30/04/2008

Breaking the Bank

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

Despite the lack of obvious sleep, I bowled over toward my EPT Grand Final starting table with massive enthusiasm. I was still enjoying receiving the plaudits from virtually everyone I came across who hadn't seen me since Dublin, and if I got bored of that, for even a second, I could soon tune in again to a fresh person telling me how brilliantly I was playing and how they'd seen it coming for ages.

Some people enjoy France for its scenery, the capital for its culture and shopping, the south of the country for the mild weather and generally for the cuisine. I like to come here for the French poker players. My first table contained a typical selection of the species. There was no way any of these people could pass A10 preflop, or top pair on the flop, and if you could just flop a set, you were guaranteed a full double-up. It also meant that only an idiot would attempt to make any kind of bluff. God knows how I resisted that temptation, but I enjoyed watching a couple of allegedly good players try.

I didn't manage to flop a set by the time that table broke, but I was happy to join in with the local custom of treating pocket tens as if they were pocket aces and moved to 18k from my 15k starting stack. I did flop a set against quite a lively young American on my second table, and when I moved to my third table I had a healthy 30k. It was at this point that another young American, (this tournament is infested with kids who wouldn't even be allowed in the Bellagio without their parents. Most have them have been millionaires twice and are currently skint, but they all are apparently enormous online winners), moved all-in for 5k (16bb) under the gun. The fella who was next to speak, (who looked like he was sleeping in a tent), took an age to call. It was 5k out of his healthy looking 26k, it just HAD to be jacks. I looked down at AK and contemplated a pot I'd put absolutely no money into so far.

When people have asked me recently whether my tournament game has changed a lot in the last six months I'm pretty sure it hasn't. What I think has happened is that people's perception of me has changed a lot. Other players are fearing me, which helps me to approach certain situations with a lot more confidence. I moved the whole lot in with the AK and the guy who looked like he was sleeping in a tent, (it transpired him and his mates won a seat in the tournament, couldn't afford the hotels, and were living in a tent), passed his jacks. I was up against pocket queens and the board which started with an ace and a jack helped me to a healthy stack.

The rest of the day was uneventful, I spent the last hour on The Champ's table discussing millenary, and ended with a stack very similar to the end of my day one in Dublin.

Day two always looked a bit dodgy. I'd been in Monte Carlo for around 36 hours and hadn't found anything decent to eat yet. Generally I don't really mind paying through the nose for burgers and sandwiches, or even room service (after all I am absolutely caked-up now), but it better be decent. The room service menu at The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel was limited to about four items and the cafe downstairs had three of them plus two others. Unless you wanted four courses, all of which (including the dessert), containing foie gras, you were really struggling. Fresh fruit appeared to be totally out of the question.

When you combine that with a lack of sleep and a starting table that consisted of poker players who think they're film stars, and a woman whose amazing breasts encouraged every camera in the room to snap at every movement, it was no wonder I was soon becoming ratty. Marcel's habit of accumulating every small denomination chip on the table always annoys me, but his refusal to give out change today caused me to get quite cross and call the floor. By the time our table had picked up a couple of young internet whizzkids, and I'd failed to win a significant pot for three hours, I became totally pissed off.

When four of our eight failed to get back from the break (including the big blind), I felt sure the American kid with the reputation to match his waistline, would try to nick my small blind. I instantly moved in on him. It was only when my Q5 and his AK were turned over that I realised quite how many chips he had.

It took me a long time to struggle back to a reasonable stack and eventually I picked up a couple of hands, knocked out some kid who thought he could play better than he appeared to, and ended the day with an above average stack.

Day three would surely be better. I'd discovered that continental breakfasts weren't a bad thing to have for at least two meals a day, and had managed a fair bit of sleep, despite gaining a Great Britain team mate as a squatter. I was cheerily optimistic and soon took my stack up to a healthy 185k against the average of 120k. There were "only" 110 players left and the bubble would be at eighty, with 17k Euro being the minimum prize.

My mindset and my week could be categorised as gloomy and downcast in equal measure so far, but at least we'd arrived at the fun part of the thing, and maybe if I could shake off this former-World Champion to my right things would be ok.

Joe Hachem has always been fun when I've played with him before, today he was a bit annoying. His enormous stack of chips meant it was a bit unnecessary, in my mind, to take an age over some minor decisions. Some of us shorter stacks were looking to get on with things. When he did play pots he was stealing a lot, as I would expect with his chips, but a couple of times at the showdown he would refuse to turn his hand over, despite retaining the option to claim the pot, even though he was due to show first.

I was pretty sick when the table broke, but we both picked the same new table. I would have position on him, but it didn't help me much in a massive pot where he hit his card on the turn, and again on the river, after I correctly read him as weak on the flop.

It was at that moment that I was effectively out. I could and should have still made the money, but I let my head go completely. I was ashamed at how badly I played the last hand and couldn't get away quick enough from my table-mates and %-swappers Robin Keston and Woody Deck. I'd have to leave Woody, who was really cross about the lack of showdown etiquette, to insist that procedures were followed correctly. It was a shame I missed the near punch-up and the pronouncement:

"Who do you think you are? Why do you behave like an asshole?" that followed minutes later.

Some people might think that a thirty minute break in my room wouldn't be enough to regain my composure, and that entering a new two-day tournament immediately after the disappointment of elimination from the biggest tournament in Europe would just be a waste of a thousand euro. Until the dinner break of that tournament I'd have said those people were right. After some food and wine though I actually played quite well. I finished fortieth of the four hundred players and lost a race without getting all that close to the 120k first prize. At least I could hold my head up over my play though.

As I sat on my balcony, overlooking the beautiful bay, the bubble boy snoring away in the room behind me, while I caught up with a couple of four am phonecalls, life didn't seem too bad.

When I originally planned to go to Monte Carlo, at least part of me thought of it as a pre-Vegas holiday. The last day, despite starting with a swim and a laze by the pool, which was followed by some mid-afternoon blackjack and a nose around the town, wasn't really as relaxing as it ought to have been. The sit 'n' gos in the evening should also have been light-hearted and lucrative. They ended up being frustrating and annoying as well as slightly stressful.

Generally my problem with the place is that it's false and tacky. You'd think someone who'd spent so much of his life in Vegas wouldn't really mind that, and might even revel in the fact. The difference is that Vegas knows very well that it's false and tacky, and is quite rightly proud of that fact. Generally speaking the casino's there are expert at separating you from your money, but they want to give you a good time for that money, and they'd love you to come back. This place, and the people within it, seems to think that money somehow makes them something that they are not. I found the atmosphere strangely sinister and a little odd.

I loved the tournament structure, organisation and field. I'm sure I would have enjoyed things a lot more generally if my brain had been in a slightly happier place and I would definitely come here again. By the end though I found myself, not for the first time, desperately missing home.

I was back in the Vic within three hours of the plane touching down and stayed there for the rest of the night. After three weeks of the jet-set, a week's holiday here could be just what I need.