Poker tourist plans to retire after shock $1.7m win in Vegas - Thursday 12th of May 2005

After 25 years running a company that makes drying equipment for the pharmaceutical industry, Paul Maxfield reckoned he had earned two weeks of fun on the Las Vegas poker tables. But returning home with the largest sum ever netted by any Briton in a poker game in the United States had not formed part of his calculations.Mr Maxfield was back in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, yesterday $1.7m (£900,000) richer, after clinching the second place spot in the week-long World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship.So meagre were his expectations of success that he had to cancel return flights home twice, as his participation in the competition was prolonged.

Mr Maxfield, 48, who employs 25 people at the company he established in 1980 with his brother-in-law, Steve Elliot, has always had an eye for the gaming tables.He started out at age 17 playing for pennies and graduated to a local casino where winnings were £100 tops. Amid the daily grind of producing flatbed dryers and granulation suites, internet competitions have yielded the odd big win. And there have been a couple of good events; among them, a £60,000 payout in the European Poker Tour in Paris last year.Mr Maxfield, who has two children and is divorced, paid out £1,000 for the cachet of playing in the all-night qualifying competition for the WPT event and surprised himself by earning the right to compete with 450 others in the competition itself.A place in the last 100 (guaranteed winnings £30,000) was certainly not expected and prompted the second cancelled flight.

As Mr Elliot looked on, Mr Maxfield found the opposition whittled down to five, and eventually one - the talented Vietnamese-American player Tuan Le, with whom he contested a dramatic eight-hour final."It was like the Ryder Cup," said Mr Maxfield, as he described the final at the luxurious Bellagio Hotel, which was watched by a huge television audience in the US. "All the audience [was] shouting for the American and there were only about eight English people shouting for me." Mr Maxfield's family, who shared his slim expectations of success, was reduced to text-messaging him from Staffordshire.The game lasted nearly three times longer than a typical WPT final but Mr Maxfield was blessed with a sequence of good cards, including the five and six of diamonds in his last hand, and in the words of one of the sport's analysts, Mr Le was "on the ropes" for a considerable time.

But the American, who had already won one WPT competition this season, eventually revealed the vital seven that he needed in his last card and clinched the $2.8m first prize.Mr Maxfield's success adds to the reputation in the US of British poker players, whose audiences in the UK have been limited to competitions screened by Channel 4 and Sky Sports. Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott, a former stand-up comic, bricklayer and lorry driver from Hull, has had an extraordinary five-year record on the US poker tables and was watched by 1.7 million British insomniacs when he won a competition on Channel 4 in 1999. But his biggest purse, $589,000, for seeing off a field of 160 players in the Jack Binion World Poker Open at Tunica, Mississippi, last year, pales in comparison with Mr Maxfield's haul.Mr Maxfield has decided that his winnings will buy a "Mercedes, not a Ferrari" and said that he is looking forward to leaving the pharmaceutical industry. "I'm going to pay off my mortgage and retire - which isn't bad for 48," he said.

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