Mob boss: How Barny Boatman became the Godfather of UK poker

Mo Afdhal
Posted on: March 15, 2024 04:15 PDT

BarnyBoatman has had a good couple of weeks. He won the EPT Paris Main Event at the tail-end of February for a career-best score of €1,287,800, and earlier this week he signed an ambassador deal with PokerStars.

PokerOrg sat down with Boatman to discuss a variety of topics, including how he ended up founding the Hendon Mob website and how the game has changed over the years in his eyes.

This is part two of our interview with the new PokerStars Team Pro. In part one, Boatman talked about his post-victory celebrations, that hand against Eric Afriat, and his plans for the future.

You've been cashing in tournaments for over 25 years. What do you notice that's different about today's player pools versus when you started playing?

BarnyBoatman: It would be quicker to list what's the same, really. If you're asking about player pools specifically, well, the demographic when I started playing was much older, more male, less university-educated, and less smart about maths and theory. It was less social and more of an individual pursuit. In The Hendon Mob, I think we were a bit unusual in having a kind of support group in that way. We talked about the game and had little shares of each other in tournaments – that side of things would be the norm now.

It was always one of the attractions of traveling and playing tournament poker that there was no bar to entry. You met all sorts of people, and that's still the same. I always love meeting new people. It's a different bunch of people now, but there's a wider spectrum, so that's good.

Danny Maxwell Photography - DMP

Speaking of The Hendon Mob, how did that come about? What does it feel like to have created the bible of poker?

BB: Ross [Boatman] and I had our own little home game in Archway, where we lived. It was purely a game amongst mates, but Ross and I were getting more serious about the game. We got invited to this other game that was running in Hendon, which is another neighborhood. It was run as a money-making exercise, I suppose. We started playing there, enjoyed it, and got on with two regulars in the game, Ram [Vaswani] and Joe [Beevers].

We started going off to tournaments in other parts of the UK together. And people would say, 'Here comes The Hendon Mob', because people only ever saw us together at that game.

We all felt that there was going to be a cultural moment with poker that we could latch on to. When we got invited onto Late Night Poker at the end of the 1990s, that got our profiles up. We thought it would be a good idea to start a website/fanzine page that was about us and we wrote some funny stuff, didn't take ourselves too seriously.

Then we had a deal supporting a betting exchange, putting up odds on poker tournaments around Europe. Part of that was writing a little bio of the top 50 or 100 players, with their results, and inventing nicknames for them. Then people would come up to us and say, 'Why aren't I on your list? Here's a picture of me, here's what I've done.'

Danny Maxwell Photography - DMP

And this evolved into what we know now as The Hendon Mob?

BB: It wasn't what the site was started for at all, but that became the big thing. We were running what became more and more like a business. For various reasons, the playing sort of ceased to be as big a part of our lives as it had been. We were suddenly stuck with accidentally having a business that needed to be run. That wasn't really what we had intended for ourselves.

A lot of good timing happened in our lives, and a lot of it was dumb luck. And it was dumb luck that exactly at that time Alex Dreyfus and the Global Poker Index came along and said, 'Hey, we would like to take over your site, and take it to the next level. How would you like to sell it to us?'

It was good for us, and it means that the site's still going. It would have petered out if left in our hands – four itinerant, ne'er-do-well poker players – it wouldn't be there now.

Did any of the Hendon Mob have a piece of your EPT win?

BB: Everybody wants to ask about the financial arrangements. The only one that had any kind of interest was Ross, on this occasion.

Have you made a conscious effort to change the way you play as the game has evolved?

BB: I don't think my game ever really fit into any particular era, funnily enough. When we started playing, there wasn't material to learn or videos. Such books, as they were, were more about the life and the romance of gambling. There was a little bit of theory out there, but it was quite basic. We tended to make it up as we went along, I certainly did. I tried to do things that were different, and people didn't know you were doing them.

Danny Maxwell Photography - DMP

I think my game has always been about improvising and adapting. Figuring out where you are with the people at the table and responding to things you see happening. I see different things becoming fashionable in the game: people making raises in particular situations, bet sizing differently, treating the button or the small blind differently. I see that, think about it, and come up with responses. The challenge is always there. I don't study as much as I know I should, and there are weaknesses in my game because of that.

It's a bit like learning a language. If you're someone who wants to get by, be able to ask directions, or order a beer, you can do that. But if you get thrown into a deep conversation about philosophy or someone comes up with a bit of slang you haven't heard before, you're going to be completely lost. I learned Spanish living in Spain, and I know you're never finished learning a language. And I treat poker like that.

Images Courtesy of Danny Maxwell/Rational Intellectual Holdings Limited/PokerStars