38 DERRY poker players have failed in a legal bid to have returned to them £24,000 seized by Trevors in a raid on an illegal poker game.Squinter’s been in a few card schools in his time, probably not all of them strictly in compliance with the law. But, to be honest, if cops had raided any of those events they’d have needed cloth bags to take away the coins rather than elastic bands for the notes.

Poker machines are quite possibly the only popular gambling activity in which Squinter doesn’t enthusiastically take part. To be honest, watching someone in solitary pursuit of a favour from a computer has put him off the things for life. True, nearly every penny that Squinter has ever won has been as a result of pure, dumb luck, just as the twenty times bigger sum given to the bookies has been lost as a result of pure, dumb stupidity.

As he often remarks to a bookie pal, Squinter views gambling as entertainment, every bit as much to be paid for as a go on the dodgems or a night in a pub. A few quid for a few hours entertainment is a reasonable deal, especially when there’s always that small but perfectly possible chance that you’ll end up on top. But when you’re standing alone in front of a screen waiting on an inch-square chip to decide it’s your turn, well...

Talk of poker always brings Squinter back to a spring day some ten years ago when he was making his way to Stranraer on the HSS en route to a Celtic match, and as ever, beer and poker were the entertainment of choice to while away the crossing. Around the table were a squad of McClatcheys of Squinter’s acquaintance and one bloke he’d never met before who’d been invited to make up the numbers.

Well into the crossing and Squinter was holding his own – which is to say, he hadn’t retired to the bar in a huff as usual. These were the days before Texas Hold ’Em had taken over the game and in a game of five-card draw he touched for three kings and then a couple of sevens on the draw. You don’t need to be a card sharp to appreciate that with a house of kings Squinter was sitting  pretty, and it wasn’t long before most of the players round the table had twigged Squinter’s pathetic attempts to affect an air of nonchalance and it was him and the stranger left.

Squinter raised, he raised; Squinter raised, he raised. No panic, the guy clearly didn’t know how bad a poker player Squinter is and had wrongly assumed he was bluffing. Silently, Squinter made a mental decision to go all the way, and with maybe a hundred or so quid in his arse pocket, the paper money was starting to come out.

And then, suddenly, it was over. “Seen,” said the stranger. Squinter was disappointed, of course, he wanted to take this guy to the limit – for everything that he had in his arse pocket indeed. Squinter placed his house on the table and then the stranger spoke again. “I wouldn’t do that on you,” he said, laying four nines on the formica.

A couple of emotions vied for prominence within Squinter’s fast-beating breast as he watched the stranger gather  up a very decent pot. The first, relief that he hadn’t dropped his heap; the second, shame, because if he’d had a poker in five cards he’d have taken Mother Teresa for the orphanage rent money.