They say the day you bust out of the $10,000 Main Event at the WSOP is always the worst day of the year for any poker player. In the past, I would generally agree with that. I would say, in an average year, I think about the WSOP Main Event on about 170 of the days. I'm sure it's been a three-figure number of days I've thought, even for a fleeting minute, about the WSOP Main Event, for over ten years now. Even before then I thought about it quite often.
If my poker year is often defined by how my whole WSOP went and if poker is my job, and something I spend most of my time doing, then how I do in the WSOP Main Event that year is a bit of a big deal to me.
Since Black Belt Poker, though, it seems to have changed a little. The event still has an enormous significance to me; it's just that everything moves back by about two days. My day of sadness has now become the day that the last Black Belt Poker player gets knocked out of the Main Event.
My personal day of sadness has also switched. It's become that gut-wrenching moment, the long time waiting, followed by the seconds of terror and the agony and pain.
The queue for buying in is always way too long and it kills me to hand over all that money.
Black Belt Poker is generally happy to stake any of our players who are Blue Belt or higher in the Main Event. This year, we had shares in eight guys, including myself. Some others could have played if they hadn't gone home or let their Belt status slip. We were happy that we had a good squad with some depth to it, and hopefully a little star quality.
I got the boys to play Day 1C so that we could play on the weekend, get the maximum rest days in, and avoid the most crowded day when the lines for food and the bathroom are longest. We set off to The Rio feeling that the long hot summer was coming to a close, but really this was the start of a massive new adventure where someone's life could be changed for ever.
I hoped that as many as six of our eight players would get through to Day 2. It was horrible to think who might be the two we'd be muttering cliches to in few hours time.
The night before the Main, the whole team had been Downtown for dinner at Binion's Steakhouse. I wanted to show the lads the history of the WSOP, to realise that it isn't just another tournament, so that they could see why people care more than in any other event, and why the value of "tournament life" is completely different. I wanted them to realise that six-bet shoving A-Q was not the way to approach this day.
I drummed into them the importance of survival. I told them over and over that seeing flops against people who are totally inexperienced in deep-stacked No Limit Hold'em events was the way forward and that there was no place for dick-measuring contests with young internet whiz kids.
I had played the Main Event nine times up until that moment and I'd only once failed to make Day 2. To me, only a big cold deck or a bad beat should stop you getting through. 'You cannot win it on Day 1' was another good old one I fed them. I have no idea if they listened purely to appease me or if it was sinking in. They probably think I'm out of touch and borderline senile.
Some people worried that the event would lose its value post Black Friday...
On my first table, there were two guys who, between them, had every pot covered. If one didn't call, the other did; mostly it was both of them. They didn't mind cold-calling three-bets or limping under the gun; they just wanted to be in. If they caught any kind of piece they were on a through-ticket to the river and their idea of floating was paying to see the turn, at any price, with the intention of check-folding if they still didn't have a pair or even at least a gutshot.
Obviously, I never won a pot off either geezer. At one time, I was staring hard at one of them, just daydreaming really. I realised that I couldn't really see him. I simply had a vision of a large pile of $100 bills going up in smoke with the charred pieces of paper floating away.
They both bust before dinner.
I cracked on a bit as the day wore on. I'm old now and it takes me a while to suss out how people play, but once I got a handle on this lot I felt quite comfortable. I had one guy on my direct left who probably cost me a 100,000-plus stack, but I was happy going back with well over average.
The feeling was magnified ten times over when I realised we had 100 percent eight from eight into Day 2.
Sunday wasn't a total day off for me. Black Belt Poker may be a small (but growing) site but we managed to have four qualifiers in the Main Event this year. I remember 2003 when PokerStars had 23 qualifiers, so I reckon we'll be there in a few years time.
Sunday was pretty exciting too as four of our four made it through.
A third of the people who started playing on Monday would be coming back on Thursday. I would therefore expect four to get through from our eight professionals and four qualifiers. You would think I'd be delighted that five of the eight and all four qualifiers made it then. I wasn't.
I had been up to over 100,000 and down to 1,800 chips. I had folded Q-Q on a flop of T-6-6 when I simply bet and got raised. It sounds utterly ridiculous and a sign that I'm surely turning into Phil Hellmuth, but the guy has come up to me several times since to assure me that he had pocket tens which I soul-read him for. Losing a blind-on-blind pot of 50,000 with A-6 vs Js-7s hurt me a lot more (AIPF).
I turned my 1,800 into 11,400, but that didn't console me much. If you wanted to know if my poker is less important to me now I have Black Belt Poker to think about, the feeling in my stomach at the end of Day 2 was your answer.
We all woke up at 8am the next day as the coach arrived at the Black Belt Poker mansion.
By midday, we were in the middle of Lake Mead, having a lovely swim in the middle of the desert. It was great.
I was exhausted and suntanned and ready for bed by 10pm.
Day 3 was short for me. I open-shoved twice on the first circuit and then three-bet shoved on the same guy three times in twenty minutes. On the third time, he was the caller and I had A-Q. The initial raiser folded 7-7 and he snapped with A-T for 34,000 more playing 600/1,200 from a 180,000 stack. It was a nice 82,000 pot. Not bad from 1,800... until the window card killed my dreams for yet another year.
The others started to fall quite quickly; by the end of the day, we had Jamie, who had struggled on manfully with a short stack, David, who had seen his stack bisected by A-A vs. K-K early on but battled back well, and Greg, our last qualifier.
If Greg cashed, we would be paying out $10,000 to him to play next year. It was a bonus we offered to encourage people to play our satellites. We still cheered Greg heartily as getting a qualifier in the Black Belt Poker colours into the November 9 would be so good for the company.
In the end, we didn't have much bubble fun. Jamie was too low to do anything but try and cash and hang in there while David yoyo'd a lot without getting much momentum. Greg had a bigger bubble than most, and got through it without much strain. Jamie and David departed soon after the bubble and Black Belt Poker were left to support Greg. We like Greg, very nice fella, and would be great to see him do well, but it could have been really exciting for us...
Earlier in the year, a young fella called Sam Holden inquired about our Belt system and decided he fancied playing a bunch of WSOP events while living in a luxury mansion. He found it was pretty easy to work up to Green Belt and now just had the short step to Blue to make. At this point, his circumstances changed and, with them, his plans. He decided to come out to Vegas under his own steam and sell off a little action in the Main.
We still love Sam and we wish him well in the November Nine. I'm also a big fan of Eoghan [O'Dea] who I ran into a lot during the trip. If he can just stay off the drink...
Greg wasn't able to join them; he exited in 157th spot for $55,000. Not bad for a satellite spin-up and he'll be in the event next year too thanks to Black Belt Poker.
With the mansion now empty, it was time to fly home and try and get back in the grind. It was a long summer for me. Personally, it was extremely frustrating and disappointing. For Black Belt Poker, it started pretty badly and ended up well, but it could have easily been more.
Neil Channing is back to schlepping around the provinces looking for scraps and trying to sign you up to Black Belt Poker nowadays.