11/02/2009

I didn't fare to well in the heads-up tournament at the WSOP last year. They're having one at the Vic next month and I thought playing this one in Australia might be a nice warm-up. I can think of better ways to practice than by getting annihilated by some kid who didn't look old enough to be there. Canadian he was, not that I'd have known. He never said a word until he fist-pumped his way to 1-0 up in our best of three. Got quite chirpy then he did, played very well, very aggressive. I barely won a pot.

I consoled myself by having a nice sun-bathe. The temperature was thirty-eight degrees. I've no idea what that actually means, so I thought it ok to lie out in it. When stopping for a swim I ran into The Lizard and Lizard Jnr and we had a chat. He invited me to the tennis.

A moment or so later Harry showed up. I may not have seen Harry Findlay for eight years. I first met him about twenty years ago, (I was very young), and he was always a gambling hero of mine. He used to go to Wembley dogs and have exceptionally big bets on his beloved Chiquita Banana. I thought anyone who would take his eight-month pregnant wife to the European Cup Final, lump the house deposit on the jollies and watch them win 1-0 was pretty cool. When his horse Denman won the Gold Cup I was very pleased for Harry. After the Irish Open he texted to say I should lump the lot on Denman for the 2009 Gold Cup at 7/4. I see it's 4/1 now...maybe...

Despite not having seen me for eight years Harry was brief and to the point. 

"Alright Neil? You fancy going racing on Monday? I've got a box at Caulfield. It's Australia Day, spot of lunch, all good people."

He was right, it was lovely. My legendary friend Murray and his girlfriend Kate came. We backed a couple of winners, giving pain to the silver ring bookies and enjoyed chatting to Peter Thomas who's doing Harry's autobiography. Harry cracked away on all fronts. Two 'phones were keeping him busy at eight meetings, with breaks for tennis and cricket. At least he got out of it. 

The tennis was great. I'd been to a night session with Barny a couple of days before. This day session was very hot, but we saw a good match and the result went right. We also saw why The Lizard is the best. He waited until Roddick was a set down before laying the 1.19 Djorkovic. That was obviously the shortest he ever was and he'd retired before Tony had time to buy me an ice-cream.

It really was a week of legends. People still often tell stories of Action Dave in hushed tones around the English poker scene, even though he left for Australia some time ago. The lovely Amanda seems, somehow, to have tamed him and he's definitely arrived at a happy place. He took a few of us to a fantastic tapas place one night where I managed four deserts. The line-up at Vue de Monde was great the next night too. Really good company and a wonderful ten-course menu. Excellent choice by Dave and one of the best meals I've ever eaten. The only worry I had about the craps consortium's success that night was the effect it's going to have on those two young kids we cut in. They're guaranteed dice-sickos for life.

The teams event at the Aussie Millions was probably meant to be a bit of fun for husbands and wives, fathers and sons etc, but I can remember Eddie Izzard once questioning why the Irish didn't just go all out to win the Eurovision and simply enter U2. When I found out Marty Smyth was only planning a quiet afternoon online we just had to go for it.

The format was that you played a level each and had just a minute or so between each one to exchange bad-beat stories. There wasn't much point discussing strategy as the whole table would swap too. 

While I played my levels Marty would pop-off to clean-up at blackjack while I put us in a slightly worse mess which I'd then leave him to escape from. Eventually I reported to the blackjack table to inform that we'd lost a race. Sorel Mizzi was laughing at how the whole table discussed my K8 all-in move for nearly an hour. They thought I was totally mad. He had to reraise with K8 and show just to get them to shut up.

The poker party was fun. All the players gathered in one of The Crown's nightclubs to celebrate the conclusion of a successful tournament. I'm not sure that Barny and Chufty saw it that way, but they both managed to get totally paralytic anyway. A bunch of us were waiting to get in a second nightclub after we got chucked out of the first. There was an enormous queue despite Action Dave's attempts to convince that we were on the guest list. It's at times like this that it's better to be Neil Channing than Donal Norton. The Irish Open Champ and assorted drunks were soon ushered through the crowd by some PR woman I've never conversed with before or since.

The trip to Melbourne could easily have been longer, and I waved goodbye to Amanda and Dave vowing to return next year. I had promised myself a trip to Hong Kong on the way home.

A few years ago, in darker times, I was lying in my hospital bed wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and how I was going to do it with £1800 when my good friend Patrick rang up from Hong Kong. As I owed him £7000 he was naturally worried about my health. On pointing out that I'd probably survive but that I could barely afford to eat he immediately shipped me £5000. I was delighted to have dinner with him, his new son and his family in Hong Kong, but embarrassed to not be allowed to pay.

I found Hong Kong to be a fascinating place and the Mandarin Oriental to be the best hotel I've ever experienced. Despite that though, having got so close, I thought I better make the short journey to "Vegas in Asia" and got the TurboJet to Macau.

I was happy to pay the extra £7 for SuperClass and settled in to my meal in a chair Jimmy Saville would have loved. The other six Super Class passengers and I got off before the hundreds in standard, and I was soon in The Wynn.

The Wynn Macau is actually SO like The Wynn in Vegas. It's taken corporate identity to heart and has identical rooms, lifts, soap, minibar and carpets. I lazed around for two days enjoying the pool and spa. The casino floor is four times that of the Vegas Wynn and almost entirely crammed with baccarat tables. They don't waste much effort on peripheries though and the swimming pool has room for only around 100 loungers. There are also only six restaurants and that's if you count Starbucks. People are here to gamble.

The poker room was small, just eight or ten tables, but the biggest game was juicy. It played like a £10-£20 game with stacks equivalent to £15,000. I chose not to play, the lists were long and the whole table smoked. It didn't bother the handful of Scandis in residence.

I looked around the other casinos - a Crown, a Sands and an MGM Grand were all very nice. I didn't make it to The Venetian, and the Paris equivalent was being built opposite the Wynn's Encore. On both of these the building was immense and the architecture impressive, but it seemed so weird that the whole structures were covered in scaffolding made from bamboo.

After two nights in a room overlooking a smaller-than-Bellagio lake, where the fountains danced every ten minutes to the excellent Joel Grey singing "Money Makes the World Go Round"  from Cabaret and immediately followed that with The Pythons and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", it was time to leave the surreal and get back to "normality".

A last night at the amazing Happy Valley racecourse with Patrick was followed by another twelve hours on a plane, the sight of some dying snowmen and the worst jet-lag ever. No wonder I can't face The Vic.

Neil "Bad Beat" Channing will be easing his way back in by playing the Party Poker European Open V. He hopes to win it in a Blackbeltpoker.com T-shirt and really hopes they can read the logo on TV.