The West Midlands town of Solihull may not be the first place you’d think of in the UK as a hotbed of poker talent, but there is one born and bred local who’s taken the poker scene by storm in the last couple of decades.
John Shipley has enjoyed a hugely successful poker career, posting some serious tournament scalps both at home and abroad. Despite not being active in live poker tournaments for several years, Shipley remains 124th in the all-time money list of English poker players.
Shipley is still said to be active at the online poker tables on occasion. He uses the alias of “Sapphire1” at online platform PokerStars, which still has daily tournaments and cash games for poker players of all experience levels, as well as education on the latest terminology and strategies to help empower the next generation of players.
Shipley’s successes should certainly serve as motivation for local poker players, with this game giving talented card buffs the opportunity to play in some illustrious venues, including the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip. As broadband and 5G connectivity improves in Solihull, this also creates a stable base for poker enthusiasts to take the game seriously online too.
From greyhounds to Binion’s Horseshoe: the story of John Shipley
Shipley has always had an aptitude for betting and gaming through the decades. In the 1980s, he was one of the most notorious punters in greyhound betting in the UK. His mere presence at dog tracks would see many others flock to follow him in on bets throughout the years.
There is another fascinating story about Shipley before his poker career took flight: he was also a keen football bettor too. In the pre-season of 1985/86, Shipley tipped Norwich to win the English Second Division. He backed the Canaries again after a sluggish start to the campaign and, lo and behold, the Norfolk club rallied to win the second-tier title and bag Shipley a life-changing payday of £55,000. He used the windfall to buy a family home in Solihull where he’s resided for many years.
Shipley was first introduced to the game of poker back in 1991. Undoubtedly his most notable poker showing came in the 2002 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. The $10,000 buy-in tournament has exploded in popularity in the last two decades. In 2002, the WSOP and its Main Event was still staged at Binion’s Horseshoe in Downtown Las Vegas; since then, proceedings have moved to the Rio and, more recently, Horseshoe and Paris.
The 2002 WSOP Main Event was already notable as it was the first televised Main Event to feature pocket cams, allowing presenters to see players’ hole cards. Shipley made a deep run
in the Main Event, assuming the chip lead early on. He looked in great shape to try and compete for his inaugural WSOP bracelet, but he was eventually outplayed by Robert Varkonyi in a big hand which saw him bust out in seventh place, earning a $125,000 payday.
This was by no means the limit of Shipley’s poker success. In October 2004, he would enter the European Poker Tour (EPT) London event. In fact, he went on to take down the tournament to claim the $359,479 first prize. Shipley also had further WSOP success in his poker career. In June 2011, he reached the final table of the $10,000-entry Pot Limit Omaha Championship, eventually finishing third for a $369,575 return.
Other successful poker players from the West Midlands
A quick peak at the all-time money list of English poker players shows several West Midlanders near the top of the pile. Leamington Spa’s Sam Grafton is fifth on England’s all-time money list with over $14 million in live poker earnings to his name. Grafton has been a huge success on the EPT circuit, with notable wins in Prague, Monte Carlo and Barcelona alike.
Wolverhampton-based Surinder Sunar is also inside the top 20 all-time money list in England, with his best live cash coming in at $828,956, with total live earnings of $4.68 million.