtesy of Images Money, with thanks