21/08/2007

People who play poker tournaments quite commonly trade percentages of their action. If I'm in a tournament with you and we trade 10% and I go on to win $100k, (however far fetched that may seem), then you get $10k. If you also cash and get $10k, then I pay you just $9k. In big tournaments professional players often swap with a number of players in order to spread their risk and reduce the enormous variance that comes with the large fields these days. In smaller tournaments people, including recreational players, often swap a small percentage as a social thing. If we had dinner together before the tournament and I have to wait for five hours after I've been knocked out, to give you a lift home then I want at least 5% when you win the thing.

I have a regular team of people I often swap with. They include four WSOP Bracelet winners and an EPT winner. I'm very lucky that they're all still prepared to swap with me. I'm also very unlucky, with one notable exception, in that I always seem to miss out on the day when they actually strike it rich. They always seem to win a bracelet in the event I didn't know they were playing, or at a time when they tried to call but my phone was switched off.

The Ladbroke Poker Million is a made for TV crapshoot poker tournament. Matchroom Sport has got seventy-two of the World's greatest poker players to put up $25k. Ladbrokes have then added $500k of their own so that the winner gets $1m. Some of the greatest players in the World couldn't make it, so they rang round a few people in their address book who they thought might have a spare $25k. I don't, but I know a few people who do. My old friend and Poker Verdict associate Warren Wooldridge is someone I often swap shares with. He wasn't playing in this tournament though and chose, rather than buy a percentage, to exchange a large slice of his Luton Grosvenor Poker Tour action for a small bit of my Poker Million.

I don't like to slag off the format too much, as it's nice to see the "Magic Sign" cough up a chunk of their own money. However, they and Matchroom may like to reflect that the players see this event as a bit of a novelty. It's not enormously prestigious and involves only limited skill, yet they all play it because of the massive prize pool and the added money. Maybe they could learn some lessons from the (sadly defunked) William Hill Grand Prix which the players universally heralded as the greatest ever TV poker tournament. The sponsors are keen to keep the results under wraps until they've been broadcast, so I won't say too much, other than this year's will be a very strong final and I'm hoping my two "horses" fare well.

It won't give an awful amount away if I also say that coming close to winning a million dollars is not great for your mental state. A smarter person might have realised that and taken a few days off. Several thousand pounds later I decided to switch and play a few tournaments to warm up for the next leg of the Grosvenor Poker Tour in Luton.

Two friends of mine came into the Vic last week, fresh from a pub quiz which one of them had organised. They were having some friendly banter over one of the questions. George's insistence that Tokyo was the World's most populous city had caused India's team to come second. She had, just that day, been reading an article, which proved Shanghai was the answer. George's shocking negligence had cost India and her team mates over four pounds each.

I was greatly amused because I thought the question had asked for the World's most POPULAR city. How much better the quiz would be if all the questions were purely subjective, I mused. One thing is for certain though - no team could possibly answer Luton.

I've now vowed at least five times in my life to never go back to Luton. The town suffers a little by being close to London but not close enough. When I've schlepped back from there after a 6am finish, the following day is never much fun, but it seems too near to stay over. I've certainly never been very lucky there although I've made a few final tables, particularly in the smaller comps.

In the last couple of years I've become totally turned off by the whole organisation of the place. I think I'm spoilt by spending so much time playing in the Bellagio and, (don't laugh), at the Vic, where, say what you like about the place, they really know how to run a poker tournament.

On Tuesday I thought I'd give Luton another chance. The whole operation has moved down the road and become a "G" Casino with an enormous new card room. The monkey Double Chance Freezeout should get 180 players and I could do with the thirty grand. Double Chance as a format was invented by Roy Houghton at the time of the original Poker Million. He felt that the top American pros they wanted to attract might be put off by flying 8000 miles and going out on the first hand. In Luton, the people have travelled from Watford, Harpenden and Milton Keynes, there is also the odd intrepid cockney; we may not need a second chance. With 5000 chips for each "life", and a stupid stipulation that you couldn't take the second lot until you lost half or more of your first, it just slowed proceedings down. The other thing that slows things down is the lack of an ante. An insistence that "we never have an ante in Luton" doesn't seem a good enough reason to make all their competitions especially suitable for total rocks. At 11.30pm my 'phone rang. I told the excited other party that I was still in. I'd survived with an average stack. I didn't like to mention that after four hours only ten people were out. If it ran to plan then around forty people would be still playing at 5.30am. They would then come back at 2pm on Wednesday when over half of them would be eliminated with no prize money, while eight lucky people would play for another five hours to get a little less than their buy-in back. Why on earth did I come here?

Eventually I found a way to get knocked out, pausing only to flop set-under-set in the cash game, before moodily heading home.

By Thursday I was back. The Grosvenor Poker Tour gives us a big field, a proper structure and a decent first prize with added money. It's also a freeroll for me thanks to those lovely people at PokerVerdict.com.

In Newcastle I had a table full of familiar old faces and in Luton I surpassed that. Mick "The Clock" recently lost the record (to JJ Liu) as person who's knocked me out of most poker tournaments. He's still a pretty close second though, and he's a tricky bloke to share the blinds with. While my other neighbour Michael Arnold slept through two of the first three hours, I was able to get some side bets on the tournament with Mick's neighbour Dave Colclough.

The buffet was actually quite good and was probably the high spot of the trip. By 9.30pm I'd played for less than five hours and not won a pot. I hadn't even seen a pair. I had a rush of cards immediately afterwards (a pair of deuces, a pair of nines and AhQh) and soon went out. The total number of hands I won in the Newcastle and Luton legs of the tour was three.

At least I wouldn't have to spend any more time in Luton. I was delighted to follow the progress of some good friends going deep in the event. Nik Persaud has suffered cruel luck and gone deep in two legs of the tour already. This one wasn't any better for him but I certainly will be happy to bet on him again, and I hope he comes to the next leg. Adam Stoneham has been getting the lot in tournaments lately, but after the luck he got in this one he told me he was never playing one of these stupid things again. We'll see him in the West Country. I also know that the Vinson clan will be travelling on mass, as they can stay with their auntie. She'll be pleased.

Even without the percentage I'd be delighted for my old mate Warren though. Obviously I'd have loved to have seen him lift the trophy, but I think he won the plaudits for his aggressive play in the final and got a great result which he really deserves.

He's also got me right out of it.

Neil "Bad Beat" Channing will next month head to Plymouth where hopefully a smaller field might mean he can finally win one of these damned things. He'll be supported by PokerVerdict.com.