14/05/2008

Luckily Monte Carlo came along to remind me how incredibly stupid and annoying tournaments are, before I started to get at all carried away. I decided to have a week back at the Vic, burying myself in the game, and attempting to bring a bit of normality back into my life. It also offered an excellent chance for the regular punters there to laugh openly at me over the semi-naked pictures of me in this month's Bluff Magazine. After five long, losing days I'd soon remembered how poker can often be and really didn't fancy travelling off to Manchester for the GUKPT event there. It would break my record, as I'm the only person to have played all of these so far, but I just didn't feel like it.

With all plans for the weekend cancelled and Nik Persaud, now permanently wearing the lucky PokerVerdict colours, busy with a big stack in Manchester, I was free to play my heat of the Party Poker World Open on Saturday afternoon. Nik would play in the one I was originally down for on Monday.

I have mixed views about these 6-handed, made for TV, tournaments. Mostly I hate the idea of playing if the only prize money is put in by the players - Why should we pay to help Matchroom make a TV programme which will be sold all over the world, advertising Party Poker in some really obscure parts of Europe and Asia? On the other hand I have a tremendously good record in the first table of them, I think I've won four out of seven that I've played, without ever progressing through the semi-final. I think that the standard of the average player in them gives me an overlay and they offer value.

It used to be that, as poker players, we just approached tournaments as gambling situations, deciding whether to play according to what "value" we saw in the field. Now we seem to spend more time worrying about logos, juice and added money. It's seems like ages since I heard anyone use the expression "dead money". Despite all that, it annoys me that a sponsor can have their name to a tournament without giving anything back.

I recently was speaking to Roland about this very thing, and he tells me that himself and Tony G have now agreed to only play TV tournaments with added money - I think Joe Beevers is taking the same stance. I'll definitely be playing the Poker Million, for which sponsors Ladbrokes are coughing up $500k, and I enjoy the GUKPT, where sponsors Bluesq have done a lot to develop poker around the country. If Paddy Power fancy guaranteeing a 3m Euro prizepool for a tournament on the moon, I'll be more than happy to turn up, but beyond that I'll need to think long and hard. Maybe Warren Lush of Party Poker will eventually convince me that they do a lot for TV poker and that by adding to most of their events, that's enough. He's talking of adding money to this year's Poker Den cash game, which I'm looking forward to playing. Maybe the arrival of my invite to the Premier League might change my outlook.

In the end there was little dead money in my heat. Most of the five guys can play a bit and one or two are pretty good. At least three of them claimed that this is what they did for a living. I struggled along without winning any big pots until we got five-handed with the blinds at 5k/10k and the thing became a crapshoot. I was in my element now and we soon were down to two.

I'd played Josh Tyler in the heads-up tournament in the Vic before Christmas and he really wanted to get his revenge. I'd wound him up by asking how he'd make the semi and final on Thursday and Friday. I was playing on the fact that Josh looks about 15 years old and asked if it was half-term week.

I probably made a couple of technical errors in the heads-up, (lucky Barny wasn't commentating), and went from 2/1 down to 6/1 behind. From there I was forced to try for a lucky double up and then failed to lose a single pot.

Josh was about as sick as I was pleased. There would be two semi-finals of seven and three would carry their chips from each into the final. I felt happy to be in the last fourteen and reckoned I was about 7/1 to win the $250k 1st prize.

On Tuesday I spent the day in a box the size of a small prison cell. I had to wake up at 9am to get there, and for eleven hours I had only Jesse May for company, while watching poker. This was my second day of doing TV commentary and I really enjoyed it. The afternoon heat was particularly interesting with Devilfish, Surinder, Liam Flood and John Tabatabai putting up a great display of poker. Catman's girlfriend seemed just as happy to watch the others play as we did, although she did make more of an effort to dress up than either Jesse or I did, turning up for her heat in just a bikini and body paint.

Catman seemed to think it was all a great success when Catgirl finished second and he assured me that a sponsorship deal would be bound to arrive now. It may just be me, but I can't really see how folding your way into second just to get more air time, so that someone will put you in the next show is a success. You might be able to get a dozen companies to put you in a bunch of these things for some years, if you can think up a new gimmick each time, but if you never win one, or even play to win one, then ultimately the whole thing must be pointless.

The poker was great though, as witnessed by the fact that five guys were sat with a young lady wearing virtually nothing and at no stage did they seem to notice. Devilfish certainly seemed to enjoy his re-re-bluff of Surinder so much that he forgot to bother to flirt with Catgirl.

I warmed up for the semi with some cash at the Vic, (nice to get a guest appearance from Devilfish - we start at 2pm every day Dave), and kept an eye on the other heats via the Matchroom forum. I'd laughed at my good friend Andy Ward being described by Jesse as a cross between Annette Obrestad and Neil Channing. He must mean that Andy is a young, dynamic, thoughtful but selectively aggressive young player who also happens to look a bit Norwegian.

Andy and I ended up in the same semi, which turned into a tense all-in fest. We both got through it and my 388k of the 1.4m in play meant I looked good for the final.

The second semi was on Friday and probably looked to be a tougher line-up. I was happy to see my good friend Ryan Fronda finally get some TV luck and he would join Marc Goodwin and Marty Smyth in the final. Marty had played an enormous pot against the Greekfish and was now chip leader with 444k. After his 2007 Irish Open win and his second in the PokerMillion, he was the one guy I was worried about.

I felt like I played pretty well in the final. Three-handed I was chip leader and decided to limp in with the old 10h5s (like you do). A flop of 10,10,10 looked ok for my hand and somehow I managed to get Marc Goodwin to stick the lot in on the turn. He didn't seem too happy, he was probably regretting laying me a nice bet at 11/4 just before we started the final.

Twice I held an 11-3 chip lead on Marty and twice he pegged me back to level. I decided to do no business and gamble. It wasn't that I didn't respect Marty's game, I just didn't want to take any intensity out of the battle. We played heads-up for a long time and in the end I think the cards decided. My 99 couldn't outdraw his QQ and I shook his hand and accepted the $100k second prize a little ruefully.

Marty played very well throughout and deserved to win. He's a player who I respect a lot and the writing was on the wall when I got a text saying "Show them who the real Irish Open Champion is."

The week ended with one more shot at a big title. Gareth Howells used to be a poker dealer at the Vic, until he decided to return home to Swansea where the new Aspers Casino needed someone to run their poker room. Gareth called a few weeks ago to tell me about their festival and to ask me if I'd help him by endorsing the event and spreading the word generally.

Aspers is a lovely casino, quite Vegassy and full of wide open spaces with high ceilings. The facilities are there for a really good tournament and the staff and whole atmosphere is very friendly. It was a little bit of a shame that the weekend clashed with a big event that Dusk Til Dawn were holding and that the locals didn't really turn out in force. In the end thirty three of us paid a grand for the chance to win the fifteen grand first prize and the title of Welsh Open Champion.

I battled away throughout the long first day and came back with twelve other guys on Sunday. When I beat A10 with a Q3 that made a straight I was starting to make enquiries as to the date of the Scottish Open, but it wasn't to be.

The final ended up being dominated by mostly travelling faces and I had fun with Jeff Kimber, Karl Mahrenholz, Mickey "The Legend" Wernick and Joe Grech, as well as local hero Roberto Romanello. I only managed 7th which meant missing out on one of the four prizes, but I did win some last-longer bets.

It was lovely to see an old Reading stalwart Tony Chapman win the title. Tony played in every one of my first ten or twenty poker tournaments all those years ago. I couldn't beat him then either.