As take-off got nearer and nearer it seemed that the seat next to me wouldn't be filled. I could really spread myself out.
"...this is the only Premium Economy seat that's free."
The words of the stewardess filled me with dread as I noticed a miserable looking, enormously fat guy eyeing me up and down. While I was wondering whether to pick my nose and try to fart loudly, he decided he didn't like the cut of my jib and skulked off to suffer whatever was wrong with his original seat.
I was free to concentrate on worrying about immigration and the prospect of being refused a chance to spend seven weeks squandering my bankroll on attempting to become a World Champion for the 11th consecutive year.
As it was I sailed through. I chose a lady official, who cleverly noted that I seem to come on a very long vacation at the same time every year. I said I did and settled for "consultant to some Internet companies" for an occupation. That led to no more questions and I was free to go and hang around the luggage carousel with Iwan Jones and Matthew Stevens. I resisted the temptation to mention the World Snooker Championship semi-finals and we talked about poker before, in a rare piece of luck, my luggage was among the first off, and I was on my way to Bellagio.
I found walking around the poker room there quite comforting. I like to know that I can look over and see Ben Akiva grafting away in the $20/$40 limit stud game while Jon Shoreman is showing the $60/$120 mixed games boys that he knew Paduki long before they gave it a completely different name and got the rules wrong.
I soon run into Praz, Sunny and Jerome and they're all keen to update me on their trip so far. They all seem so young to have achieved such enormous poker success and their enthusiasm for the game is fun to see. I hope that they relish the good times they've had so far, and remember them, because they'll be bitter disappointments and enormous amounts of pain and misery any time now, if they carry on choosing poker tournaments as their way to make an easy living.
I shoot off to The Rio as I've heard it will be a nightmare to register for tournaments, but the $1500 plh is not that popular and I sail through in five minutes. I bump into my old friend The Prince, who seems to still not have a shilling to his name, but happily tells me he hasn't missed a $10k WPT event in the last year. He's recently played the one at the Mandalay Bay as well as the $25k buy-in Championship Event at Bellagio.
We decide he can wait a little bit longer to sort out the bit of scratch he nipped me for three years ago as long as he drops me at The Wynn where I'm meeting Jeff. Jeff hasn't had a great trip, fiscally speaking, but is his usual cheerful self. We have a good old natter and a laugh. He tells me of a very astute observation that one of his daughters made:
"You're supposed to be a professional poker player right? Then why do you keep coming here when you never win?"
Next morning I'm actually quite excited about the prospect of playing a poker tournament. It has occurred to me that with the arrival of the poker revolution and the spread of no-limit, London is probably the only place where you can still play pot-limit hold 'em on a daily basis. Given that I probably play more hours than most of the people in the town, I may just be the most experienced pot-limit hold 'em player in the World.
With this new train of thought I feel sure a bracelet is only days away.
My table is fun, but doesn't look as easy as some of the surrounding ones. We have a few pros, and not too many complete idiots, although no household names. The guy opposite intrigues me. He may just be the most polite poker player on the planet, never failing to declare "good luck all-in" or to demonstrate how a gentleman takes a bad-beat. He comes across as a slightly new to live play, slightly bumbling novice. Surely it must all be an act. Nobody can be this nice, particularly a poker player. I ask him whether this is his first World Series and he tells me he played last year. I press him further and he reveals he got a third in this event, the $1500 plh. When I ask him if that's his biggest ever win, (I'm amusing myself thinking the answer is 99.9% a "yes"), he says that that would be the 24th place in last year's Main Event when he cashed for $495,000. It's then that I realise we are playing with internet legend "Rizen", winner of many a Pokerstars competition and star of his own poker instructional DVDs.
I played well in the tournament and enjoyed my table, but was a little frustrated to lose my chips to probably the weakest player I faced, and to end up 78th/800 with only 72 making the money.
Seeing as I'm staying at Bellagio, and have vowed to avoid the trap of stumbling from one WSOP $1500 or $2000 nlh event to the next aimlessly dwindling my bankroll, I made a plan to play some cash for a few days. With me in it the $5/$10 nlh played a lot bigger than it normally would, and after a couple of days of enormous volatility, the smoke cleared and I was nicely in front. I now felt confident enough to step up to the $10/$20 where I sat with $6k and got to $15k before ending a long day with twelve. I could play a couple more tournaments with "their" money.
The $1500 short-handed nlh was fun, although again frustrating. I was around 180th of the 1500 players which meant no wages for eight hours work. I had been up and down like a yoyo and had played a couple of enormous pots. When discussing how it had gone with Ross Boatman, who I bumped into on Friday, he commented:
"It sounds like your graph looked a bit like one of Ram's."
I walked away quite happy. If all my graphs look a bit like Ram's I'll know I've been doing something right. It can only be time before something good happens.