Aurora Borealis

There were only going to be a couple of quiet days at home between Bristol and Blackpool. They weren’t exactly quiet either. As well as the people who kindly called to explain that by raising with a pair of jacks you will get the five/deuce to pass, there were also those who wanted to say that I should be pleased and that they’d noticed I was playing well. They were very kind and seemed enthusiastic about my chances of getting on the GUKPT scoresheet.

Truth be told, I wasn’t massively relishing a trip to the frozen north.

A while back we had a rather confident young guy sit in the Vic game one afternoon. He seemed to handle his chips and cards with experience, he won a few pots and started to build up an impressive chip stack in front of him. He was also able to analyse and critique the plays made by various people in the pots. Nothing was said, but we all knew. We looked around the table and knew. None of us really liked the cocky bastard, but it was ok, as we were going to send him skint.

Up until this point nobody had spoken to him. It was Frank who broke the silence:

"Where are you from son?", "Blackpool." was the reply.

Frank paused for just a second before slowly and definitely declaring:

"I feel sorry for you son. That is, without doubt, the biggest pisshole on the planet. I went there once. Eight quid for bed and breakfast. What a khazi."

The guy didn’t even disagree, nothing else was said. After a while he did his money and left. We never saw him again.

I’ve only played poker in Blackpool once before. The games were lively, the casino was ok and the people were friendly enough. It suffered, in my view, from being a little too far from London. The organisation of the card room needed a bit of work, there were no cash games until late and not much to do to pass the time. I remember walking around for three hours trying to find an Internet cafe. I felt like nobody I’d enlisted to help in my search had actually heard of computers, let alone the WorldWideWeb.

I decided I’d play on Friday. I could rush there on the train, play, get knocked out and be safely back in London for the weekend. Chufty, Willie and I set off on Thursday night and managed to get to our hotel before midnight. The whole place was infested with poker players and I managed to find a couple of people who fancied paying for breakfast. Barny, Muzza, Joe Grech and I caught up with Paul Bracken who I hadn’t seen for a while.

By the time I actually sat down to play I was quite looking forward to the tournament. I was obviously keen not to use up all my good luck this week, with the GUKPT final coming up at the Vic so soon, but with 353 players this was worth playing for.

My first table looked like fun, and I felt sure that Danny Samson, Simon Zach and myself could have a gamble and one of us would get chips. Just as Danny got them they moved me and my paltry stack.

I hate to moan about my luck, but I haven’t had the easiest tables throughout this tour and now the Poker Gods decided I’d like to see more of Jeff Duval, Praz Bansi, Paul "Muzza" Murrell, Jeff Kimber and Kevin O’Leary. Just my luck. By the time my bowl of rice goes in the last train will have gone.

I might as well try and do something with these last chips. Hang on, what’s this? A set? This freak occurrence was followed by another set on the very next hand and then a short interlude of even greater rarity value. I played brilliantly.

I went back on day two with 50k, against an average of 30k. Everything was looking quite rosy.

It was forty minutes before I got aces busted, lost two races, had a row with the dealer and took my remaining 9200 to a new table where I could soon post the 2k big blind. Why do I bother?

I’ve never been the Blondepoker "Climber of the Day", so if they gave it to anyone else that day I’ll sue. My chips went in the middle so often, it was like they were on elastic. If I hadn’t lost a race twenty minutes from the end I’d have 700k. As it was I had 270k against an average of 250k. Fourteen of us would come back on Sunday.

The soundtrack for this leg of the tour had so far been provided by one man. Wherever you were in the room you could hear Mad Marty commentating on hands, setting trivia quizzes or just cheering and laughing raucously. As he came up with yet another "trick" football question, I was reminded of the one about the FA Cup that used to be an annual favourite.

"What goes to the final every year but is never used?" goes the question. The answer is the ribbons of the losing team, which never get to be attached to the trophy.

The reason I thought of this question with Sunday coming up was because, for the first time on the tour, I had to iron my third PokerVerdict red top of the week. Up until now I didn’t even realise the GUKPT tournaments had a running ante.

Sunday was quite good fun in the end. The first hand of the day was prophetic. I raised with 9d4d and Paul Bracken reraised causing me to make a tough laydown.

When we got to the final an hour later I was second in chips. There were five Vic regulars at the table, four of whom I know very well. It should be fun and I was feeling quite confident.

It turned out to be quite uninteresting for me. Four times I got reraised, three times by Paul. On none of them could I ever really call. At the start of the final I’d have taken, if offered, third. Fifth was a bit disappointing. The highlight ended up being the waitress managing to accommodate my request and bring Cornflakes with cold milk to the table.

The PokerVerdict team were halfway back to The Smoke by the time we got the result. Well done and well played to Paul, and also to the other Vic boys "Muzza" and Ben Vinson. They must do good breakfasts up north.

With a few days to reflect and the cheque banked, it’s not so bad. I played quite well there for a while. We’ve got the festival at the Vic next week and the GUKPT final is the real one to win. The C4 people came round the other day and filmed me going in to the "office" and playing a game. They wanted to get a flavour of a typical afternoon at HQ. I played a pot with Tony Cascarino while John Duthie, Bambos and Roland watched. Where were they when it was really quiet last week? They must have known the cameras were in.

Neil Channing will be playing a few tournaments including the GUKPT Final at the Vic this week with the constant support of