11/03/2010

I Need at Least an Hour for Lunch

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

Tristan McDonald is quite an amazing guy really.

Admittedly, he doesn’t look much. He’s usually a bit of a scruffy bastard. I was just looking up his results on The Hendon Mob though. He has cashed for $735,000 in 15 events over 10 years. If they included the number of events he played in you’d be much more impressed though. Most years he probably manages about six. He’s cashed twice in the WSOP Main Event. I bet he’s only played it five times. On top of that he’s finished second and third in the Master Classics in Amsterdam. Those two cashes were good for $550,000.

In between all that he does something incredibly complicated and lucrative in the London insurance market.

Must be nice being him.

About a year ago Tristan told me he planned a sabbatical - a year out to charge the batteries and to see if he could give this poker lark a real go. He would take a coach, a rookie and a guest with him, and each month play a massive tournament on the world circuit.

All of the adventures would be documented on his new Withnail’s Poker School website and he’d eventually sit down and write a book about it.

As someone who knows a little about travelling the poker circuit, writing stuff and starting a poker website, I asked him how this was going to be funded. Luckily he seems to have some rich mates in the city.

Keith ‘The Camel’ Hawkins would be the eternal coach travelling with Tristan on all legs of the tour, while Clive the Rookie would get to come to a few. The guests they lined up were people they liked, people they thought might win a bit of money and people who could perhaps write about the experience. They had Vicky Coren down for the WSOPE £10,000 Main Event, Julian Thew loved Australia and the Aussie Millions, Dave Colclough has marked down the $25,000 WPT Championship and Julian Gardner will be off to the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo.

I saw what happened to my poor mate Andy Ward. He got to go to Luton for the GUKPT.

I’d better get out my diary, find a blank week and see if I could match a cool destination with a big buy-in.

That is basically how I came to be flying to Madrid and then doing the eleven hour flight to Montevideo before taking a taxi ride to Punte del Este, the fantastic coastal resort at the South East of Uruguay.

This is one of the nicer legs of PokerStars’ Latin American Poker Tour. The Main Event has a buy-in of $3,700 and they were expecting around 300 players.

Uruguay is probably not much different to the UK in land mass but it’s all squashed up in a square. The country has a population of 3.3 million but almost two thirds either live in Montevideo or Punte del Este.

This is a place where rich Argentinians and Brazilians have a holiday apartment; the place has a combination of large detached properties of all architectural types and modern apartment blocks often with a sea view. It’s quite prosperous and it’s considered to be very safe. There is a local currency, but everyone uses US dollars, the landscape is generally green and lush and the climate is great. March is towards the end of the summer but it’s nice and warm without killing you and without massive humidity. Admittedly, it absolutely pissed it with rain a couple of times, but people said that was unusual, and it certainly beat the cold weather we’ve had in London lately.

We had booked our packages through Stars which is often the only way with these tours. It’s annoying that Stars book up all the hotels for themselves long before they announce the dates of the events. They really make it hard to travel as an independent player.

The tournament was held in a hotel/casino called Mantra which was a little out of the main town, but which had everything you could need, and which was close to some nice beaches. After just one night, which we booked ourselves, we had to move to the Baradas, another hotel PokerStars were using, as part of our package. This place was a bit older than, and wasn’t quite as nice as, the Mantra or the Awa which some players were staying in, but it was clean and the rooms were really suites. It reminded me of a South American City West, except that it didn’t cost £19,000 to stay there for the weekend, as it had a safe in each room. Although the Baradas was about seven miles from the Mantra, Stars supplied shuttle buses which popped up quickly and were happy to take even a single person.

The Camel played well to win a seat in the super satellite the night before the Main. I had gone out on just the second hand. It had been my intention to not spend excess time in the casino this trip, the cash games were raked at 5 percent with no cap and they weren’t that interesting looking anyway. In the interests of team spirit though I stayed around drinking lager for four hours with Henning Granstad and some other Scandis, transmitting run-good to Keith from the bar.

The Main Event was on Wednesday at noon (that was 2pm London time, so not too bad and no jet lag). I played pretty badly to be honest. My first table had a few spots but the players were probably above average for the weak field. I played well but then we got broken up, just as I was getting going. It was the second table I played badly on. I was very weak in a couple of pots and an incredibly annoying Canadian who used to come to the Vic got me really tilted by bombarding me with bad beats on the break.

I did flop a set of kings and bet out, persuading the guy to raise all in when I turned quads and fired again. Apart from that I barely won a pot. Keith was already out and Tristan didn’t last much longer. We just had the $1,200 side event to get the Uruguayan flag onto our Hendon Mob results page.

That side event didn’t work out either. I suffered a couple of unfortunate ones and joined Keith on the rail. Tristan lost a race to finish seventh and be disappointed.

We trudged off to the beach and sat eating tapas and watching the Atlantic Ocean in the sun with beers in hand.

Pretty toasty life really.

I did manage to show a profit with poker on the trip though.

About five years ago I enjoyed some banter at the table during a cash game in The Wynn with Thomas Koo. A couple of years later we were both deep in the WSOP Main Event and again we had fun sharing a table. I knew Thomas worked for PokerStars, but I didn’t know he was running the LAPT.

It’s amazing that just a few years ago John Duthie told me he was working on a new project and now Stars have tours in Italy, Australia and Asia, North America and Latin America. John has a lot to be proud of.

Thomas told me he was organising a TV cash game just for the members of team PokerStars. I licked my lips and asked him how one would go about getting a seat.

I had some fun on that Thursday. I didn’t play my best poker. It certainly takes extra concentration when you don’t speak Spanish. I did get to play with Leo Fernandez who was very tricky, and who was easily the best and most fun player I experienced in South America. I also ended up with about $6,500 more than I had before and am due to become a TV poker star in about 10 more counties thanks to ESPN Latin America.

Next week Neil Channing will be playing in Black Belt London Live. The line up will be tougher than Uruguay but the travelling won’t be so demanding.