Lavender Oil SmallCould lavender oil be the secret to poker success? If the English Bridge team at the recent World Mind Game in Lille, France, are anything to go by, then the answer is yes.

An article in the British Daily Mail newspaper detailed how a dab of lavender oil helped the six-strong England team win the gold medal, defending their title from Beijing in 2008, while sparking what could be competitive sport’s most genteel row concerning substance use.

Heather Dhondy, 46, Nevena Senior, 52, Nicola Smith, 63, Sally Brock, 58, Susan Stockdale, 29, and Fiona Brown, 27, defeated the Russian team in a final match of the competition which lasted two days. Of course it was not just lavender oil that helped them to victory, but extended period of practice, training and a strict diet to combat the long hours of competitive play at the Games.

Lavender oil is known for its calming effects in times of stress. However, as they had previously found in a match against France in May during the European Championships, it’s not always welcomed by opponents.

“We dab ourselves with drops of lavender oil before every match,” said Dhondy. “It is supposed to calm the nerves and improve concentration – and it sometimes annoys our opponents. They don’t seem to like the smell very much.”

In one incident, a team member overheard the French team comparing the smell to toilet cleaner.

“I don’t know for sure if it put them off,” said Smith, “but the moment she started complaining about the smell I knew we had the upper hand.”

Either way, England went on to win the European title and now have WMG gold to add to their records. They have no plans on giving up, or sharing their secret weapon.

“Sally, my partner on the bridge team, once tried to offer some to an opponent,” said Smith. “I immediately threatened to “divorce” her if she gave our lavender oil to the opposition. We don’t want the rest of the world using it.”

Read the full article on the Daily Mail website.


Frustrated Writer SmallThey were instrumental in introducing poker to thousands of players, even before the internet changed the game forever. Now it seems three of poker’s most esteemed authors have played a not insignificant part in one of the most important legal rulings in the game’s history.

Earlier this month Senior US District Judge Jack B Weinstein dismissed an indictment against Lawrence DiCristina who was charged with operating an illegal poker game, in violation of the Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1955.

The defence argued that poker was in fact a game of skill, backed by the findings of Dr Randall Heeb, and therefore exempt from the bill. Judge Weinstein agreed.

The 120 page ruling, which makes for compelling reading, presents the entire case, including the welcome case that skill plays a key part in the amount of money won or lost in a poker hand. Emphasising key points, it also refers to excerpts of three books which have become classics of the poker cannon, those of Anthony Holden, Jim McManus, and Al Alvarez.

Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom in which Holden, President of the IFP, recounts his year on the poker circuit amid the online poker boom, was referenced in part to explain just how significant internet poker had become by 2006. That year some 44,500 players took part in that summer’s World Series of Poker.

In Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, McManus, an IFP Ambassador, added a further layer of legitimacy to the case, describing how past presidents, politicians and public figures have been poker players – far from the seedy underworld of illegal gambling.

There was also reference to Al Alvarez’s 1983 masterpiece The Biggest Game in Town, in which Alvarez described how poker players bet on their own skills, in contrast to sports bettors who put their faith in the skill of others.

The document is well worth the read, if not for the legal jargon then the simple fact that it has a happy ending. Judge Weinstein’s ruling could prove to be a turning point in the game. If that proves true the likes of Holden, McManus and Alvarez will have played a small but crucial part.


Lille Map SmallThe last of the gold medals were awarded at the World Mind Games yesterday, bringing events in Lille to a close after 15 days of competition.

In the Bridge competition, there were gold medals for Sweden in the Open Team category while England’s women won their classification, ahead of Russia which took silver and Poland which took the bronze.

Russia won gold in the Draughts Rapid Teams, ahead of the Netherlands in second and Latvia in third. In the women’s category the Netherlands won gold, ahead of Russia and Mongolia.

In his closing address IMSA President Jose Damiani paid tribute to the competitors and to the organisers of the 2012 World Mind Games, before officially bringing the games to a close. The third World Mind Sport Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Find details of all the results from Lille on the IMSA website.


School Books Apple SmallA report by three academics in Holland has added further weight to the argument that poker is a game of skill.

PhD candidates Rogier J.D. Potter van Loon and Dennie van Dolder and Associate Professor of Finance Martijn J. van den Assem of Erasmus School of Economics in Rotterdam, Holland analysed more than 400 million player-hands between October 2009 and September 2010, across low, medium and high stakes levels. There results will be welcomed by a poker community frustrated by outdated notions about luck.

“Our results suggest that skill is an important factor in online poker,” said van den Assem, who explained that the report was intended to inform those around the world debating the legality of poker and the taxation of winnings.

The 86-page paper, which has now been submitted for academic scrutiny, defines skill as “anything that affects a player’s performance other than chance”. The report will now undergo a lengthy double-blind review with the intention of being published in the future.

The report examines 76.7 million different hands, with an average of 5.4 players per hand, producing 415.9 million different observations involving 500,000 players. From that a figure of 32 is produced – the percentage of players posting a positive result after rake.

“The results provide strong evidence against the hypothesis that poker is a game of pure chance,” the report concluded. “For a game of pure chance there would be no correlation in the winnings of players across successive time intervals. In our large database for three different stakes levels, however, we do find significant persistence in the performance of players over time.”

The report concludes by detailing how players in the top per cent across a six-month period were two times as likely to remain in the top ten per cent in the next six month period, with that figure being 12 times as likely for the top one per cent. In addition, those with a tight and aggressive playing style performed better than those using loose and passive play.

“This finding can indicate that better players choose to play more and that players learn from playing. Differences between players explain an important share of the differences in their performance”.

To read the full report, visit


Chess King Queen Large 7june12With the World Mind Games now in full swing in Lille, France, results are emerging from each days play in the five disciplines being contested.

While poker is yet to make its debut in the Games, fans of Mind Sports in general can indulge themselves in reports, interview and all the latest results from the games, including the last of the Xiang Qi results as well as news of Chinese Taipei double win earlier this week.

In the Daily Bulletin you’ll find interviews with current chess Grandmasters and key figures involved in the WMG in all five sports.

You can also read articles about the wider impact of the games, as well as details of how to listen to Broadcasts from the Games, which continue until the final day of play on 23 August.

Check out the results page for more details.