25/01/2010

In a recent thread on the ever-popular Two Plus Two forum, my good friend Andy Ward made a case for the utterly intangible and totally subjective hypothesis that I am the best all round poker player in the UK.

I was naturally quite flattered by this statement, and was about to spend a few minutes deciding which other players could be described as true all-rounders, when my eye wandered down the page to the rest of the thread. Don't worry, there was no time for me to get bigheaded at all, as the other posters were soon able to assure me that I am shit at poker.

Several of them were kind enough to say that I'm a nice guy, just bad at poker, so that was nice.

My only reason for mentioning any of this is that January is often a time to make plans for the year ahead, and can be a time in life for measuring your progress and reflecting on the past.

I think I do OK in poker. I don't really think I'm the best player in the UK, in a recent conversation at dinner I was asked where I ranked myself in the field when sitting down to play one of the GUKPT's. One of my dinner companions assured me he was fourth, I told him I was about eighteenth (I think I'm better than him though). On a good day I think I can be sixth, some days I struggle to make the top one hundred.

One area of my game that has developed at a slower pace than a lot of pros is my online play. I have rarely attempted to play online cash to a volume that would allow me to measure my success in any way, I used to play the largest SNG's that PokerStars could offer at that time, but that time was some years ago and I have a suspicion that I'd struggle to beat those now. As for MTTs, the last time I played the Sunday Million was over a year ago, I've never played in the FTOPs and my last WCOOP event was the only one I've ever played.

Obviously all this has to change, partly because it's just not sensible to be a professional player and ignore the fact that most poker that's played these days happens on the Internet, and partly because I'd like to try and challenge myself.

Owning my own poker website might also be a small factor that leans me that way. It's really not possible for me to go around suggesting people should play on Black Belt Poker if I'm never there myself. I think it's important for the site that I'm accessible. People can quite easily play me there, I go under the ingenious screename of NeilChanning, and can be seen most Tuesdays playing $0.25/0.50 No Limit Hold’em on Table Neil Channing. I'm also there at random times taking a shot at the $2/4 six-max, and I like to join the weekly $5 League games. The one thing that I do think is important is that I should win online.

People will often make statements about online poker being rigged or not random just because they can't win. In Black Belt we have a site that is supposed to be aspirational. People who start at White Belt should see that it is possible to work up to Black Belt. They should look up at those higher belts and say: “That could be me.”

While I was spending about 30 hours trying to persuade lots of people to play the monthly iPoker Million Guaranteed $535 buy-in tournament, I was mostly just thinking, “That'll be nice, get a bit of reg money and a few new punters.” I don't really remember thinking: “Mmmm, nice easy 1,700 runner field, should be able to wrap up that $200,000 by 8am.”

In the end the best sign up I got might have been Ian Frazer. I wasn't necessarily thinking that when he called my cold four-bet shove in the fourth level with Q-J of spades, (typing: “I knew you were at it”). I've always liked 9-8 of hearts though, such a pretty hand. Thanks for playing, Ian. (Click here for more on this hand.)

With a few tables to go I'd have had about seven times the average if A-A could beat 8-8 and with five players left I had three big blinds and a timely reminder of how hard it is to hit an up and down straight flush.

I did manage to get to four to one heads up though, and with a $96,000 difference in prize money, the bit between 6.45am and 7am that day would probably be the most important poker I would play in January.

I guess I'll take $104,000, I haven't got much choice now, it would have been nice to win though, pity A-Q couldn't beat A-5.

It certainly sent me to Australia with a spring in my poker step and a bit of extra in the bank.

That “bit of extra” wasn't going to get me buying any ticket above economy though, although my run good did extend to getting a free upgrade to Premium Economy on the Hong Kong to Sydney leg of the journey.

Sydney is lovely. I deliberately flew there to spend a few days away from poker, spend a fortune on the world's most expensive hotel room, eat a lot of good food, get a little bit sunburnt and get over the jetlag. I went to Manley and Bondi beaches, and was sorely tempted to rent a surfboard and give it a go. In the end, fear of failure and a sudden awareness that my belly hangs over my swimming shorts stopped me.

Marty Smyth had flown from Melbourne to Sydney to meet friends for a couple of days and we had fun hanging out together.

I flew to Melbourne on the Tuesday. Having left London the previous Thursday I was ready to play again.

The $1,500 bounty event was the one which I was fifth in last year and this year I also got to be a bounty, meaning my buy-in wasn't the $1,650 most paid. It also meant we would start with no other bounty on our table, making it hard for me to claim $1,000. I managed it though as another table broke and we were lucky enough to get a bounty to replace a guy I'd already busted.

I played well all day, ran quite good and managed to get to day two with half the average despite not seeing a hand for the last three hours. One of the best bits of the day was when I asked Jay Rosenkrantz if he was a fan of Luke Schwartz, after he told me he read his blog. I didn't know who he was, but apparently they're not great pals.

On Day Two I could have played slightly better. The tournament went to shootout format with the 32 players forming four tables, two from each would make the final. I played quite tight, possibly a little too tight, early on and I missed a couple of good chances where I decided to wait for better spots. In the end I got a cold deck and went out. I cashed for just over $5,000. It doesn't sound much but it's my first live cash in six months. I needed it.

As son as I busted I played a $10/20 cash game for six hours. I wouldn't normally spend too much time playing a game of this size, but it was a good game and I was particularly enjoying terrorising one Internet ‘pro’ who spent much of the time attempting to educate the table as to how great his poker knowledge was. He hated me by the end.

My wins in the cash game and the first event were pretty good, but I was intending to invest all of the profits in the $1,000 rebuy event. With a few weak players in the field and my confidence levels running high, I fancied winning something.