19/07/2007

Doing it Right

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

Poker players are forever moaning about the luck they get in tournaments. They constantly whinge about AKs that got rivered by AQs and Aces that lost to flushes and straights. You hardly ever hear about the hidden luck in tournaments; the time when you were moved avoiding the big blind, or when that exposed card stopped you playing a hand that would break you.

One of the most important things in the WSOP Main Event is your table draw. In 2004 I knew that anyone on the next table, where twelve people busted in a mad hour half way through the fourth level, would have a better chance than me. As Greg Raymer quietly hoovered up a lot of those chips, I knew he'd have a better chance than any of the six pros on our table who had stubbornly hung around since noon.

In 2005 I'd been as unhappy to see Philip Marmorstein as he was to see me. This year's unhappy German was Michael Keiner. With so many idiots in the field you're unlucky to find even one guy who can play. If he's also got a bracelet you're really out of form. I also recognised the guy sitting next to Michael; I just couldn't remember his name. It's lucky the screens all around the room listed Scott Clements as among the top five in the WSOP 2007 Rankings, or thinking about it might have bugged me. I vaguely recalled playing Scott before and his acknowledgement showed he remembered and respected me. I was delighted to see that, as with a simple nod, we tacitly decided to avoid each other.

My plan for this table was to limp often, but never raise, in order to see plenty of flops and try and benefit from the implied odds this deep stack tournament offers. Luckily for me Scott was happy with my plan and had no interest in running the table, which he might well have attempted. I was able to flop a nut flush and two pair early on before winning a large pot with AJ v KK on a board of AKJ...A...4.

With my stack up to 42k the table broke and I was delighted to make the acquaintance of eight total strangers on the next one. They all had to worry about who the hell I was as people from PokerNews, TheHendonMob, BlondePoker and Gutshot came to continually check my chips and photograph me. My name (spelled wrong) and nickname was on the board of "Top 20 notables", which got them, as well as me, wondering what the hell I'd done to be a notable. It also allowed me to steal anything that wasn't nailed down as my entry into a pot caused abject terror. The next few hours offered me a brief glimpse of how much easier it must be once you win your first eleven bracelets.

Life was pretty good that first day until I couldn't make AA beat 10,10 in a large pot where we were all-in pre-flop. From there it went a bit wrong and a smidge of tilt led to me playing a KQ like AA. That might have worked if the other guy didn't have AA.

Suddenly from being among the Top 10 stacks in the room, I was hovering below average and feeling cross. There was only one thing to do: Shovel the whole lot in on a 50/50 to desperately try and get them back. Good old A10 helped me forget that nasty two hours. I ended the day on a comfortable 73k despite losing a 35k pot with JJ v 77 three hands from the end.

I hadn't slept too well and I came back a little agitated on Day 2. I decided to put my foot to the floor from the start. With that attitude and the help of two pairs of sevens and a pair of sixes (which I check-raised a JJ4 flop with), I fell to just 42k. I just couldn't seem to stop myself from playing and overplaying every hand. It was several hours before I got my composure and WHAM! Just as I did my KK ran into A8 that made a straight.

Within seconds of that one I went to another table and lost more chips with KK vs A10. I only had 24k now and a weird set of circumstances led me to get them in against QQ with just A3. The ace in the window was a relief and I eventually calmed down to finish on 85k.

It was half-way through Day 3 while on a short break that I heard the guy at the next urinal let out a satisfied sigh. He obviously didn't have enough chips to miss hands taking breaks when he really needed them.

"That felt better than sex."

he declared. I pointed out to him that he might not be doing it right, and headed back to the tournament.

The bubble stage lasted for ever. With the minimum prize $20k this year, many people were happy to compromise their winning chance to ensure a payday. I'd already decided that I was going to happily gamble at this stage to try and get chips, risking a certain cash. A big stack round to my left had the same plan and made things hard. I resorted to reraising him with 8,3 to get my share.

With the bubble burst, another new table meant a chance to steal off two guys on my left who were constantly looking at how many bustouts would get them an extra $5k. That helped me to get up to 300k, until I was moved again to play the last half an hour with Huck Seed and Berry Johnston plus some aggressive unknowns with very large stacks. Berry made me laugh when a guy enquired of him whether you could routinely take enormous sums of money on internal flights. Berry assured him he could just take his prize money in cash and head off. When he questioned this some more, Berry suggested the guy should let him collect and transport the money. He told the man to write down his address so he could mail the cash. The way the guy started to go for it shows you how this former World Champ still wins tournaments. The bloke seemed as delighted as all the people who for years now, have let him steal his two blinds a round. It reminded me of the kindly old man act that Freddy Carle gives us most days in the Vic, before leaving with the loot.

I picked the shortest stack on that table to race my AK v QQ and, for the first time ever, I was into Day Four of the Main Event.

People often describe NLH Tournaments as hours of boredom interspersed with moments of terror. I have to say that these people may not be doing it right. During this tournament I was on my game the whole time, continually looking out for any edge I could find, or clue that might help me later on. I was perpetually worried about elimination and concentrated on even the smallest of pots, so much so, that by the end of Day 3 I was completely done-in. I could barely count my average stack.

By Day 4 I was really getting excited. My first table had a couple of good players including WPT Championship Runner-Up Kirk Morrison, who played really well. I played three big pots with jacks winning all of them. In one I outdrew Aces, the second I beat a totally overplayed AQ and the third I flopped quads against Kirk. By now you could look around the room and easily see exactly who was left. One of these people was going to be World Champion and win $8.25m, and it just might be me. With the Union Jack that Tony Hachem gave me flying proudly over my stack I found myself on the "secondary" TV table.

I've played on TV a few times now and it's all quite routine, but this time it was annoying. The reason we'd been picked was that our table was one of the strongest ones left. While I looked around at a lot of amateurs on surrounding tables, our players seemed very tough. Humberto Brenes plays just like Gutshot legend Ade Bayo and, although loud, slow and annoying presents few problems. The other players, including Kirk and the legend that is Willie Tann were much harder though. Most raises were met with reraises and they knew more about Squeeze than Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook put together.

My stack fell from a peak of 840k to just 400k. That would still be enough to play though as, although the average was 1million, the blinds were just 8k/16k with a 2k ante. Maybe with this great structure I can get off my pocket queens here. The guy who reraised me had played pretty tight and he must read my under-the-gun raise as a real hand. As it was I decided I might not find a better spot and the chips went in. I couldn't beat his aces and finished 131st for $58,700. I was completely and utterly crushed.

I've often thought people who say that the bracelet means more than the money are full of shit. I don't think that way anymore. On Day 4 of this year's Main Event I played only thinking of the bracelet, and with a complete disregard for the money. I don't even know that I really want $8.25m and the $58,700 seemed scant compensation for the emotion and energy I'd invested. It certainly took me a day or two to get over my disappointment.

Now I'm back home and I've been back to the Vic a couple of times, with it's new carpet, decor and mural, I've got some perspective back. I can't be upset at a third money-finish from six Main Events. I had good results in the satellites, split the tournament at Bellagio, earned some wages, had some laughs and got a tan. People have been very kind in the things they've said and I'm now quite pleased and proud of my achievement. I only got knocked out of a poker tournament, some people have got real problems to worry about.

It's a very grateful and reasonably happy BadBeat that will head off to Newcastle for this week's Grosvenor Poker Tour Event with the help of his delighted sponsors PokerVerdict.com