A powerful journey to the bottom of the poker food chain

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We’ve all sat in darkened rooms desperately trying to remember the order of the hands, overthinking the check, that gut wrench of the all-in. On reading the Lee Davy and Jack Tzekov poker comic, I’m left with a warming reminder of my first steps into the game, the terrible plays, my instant love, and the joy at stepping up to the table again.

The esoterically named The Fish from the Valleys tells the story of the ‘fish’ that feed the poker system from the grassroots (or the seafloor) up, becoming food for the great sharks at the Bellagio. We join them in a run-down Welsh boozer with a hard-edged barman and a shit-covered dog, and know from the off that this is where the real characters of the game are born, where many of them stay ’til they die. It’s a story of friendship under a skin of aggression and piss-take, of respect wrapped up in dissent, and of the true meaning of the game: love.

Tzekov and Davy capture these individualities perfectly. Their manner, words, humour. They’re brought alive like only the best comic characters: proud, generous Abdullah; bizarre Tommy Eggs; Timmy ‘The Run’ (and go-to druggie) Walsh. We meet them as friends, and share their problems like a pseudo-psychiatrist. It’s a joyous juxtaposition of macho-humour and great self-awareness.

What Tzekov and Davy capture is the feeling of camaraderie that exists around every ‘fish’ poker table in the country. I’m not talking high-rolling WSOP, I’m talking mates, colleagues, dads on their night off, old school friends reuniting for their once-a-month. And most of all the meshing of the ‘other’ into ‘one’; the men who wouldn’t give more than a nod on the street are united in a common passion, a tribe, a unity that transgresses boundaries of language, age and creed. A basic caveman-like desire to battle, even if their weapons are the clubs on their cards, and the only hearts at stake those in their hands.

You might remember Tzekov’s previous collaboration with Titanbet Poker from last year. In it, the Canadian illustrator told the (mostly) true story of the famous frontier cigar-smoking hustler and businesswoman ‘Poker Alice‘. I’m a huge fan of the classically trained painter’s work – his ability to bring idiosyncratically interesting characters to life, and his masterly skill at weaving a subtle route through his complex narrative. Davy comes at this from a more unusual angle. He works as a professional life coach, helping people recover from addiction issues. He’s also a keen player and votes on the Poker Hall of Fame. It’s great to see active awareness of the problems that life’s great joys can lead to – there’s a great sub-plot confronting head-on the excess that so easily becomes associated with the poker-playing lifestyle. It’s a gently subtle, but valuable, warning: we need to play this game for the love of it, nothing more.

As I read it I think of the faces of the guys I have played with. Their stories. I played for the inner victory, the survival, to go to battle and come out the other side.

In collaboration with Titanbet Poker

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