05/12/2008

Master of None

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

I'm often amused by the reaction I get from fellow players when I sit in a game that isn't hold'em. For years we used to play pot-limit hold'em in London and on the rare occasions that I would play no-limit, and the even rarer ones when I won, other players would often show surprise that I'd managed this tough adjustment.

I played pot-limit omaha in live cash games, at least four nights a week for the whole of 2002 and 2003, and just about kept the wolf from the door. While I may not have clocked up the number of hands as a Chufty or Ben Grundy, I think I have some rough understanding of the rules. I just smile and take the money on the rare occasions that I play the game now.

The reaction I got from people when I said I was playing the 7-card stud tournament during the recent Vic festival really made me chuckle. Don't they understand it's all just different types of poker and I'm a professional poker player? I'd decided to play the tournament to try and get myself some more ranking points, but I ended up becoming determined to win it to prove a point.

It was about 1981 when hold'em first came to England. Legendary Irish player Terry Rogers brought it over from Vegas and the Rainbow casino in Birmingham became a breeding ground for the new game. In the Vic at the time the game was always seven-card stud, played with a running ante of £1. It was £100 to sit in the game and the average age of the players was never less than about 62 on any given table. By the time I started going to the Vic regularly, stud was beginning to die and hold'em and PLO were taking over, but a small group of regulars would still play stud every day until the mid-nineties.

An even smaller group of younger players realised that they could use their superior tournament skills to clean up in stud tournaments against all the rocks who usually played the cash games. One such player was Ram Vaswani who used to win Luton's monthly stud comp about five times a year.

The Vic have always historically kept a stud tournament as part of their festival, long after the cash games died out. I remember my good friend Action Dave Morton settling down next to the legendary Men "The Master" Nguyen who was making his first trip to London and was taking in the £500 7-card competition as one of the sights.

"How are you going to win this without all your 'friends' to help you?"

was Dave's opening gambit. Men thought for a little while, at first looked very disgruntled, then smiled at Dave and answered:

"I guess I'll have to win this one straight."

I checked The Hendon Mob database for the date of that win. I think they must have chopped the tournament as it says that "Mensky" was just third in the 2003 European 7-Card Stud Championships.

For me though, it was a game that I only occasionally played as a cash game and I'd never played a tournie. If it wasn't for the damned European Rankings I probably never would have.

When people look back at the database for 2008 they'll see that I was seventh in the £250 GUKPT 7-Card Stud freezeout. Unless they read this diary they won't realise how unlucky I was to lose an enormous pot for the chip lead twelve-handed and what a good spot I found to get my remaining chips in.

Paul Parker is someone whose company I've enjoyed over many years now. We've had many glasses of wine and champagne together, most of which I've payed for, and I'm always cheered up just to see him. Immediately prior to the tournament we enjoyed an exceptionally long lunch, where, if a third person had been in attendance, they would never have had the chance to utter a single word. After lunch I reminded him that he had some work to do to live up to the previous year's tournament, which he'd split with newly-crowned WSOPE HORSE champion Thomas Bihl. This year he chopped with former WSOP final tablist Henry Nowakowski.

When I first started backing Paul in live tournaments some people were a little dubious. Several people suggested I should back him only in cash games and hinted that he didn't really have the heart neccessary to actually win tournaments. There have definitely been times during the last year, and during Paul's long poker career, when I've considered such ideas myself. What we need to all realise though is that Paul hasn't managed to survive so long in poker without being smart, without having the humility and the self awareness to realise his weaknesses, and without having the flexibility to adapt. It maybe that since I have been backing him he's enjoyed greater freedom and can be a little more carefree in order to build his chips up during tournaments. What I do know is that right now he's playing the best tournament poker of his life.

While I enjoyed the variety of the £500 PLO8 tournament the next day I much more enjoyed the fact that Paul's chop in this one was followed by him securing the first place and the trophy.

The rest of the week was pretty frustrating. I had three horses in two different finals but failed to clock up a win. I didn't really manage much in any of my own tournaments despite getting a few chips in the last couple of hold'em comps. I was particularly dissappointed by the £500 freezeout where six of my guys were among the thirty two who went back for day two, but only one made the final (the amazing Mr Parker getting seventh).

I decided not to spend too much money on the main event, but still got a few players into day two. My exit after five minutes of day two was followed by a real low spot when Mickey's aces lost to kings to cap a really unlucky week for The Legend. By the time the final came round I had no more financial interest but was happy to cheer on a few local boys, particularly my good pal Jeff Duval. After a gruelling final and a great heads-up it just wasn't to be for Jeff, he still played a blinder though and the boys at the Vic were proud of him.

It was a week in which I got very little sleep, I had two more set-under-sets in the cash games, I got very cross with several members of the Vic staff, I answered way too many phonecalls, most of which involved me helping to sort out numerous people's lives, and I worried about my good friend Mr David Barnes whose heart attack we were all relieved to hear was just a minor one.

By the end of it all I was completely knackered and considerably poorer. It's not a good sign when at least three people a day are telling you that you should take a holiday. I just wish I had the time.

Neil "Bad Beat" Channing is off for a short break to Bristol for the Gala Casinos British Poker Tour Grand Final.