July 29, 2019Paul Seaton
The early years of the millennium were the glory years of The Hendon Mob, four men from London who became poker’s first pop group. Ram Vaswani, Joe Beevers, Ross Boatman and Barny Boatman had made their name with The Hendon Mob website and their appearances on “Late Night Poker,” a pioneering television show. You can read up on those exploits in Part Two here.
Over the ensuing decade, the four men would conquer the poker world. They were the best of times, and the glory days for the four best friends. Having been given poker’s first million-dollar poker sponsorship, the lads went on tour, and they would stay on the road for several years. It was time to get serious with the Mob.
Vaswani took down the inaugural EPT Dublin Main Event in October 2004. He would then go agonizingly close to winning two EPT Main Events just three months later when Noah Boeken pipped him to the trophy in Copenhagen. Ironically, it would be their old cohort and friend Victoria Coren-Mitchell who would claim that first (and so far only) double-EPT honor. Vaswani, however, still has regrets over getting so close fifteen years ago.
Ram Vaswani, wearing the Prima Poker badge, beat Rory Liffey to win the EPT Dublin. Three months later, he lost to Noah Boeken to finish runner-up in the EPT Copenhagen.
“I was absolutely gutted not to win two in a row. The game was very exciting at the time, especially for us, because we were the first people to get a sponsorship deal. The EPT was like the European version of the WPT. It was nice to win one early.”
Huge prize money, television coverage, and a glittering trophy catapulted Vaswani into the stratosphere. With their deal of sharing five percent of winnings with each Mob member, the four of them were all benefitting from the success. For Vaswani, having his friends close to him for the journey made all the difference.
“I don’t think I could ever have done the same thing on my own. I couldn’t have traveled from festival to festival without my close friends. We were literally traveling non-stop.”
“We all got results and we were writing diaries on the website, because suddenly we had a lot of content and resources.”
Once they were badged up, their profile was raised even further. News of their sponsorship made it to their ‘home’ casino of The Vic, courtesy of Ross Boatman.
“I remember a guy at the Vic called Ramin Sai. I’d go in and play the Omaha game every afternoon. He’d always ask ‘Any news on the sponsorship?’ When I told him we had a million-dollar deal, he choked on his tea and spat it all over the table!”
Barny Boatman had helped negotiate that million-dollar deal more than anyone, and Prima Poker were as good as their word. A PR company was involved, and the press was interested. Media built up about The Hendon Mob on both sides of the Atlantic. It helped that, as Barny Boatman describes, all four men hit the ground running on the poker side of things.
“The first festival we went to was an Omaha tournament and all four of us made the final. Ross and I finished heads up and I won it. We all got results and we were writing diaries on the website because suddenly we had a lot of content and resources.”
Deal Extension and Dissolution
Prima Poker was delighted of course, and helped in every way they could, too. The website grew and their fanbase did the same. Everything was getting bigger and better. Everyone was happy.
“Prima Poker were getting a lot of media and we were getting results. They renewed for a second year and we went around again. We’d grown as a brand and business, and I don’t suppose that would have happened if we hadn’t taken that phone call from Roger Raatgever.”
“We’d grown as a brand and business, and I don’t suppose that would have happened if we hadn’t taken that phone call from Roger Raatgever.”
Over the coming years, the Mob would have huge success. Beevers remembers Ross Boatman being top of the tree in live tournaments in 2002. Afterward, Beevers had his fair share of success, winning the Irish Open in 2003. Then, he finished seventh in the $25,000 WPT at the Bellagio for $188,000 in 2005 and in 2007, he won the Poker Million and the Great British Poker Tour.
After the first two years, Prima Poker and The Mob went their separate ways, a good deal for both parties having come to its natural conclusion. But the day after that happened, Barny Boatman was at a tournament in Copenhagen when a call came through.
The Full Tilt Years
Boatman went outside and recalls taking a memorable call in the middle of a Danish blizzard.
“It was Howard Lederer at Full Tilt. I remember talking to Howard Lederer about the various possibilities of how we could be involved with Full Tilt. We were the first European players they’d come to.”
Thanks to their deal with Prima Poker, The Hendon Mob were hot property. A website that was pulling in huge traffic in the middle of a poker boom that followed Chris Moneymaker‘s WSOP Main Event win was a very valuable position.
“It’s all about the database; everyone knows that they can find any results, any festivals that are coming up, and any prize money that has been won,” Vaswani explained. “As we hit the sponsorship deal, it got bigger and bigger.”
“The Full Tilt Poker deal took us to another level again.”
Beevers was the effective CEO and did almost everything on the office side of the job, but Barny Boatman helped with a lot of the legwork. When it came down to it, the four men were equals, and that’s what made The Hendon Mob work so well.
“Barny and I took a small salary from the business,” says Beevers. “We also took an equal share in the business itself, but that was more of a recognition that we were doing the day-to-day stuff. At its peak, we had seven full-time staff and two or three part-timers.”
Attendance at worldwide festivals had exploded and The Hendon Mob were everywhere, including the poker capital of the world.
“The Full Tilt Poker deal took us to another level again. Those were exciting times. Poker was really growing, TV were putting shows on, and everyone was writing features about us,” Barny Boatman recalled. Ross Boatman fondly remembers the first time The Hendon Mob walked into Las Vegas as a foursome.
“There were legends of the game, Doyle Brunson and Phil Helllmuth, talking about us, talking about the Hendon Mob. We had immediate celebrity for the mere fact that we’d got this deal. It was the beginning of sponsorship and we were ground-breakers.”
Far from the old days of having to pay out of pocket, doors were now opening for them as they traveled the globe to play.
Vaswani was the first Hendon Mobster to win WSOP gold during the Full Tilt years.
“Every year, the four of us would make a pilgrimage to Binion’s for the World Series,” explained Beevers. “We paid for very little because everything was comped in those days. We’d stay in the Golden Nugget for free, we’d eat and drink for free, and people got to recognize the four of us together.”
It was in 2007 that Vaswani broke the ice for the group and won a WSOP bracelet, in a Limit Shootout event.
“I think it played to my strengths; I like the fact that you’re playing down to a winner. When you’re playing normal poker tournaments, there can only be one winner and it’s very rare that you are that winner.”
Vaswani excelled at changing his play and adapting to the different stages of each shootout table. The final irony was that he faced an Englishman heads up in Andy Ward. It didn’t take long for Vaswani to wipe Binion’s floor with him.
“Someone said it was the quickest heads-up match in the WSOP. I seemed to win most of the hands, and it went perfectly for me. It was long overdue, but I got the bracelet.”
Vaswani loved Vegas when he first visited, likening it to “landing on another planet.” But after a while, the bright lights of Sin City were ones to be wary of.
“They’re like family and that was a great part of it. We were together all the time, funking for each other in a final.”
“It can drive you a bit crazy, all those machines ringing all the time, action 24 hours a day; you have to be very careful. When I started going to Vegas, I went with Joe once. We got there and I didn’t get to sleep for three days.”
The perils of entering tournaments and busting them can get any poker player down. But having their friends around to cushion the blow became the Mob’s greatest edge.
“It can be quite hard,” continues Vaswani. “Sometimes you get knocked out early and you’re spending time not playing poker. They’re like family and that was a great part of it. We were together all the time, funking for each other in a final.”
Moral Mob Support
Back then, it always seemed like there was one of the four in the latter stages of a major event. They’d be right there for each other. From moral support to strategic advice. In the most solo of environments, no Mobster was ever really alone at the poker table.
Barny Boatman at the WSOP.
“We’d talk about the game and it was harder to learn back then,” says Ross Boatman. “There wasn’t so much information readily available. By the end, all you had to do was buy a DVD and you could learn everything we’d learned in years!”
The Mob, however, was way ahead of the curve. Barny was the highest-placed British player at the 2000 and 2001 WSOP Main Events, and the next year would be the only player to make three WSOP final tables, for which he was awarded tournament performance of the year. Soon, his old journalist skills were put to good use on the mic as he became a staple for the role of ‘color commentator’ over the next decade.
Both Boatman brothers were present at several final tables, from World Series events such as a PLO event in 2002 where they finished in seventh and ninth, with Ross coming out on top, to Marrakech in 2009, when it was Ross beating Dominik Nitsche heads up to come out on top, with Barny coming in fourth. The brotherly competition remained friendly, only providing more fuel for the Boatmans.
“It’s tough but once you arrive at a final table, you’re not a loser, you’ve already won. We enjoyed that we’d cut through a large field together, we both loved each other’s success.”
The brothers loved playing hard against each other, as did all the Mobsters from the very start back in the London home games. They might shoot each other a furtive glance if the other one won a pot, on the way to a potential clash, but in a hand, there were no friends.
“You get down to the last two or three, there’s no avoiding each other and you’re both playing to win,” explained Ross. “It’s not that he’s my brother and I want to beat him; I wasn’t aware of any sibling rivalry. You just want to win. You want the glory, the trophy and, of course, the money.”
Ross Boatman at the WSOP.
Barny agrees. He may have been Ross’ brother, and they were naturally very close, but all four men were as good as brothers. They’d been all over the world together, supported each other through thick and thin.
“We didn’t talk hands that much, we’d joke about not wanting to hear poker stories, but we supported each other, lending each other money, or just by being there. We always swapped five percent as we wanted to have some sort of stake in each other, but not an amount that would make a difference to how we played.”
Barny Boatman came second in a $2,000 buy-in pot limit hold’em WSOP event back in 2002. In 2011, he reached the final table of the EPT San Remo Main Event. He came fourth, just missing out on the glory again.
But another event in 2011 would prove to rock their world more than anyone could have expected — Black Friday.
Black Friday Rocks the Mob’s World
“We had 10,000 active players at Full Tilt and lost 98% of company revenue overnight,” Beevers recalled. “We went from having a serviced office of seven staff to just two. One guy had just come to work for us and now I was making him redundant.”
“We had 10,000 active players at Full Tilt and lost 98% of company revenue overnight.”
They paid that man’s lease for three months so that he didn’t have to leave his apartment. The Hendon Mob paid all of their staff for six months to wait and see what would happen. But in the end, workers losing their jobs was unavoidable.
The Hendon Mob had a decision to make, and it would be one that would shape their futures. Sell up or carry on? One thing was for sure — whatever they decided, there would be no going back.
Find out what happened next in the fourth and final part of The Unabridged Story of The Hendon Mob.
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