Standing on the edge of the new PokerStars Live Lounge, which occupies a balcony space at the top of The Hippodrome Casino in London, staring down at the astonishing view of the vast gaming space below - spinning wheels, laughing people, that famous stage - I thought: "What an excellent new poker room this would be, if only I weren't scared of heights."
But I'm not sure it's meant for me anyway, this new poker room. I stopped playing poker for pure fun several years ago; now, it is a serious endeavour requiring particular stakes, particular players and particular situations.
The new card room at the Hippodrome, meanwhile, is clearly built for fun. The Hippodrome itself is a social space, and always has been. It is huge, with a spangly bar, a smart restaurant and a very good smoking terrace for those who like that sort of thing.
It's somewhere for people to go for a night out (or for an hour's cocktails and gambling as part of a night out). The poker room within this casino is clearly built for those who want to play a light-hearted, low or medium stakes tournament, making friends and having a drink at the same time. Not those who want to play in dark corners with grim determination.
I was there for the launch party, last Monday night, where we played a media tournament with journalists, bloggers and celebrity guests (Dexter Fletcher knocked me out, and won an iPad for his trouble), while familiar faces from the UK poker scene played a parallel tournament, trying to win tickets to a big game in Marbella. Certainly for that night, British poker's centre of gravity had shifted into the West End.
Will it stay there? Well, times have changed. It used to be that there was only really room for one casino poker game in London; if one card room thrived, another was ailing. One opened, another closed.
But it's not like that since 'the poker revolution'. There are thousands of people who want to play live, in all sorts of different ways. Some want to play for big money, some for small; some want to play tournaments, others cash games; some want to play Texas Holdem (like you see on TV), others the rarer variants like Omaha, hi-lo and stud. Some want to play in discreet parts of town, others in the buzzy West End. Some want to play in a hushed, anonymous atmosphere, others in a room that feels like a party.
Certainly, this new card room opening is a signal of faith in poker's future: that it's continuing to grow, and that young people and new players are continuing to see it as an enjoyable social choice, not just a dream of gold at the end of the rainbow.Suggest a correction