Fool’s Gold

"Anyone who plays tournaments long enough will eventually win some championship or other. Then three years will go by – you’ll win nothing, lose all your money – and suddenly all you’ve got left is the delusion that you are a champion."

Apparently these were my words, and they were quoted in an edition of Time Out magazine of November 2004 which was dedicated to gambling. I was reminded of these words yesterday. It’s been a funny week.

Last Wednesday Tony Phillips and I sat in a reasonably good 250nlh game attempting to squeeze every last drop of value out of the remaining punters. It wasn’t going totally to plan though, and by 4am it was time to grab an envelope of readies and head-off to the airport. We were to be part of quite a large Vic assault on Dublin and I felt geniune warmth eminating from the needy and greedy who wished us a good trip. In retrospect they were probably just glad to get a break from us – we’ve both been getting the cake lately.

We’d devised a cunning plan of catching an early morning flight, squeezing in a pre-flight session at the Vic, arriving at the hotel to check-in for a full days sleep before getting stuck into the cash game with the steamers who were already out of the tournament. The plan didn’t really allow for being five minutes late to Gatwick though and we murdered another bottle each on a new flight. This was already starting to feel like an expensive weekend. Let’s hope we could get our tournament money back in the cash games.

I guess there were a few early pointers that things were going to be ok. There is an old superstition at the races that the first owner, trainer or jockey you see that day will always have a winner. The first person we bumped into was Roland De Wolfe. How could things possibly go wrong?

After a quick six hour power nap it was time to play. Another good omen cropped-up when someone suggested that they’d been watching my room’s TV. I couldn’t quite work out what they meant until the fourth person reported to me that they’d been watching TV in the bar when the TV channel had switched to the one in my room. Apparently a technical hitch meant everyone in the hotel bars and reception were getting to read:

"Welcome Mr Neil Channing. We hope you enjoy your stay at the City West Hotel."

One humorist commented that it was lucky I wasn’t watching any of the adult entertainment available on subscription.

The game that night was lively so I played until 6am. Some might think it’d be better to get some sleep before my day 1b of the Irish Open. I knew though that the tournament would probably just leave a £3500 hole in my bankroll, it was this cash game that was going to make or break my weekend. In the end the game was lively and fun, but I lost about a grand.

The Friday went well really. It took me a while to wake up and concentrate, and once I started to focus I quickly went to 25k from my starting 10k before a couple of nasty river cards sent me back to 7k. In the end it was relentless grinding that took me to 34k – I was pretty satisfied.

On Saturday I slept late and arrived just in time to check-out Paddy Power’s revised prices on the event. The day before I’d been amazed by the updated outright market on the tournament and had been delighted with the five bets they laid me. I was equally happy on Saturday, but also a little insulted by the 100/1 they put me at. I planned to make them pay and bet £500 before urging all my Facebook friends to get involved.

The day started well for me and I cruised to 85k while barely having a hand. I then got a bit over-excited and leaked a lot of chips, particularly in a pot with top young gun Javed Abrahams, where I made a tough fold to fall to 20k.

The average stack was around 60k now and my mind was totally focussed on my side bets. I had a terrible looking book on the Vic Last Longer pool where a win for Norman Radd would be a £16k disaster. Norman was particularly enjoying examining my meagre stack and telling stories of his recent successes. Bubble-time is normally a great time to gain chips in a tournament but, as well as worrying about Norman, I was quite concerned about my £5500 that I’d win from Paddy Power if I could scrape into the money.

In the end I decided to just play and block-out these things. I had some luck with a K3 beating two sixes and an AsQs beating an AK and eventually I struggled through the day with an above average stack. Norman and I cut a deal that left me free to get a good night’s sleep, and concentrate on beating the other fifty-one players. To help me to doze-off I put in a quick six hours in the cash game, or as it was subtitled "The Andy Black Show". I "only" won a few grand but enjoyed myself a lot. Bambos and I are very much working on urging Andy to move to London.

Sunday began well enough. I took my 157k to 270k and beat a pair of jacks with an Ad8d. The poker gods got their own back almost immediately. I ran 9s into 10s and took a smallish stack to the TV table where I played 8s against 9s in a battle of the blinds. Bloody typical, I played well for three days and now I was going out. With just 42k left and 30k a round to survive I needed to start moving in.

"Do you want a call?" asked Surinder, while he contemplated calling with an AQ.

"Obviously I never want a call.", I replied. "You think it’s easy to keep getting aces?"

It’s lucky he passed as my A8 was in bad shape. A few more all-ins later and I was back to a playable stack. I’m glad I didn’t surrender sooner.

From then on I just played really well. I was seated next to John Kabbaj who had played brilliantly all day and who had a large stack. I just "knew" one of us was gonna win this thing, and when John lost a massive pot to go out 19th, I felt sure it would be me.

With about a dozen players left I gambled by slow-playing a pair of queens and a pair of tens in consecutive hands. Cabbage advised me to take it easy and guide my way to the final. I nodded my head but I knew that wasn’t my plan. I became a total animal. I probably raised 23 of the next 25 pots including a run of seven consecutive hands. With nine players left, and people becoming concerned about the money jumps and the chance to make the final, I planned to steal absolutely every chip and set myself up for the win.

Sunday night was great. The Irish people are always so kind to me when I go there. People continued to come up to me and shake hands, wish me luck and buy me Guinness. I decided to leave the cash game alone and use the time to walk around listening to how great I am. I loved it.

The final was pretty quick and easy really. I hit one big hand, got lucky a couple of times and knocked four of my five opponents out to win it within three hours with no deal. I tipped the dealers, did some media and paid a few shareholders (I have to pay out 25% of the win to lucky swappers and investors).

That night was great. The hotel has a fantastic Thai restaurant where about fifty of us got stuck in. Several of the other finalists shared a drink and some of my closest poker friends were there.

From the second the ace hit on the last flop my ‘phone has gone mental. The texts are coming-in quicker than my fingers can reply and the calls are non-stop. I’ve absolutely loved receiving virtually all of them though. The support and geniune kindness shown from people has been really quite touching and I appreciate it so much. This week I’ve stood in a boxing ring displaying my semi-naked body for Bluff magazine, I’ve done several interviews, I’ve spoken to people I’d lost touch with years ago and I’ve drunk a lot of champagne. The weirdest thing is that I’ve barely played poker. The one time I did sit in the Vic I won £278 but spent £390 on champagne. This is something that I can now afford to do for a while.

Friday night was a great party, it was lovely to see so many players and old friends enjoying themselves. The fun carried on right over the weekend and I’m now taking a short break to recover.

A lot of people have asked me what my plans are and whether it will change me. Later in the year I plan to buy a flat. Until then it’ll be business as usual. One guy cleverly asked if I’m planning to join Roland and Ram in gambling on who can gamble highest. I probably won’t. My guess is that I’ll still be in the Vic a lot, and I’ll still sit with a lump of money waiting for someone to crack-up. I’ll probably play a few extra tournaments, I’ll probably play slightly larger cash games in Vegas and I’ll probably be way too generous in staking people and giving money away. One thing is for sure though. I’ll only ever give it to people who don’t ask.

Neil Channing will be off to Cardiff to represent Great Britain in The Party Poker Poker Nations Cup. Roland the captain has left the poor TV people looking for a new interviewer. Poker Verdict are very proud of this fact.