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Bucket & Spades

Bucket and Spades_big

Window cleaner Dean Balmforth, from Burnley, made a name for himself when he shook up the pros at the UK Poker Open.

Five hours before he played his first live poker match in front of the TV cameras, window cleaner Dean Balmforth was up a ladder. But once the cards were dealt in the UK Open, Dean found himself cleaning up against pros such as Alan Smurfit and Simon Zach. He finished fifth in his semi-final, put out when Luke Patten's K-K-K out-did his J-J. Padraig Parkinson, expert and TV commentator, described Dean as “one of the heroes of the tournament. I could watch the guy all night.” Dean, who's been playing for only two years, describes how he went from being a self-taught online player to one of revelations of the tournament.

Talk us through the online qualifier you won to reach the Open.
I was playing a $5 sit-and-go game and a reminder flashed up saying I had 10 minutes remaining to enter the qualifying tournament. I didn't have any money in my online account and I was overdrawn at the bank. Anyway, at the last minute I clicked through and was probably the last person on the table. There were about 80 people in it, and I ended up winning - from my overdraft. Not a bad investment! The session lasted three hours, finished around two in the morning. I had to wake my wife up when I won. I was jumping around on the bed - she wasn't best pleased.

Was reaching the UK Open your biggest achievement up to then?
Yes. The most I'd won previously was $900 and $800 in two $10 and $15 online tournaments.

You were up against four professionals in your televised heat. Were you nervous?
I was shaking all the way through - absolutely petrified. Two friends came down to watch and I asked them afterwards if they could tell I was shaking. They said no, but as soon as I put some chips in I'd start shaking.

Was it all skill? Or was there some luck involved?
In the qualifier I got lucky on a couple of hands. In the heat I thought I did play well, but you definitely do need a bit of luck.

What's the difference between playing online and playing live?
This level of game is a bit intimidating for me. At home you can build a chip count and walk away. I don't talk at the table. Here, nobody gave me any stick. They were all gents really. There were four pros on my table. Me and this other guy were online qualifiers and we had a bit of a chat. You feel out of your depth because it's their everyday job. It's definitely intimidating for a little man.

Describe your style.
I'm a fairly tight player, though sometimes I throw a crazy bet in. In my heat, I had 9-4. This other player put a big raise in, about $50,000. I re-raised him $60,000 and he folded. The next hand I got a pair of Aces, he raised with A-K and I re-raised him again. He pushed all in and that's what really won it for me. It's just timing. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.

How did you celebrate winning your heat?
We went back to the hotel and had a good old drink, something to eat, and then we were up until three o'clock playing poker. It's mad at the hotel. There are a lot of professionals and celebs playing there who've got quite a bit of cash but they don't play crazy money, just £10 or £20 sit-and-goes so everybody from all levels can get involved.

You were knocked out in your semi-final, going out in fifth place. What went wrong?
I made a mistake early on against Gideon Barnett. I played an A-8. On the flop it was A-J-something, so I had top pair. On the turn Gideon [who had J-4] got another Jack, giving him a set. I lost half my chip stack, so that was the hand that ruined the day for me. I felt pretty sick. I had $40,000 or $50,000 left and still stood a chance, but chasing the game against guys like that is a real uphill struggle. I was still shaking I was so nervous, but not quite as bad as the earlier round. I picked up a few little hands then I doubled-up with Aces, and got back up to about $70,000. Then I went all-in with J-J, which was what finished me.The guy after me [Luke Patten] had K-K and then he got another King on the turn, so by that stage it was all over.

So how much did you win at the Open?
I won $10,000 in total, which is not bad after starting off with $80 in the qualifier.

What tips did you pick up at the Open?
When I got to the Open I was talking to [professional] Theo Dalton and he said the only advice I can give you is to take your time, take 10 seconds before you make a decision. I've played with mates, and you tend to just take your cards and throw them. You don't even think, but that's good advice. Have a look, think about it - that did help me.

Has appearing at the Open sharpened your game?
Yes, I've just won another qualifier, at the Northern Lights in Blackpool. It was just a $30 satellite and I won a $1,000 entry into a $100,000 tournament.

How did you get into poker?
I started watching poker on TV and fell in love with it. Then I got a computer and started playing. Nothing serious, just $5 and $10 games. I taught myself, just by watching and playing - god, probably two-and-half thousand sit-and-go games. I played quite a bit but didn't win much money.

Who is your favourite professional player?
Daniel Negreanu, and I like Tony G. He's a bit of a rebel, gives everyone stick and it's a funny table when he's playing.

And how does your wife feel now about your poker?
Someone suggested that I should see if I could sell my ticket to the finals because I didn't think I would win my heat. But my wife, just said go for it. She was chuffed for me.

What next?
I'm just a window cleaner from up North. I won't be turning pro - I don't think so, anyway. But I'm going to have another go next year. There are quite a few qualifiers about, so I'm definitely going to have another crack.