A Better Place to Play

It was a year of mixed emotions for Black Belt Poker head honcho, Neil Channing. Despite a GUKPT Luton title, Neil suffered a succession of second place finishes, including a near bracelet miss in the $5,000 shootout event in Vegas. Nevertheless, he still netted $674,463 for the year in live tournament winnings, and once again proved why he is one of the UK’s most consistent players.

When rushing around the country between events, I tend to get the train. People often moan about delays and cancellations, but I seem to run quite well. Not having a car is actually a great excuse to use on the five occasions a year when somebody writes to me with some "amazing" personalised number plate that I really ought to be spending four grand on.

Despite the snow – which you could see from either side of the carriage – I was able to get from Coventry and the Tournament of Champions to the Vic and the Unibet Open with no hassles at all.

I could spend some time talking about how I literally travelled from one world to another but that was the last blog. I would recommend these Unibet tournaments and I should play more next year. They have a good structure, they are well organised, and they have a decent number of runners with lots of qualifiers. Some of the qualifiers didn’t seem to play too well. I didn’t play too well either.

I spent the whole of the next few days on the ‘phone. I mean, I literally woke up at 11am and made my last call at 1am for three days solid. If you’re ever wondering why I don’t ring you as often as I used to or why I never seem to answer, that is the reason right there. Three days later my throat was gone and I still had a load of calls to deal with.

The Poker Million final is a pretty important day on the UK poker calendar. To the players, the event is not as prestigious as, say, an EPT or a bracelet, but it is live on TV. If you win this one people really remember it for years.

If you are the commentator it’s almost as good.

I was nervous about it being just Jesse and I. Last year I was getting a break every now and then. My voice was going, and I had six hours solid talking to do. If I swear or say something I shouldn’t, I’m in trouble. If I give an opinion on the strategy which a few hundred geeks on Two Plus Two would regard as "retarded", I’m pilloried for ever.

I thought I did OK. Not my best one ever, but not too bad. It was fun to sit and chat with Jesse [May]. I forgot about the audience.

I got in at 2am and two strangers had kindly taken the time out to write and tell me I was shit and I know nothing. One of them pointed out to me that I was only commentating because I wasn’t good enough to be in the final and I never win anything. I’m presuming he bases his whole poker wisdom on TV poker.

He’s right. I haven’t won anything this year. I actually played pretty badly on TV. I’m going to make it a resolution to play better on TV this year.

I got some sleep and spent the next day talking again. We were holding one of our Black Belt Academies at The Fox Club. It was fun and I enjoyed spending the time with the players. I felt a little underprepared though. The people who go to these things have paid money to be there and they love to ask a thousand questions. If you get one wrong or you don’t know the answer, it can feel a bit like the TV commentary. I’m making it a resolution to spend a bit more time on poker training, some of that time I’ll spend getting myself some.

My last tournament of the year was the Monte Carlo at Dusk Till Dawn. The structure was great, the dealers were excellent, the tournament was well run, there was a guarantee and they got a decent sized field. I played better than I had done for months. I lost one race and came home. I resolved to go to DTD in February for the UKIPT event. I sweated Jerome [Bradpiece] throughout the event. Of all the players I have ever backed, Jerome has stayed with me the longest. He is very loyal and I believe him to be a great player. I’m hoping the variance roulette wheel will spin his way next year. When he bubbled the final table it felt like the biggest disappointment of my year.

Nottingham was surrounded by two Christmas dinners at the Vic. The first one was with old friends. I’ve played a ridiculous amount of poker with the people that were at that table and most of it was at the Vic. I miss the people and I miss the place. I should go more often this year. The second dinner was also great fun. These people were generally younger and they also play poker for a living. I don’t know them so well, but I’m really looking forward to playing some part in their progress down the poker path. This was the Black Belt Poker Christmas dinner. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far with our little company. We have great plans for it next year and a lot of the plans will involve the guys that were there that night. Looking at the team we have and reflecting on that made me very happy.

It’s been a pretty good year. It started in January with a second in the iPoker Monthly $500,000 on Black Belt Poker. I’m barely going to mention that my A-Q losing to A-6 meant I came second and that second was worth $100,000 or that first was $200,000.

In March, I played the GUKPT in London. I had a 3:1 lead heads up and second was 40 grand less than winning would have been.

In June I was second in the $5,000 Shootout at the WSOP. I got $273,000. I failed to win a bracelet and missed out on the $442,000 first prize.

It wasn’t that bad though, nobody died. I played pretty well; I think I played better in the event that Mike Ellis won, where I was pretty unlucky. If I look back and think of a bracelet that might have slipped away, it was really that one.

Lots of people asked me if I was really disappointed with that run of second places. I collected $500,000 in those events. We live in a world where people are starving, they don’t have a safe water supply, people are sleeping on the streets and dying of horrible diseases. How could I be upset? I got half a million for sitting around on my arse playing cards.

For this year, obviously I hope to win a bracelet and, from a poker point of view, that will be my top priority. I’ll be playing loads of events at the Series – I’ll be preparing myself perfectly, eating and sleeping properly and putting up with no distractions.

Outside of Vegas, I’m off to Oz and I’ll play all the events in London in September and the Irish Open at Easter. The one big event I’d really love to win will be Black Belt Poker’s London Live. We hope to get 400 players to put up $250 for a $100,000 prize pool. I’m going to make sure that happens.

Most of my wishes for 2011 revolve around Black Belt Poker. I’m working at least 30 hours and often 60 hours a week on the business and I’m determined to make it succeed. It feels like this could be a great year for our players and the site. I’d like to bet that the number of Black Belts goes up and that our players will have great results live. In fact, I am betting on that.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing as much as I used to, I just find the business stuff is more rewarding at the moment and I’ve always been one to switch emphasis and follow the thing I want to do.

Our time on the planet is so limited and if we aren’t constantly testing ourselves with new challenges, that is a shame. As I sit here drinking my New Year’s Eve cup of tea, I’m actually full of anticipation; if I win a bit of money for myself, that will be purely secondary.