16/07/2008

The heads-up part of the $10k PLO was one of the most fun parts of the whole trip for me. RiverDave had texted to say that Marty was out in 5th, which was a shame as he was sixth of six remaining when I left for dinner with Martin and The Camel. It just felt like a nice bonus to discover there'd been a mix-up and to return to find Marty still sitting there with just one other guy.

The Camel pointed out that he'd barely seen a single Irishman throughout the whole series and now there seemed to be hundreds of them singing and shouting. It seemed a bit churlish to suggest that Belfast is in the United Kingdom and I happily got hoarse shouting "You'll never beat the Irish" and giving the over-officious Harrah's security man a few minor worries.

When the last hand gave both players the nut-straight I was certain Marty would hit a club and lead the crowd in a chant of:"Freeroll,freeroll."

It wasn't just the 22% that made it such a good result. The cameradarie of all the players and the universal support that Marty received was great. I'd never actually seen him play PLO before, but I know him to be a world-class player. Anyway, if you've got the balls to stick it in you're never worse than 60/40, how hard could it be?

A few people had suggested I'd got a bit carried away on the staking front, and they may well have been right. I've often struggled to get the word "no" out, and I was certainly close to reinvesting all my winnings from James in trying to get a UK bracelet. Padraig felt that I should have an event named after me, and, with the exception of Johnny Bax and Sheets, who were reported to have lost $2m staking players despite winning four bracelets, I may well have ended up being the highest individual rake-payer in tournaments at the series. It felt like a relief to really hit the front again, and I could go into the main event with confidence.

There wasn't much to say about my own main event. You're not supposed to see anyone you know on day one, and looking around the surrounding tables I recognised very few players. On my table though, I knew one or two, and I was particularly dissappointed to see Ram. After a little while though, it became clear we'd caught him on an off day and I was happy to play him in a few pots, eventually building a decent stack. With Ram gone and the table broken I moved to an even worse line-up. I knew five of the players and they knew me. I decided that I'd switch off completely for the last ninety-minutes just as soon as I win this 25k pot all-in pre-flop KK vs 88 (the blinds are 150/300). The eight on the river made my last hour and a half a bit miserable and I ended up with just 30k against an average of 40k.

All I can say about day two is that you can't play your best poker if your mind is distracted by something. In nlh it often only takes one mistake and lapses in concentration meant I made three significant ones. It was only sheer determination and willpower that kept me going until thirty minutes from the end, but choosing a reraise move with the J7 was probably quite a poor decision.

In past years I've been absolutely devastated after being knocked out of The Big One, but this year I was totally numb to it and just didn't care one way or another. I wandered around listlessly for a day or two and struggled to settle into anything. My original reaction was that I wanted to just fly home, be alone and run away from poker and life for a while, but when I visualised that eventuality I decided that I would rather stay and mope in Vegas.

The next day I forced myself to play the 380-runner Bellagio $5k tournament. I played well for over twelve hours, but with 34 people left I was faced with a decision that might get me to the final at the expense of a close friend. It wasn't a totally 100% straightforward decision, but I knew from experience that I was supposed to call. I chose to fold. The problem was that the tournament was nowhere near as important to me as it was to him, I just didn't care, so I soft played. The poker gods reacted angrily and I never won another hand getting eliminated in 32nd place, outside of the money. I quietly left and walked over to Ceasars where two good friends of mine were in the last 18 out of 1200 players in their $1000 main event. I arrived just in time to console the one I'd backed. He was pretty unlucky in a massive pot and finished 18th. He dropped me off at The Wynn and it wasn't a happy BadBeat who took his cup of tea for an early night.

I'd bought a share of about 24 people in the main event and had swapped with a further eight so it was quite exciting when eight of my thirty-two cashed. It only became dissappointing when most of them got knocked out quite soon into the money. It wasn't until the fifth day with two of my oldest friends, Miros and The Camel, still going, that I became enthusiastic again. In the end neither of them will be appealing to a mass TV audience throughout the US in November, which is a great shame for all concerned, but I think they had fun and lived the dream.

With nothing much to go home for I had a crack at a satellite for the $15,000 buy-in Bellagio Cup and won a seat quite easily. I wasn't absolutely sure that this was a good value tournament, being made up of just 440 players, including most of the world's top one hundred. Luckily there were quite a few who just thought they could play, and mostly they were the ones that beat me. Although the WPT is like a children's birthday party in that it's virtually impossible to go home without a prize, (quarter of the field get paid, with most of them only getting a small dividend), I still couldn't get in the money. I was left to fill my time in the cash games, which involved me losing a $90k pot, only slightly unneccessarily.

It's virtually seven weeks now since I left the UK and it's time now to go home. I really don't know whether I can do this Vegas trip every year. I've managed to miss The Derby, The Greyhound Derby, Royal Ascot (something which until recently, I attended for over fifteen consecutive years) and the Euro Football Championships. I'll go home and read a newspaper, having not read one since May, and having not switched on a TV in that time also. I'm also pretty sure I left three yoghurts in my fridge. I'm not exactly sure what will have happened to them.

I certainly made some money, probably not as much as I'd have made if I'd just spent all the hours at the rockface in The Vic, but I sacrificed that extra income for a change in routine and the excitement of chasing the dream. I definitely felt like I had a few decent chances to win that elusive bracelet, so I guess I got what I paid for.

I'm not certain that I got through the trip with my sanity in tact, but I know I managed to play intensively for six weeks without a single one of the on-table crack-ups that I witnessed from some of my compatriots. It may be that achieving a winning trip is only possible if you turn yourself into a gerbil on the wheel, and I worked so hard and threw myself into it so intently, that I may have eliminated a large portion of the fun from the trip. For thirty-two days I left the hotel intending to spend twelve hours playing a poker tournament. I did make an effort to go swimming, and had some nice meals with friends, but I didn't spend as much time relaxing as I'd intended, didn't socialise with some people at all, and I missed everyone of the barbeques and parties I was invited to. I can't honestly say if that sacrifice was worth it, although I think it maybe essential if success on the table is your only goal.

By Thursday I'll be back in London, rooted to the spot watching The Open Golf Championship. I only hope I remember that I ought to have a little break from poker if I want to preserve my bankroll and regain my sanity.

Neil "BadBeat" Channing will be disturbing his mini-break to play his PokerMillion heat next week. He ought to win as he'll be wearing his lucky red PokerVerdict shirt.