Poker ace Tom aiming to play his cards right in Barcelona to land massive £4m jackpot
A Northern Ireland poker player who has become an online hit is aiming to win a major international tournament with a £4m prize pot.
University student Tom Parsons is a poker player on Twitch, which allows users to broadcast themselves playing online games, where his 1,500 followers log on to watch him play cards.
Next August, he will be playing against his opponents in person at online poker brand PokerStars Players No Limit Hold'em Championship. The event, at a casino in Barcelona, has a prize pot of around $5.1m (£3.9m).
The 21-year-old won his seat at the poker table - itself a prize worth around £22,500 - by facing some of the game's best players after winning at PokerStars Lex Live 2 event in London in October.
Tom, from Holywood in Co Down, is in his third year of an International Politics with Conflict Studies degree, and lives in student accommodation in Belfast.
With a dedicated following online, he is now making enough money from Twitch viewers, who pay to subscribe to his channel, to cover his rent.
Tom said he was shocked but delighted to be Spain-bound.
"I am really excited. I get to bring a guest and the tournament lasts six days," he explained.
Tom said that his love for playing poker began around two years ago when he discovered Twitch.
"You don't really hear about poker here much. There's nowhere to play poker legally in Northern Ireland. There's no casinos," he added. "I am quite competitive. I played a lot of sports in school and poker's about discipline as well."
He estimates that he has won around £4,500 overall - with his single biggest win around £1,000 - since he starting playing properly.
However, he said it is not about the amount won - instead it is about the strategy involved in beating fellow players. "It's about the thrill of winning. If you speak to anyone - one of the best players - they'll usually say that it doesn't matter if the winnings are £1, £10 or £1,000, it's about being able to use strategy against your opponents," he said.
"On Twitch, you're in your room on a computer or a laptop but you can chat and talk online, which makes it enjoyable. Whereas in a tournament in a casino, you're meeting face to face."
At last year's inaugural PokerStars tournament the jackpot of $5.1m was won by Ramon Colillas, a former fitness trainer from Barcelona, who topped a field of 1,039 players to take home the prize.
The prospect of following in Ramon's footsteps by winning a life-changing amount of money is one Tom is dreaming about.
He added: "It would be nice to win. I maybe would like to make poker my profession. Who doesn't want to travel the world playing in places like Barcelona?"
He said that if he ends up playing poker professionally he would be careful to invest his wins wisely, like the major poker players.
He added: "Starting off it was always small amounts of money I would play with and I would advise anyone who is thinking about it to start off small. There are games you can play for 2p. Don't risk an amount that you can't afford to lose."
And regardless if he wins or loses in Barcelona, Tom is looking forward to having a good time. "Even if I'm knocked out on the first day, I still have a week-long break in Barcelona," he added.
◊ Information about Gamblers Anonymous support groups across Northern Ireland can be found at www.mindingyourhead.info/topics/gambling