Play your cards right

This month Title Media had a team poker night. None of us can play poker really; many of us can’t even remember our own names half the time.

So we thought we’d draft in the services of the experts, and brought in the rather amazing Pop-Up Casino team. Sam Harrington-Lowe caught up with casino impresario Darren Kis to find out a bit more about what else they do…

I read a joke the other day; Poker is like sex. Everyone thinks they’re great at it but most people don’t have a clue what they’re doing. So it would be good to get some help – in either department, right?

If you’ve ever fancied playing but don’t know your flush from your straight, then we’ve got something that can help you with your card games. The sex thing, not so much. Sorry.

The Pop-Up Casino is exactly what it says on the tin, but as part of the range of services, there’s also stuff like Poker School – held over a few nights in the Den where you learn how to play, then really how to understand the game properly – and the kind of night we had, where they turned up in our office with a proper poker table, chips and two hilarious guys in bow ties, and within a very short time somehow you’ve had several wines, learnt how to play poker and had a mini tournament.

They also run women-only poker nights (the Bob Dobbs’ Poker Finishing School for Girls), as the game can be pretty blokey and women learning can feel a bit overwhelmed. Plus boys smell. And all this as well as the pop-up casinos at festivals and events, where they pitch a wide range of different sized marquees, depending on how much space they’re allowed.


The bigger the tent, the more casino tables they bring in, as it’s not just poker – they do roulette and blackjack too – and they’ve also got a great roster of DJs and a whopping sound system. I’ve seen them at a festival myself and they were by far the busiest tent on the whole site. So firstly I asked Daz first of all how the school part works.

“The pop-up poker school teaches total beginners how to play poker in a relaxed and friendly environment. Players learn how to play tournament poker, understand etiquette at the table, basic poker mathematics and the art of bluffing. The beginners’ course is three sessions over three weeks and players are then ready to play in a casino.

“We also offer advanced courses for promising players and we eventually hope to sponsor a team of players to play in national and international events. It began as an offshoot of the pop-up casino that we take to festivals.  We’d run a ‘casino school’ in the daytime and poker proved a popular favourite. Initially we ran a female only poker school for friends and family to learn, and are now expanding it to include men and mixed couples.”

So a few days of learning at poker school and you’re ready to play in a casino? Cool. What else do people need to think about if they want to be a great player?

“Nerves of steel, the heart of lion, a sensible head and a good sense of humour. You’ll need it for all the bad beats. But seriously, anyone from 18 to 80 can learn to play; people who like a challenge and want to learn a new skill enjoy it. The social side of the game attracts confident people and the psychological aspect interests the introverts.”


Where is the most fun to be had, for you?
“Seeing players go from total bewilderment to mastering the basic skills well enough to beat me in a game (if luck is on their side). That’s always really satisfying. Poker is a really growing trend; the game is multifaceted and appeals to a wide cross section of society and these days it’s even easier to play online or at a casino.

“The game is constantly evolving and the new younger players coming in help to push the game forward. Personally I’d like to see more women playing poker; currently less than 10% of players are women. They can be fearsome players and bring another dimension to the game.”

We understand you do pop up casinos at events and festivals. How does that work and don’t you need a license for that thing?
“The festival casino is a charity casino, which means we don’t need a gaming licence and we can offer casino style action for a fraction of normal casino cost (minimum bets of 25p).  We pay out in prizes only, like drink tokens, gift vouchers, t-shirts etc and the profits go to charity.

“Our festival tent honestly is a feast of entertainment, as we’ve got roulette, blackjack and/or poker with a dance floor and our own resident DJs alongside special guests. Actually I must get a shout out to ‘Just a Couple of Mums’ who are our favourite DJ duo. Anna Davies and Jules McGlough – they’re a force to be reckoned with!

“Just to make it a bit more fun we normally theme the casino and the staff dress up accordingly. We also do private hire events for birthdays, weddings etc and we also take the poker school into people’s homes for private tuition or stag and hen nights. We even once did a ‘Bitcoin Casino’, where players used the digital currency to play.”

Unforgettable moments?
“Personally, my first poker tournament in Las Vegas back in 2006. I arrived in Vegas to play a £100 tournament at the Venetian hotel, not expecting to get very far, and ended up winning £1,800! AND I managed to leave the next day with all my winnings intact. For the Casino, most memorable is probably one of our first festivals when we ended up playing poker with most of the headline acts into the early hours.”


What next for you guys?
“Our next poker school sessions start in July; we have taster sessions and the beginner’s courses running.  Then we’re at Lounge on the Lake festival in September 2-4 with the full pop-up casino experience.”
Poker School contact:
Beginners course £80 for three weeks
Drop in session £30 per class

Casino hire:
07950 703898

Private bookings from £200 per table, eight players per table; roulette, blackjack, poker (three hours)

Festival/event packages from £1,500

About Sam Harrington-Lowe
As the managing editor Sam is responsible for all the Title publications and works diligently to develop the brand and support relationships with all partners and clients. She runs things with her dedicated PA Ms Alice Pickle Pug