|I love meeting people, I love having a story at the bar. Not drinking’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done|
If you’re going to precede your name with the word ‘Mad,’ you’d better have a good story to back it up. In the case of UK poker stalwart Marty Wilson, he earned the nickname at the tender age of 17, having it bestowed upon him by no less an organ than the Wolverhampton Express & Star.
The reason? Finding himself being pursued through Dudley Zoo by a group of feral West Bromwich Albion fans, the teenage Wilson promptly leapt into the less threatening polar bear pit, clambered out the other side unscathed, negotiated the llama cage and duly made his escape. The local paper picked up on the story and the name Mad Marty was coined.
Several decades later Marty is still involved in football, in arguably less threatening circumstances, providing post-match entertainment for Manchester United’s prawn sandwich brigade. It’s a routine that has been finely honed on the UK poker circuit over the years, where the larger-than-life Wilson has seemingly been a fixture since day one, variously as a player, tournament director, corporate host and raconteur.
Marty’s involvement in poker goes back at least as far as 1978, when Wolverhampton played host to what he believes was England’s first ever Hold’em tournament. A pot-limit affair, the contest saw 20 or so runners take their seats alongside Marty, including the likes of Mickey Wernick and Surinder Sunar. In another first, albeit two decades later, Marty appeared on Channel Four’s seminal Late Night Poker – playing in every series – where he was later joined by such big names as Phil Hellmuth.
Even during my relatively brief tenure in the world of poker, Marty has been a frequent presence, notably during the World Series, where he was the genial host of Brit refuge, the Ladbrokes Lounge. Something of a force of nature, Marty could be found organising sit-and-gos, pool, darts and karaoke, as well as indulging his obsession with trivia by hosting various quizzes. It was during one of these in 2006 that he created PokerPlayer folklore by posing the question of how long it would take to spend a night in each of the Rio hotel’s rooms. Much to our amusement, model Leilani took a conservative stab at six weeks. The answer: seven years.
Marty certainly knows a bit about the Rio, having claimed the world record for throwing a playing card the furthest distance by launching an Ace off the hotel roof. Four hours and some hypotenuse calculations later, it was discovered to have travelled 161m. Marty claims to have had seven entries in the Guinness Book of Records, and even drank 20 pints of the black stuff in an hour for a $10,000 bet. And just to maintain a balanced diet, he once wolfed down 36 cockroaches in a minute.
Despite his reputation, Marty is a solid player with a slew of cashes to his name. However, a lot of his time is now spent directing tournaments instead of playing in them. In fact the last time I bumped into him was in a TV studio in Maidstone where he was overseeing an event involving Aussie cricketer Shane Warne. Back in the green room having interviewed Warney, I was playing a sit-and-go while watching the live feed from the studio. Ever the storyteller, Marty was recounting an extraordinary event that happened the first time he visited Australia. Having switched his hotel room for a better view, he discovered an address book containing mainly Midlands-based numbers, belonging to a certain Michael Wilson. Calling the owner’s mobile number, Marty found himself talking to his long-lost brother for the first time in 18 years.
It’s a story worthy of The Twilight Zone, and one that Marty confirms when I call him during the Irish Open. There are a thousand other stories, which sadly couldn’t be squeezed into a 20-minute phone call, a large part of which consisted of Marty bombarding me with trivia questions. Still, there should be plenty to talk about next time we meet. If I can get a word in edgeways...