As somebody who has been involved in this gambling lark for a few years now I find I have to constantly reinvent myself. Sometimes I change and I fancy one form of gambling more than another, because one seems more interesting to me and sometimes the form of gambling changes with one becoming harder than another. Sometimes I'm very quick to adapt; other times I'm terrible at it.
2011 was a transitionary year for me. In the previous four years I had often moved from cash player to tournament player and back again. I played what I fancied, choosing cash when the games were good and tournaments when I fancied them or I needed a break.
Last year I began the year playing tournaments and after spending time on my sports gambling and Black Belt Poker I found it hard to squeeze in the 60 hours of cash games a week. The games were just not there anyway. The days of the Vic holding daily £10/25 games were over and daily £2/5 didn't have the same allure.
After a WSOP that could at best be described as disappointing, in terms of my personal results, I knuckled down and worked hard for a few months. I decided to go back to the Vic and play every hour of every day.
In the current climate it is not just simply a question of walking in and a game forming (although on the days that does happen I should probably have a look at the way I'm playing) - it takes real effort to even start a game. I was texting and phoning people and all I would get is 20 questions about who was playing and how much they had in front of them and the like.
By the end of November I was starting to tire of it again. I had spent three months putting in twelve hours a day, six days a week and I'd done okay, but still, when I walked in, there wasn't much action.
I really love the Vic. One of the things I love the most is that 'Cheers' thing it has going. I know everyone in there and they know me. When I am travelling around the world I can think back to Harrowby Street safe in the knowledge that the boys are keeping the shop open until I get back. I also like to sell the idea of the Vic to people when I see them. Their number one selling point, in my opinion, is that it's the one place in London where 24 hours a day you can always get a game. That's what makes it the HQ of UK poker.
The Vic have a problem at the moment though. It's a problem created by the lowering of the average age of player in the No Limit Hold'em games and the influence of Internet poker encroaching on live poker.
In the old days I would often sit in bad games at the Vic with six or seven hungry pros at 4pm. We would push the blinds around and some money would change hands. In fact, if I recorded my figures in a more detailed way I would probably see that I lost money in these games. I gave too much action and I played hands out of position against these strong opponents.
At around 7pm the games would begin to change, and players who were coming from work would begin to sit down. These were the people we all wanted to play against, genuine recreationals. They would play well for a few hours but they might be tired from work or maybe only allowed out until midnight. From 10pm the games would get really good. From 2am until 5am there would be a few of the pros left playing with the remaining recreationals, short-handed play against people that are steaming. If my figures were more detailed I'm sure they would show that this was the best time to play.
The question you might ask is why did you ever bother coming in at 4pm then? Why not just turn up at 10pm and play until 5am?
There are three answers. The first is that you wouldn't get a seat. The waiting list would get really full at around 7pm when the guys came from work and you'd need to be there and in a seat or there would be no chance to get a game. Secondly, I hate to come into a movie ten minutes in. I like to see the whole story evolve. It really helps me to understand that this guy is steaming because of something that happened earlier in the evening.
The third reason is, I believe, the most important...
If everyone just came in and hoped to join a short-handed game with two stuck pros and three bad players who have been at work all day and have had a couple of drinks as we head towards 1am, the Vic wouldn't have a club. They need to make money otherwise the equation doesn't work. If there is no club there are no games. It's also vitally important that players know that there will always be a game. The recreationals that we'd all like to play every day are not going to come out if they get to the club and are told there's nothing going on.
Too many times in October and November I would try to start games and I would sit and play short-handed in tough line-ups, knowing that if we build it they will come. Two or three semi-pro live bumhunters would hang around declining to join the game. Sometimes our game would break at 10pm. I'd hate to think how many times a good customer would look in the door, see no game and leave, or ring up and be told that nothing was going on. Meanwhile the bumhunters would be off to the Palm Beach.
There were other days when our three-handed attempt to start a game would succeed and two random businessmen would join in. Suddenly the game would insta-fill with youngsters who felt happy to play. The second the businessmen left, the game would break as the bumhunters would leave.
I hate this to sound like a tirade against youth, it's just that this is an Internet phenomena and it is a group of young players that are causing it. They don't seem to get how fragile the eco-structure of live poker is and they are not thinking of the future.
The whole thing is kind of a prisoner's dilemna. I was always prepared to suck up some of the bad stuff, to take the losses in bad games, for the long-term good of the game. Nobody seems to care about the long-term anymore so I too have stopped caring.
My sports gambling went very badly in 2011 and I have focussed on turning that around with some success. It just takes hard work and focus. Between that and Black Belt Poker, I'm not finding the time or inclination to play as much live so I'm playing just once a week and I have no tournaments planned until the Irish Open.
I'm hoping that when I'm ready to go back the boys will have looked after the shop for me.
Neil Channing is going to be playing online for a bit and getting himself ready to win the 2012 Irish Open. Why don't you qualify for that one and join him?