I Could Have Been Someone

The last time I wrote I believe I sounded a tad gloomy. Suffice to say, Vegas wasn’t my most startlingly successful trip and I was glad to be back in London.

The last part of December was spent explaining to people that I was ok thanks, someone just got me one, at various social events while not playing an enormous amount of poker. For the first time I accepted an invitation to the PokerMillion party, which was a good do, and which ended in a tremendous victory for my twin, and good pal, Joe Beevers. The final line-up was the strongest ever and one highlight for me was witnessing the enthusiasm of the legendary Liam Flood on returning to the party having given it his best. The smile on his face as he was cheered-in to the sound of "We Will Rock You" was fantastic to see.

Christmas was a quiet one down in Devon. I did manage to escape from playing poker, despite the constant requests from my youngest nephew to teach him the game. We settled on having a few games of rummy. He struggles a little to hold the cards in a way that shields his hand, ("Uncle Neil, why do you never throw me anything I want?"), but shows some aptitude for a seven-year-old. He may struggle against the bubbles in the Vic though.

The kids have seen "Rich Uncle Neil" on TV, (to them anyone who’s on the box is an instant millionaire), and figure that they should expect decent presents. I don’t actually remember Scalextric being THAT expensive.

I’m soon back to London and the Vic though, where we got a visit from Santa one night. I’m not actually convinced that Bambos was good all year in 2007, but we emerged from a massive game the major winners. It occurs to me that I could stop playing for the year and I’ll probably end-up performing better than most of the top fifty in the 2008 European Rankings.

Next day I’m back on my travels and heading to Gatwick for a short flight to Shannon. You can actually get to Galway, in the West of Ireland, directly by flying from Luton, but it seems a shame to break a New Year’s resolution so quickly. I’m going to Ireland because of peer pressure basically. Whenever I’ve bumped into anyone I like recently they’ve told me they’re going and that I have to attend. Padraig, Veronique, Micky and Jesse May, Jon and Michaela Kalmar and Rory have all spent New Year there already while Jeff and Tall Alan are, like me, arriving in time for The Party Poker Irish Poker Championships.

The tournament is two thousand Euro to enter and should get around three hundred players. Everything will be held in the excellent Radisson Hotel, which at 130 Euro seems quite cheap for a four-star hotel, and they’ll be side events, cash games and bars all heaving with mad Irishmen. The whole thing will be televised by RTE, which has helped Padraig assemble an International field including Mike Sexton, Robert Williamson, Michael Kiener and Marcel Luske. In fact the more I look around, the more I start to realise that I must be the only bloody idiot who’s doing any of this with his own money.

The lady next to us on the flight causes slight panic by insisting that Galway will be four hours and "at least 400 Euro, if you can get one" in a cab, but this turns out to be wildly inaccurate. On arrival at the hotel, we see many friendly faces from London including George Rousso, Trevor Coles, Kevin O’Leary and Rob Garfield. Deciding against getting straight into eating and drinking Tammy and I head off to the Eglington Casino for the night’s super satellite.

The Eglington is, like a lot of "casinos" in Ireland, a very small friendly poker club with just a couple of gaming tables to help support the place. There are about eight tables which are crammed with over one-hundred players. I havn’t played hold-’em eleven-handed since I used to frequent The Rainbow in Birmingham, but I should stress that this was a lot nicer than that.

The town centre and the lovely Galway Bay are all close by to the Radisson, as is The Eglington. We’re here because the hotel are still setting up for the next day’s main event. The place is clean and friendly, there is a free buffet and a smattering of familiar faces from the UK circuit including Mick McCool and Joe Grech. The walls of the club are adorned with some tremendous photographs of some of the true legends of Irish poker. My table is overlooked by a stern-looking Alan Betson and on the far wall I can see Noel Furlong and Marty Smyth. Near the entrance are Andy Black and Liam Flood while Rory Liffey guards the cash desk. At the far end, resplendent next to George McKeever is…wait a minute…I didn’t know Vicky Coren was a paddy. The Champ will be pleased when I tell her, particularly as they’ve, rather appropriately, positioned her above the blackjack table which has the higher limits of the two.

My chance of a ticket effectively ends when I refuse to pass bottom-two, despite suspecting I was beat. I’m a little cross with my stubbornness and punish myself by playing in a very small cash game. With blinds of one and three Euro it seems to be common practice to get your whole eighty or one hundred in with Q9 or A3, and I’m considered to be a super-rock. I’ve soon ironed-out four players and headed to the PLO game.

Super satellites can be a tricky form of poker. There are some strategy adjustments which are quite technical and hard for inexperienced players to grasp. In the early stages Tammy performs very well and accrues an enormous stack of chips while terrorising her table. I fear the only problem she may have now is timing her run. Luckily she has some experienced players to help and Rory, who’s also doing very well, takes her over to the pub during the break.

On their return it starts to become clear to me that Rory’s switch to whiskey may not have been his best move of the night. From the other end of the club you can hear him continually berating the normally pugnacious Shaf. Shaf is quiet as a mouse, clearly wishing Rory would just shut-up, but Rory persists:

"I’ve played with you for five years now and I’ve only just realised that you’re not Ali Malloo. You do realise I’m going to have to readjust my whole game plan."

Clearly following this example Tammy has found a new combination in vodka and Sprite. It seems to help her to win four consecutive pots, including a magnificent 7,2 off, and she cruises to twice the average with just 45 players left and 18 seats available.

It’s at this point that I attempt to persuade her that she should consider slowing down a little. After a short time I change tack and attempt to persuade the waitress, who’s been visiting her table quite often, that she should slow down a little. My attempts are in vain though and she crashes out seven from the ticket, a little disappointed but a lesson learned.

I settle for buying-in to the main event which has a fantastic structure and is really well run. I’m really enjoying a good run of cards and also making quite a few moves. I end the day contented with an above-average 34k.

Next day I come back at the very reasonable time of 2pm (none of this early-morning poker here) and vow to play fast. I’m involved in nine out of the first eleven pots and win seven of them. I like my table and look to see we are already down to just one-hundred players. I can’t be bigger than about 20/1 to win this thing.

Generally in a deep-stack cash game I tend to not get carried away with just one pair – even if it is aces. I’m not quite sure really how I lost an 80k pot with blinds of 300/600 and the average just 23k against a good player on a board of J,7,5 rainbow. When I thought about it for just a few minutes afterwards it became obvious he had a set. My final chips are rather given away to Scott Gray, but if I was giving them to anyone I may have chosen him.

Undeterred I get straight into the 5pm 750 Euro tournament. It’s a little while before I realise that this also has an excellent structure and I’m able to adjust my speedometer from crapshoot mode. I played really well to get to the last three tables and the two guys that combined to ensure I was out in 21st weren’t to know how bad a shape they were in.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of Guinness, champagne, PLO and oysters. The oysters were the best bit. I might have to pencil this one in for next year.

Neil Channing will be heading to Brighton next week for the start of the GUKPT with the help of PokerVerdict.com.