08/07/2007

My last diary was something of a nostalgia-fest. Some people seemed to quite like that while the others, most of whom never mentioned it, probably thought it was absolutely terrible. ("Why can't he get back to moaning on about his bad luck?" they probably thought). As a quick postscript I should point out that I was aware that Stu Ungar won his third WSOP Main Event in 1997, and not 1999 which I typed in error. (thanks DY). I know this because that was my first trip to the WSOP. I walked across the floor of the Horseshoe toward the hotel check-in with my entire bankroll of $2800 in my pocket. The first familiar face I saw was Tony Bloom who asked if he could borrow a grand.

In those days the cash games in London were either tiny seven-card stud games comprising of incredibly old men who knew much better than me the implications of a door-card pairing on fifth street, or enormous PLO games that were way out of mine, and most other players', reach. Occasionally we got a fifty quid hold 'em game, but these were often only available when the Vic put on a festival of tournaments. Festivals would take place only four times a year, and I thought anyone who wasted time during those weeks playing the competitions was just crazy. These were your only real weeks to earn, and they were a good supplement to the job I had at the time.

Outside of festivals I would play a few tournaments "just for fun". I never usually did more than twentyish a year, mostly they were in the fifty rebuy to five hundred freezeout range, they'd each get around sixty players and if I didn't win four by December 31st I'd be disappointed. Most years I managed it.

It took me until 2001 before I mustered the confidence to finally enter a WSOP event. I'd always been terrified by the top-name players and had thought myself not good enough to take the plunge. I finished 17th in that $3000 NLH tournament for which I received $8,895. If a certain Ram Vaswani hadn't reraised me twice at a vital moment (I think I was too naive to realise he was just restealing, and that his garbage was probably worse than mine), I may have got to battle with Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel for the bracelet.

It's only in recent years that things really changed. When I got a sponsor in 2005 I could start playing lots of events. I went from a twenty tournaments a year man to a fifty or sixty. Many of those would be at the WSOP. The tournaments I was entering were also changing. Now instead of sixty players a field of 250 would look smallish. The players also changed too. Before you were flying thousands of miles to challenge yourself against the World's elite. Now you were competing with some of the worst players in the World, much worse than the average bloke at home, and there were bloody thousands of them.

Throughout this time I did quite well in the smaller events. During the 2005 WSOP they ran $200 Late Night Freezeouts. I made eight cashes and five finals, winning one of these, while at home I could win at the Vic and the Gutshot quite easily. It was the bigger events I was struggling to beat. Playing fifteen WSOP events, a couple of WPTs and a load of smaller ($1500 to $5000) Bellagio tournies with no big scores was starting to get me down. Most of the competitions at home were too small to bother with, my time was better rewarded playing cash, while the ones in the States had so many players, and you could never tell if it was the variance or just bad play that was to blame.

This year's WSOP was to be different. My new sponsors, PokerVerdict.com, have happily put me in all of the Grosvenor Poker Tour Events but they weren't looking to take a major punt on my World Series assault. I was going to have to pick and choose my events carefully, to give myself some bracelet shots, without making an enormous hole in the bankroll. The sample size would be even smaller than before. If I was just an average player and played ten bracelet events I'd be about 100/1 to win one. In just a thousand years I'll find out if I'm any good.

My understanding of variance, sample sizes and standard deviation may be better than average, but I was getting depressed with my absence of cashes on this trip. Things got so bad I felt I needed to thoroughly refresh myself.

The Spa at THEHotel Mandalay Bay is really quite posh and tranquil. For $20 you get to visit as much as you want in a day. I went for a long session in the steam room, followed by a sauna and a dip in the icy pool. I'm always a bit nervous about male nudity and I wouldn't have started a conversation, but the bloke from California turned out to be a former-hippy turned Catholic priest. He told me he was on vacation and we talked a bit about gambling and other sins. I left as soon as was polite. I've had more enjoyable steam-room sessions.

I must have looked pretty miserable for the next day or so as Mr Big decided I should play the $5000 6-handed NLH and threw me a Bellagio "Flag". I had ruled it out as beyond my budget, but he was keen to cheer me up. It worked for a short while until the ace-high flop stopped my QQ from making me chip-leader of the 700 players. I was out shortly afterwards.

The next days $2000 NLH was even worse. I managed a row with two particularly horrible individuals, who were attempting to get the poor dealer fired over a minor error, got a bad ruling from a floorman and just when it couldn't get worse, the nice elderly chap next to me got excited and spilled his hot coffee all over my trousers. It's lucky the service is so poor at the Rio or it could have been a nasty scald. I was actually quite pleased when I flopped two pair against his set two minutes later.

The next day The Champ put me in the $1500 NLH. I wasn't sure whether to be touched by these displays of faith or morose at becoming a charity case. The lucky money didn't help me anyway.

By Saturday night I was totally fed-up with poker tournaments, so being a junkie, I popped over to the Bellagio for their 8pm $1000 freezeout. This one got a record crowd of 177 and was looking like an early night for me until...what's this?...aces against kings...and no king.

I haven’t really had a lot in the way of big cards this trip and when they came I was able to really capitalise. I was soon running over the table and cruised through to the final where, at 7.45am, to repay an old favour, my good friend Barry Neville negotiated me a very good deal. With just 22% of the chips I would get $40k of the $120k the three of us were playing for. I should play more of these tournaments.

The days since then have been just great and the gloom has completely lifted. See how superficial I am? Afternoons by the pool give way to meals with old friends and then further trips to Bellagio. One particular treat was the day we sat poolside with a cream tea of cucumber sandwiches, scones, cream and strawberries while watching Wimbledon. It was 115 degrees and my tan makes me look like Peter Benson during a wet March.

One of the nicest meals was to help celebrate with my good friend Andy Ward who finally made a cash. He did it in style by finishing second in the Limit Shootout. With Ram finally getting a much deserved and long-awaited first bracelet, I think even Andy thought it a great result all round.

I've played four tournaments since Saturday, all in the peaceful Fontana Room at the Bellagio overlooking the beautiful fountains. In every one I have had moments where I've made good decisions, pulled off squeeze plays, bluff reraises and all-in calls. I've found myself remembering how to play these tournaments.

It's lucky as my Day One of the Main Event is tomorrow.

Next time you see Neil Channing he could be a World Champion, with a little help from PokerVerdict.com.