22/10/2008

Army Manoeuvres

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

There's pretty much nowhere I'd rather go to play poker than the Vic during a big festival, (ok maybe The Rio during the later stages of a WSOP event, possibly Melbourne, Bahamas or Aruba if I'd ever been to any of those places and, just maybe, the CityWest Hotel in Dublin, but apart from those obvious exceptions...), and it doesn't really get much bigger than the EPT.

The clash with the WSOPE is awkward. On the one hand it does mean that lots of Europeans and Americans are likely to stay over and have a long trip to London, meaning the cash games are busy and the room is constantly buzzing. On the other hand it has meant that, inevitably, clashes in schedule do occur. My trouble is I just want to be everywhere at once, playing in all the tournaments while trying not to miss too much of the juicy cash action.

My way to enjoy the main benefits of all the frustration, annoyance, hassle and occasional glimpses of excitement and fun that tournaments can bring you was to have a wild week of staking people in the Vic. While I was busy grafting away in the £5k PLO at The Empire, a whole army of degenerates, desperados, skintos, people suffering a slight lack of confidence, fading stars about to go on a recovery rampage and potential future superstars were grafting away at HQ, having rebuys galore and trying to get themselves, and me, out of it. If only I was better at identifying which category people fall into, the army could have been a platoon.

By the time we got to Sunday's £1000 PLO tournament, which was described as the European Championships of PLO, I could do with a result almost as much as my old mate Clint.

Simon Eastwood was one of the very first people I ever played a poker tournament with. He was one of a hardcore group of punters at the Grosvenor Casino in Reading, who used to play three or four times a week. The Camel and I used to discuss the other players there, long before we were accepted into the group, and we easily identified Simon as one of the few long-term winners in the place. Generally speaking, if someone from those days is still around, you can take it that they are a long-term winner. It's either that or they're very patient and have a tremendous understanding of (/are attempting to delude themselves over) how long variance can take to catch up.

I've always identified and empathised with Simon, as I think, like me, his main problems with poker, come from within his own head. By the time I hurried over from The Empire, he was my last remaining chance in the tournament with eleven players left. I'd had seven representatives and five had gone out from 20th to 12th.

Despite the presence of the PLO World Champion, I could see Simon was zoned in and knew he could do it. I urged him to spurn the deal offer, as despite the crapshoot structure and the ridiculous lack of foresight from the Vic, meaning a chip-count was looming, I wanted to see Simon win. By the time it went to a chip count Simon virtually got first prize anyway.

Flushed with that success I armed Simon with a rackfull of chips for rebuys and went about recruiting a large battalion of people who looked like they might quite fancy playing the EPT, if only it wasn't costing £5400 to play. From my vantage point in Leicester Square I spent about £9500 on that £150 rebuy satellite and five lucky punters got a seat.

The EPT Main Event with its 10,000 starting chips and one-hour levels is something people would describe as a deep-stack structure. It was weird then to hear 100 mph Yilmaz moaning about middle-stack poker. He's right though. I think I often struggle with the adjustments to this format (which is a pity as virtually every major tournament in the UK follows the pattern). In the cash games we play, the blinds are big, but I rarely sit down with less than two-hundred BBs. In the TV tournaments and the smaller events I was brought up on it's all fast clock, 20-50 BBs and lot's of encouragement to stick it in and gamble. In these "middly" events it's so hard to get the balance right. I usually end up playing too many hands until half my chips are gone. A lot of other people just become total rocks and don't play at all. Maybe it's time for the EPT to look at The Bellagio who are favouring double and triple starting stacks now.

In the end I chose the "playing too many hands" end of the spectrum. By the time we despatched Phil Ivey from our table I had just the right stack to join the "stick it in and gamble" mob. That seemed to suit me much better and inside an hour I turned 2000 chips into around 30k.

Day two wasn't quite so much fun. I generally hate playing poker when I first wake up and would prefer all tournaments to start a bit later and run into the early hours. When I turned up late, just in time to see my big blind get scraped into the pot, I should have realised it was on me. The next hand, my small blind, looked good: I had two lovely aces. With the big blind yet to arrive surely someone would go for a steal and maybe there'd even be a resteal. OMG. Don't these people even want to win? Isn't there a thief among them. Three hands after this I made a slightly ill-judged move with a suited QJ and Andrew Teng, who'd literally just sat down, eventually called with AhKh to send me giddy. My five Golden Ticketers didn't fare any better.

The next twelve hours would be spent attempting to win £20k in the cash game. After eleven hours I was up to £16k and everything was going well. After thirteen hours I quit. I was £1400 down. Maybe I'd have to wake up fresh and win a one-table satellite for this £20k crapshoot they were calling the "High Rollers" event.

Just because I've been lucky and won a ridiculous amount of money playing tournaments this year doesn't mean that I still can't see the total lunacy involved in spending £20k to play ONE poker tournament. Some people used the fact that it was a crapshoot structure as their excuse for not pulling up (or having) the buy-in. I remember with fondness a time when every festival in the UK ended with a mad crapshoot tournament which could get you out of it for the week in one go. This one fitted the bill perfectly. After one failed satellite I handed over the money. It was painful.

I can remember re-re-raising with aces early on and check-folding the KJ10 flop. I can remember not limping with the old deuces and watching a war develop after a flop with a two on it fell. I can remember Devilfish playing a hand badly, looking very cross with himself and then spending a bit too much time telling us that he was steaming on the following hand. I remember forgetting, temporarily, how much I hate AQ, and how badly it matches up against aces, and being left with one ante chip so that I could spend the whole dinner break telling people 100, and letting them be impressed at my 100k stack.

I can't quite say it was worth the £20k. Maybe I should have just bought a car.

I did get to play against Jason Mercier for about five minutes. He's a good guy. We talked about his £5k PLO WSOPE final table and I told him that if he won the High Rollers he'd be the number one on the European rankings. I'm happy to report that not only did he say this was his last planned European visit of 2008, but that he seemed to have never even heard of Blackpool, Walsall or Thanet.

Neil Channing will be taking a couple of short breaks to Ireland. It'll be the amazing IPO followed by a visit to CityWest with his red shirt at the ready.