29/01/2008

There were times during 2007 when the Grosvenor Poker Tour was a bit frustrating. In the last few years I havn't done as much travelling round the UK's provincial casinos as some people, and I learnt a long time ago that you can't eat European Ranking Points. I was proud to play in every leg of the tour, I wanted to support it, particularly because of the added prize-money and the great structure, I enjoyed the camaraderie and I was keen to help my sponsors increase their brand awareness.

PokerVerdict.com were a little surprised, that when they offered to sponsor me to play all legs of the tour again this year, I responded by telling them I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. To a recreational player, or a semi-professional searching for a sponsor, I probably sound ungrateful. Here was I being given a chance to play in ten great tournaments, to compete for a million pounds in prize money and to have a free shot at gaining titles, exposure, money - free fun basically. The truth is though, that there were days when I really didn't fancy schlepping to Bolton, Newcastle or Manchester to run up a three-day hotel bill for the chance to play a 50/50.

I'd gone eleven months before my one final table, and my only cash, in Blackpool last November, had ensured a winning season. There were definitely days when it seemed like a load of hassle for nothing.

Nothing was going to stop me from going to Brighton though. In exactly the same way as last year, I saw the schedule and imagined a liesurely trip down to the seaside, sunny days by the beach, a lovely hotel, amusements by the pier and candy floss.

The Champ and I planned to travel together and, after fourteen short conversations, we abandoned the idea of a relaxing train journey (quick and cheap, but hard to get back after midnight), gave up on the idea of a three-day holiday (all those hotel bills just run-up the exes and you have to hang around on the non-playing days) and settled for an easy commute.

It was pissing it with rain and blowing a gale as we drove through Streatham and Crystal Palace and it wasn't much better when we got to the seaside.

I seem to remember that during the deliberations we decided that it was impossible to park in Brighton. We were right, it is. Luckily for us though clamping isn't that prevalent, and if you stick it on a meter, for a mere thirty-quid ticket, you can park as long as you like.

A quick check of our watches revealed it was 1.45pm. With the tournament due to start at 1.30pm we just had time for fish and chips. (It's a UK poker tournament-we could have gone on the dodgems for half an hour if it wasn't so cold).

One thing I've continually gone on about when talking about the Grosvenor Poker Tour is the great structure. There's nothing worse than spending large sums on travelling to a tournament to find that it's a total crapshoot with no skill to it whatsoever. I personally hate it even more when the structure is too slow, particularly in the early stages. The organisers are often inexperienced in playing poker, and in an attempt to please the rocks, give everyone too much poker for the first four or five hours. This usually results in enormously long days followed by the big money final being played at 4am and ending in a chip count. The alternative is that the structure is speeded up near the end, and the bit that really counts is made to be totally random.

Jonathon Raab and his team were slightly criticised during the early legs last year's over the structure, but have now got it so right that it's more or less perfect.

In Brighton I didn't find the structure was a major influence on my success or otherwise. Normally I wouldn't describe too many hands to you when writing these diaries but today I'm going to fully detail every one of them.

Hand 1 - It's fifteen minutes in and Bambos (He has to play with me every day? He must be stalking me.) raises. It's my small blind and I don't want to get carried away with AhKh. I call and check-pass the low, black flop.

Hand 2 - It's now 20 minutes in and I have 10,10 in third position. I just limp in order that I can call any raise. The man on my left who seems pretty solid makes it 200 (blinds start at 25/50 and we have 10k in chips), the big blind calls as do I. The flop is 10,9,9. After some fiddling about we get the last of the money in on the river. I had just the one out on the flop.

I actually had a few more, slightly dull, hands before I lost my remaining shrapnel and with The Champ falling on the hand before the dinner break we were back in The Vic by 9pm, without even stopping for a second lot of haddock and chips (good result as I was due to pay).

The games in the Vic have gone a bit mental lately as have the live games in London generally. We now frequently have a pot-limit game with 10,10 blinds and straddles of 25 and 50 where there can be as much as 150k on the table. A recent new trend has been for the "Big Game" to be no-limit with 10 and 25 blinds and a straddle of 50. It's not uncommon now for people to win or lose 10k in a night.

Generally London has been slow to keep up in the poker revolution and we are still some way behind Vegas. For years the games in the Vic were generally too big for the smaller punters (the minimum sit-down twenty years ago was fifty quid and now it's a pony), and for four or five years now (since daily hold 'em games came back to London) the biggest sit-down was 250 with 5,5 blinds.

Now that the other London Casinos, particularly lately The Palm Beach and Maxim's, have started offering large stakes cash games, it's only right for The Vic to respond. We're in a major capital city with some seriously rich people around and it's not for the Vic to worry about whether people go skint too quickly. I don't see the same level of concern with the roulette punters.

For me the only thing The Vic should be worrying about is supplying the dealers to fill their room. With the other casinos in London looking to introduce rake at a disgustingly exhorbitant rate, there is a perfect opportunity for "HQ" to seize all the business. I really hope they don't miss the open goal, but I fear they might.

I've also leard people fretting about whether certain people can afford to lose, whether it's morally right to take large sums of money from inexperienced, weak or drunk players and whether certain people are playing too big for their bankrolls. To those people I say don't worry, I've been doing it for years. It sharpens the mind. 

Neil Channing will be hoping to get to level two in Walsall next month, with the support of PokerVerdict.com