Against the odds, a flamboyant businessman and grandfather from Bridlington has stunned the world of poker.
John Hesp has guaranteed himself $1,000,000 by reaching the final nine of a big-money tournament in Las Vegas – but it could be just the start.
The 64-year-old, who wears multi-coloured jackets and Havana hats, is “living the dream” and will return to the tables today in a bid to claim the top prize of more than $8,000,000 (around £6,000,000) at the www.888poker.com-sponsored World Series Of Poker Main Event.
More than 7,000 people entered, each paying $10,000 and John was an unknown outsider, more used to playing for £50 at a casino in Hull.
He said: “I have been bold and unorthodox in my playing style. Since the start professionals from all over the world have been coming up to me saying ‘we simply can’t work you out’ and that’s the way I like it.
“I have never read a poker book or had a coaching lesson. I go with the natural instincts of my head and my gut.”
John, who owns Bridlington Caravan Centre, is now adjusting to life in the limelight at the luxurious Rio Hotel and Casino.
“I am living the dream. I wanted to play the tournament to tick it off my bucket list of goals. Overnight I have become a global poker superstar – completely by accident. I have been getting messages of support from all around the world.”
Bridlington’s million dollar man has admitted he has only won around £1,500 before his incredible run at one of the world’s biggest poker tournaments.
John describes himself as a recreational player who only goes to the casino in Hull once a month
He said: “I played there last month. It was a £10 unlimited re-entry tournament plus a £2 registration fee.
“How incredible it is for me to be doing so well in the biggest and best tournament in the world. “
John started playing cards with his two sisters, Ann and Carolyn, as children, but his love of the game took off when Texas Hold ‘Em became popular on late-night TV.
Three months ago he told his wife, Mandy, that he wanted to play the event in Las Vegas. “We have been together 20 years and married for 13 years and in all that time we have never spent this long apart.
“I have promised her a holiday when I get back. She can go anywhere she wants. But she’ll probably choose our caravan holiday home in Pateley Bridge, near Harrogate.”
John set up Bridlington Caravan Centre 31 years ago and built it into a business with a £10million turnover.
Now, he is preparing for his bumper payday. He said: “In the beginning it wasn’t about the money. I wanted to get in the last 1,000 players.
“I wanted to be able to go home to Mandy, having won my buy-in back and say ‘I did it’.
“But obviously as I went deeper into the tournament I kept setting myself new goals. Next it was the top 500 and so on.
“Maybe this is my time and the poker gods are looking over me.”
The final will be played over three days with a mind-boggling amount of prize money at stake, and the glare of the TV cameras adding to the pressure.
Back home, Andrew Ritchie, owner of Bridlington Snooker Centre, which holds regular poker nights said John’s success was the talk of the club and everyone wished him well.
But John has no plans to change his eccentric style.
“I came here to play poker the John Hesp way and I have had the most awesome life-changing experience,” he said.