This is what I do

This is what I do

I played a bit of poker at college, but I was 23 before I got serious about the game. I’m from Killybegs, in Co Donegal, and I have a degree in business studies from Sligo Institute of Technology, as well as a diploma in sports recreation.

I didn’t really plan to do anything when I came out of college and then one of my friends suggested I try a game of poker. Straightaway, I was fascinated by it.

I have a sports background, so I liked the competitive nature and the mind games. I also liked the banter at the table. I played in a few tournaments and ended up winning one. The prize was Ir£1,000 (€1,200). I also played cash games and early on won a similar amount. I then moved to Dublin and started winning more in a week than I would earn in months.

I was lucky enough to win the Macau leg of the Asia Pacific Poker Tour early in my career. It was in 2009 and I was 23 or 24. I’m 29 now. The prize was more than $500,000 (€362,000). I went there to play with a friend and I won my seat at the main competition in a satellite game.

When you start off, you don’t have much money, so you try to “satellite” your way in. For that tournament, a seat was $5,000, and for every 10 seats bought, one person was allowed to win a satellite place in a separate competition where entry was $500. The goal is not to win the money, but to win a seat. You also get a hotel room, expenses and a goody bag; you could end up there for three days.

Cash games have fixed blinds — the amount put into the pot. That’s how betting starts and the game doesn’t change all night. In a tournament, you play with chips and the blinds are increased all the time, which forces the action. That can make tournaments very exciting. They attract a lot of recreational players, as everyone has a chance at winning. Cash games are more suitable for professionals and I’ve played them where the blind starts off as high as €1,500 per player.

As a professional, you have to take it seriously and a huge part of that is managing your money. One of the first things I did was build a house back home in Donegal. My next goal is to buy an apartment in Dublin. I made mistakes along the way, but that’s how you learn.

When people ask me for tips, I always say play a lot — don’t be afraid to play a lot of hands. It’s a repetitive game, so the more often you play and the more often you make wrong decisions, the more you can analyse where you went wrong.

One of the best things about poker is that if you are a novice, you could just sit down at a tournament next to a guy you may have seen play on television. It’s not as though poker players are idols, but if you’re a fan of sport, you’re never going to have a chance to play alongside Brian O’Driscoll or Robbie Keane. With poker, you just pay your money and take a seat.

Blain is an ambassador for fulltiltpoker.com and will be taking part in the UK and Ireland Poker Tour event in Nottingham from May 7 to 12

Why Buying a Flat is a Cheaper and Better Solution

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Getting on the property ladder is tough. For many, it can be an unrealistic ambition. But, if you are keen to delve into the world of home ownership there are more affordable options. For example, do you need to buy a house? A flat or apartment can be sufficient. What is more, they are cheaper. If you are savvy with your cash, you can have a worthwhile investment in a flat.

1.    Why Choose a Flat?

There are a plethora of benefits to living in a flat or apartment than a house. They are cheaper to purchase than houses. This is an attractive prospect for those who want to buy a property. What is more, they are easier to maintain as all of your amenities are on one level. As a general rule of thumb, council tax is more economical because the property is smaller. For others, there is a sense of community within their flats. They know their neighbours and with this in mind, flats are more secure. After all, houses tend to stand alone. Apartments are built in blocks. This means that you have a built in neighbourhood watch.

Size is not an issue for some. Older style apartments tend to be bigger than most new builds. What is more, the rooms are more generously sized over one level. A flat can be a viable option for many. Furthermore, with older style flats you do tend to have a garden. There is no reason living in a house is more superior to living a flat.

In short, you get more space, and you still have an outdoors area to relax in.

2.    How Much Cheaper is a Flat?

With the average house price in the UK being in excess of £250,000, a flat is often the best alternative. You can get on the property ladder and spend a significant amount less. The typical flat rate in the UK is £190,000. This is an attractive option for many who are savvy with their cash. What is more, with prices being significantly lower, you are less likely to be rejected by the mortgage provider. This is because you are not lending as much money. Owning a flat can make you a more attractive prospect to your mortgage lender.

3.    Finding the Perfect Flat For You

Finding the perfect flat can be tough. With more houses being built than flats, it can be tough to find the perfect one. However, there is one town that is bucking this trend. Chorleywood in Hertfordshire has a significant amount of apartments for purchase. This is great news for many. Look at flats in the Chorleywood area if you are keen to invest in a one level property.

Finding a flat can be a difficult endeavour. The current property market has a bias towards building houses. Flats are becoming less prevalent. However, this means that you can get a bargain when shopping for a flat.

You don’t have to have a house to get onto the property ladder. In short, the flat is a cheaper, savvy and better solution for your needs.

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This image has been provided by Diana Parkhouse

Casino sues poker professional over $9.6m ‘cheat’

Casino sues poker professional over $9.6m ‘cheat’

An American casino is suing one of the world’s most notorious card players, alleging that he won $9.6 million while cheating at baccarat.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, in Atlantic City, has alleged that Phillip Ivey Jr, a champion poker player, exploited a defect in its cards, which gave him an illegal advantage.

Last year, Mr Ivey was accused of using the same technique – known as “edge sorting” – at Crockfords, the venerable Mayfair gaming club, to win more than £7 million. On both occasions he was allegedly accompanied by a young Chinese associate known as Kelly, said to be an expert at identifying playing card design flaws.

The backs of the cards had been imperfectly printed, with the pattern becoming asymmetrical.

Both casinos allege that Mr Ivey and Kelly instructed dealers to arrange cards in particular ways. After several hands, valuable cards were arranged with the irregular side of the card facing in a specific direction — allowing Mr Ivey to spot them as they emerged from the dealer chute.

Mr Ivey – who has been dubbed the Tiger Woods of poker – has admitted to edge sorting at Crockfords while playing punto banco, a type of baccarat based purely on luck.

Initially, he was betting £50,000 a hand at Crockfords. However, after the cards had been identified through their flaws, he asked the casino’s permission to raise the maximum stake to £150,000.

Mr Ivey has maintained that Crockfords was well aware of how edge sorting is exploited by co-called “advantage players” such as himself. The casino should not have used faulty cards, he has argued.

Internet poker’s online Jesus and ‘a global Ponzi’

Internet poker’s online Jesus and ‘a global Ponzi’

Bobby Ingram punched the air with delight. He had just scooped the £10,000 first prize in an internet poker tournament.

A semi-professional player with accounts at several online poker companies, his mood soured when he tried to claim his winnings. Despite receiving several emails confirming that the money would be paid into his account, Ingram — not his real name — is yet to receive a penny of it.

“To be honest, I’ve written the money off,” he said. The 29-year-old won the windfall at Full Tilt, the world’s second-biggest online poker operator, and is one of hundreds of players worldwide unable to withdraw funds from their accounts with the firm.

Last week, prosecutors in New York accused Full Tilt of making hefty payouts to its owners despite owing its players millions of dollars. They claimed the company had defrauded its players out of more than $443m (£287m) over four years.

“Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company but a global Ponzi scheme,” said Preet Bharara, a senior prosecutor in the New York state attorney’s office.

He accused the firm of enriching its owners at the expense of its customers. By the end of March 2011, it is alleged the website owed its customers $390m — but had less than $60m in the bank.

Despite this, the company allegedly distributed hundreds of millions to its owners. The biggest beneficiary, say prosecutors, was Chris Ferguson, Full Tilt’s co-founder, who was allocated about $85m.

The charges, contained in a civil claim, are the biggest scandal ever to rock the online gaming world. The allegations may also dash hopes that America, the world’s biggest gambling market, could legalise the $14 billion internet poker market five years after it was banned.

Full Tilt had been popular because it allowed its customers to play against — and be coached by — some of the world’s top poker players. It was one of these star players — Ferguson — who was behind the site’s launch in 2004.

Sporting a trademark cowboy hat and nicknamed “Jesus” because of his thick beard, Ferguson developed the site with former stock market trader Raymond Bitar.

Bitar, who has been playing poker since he was 12, ran a team of 35 traders in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. It was there that he met Ferguson, a computer expert who was fast becoming one of the most successful players on the poker circuit.

Together with a number of other professional players, they launched the site at a time when online poker was booming. It was one of several sites to shoot to prominence, along with Party Gaming, 888 and Pokerstars.

All the sites shared a common business model. Players deposited money into accounts, which they could access to bet on each hand of cards. The websites collected a percentage of the pot generated — known as the “rake” — for providing the playing facility. When players won, they could withdraw money from their accounts. This set-up proved a goldmine, making hundreds of millions for the sites’ founders.

Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company but a global Ponzi schemeIt seemed that nothing could derail the gravy train — until, in October 2006, the industry hit a massive problem. Lawmakers in the US — the industry’s biggest source of income — banned internet poker.

Publicly-traded operators, such as Party Gaming and 888, immediately stopped allowing US citizens to play on their sites, but private groups, such as Full Tilt, most of whom were based offshore, continued despite the crackdown. Indeed, they went to extraordinary lengths to do so.

For example, poker companies set up phony, non-gambling companies — online florists and pet supply stores — through which all payments from players were channelled. This made it appear to big credit card firms that transactions arising from online gaming were anything but.

The poker companies would also frequently engage third-party “payment processors” to help them with the alleged deception.

One such company, Intabill, based in Brisbane, Australia, provided this service for Full Tilt, Pokerstars and others. In the two years between mid-2007 and March 2009, Intabill processed more than $500m of gambling transactions.

It was so lucrative, Intabill’s twenty-something founder Daniel Tzvetkoff became a multi-millionaire with a garage full of sports cars, a super-yacht and a stake in a trendy nightclub.

In 2009, however, Intabill collapsed, owing its poker operator clients tens of millions. Full Tilt successfully sued the company for $43.5m plus interest.

Sometime afterm Intabill’s collapse, Tzvetkoff was arrested in Las Vegas and is reported to have informed on his former customers, the online poker firms.

The failure of Intabill sent poker firms scurrying to find fresh ways to ensure that US-based punters could continue to play.

They found a payment processor in Arizona willing to help by setting up dummy corporations through which transactions could be made.

After handling more than $100m of payments, the arrangement came to an end in the summer of 2009, when the Arizona firm had its bank accounts seized by US authorities.

Full Tilt and its rivals tried a new tactic. They began to persuade small banks under financial pressure to handle their transactions without disguising the fact that they were gambling-related.

One such lender was Sun First, based in Utah. The bank handled payments via third-party processors on behalf of companies including Full Tilt and Pokerstars.

The latter had even found a prominent law firm to write to the bank explaining that handling payments for online poker companies would be legal under US rules.

Sun First processed more than $200m of poker-related payments but ended its involvement with the internet gaming firms in November 2010, when forced to by US banking regulators.

As it became increasingly difficult for Full Tilt to collect money from its US-based customers, it allegedly began allowing players to gamble with “phantom money” the company had “never actually collected or possessed”, according to the civil claim.

Poker-related internet bulletin boards began filling up with posts from players wondering why they could not withdraw their winnings. Various class action lawsuits are now being prepared to help players reclaim their funds.

In England, Edwin Coe, the law firm, is reportedly preparing a claim on behalf of British Full Tilt customers. In Canada, Jeff Orenstein, a lawyer at Consumer Law Group, said that more than 1,000 players had registered interest in pursuing a case.

Some blame gambling authorities on Alderney, in the Channel Islands, that were responsible for regulating Full Tilt, and wonder why they did not intervene sooner.

Last week, Alderney held a hearing to decide whether to revoke the company’s licence, having suspended it in June. The outcome should be revealed this week.

Full Tilt, which could not be reached for comment, has blamed its problems paying players on issues with the third-party processors and on the actions of the US government. It has previously said it has always been committed to the integrity of the game and to abiding by the law.

Lawyers acting for Ferguson and Bitar have hit out at prosecutors’ description of Full Tilt’s activities as a Ponzi scheme. “Under any reasonable interpretation, the worldwide operations of the online cardroom are not a so-called Ponzi scheme,” said Ian Imrich, Ferguson’s legal adviser.

Four ways to save money at your business

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Running your own business can be a costly exercise, no matter how big or small it is. Luckily there are plenty of ways to cut costs down to make sure you’re not spending when you don’t have to.

Shop around

Comparison is part of business and home life.  Keep an eye out for special deals at the bank or building societies, for example, get free bank accounts for the first 24 months. Seek out the best broadband deals and mobile phone contracts to make sure you’re getting the added value from shopping around.

Energy saving

Yes, it continues to be headlines news: energy and fuel bills. We have to meet them, but as the costs have gone up, so we have to find ways to manage them. There are many ways to save energy in the office, you could install energy saving light bulbs or install a smart-meter which some of the “Big five “energy companies recommend. Tempt staff to switch off when they leave for the day by giving a prize out when quarterly bill goes down. It’s a win win.

The classic is leaving equipment on stand-by, so go on, turn it off and be kind to your business and the environment. Even self adhesive thermal strips around doors can keep out drafts which account for nearly 10 per cent of heat loss. Technology continues to help businesses in this area, so apply daylight sensors to lights to maximise the use of daylight which is free.

Travel costs and pooling resources

Many large corporate companies have car sharing schemes. It can be scaled up and down depending on size of business. Shared travelling is brilliant for saving on costly fuel consumption, and means fewer car parking spaces are required.

Conference calls are another way of cutting costs; why not check in with your clients on a conference video call? It’s almost as good as being in the boardroom without forking out on train tickets and petrol.

There’s a shift in thinking that small businesses have to buy all their own equipment, so join a small business consortium to share the expense.

Purchase second hand 

Be clever, look out for second hand office equipment sales. Perhaps you’ll be lucky and find a couple of designer office chairs at knock-down prices. Business loans can help in the short term to get these essential things.

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/smallbusiness/article-2391148/How-small-businesses-cut-costs-boost-profits.html