Barny Boatman Looks Back on the Poker Million – Part 1
12 November 2018
PokerBrave (1135 articles)

The Poker Million (branded as Poker Mi££ion) hosted the first-ever live televised final table, showing the hole cards without delay. It was broadcasted to an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide according to the BBC, and rerun on prime time in the United States the next day.

The concept was simple: the winner would take home a million dollars.

Barny Boatman has been there and seen it all in poker. In the year 2000, he was at that table.

This is the story of the first Poker Million.

“In my life, I’ve been in about four or five finals where the first prize was a million. Two of them were the original Poker Million final and the last Poker Million final.”

“I felt like if I put a gun to my own head, I might make the right decision.”

The final Poker Million was won in 2010 by Gus Hansen for a million dollars, with no-one else at the table winning so much as their taxi fare home. It wasn’t that different in the year 2000. The Millenium bug was poker, and everyone was going to catch it. TV had come calling for cards.

“The original Poker Million in the Isle of Man was almost the same [as all or nothing]. The winner got a million; second prize was £100k. I came sixth and received £14k. It was painful. Twice in those finals, I’ve been four or five places away from the million and won $14k, less than the buy-in between the two events.”

While the 2010 version would end up costing $25,000 to enter, a decade earlier it was £6,670. The organizers, Ladbrokes and Sky Sports according to the book Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker by Jim McManus, had guaranteed a million-dollar top prize. But what if fewer players turned up to the capital town of Douglas on the Isle of Man? It may have been the birthplace of the Bee Gees, but with a population of just 25,000, the only Night Fever in Douglas was inside the Gala Casino.

“They’d guaranteed a million for first, regardless of how many runners there were. They had to add some money on to have some prizes in the final apart from the first prize in order that the event didn’t implode. They couldn’t guarantee extra players being in the Isle of Man; you couldn’t nip down the road.”

It would be current partypoker LIVE President John Duthie who won it, a player Boatman knew well. But everyone at the final table was a character.

“There was also Terry ‘The Sugar Cube’ Tuil, who didn’t like jacks. Tony Bloom was there, of course, as well as Ian Dobson from the Midlands and Gary Lent, an American player. It was a six-handed final table.”

Winning would have meant a £1,000,000 payday, unheard of in 2000. Finishing sixth for just $14,000 hurt. But Boatman did pioneer a piece of gameplay during the final itself.

“When we were about two tables out, I called the clock on myself. People do it now, but no-one had ever done it before. It was partly showmanship, but there was a situation where I had all the information I needed, and I had to make a decision. I felt like if I put a gun to my own head, I might make the right decision. It was a case of having lost track of what my instinctive decision was. By putting myself under the clock, I thought my instincts might kick back in. The tournament director was taken aback. He wasn’t sure if it was allowed. But I could see him thinking ‘Well, why not?’

“If I tell them to roller-skate naked across the table and do a somersault, they’ll do it.”

Boatman made the right fold. But having made the final, he was first out of the door. As it happened, that was the way things were supposed to have worked out.

“I’d been asked to join the commentary team before the event. Then I made the final. They got Liam Flood in. But then I busted first. Me and John Duthie were the shortest stacks. I found an ace and had to go with it, lost to a bigger ace, then went into the commentary box. We had Phil Hellmuth in the box along with Jesse May and me. Phil was coming up with ideas on the spot. The director, who’d worked in sports before but not poker, called down: ‘Tell the dealer to deal the flop, then count to ten before dealing the turn cards, give us a chance to talk about it.’ He was choreographing it to make it more dramatic. All this stuff that is standard was being invented live. Not on a thirty-minute delay, 100% live.”

It was a neat irony that TV producer John Duthie would go on to win it. Boatman recalls his maverick ways back then.

Duthie versus Tuil in the Poker Millions 2000 (Barny Boatman and Jesse May in the commentary booth)

“John Duthie played extraordinarily aggressive and always amazingly timed. He did things that you weren’t supposed to do. He’s since told me that he wasn’t thinking as a player, but more like a TV producer to make it dramatic. I don’t quite buy that, but it’s a great rubdown to all the people trying to win a million!”

Barry Hearn, now in charge of livening up World Snooker, was involved in the first Poker Million.

“I remember saying to him ‘These poker players have all paid their own money and you can’t assume that people will be happy about showing their cards and making a TV show.’ He said, ‘Listen, Barny, it’s TV. if I tell them to roller-skate naked across the table and do a somersault, they’ll do it.’”

“John Duthie played extraordinarily aggressive and always amazingly timed.”

If ever there was to be a Poker Million rivalry defined by the passing of time, it was between Boatman and Tony Bloom, now the owner of Premier League team Brighton and Hove Albion.

“Two of us who were on that final table were on the last final table 10 years later, Tony Bloom and myself. Somebody asked him whether he’d be interested in doing a deal and I was quite friendly with him. It wasn’t me who asked, but he said to me by way of explanation, ‘The money isn’t as much to me, and I feel like I’m giving up an edge if I take the pressure of other people.’ And I think that’s absolutely fair enough.”

Boatman only remembers one other thing about Bloom, but he remembers it very well.

“He was the one who broke my heart in the 2010 final.”

To be continued in Barny Boatman Looks Back on the Poker Million – Part 2.

Poker Mi££ion 2000

Casino: Gala Casino, Douglas (Isle of Man)
Date: November 16, 2000
Buy-in: £6,670
Entries: 156
Total prize pool: £1,250,000
Overlay: £314,000
Position Player Country Prize in £ Prize in $
1 John Duthie United Kingdom £1,000,000 $1,426,330
2 Teddy Tuil Israel £100,000 $142,633
3 Ian Dobson United Kingdom £50,000 $71,317
4 Tony Bloom United Kingdom £25,000 $35,658
5 Gary Lent United States £15,000 $21,395
6 Barny Boatman United Kingdom £14,000 $19,969
7 Mohammed Barkatul United Kingdom £10,000 $14,263
8 Ali Sarkeshik United Kingdom £8,000 $11,411
9 Simon Trumper United Kingdom £6,000 $8,558
10 Dave Welch United Kingdom £2,000 $2,853