John Duthie – a chance encounter with a legend

Lee Jones
Published by:
Posted on: February 4, 2024 2:54 pm EST

My last day in London had already been a smashing success. I had visited the guitar and popular music center Denmark Street for the first time, and made my initial pilgrimage to the Abbey Road zebra crossing. [Aside to music junkies: if you have not been to both those places, it’s worth a trip across the Pond, just for those. Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote Your Song in Denmark Street. Led Zeppelin first gathered in a basement there. And Abbey Road…]

I had walked back from Abbey Road, down Edgware Road, had a delicious dinner, then wandered into the Vic. I made my way up the stairs to the poker room, and right there, at table #24, was the legend himself.

John Duthie.

John Duthie at a poker table is analogous to a lion on the Serengeti. Each is exactly where they should be.

A man who defines British and European poker

A book could, and should, be written about Duthie’s poker journey. How he won the Poker Million in 2000, and used those winnings to found the European Poker Tour (EPT). How his poker-playing style sometimes defies reason or logic, and yet he continues to win after decades on the felt. How he once played a hand so off-the-wall that even Phil Laak was shocked. All this while his actual career was in TV production.

John Duthie is synonymous with British and European poker – you don’t want to think about where European poker would be today without his leadership and entrepreneurial spirit.

But this all buries the lede, which is that John Duthie is a lovely human being. I had the honor of working for John for 18 months on the EPT, and some of my fondest memories are of sitting in a casino or function hall, listening to John weave a tale that was probably mostly true, about his misadventures. Perhaps John lost his temper in the chaos of directing a poker circus, as it traveled across the European continent from stop to stop. But I don’t recall seeing it.

What I do recall is John being gracious, generous, and calm, no matter the circumstances. He’d sip his cappuccino… “We’ve got cards, chips, and tables, right?” Promised that those three components were in place, he would assure us that everything else would fall into place. And somehow, it did.

I approached John at his £2/5 table at the Vic, careful to wait until he wasn’t in a hand (which usually takes a while). He enveloped me in a hug and we stepped away for a brief visit. We talked about the current dramas in the poker world, private games in London, and how John is studying the most up-to-date training materials, “So I can learn how the youngsters play.”

Poker players who care about each other don’t let an unplanned visit last long enough that the one in the game gets picked up, so we grabbed our selfie, and John Duthie was back in his element in the cash game. But not before I told him, with absolute sincerity, that now that I was retired, I could say with certainty that my year-and-a-half stint as his assistant was the best job I’d ever have. He smiled – “We had good fun, didn’t we?”

The best, John – the very best fun ever.