17/01/2007

A New Year and a new sponsor. I never did win a big one for BetUSA.com so maybe the PokerVerdict lucky red (1970s Arsenal style) shirts might work better. Where BetUSA were looking to penetrate new markets in parts of Mid-West America by sending me to the Bellagio for weeks of lazing around the pool and donating to the WPT prize funds, my good friends at PokerVerdict.com have decided that masses of extra traffic can be driven through their excellent site by making me tour round the provincial casinos of the UK.

I read a recent quote from Richard Branson suggesting that internal flights, he cited an example of the London to Manchester route, were amongst the worst for adding to the problems of global warming, and that people should generally take the train if possible. When Nik, Ken and I went to pay for our unbooked peak-time 1st class tickets, I was beginning to spot his ulterior motive. We got to Bolton for leg 1 of the Grosvenor Poker Tour in almost 3hrs for around the price that a black cab would have charged us.

Due to a misjudgement on my part, we hadn't bought into the warm-up two hundred quid freeze-out and it had sold out 160 seats before we arrived. When I saw the structure I wasn't too bothered. The starting stacks were enormous and this one-day event looked certain to be settled by chip count close to 6am. If only we could find a table, a dealer, some players and some chips we could probably enjoy ourselves more in a cash game.

The casino at Bolton has been open less than two years and is of the "aircraft hanger on an industrial estate" type. Their normal weekly poker highlights include a two quid PLH rebuy tournament and so getting them to organise a cash game wasn't that easy. In the end Bambos and I did the job ourselves, and after some brilliant work we settled down to play. Most of the fun in the game came from a fella called John who's quite new to poker. At one point he overcalled a two hundred quid river bet on a board of AKQJ9 with just A6. As the pot was pushed some way away from him, his friend who was watching commented that this was a terrible call. He immediately answered:

"These boys are from up London and I reckoned a two hundred quid bet from them meant nothing. They're all loaded you know."

With Mike, Ken, Stuart, Bambos and me all sat there, it was a bit like a sub-branch of the Vic, except they let us play until 6am and the special of the day wasn't beef stew.

Friday was the day of the Main Event and I spent a bit of time before talking to people who were late. Poor old Warren took eight hours to drive after being stationary on the M40 for a long time. Luke and Adam, the Laurel and Hardy of the London poker scene called to say that the car had broken down. I think Adam must have forgotten to mention that it was Luke filling it with diesel which caused the problem. Finally Karl rushed up to tell me that Praz was half an hour behind schedule. The rule in Grosvenor Casinos is that you must be sat in your seat for the first hand of the tournament or be disqualified, and he wondered if there was a way to hold things up.

In the end Praz arrived just in time to sit at the end of my table. He managed to get off to a great start and played some good poker while I was busy dwindling my chips away and failing to make a single successful continuation bet, despite constantly trying.

By the end of the night I was down to 4900 while Praz had really kicked on, and my travelling companions Nik and Ken were also in the top 10%. We all went for a drink though and had a few laughs, mostly reflecting on a ludicrous pass that Paul Parker made against Ken, who he described as a very tight player. (hmmm...)

Day two was quite good fun as I played with Stuart, Lawrence, Tikay, Mickey "The Legend" and Ken. I only wish it had lasted a bit longer as I was starting to really enjoy myself. I joined Jeff and Bambos in the cash game but I couldn't really settle. I should have stopped playing as I was more interested in watching the tournament and chatting to various people. This weekend was proving to be a proper UK poker convention, and it was great to see so many people from around the country having a laugh together. A lot of people asked me about PokerVerdict, which I described as the Radio Times of internet poker. The reaction of the average poker player was to stare at me looking completely mystified. It has now occurred to me that nobody under the age of forty has a clue what the Radio Times is.

I got myself interviewed for Channel Four and was asked what I thought of the Tour. I said I was particularly pleased to see that the prize pool was equivalent to that of the EPT Event at the Vic in that the 1st prize for each could get you a small two bedroomed flat close to the casino.

Ken played brilliantly and I had tremendous fun watching him. His style of play is exciting and his enthusiasm for the game is infectious. He loved playing against Lawrence and they battled each other in a series of enormous pots where nobody had very much. Eventually Ken went out with around thirty players left but he certainly gave his money a better spin than most of the rocks in the event.

Nik, Praz and Karl are also pretty flairy players but they all have access to a stop pedal and some lower gears that Ken hasn't heard about yet. They all used this to get themselves into Sunday along with Vic-trained Stuart Nash and Joe Grech.

Nik was eventually knocked out in 10th place without making the money despite the prescence of his gorgeous fan club. The three of us joined Ken and 43 others in the good old rebuy crapshoot that I was delighted to see scheduled to end the weekend. This recent fashion for freezeout tournaments has killed the tradition of steaming into a last tournament and investing far too much in a desperate attempt to get out of it on the trip. My 700 quid didn't seem to buy me many chips but with a lot of luck along the way I was able to use them to get me three grand for a second place.

I got to the cash desk for my wages just as Praz and Karl had got theirs. We celebrated their fantasic one-two in the bar. After missing the bracelet win I was really pleased to be there for this, and I was delighted for him. I'd consider swapping a percentage with him again I think.

Neil Channing will be off to Walsall for leg two of the Grosvenor Poker Tour thanks to those nice people at PokerVerdict.com.