Poker winner Leo is flushed with success

Leo McLean, of Rushden, in yellow, won �249,850 in the European Poker Tour event in London
Leo McLean, of Rushden, in yellow, won �249,850 in the European Poker Tour event in London

A project manager from Rushden has won almost £250,000 at a poker tournament.

Leo McClean, 24, beat 601 players, including poker legend Phil Helmuth, in the European Poker Tour tournament held in London, to come third, scooping £249,850.

To buy into the competition players had to pay £5,000, but Leo qualified via an online tournament that cost him just £93 to enter.

It was a whirlwind introduction to the world of high-stakes tournament poker for a man who usually spends his days arranging re-fits for high-street stores.

Leo, who is back at work, said: “It hasn’t really sunk in, it’s a bit surreal to win that kind of money.”

Describing the tournament, he said he had a “terrible” start on day one, but by day two was elevated to the feature table alongside American poker superstar Phil Helmuth, and was responsible for ending his participation in London.

Leo said: “I enjoyed the feature table.

“I was on there on day two with Phil Helmuth, which was exciting, it was fun. To bust him as well, that was something special.”

By day four some of Leo’s friends turned up to support him and they stood in the background with the hoods of their sweatshirts wrapped around their faces, mimicking the pose he adopted while playing.

Leo said he adopted the pose “to make me feel comfortable. It lets me control my breathing more.

“You are allowed to cover your whole face if you like. A lot of poker is about reading people’s body language and looking for ‘tells’ so the less you give away the better, but really for me it was just to make me feel more comfortable.

“I entered the tournament hoping to get some money back. I felt nervous each morning but once I was sitting down at the table I was fine, I enjoyed it all and felt comfortable in front of the TV cameras.”

Leo has always played cards with his family and started playing poker more frequently while he was at university. He said: “I like the skills of number crunching, working out percentages and doing the maths in your head. It can be quite draining.

“I got hooked at university and started playing seriously about two years ago. I won an event at a casino in Coventry and have had wins on and off since then. Obviously you get a buzz playing for money.”

His previous biggest win was at a tournament in Luton earlier this year when he won £1,900 for finishing third, and despite this win he said he will continue to play in local competitions.

He hasn’t decided what to do with his winnings but is taking a couple of friends to the Caribbean in January where he will take part in another tournament.

He said: “I said to a friend at the start of the year that I’d like this to be a big year and obviously it has been.

“I’d like to be a professional poker player eventually and another result like this could push me to go full-time.”