After a week of being The Irish Open Champion I was totally knackered. I'd already anticipated this eventuality, even before Dublin, as the GUKPT at the Vic followed by the Cheltenham Festival had meant I hadn't slept well for a fortnight. When you threw in a trip to Dublin, the acquisition of a large trophy and an even larger cheque, and four days spent on the 'phone I was starting to need a break.
My plan had always been to visit my parents, my sister and her family for a few days, the timing was now perfect though. My niece and nephews seemed very impressed that Uncle Neil is a millionaire, although I think they always thought I was. The farm that they all live on is in a beautiful part of North Devon and it was great to spend a short time there.
The trip had to be short though because I had to get back to town to sort a few things out before heading off to Cardiff for the Party Poker Poker Nation's Cup.
Roland had been told he was to captain the Great Britain team this year a couple of months ago, and he had been discussing his selection problems with me back then. The team is made up of a captain, an internet qualifier and four players selected by the captain. Picking this year's GB team seemed a tough job with so many players in form. Under the previous captain, (Devilfish), I had always felt I had no chance of inclusion in the team. I could have won the WSOP Main Event, The EPT Grand Final, The FA Cup, the Olympic 100 meters Gold Medal, The Wimbledon Men's Singles and the University Boat Race without being considered. When Roland started thinking about it he had to try and cram in the two Julians, Ram, Joe Beevers and the Devilfish. He was also thinking about (Great in the Format) Ian Fraser, Praz Bansi, Dave Colclough and Surinder. It looked like I'd be off to Cardiff in my former role as official pre-match interviewer.
It was as I was about to go on TV and play The Irish Open Final that Roland called to tell me I just had to win to make the team. I was slightly surprised at this, and also slightly surprised at how proud I suddenly felt.
On arriving in Cardiff Roland told me he'd be playing me in the first heat, as he wanted to make a solid start (each of the six team members plays in a six-handed one-table with one representative of each of the other five countries). It seemed that some of the other captains had made the same decision, as it was a tough heat. The Irish played captain Padraig Parkinson, the Swedes selected Johan Storakers and the Germans Thomas Bihl.
In the end I won a key race against Thomas and was delighted to wrap up a long heads-up duel with Johan. As a heat winner I got $20k and the team got 16 points on the scoreboard. All six teams would play in the final, but those with most points would start with the most chips.
The rest of the week was free now to watch the other heats, cheer on my team mates and get very involved in the side-betting. As a former bookie, and since the demise of Jesse May (bookmaking services ltd RIP), I'm always the person designated to take bets at Cardiff. This particular week the action was bigger than ever, and I was happy to take on all-comers who fancied a slice of my Dublin win.
With the GB team performing so well all week, Roland was left with more tricky decisions. The final is played as a tag team event, with just four of the six players getting a chance to play. The captain has to select which two to leave out and the order that he'll play his four. Roland and Joe, perhaps our strongest two players, had done nothing wrong in their heats, nor had Charlie, our internet qualifier, they all just lost their big races. Surinder, Ian and I had been luckier and it was going to be hard to know who to leave out.
In the end Roland put Surinder on at the start. Surinder has been continuously turning up on my starting table in competitions for around a year now and I've seen how well he's been playing. I was very pleased to see him lead us off and pick up the chip lead. Roland next put in Joe, which left Ian and I, (assuming Roland wouldn't drop himself), each hoping to play. In the end Roland told me he would play third and I would be left to play the anchor role. I was very proud to be asked as I'd really been hoping he'd let me play last, but I was also a little sorry for Ian, who played better than I've seen him ever play in his heat.
I actually was more nervous about going on than I had been in Dublin. The first prize was much smaller ($100k to be divided among the six team members), although the side betting added to the money pressure. I was more worried though, about representing my country, concerned about not letting down my team mates, and keen to vindicate the captain's decision to pick me, while some great players didn't make the team.
A pretty looking K8 nearly led me to screw the whole thing up, but in the end I won a couple of traditional races (7,9 and 8,4 were the hands I chose to race with) and I managed to get us over the line after a heads-up battle with Donnacha.
I was so pleased to get my trophy, and really proud of my performance. It had been a fun tournament and I'd enjoyed being part of a team. Roland was in top form all week and the banter was good. I particularly enjoyed his taunting of the last place US team. He suggested that next year we'd let them pick from Canada and Mexico as well.
The next 24 hours reminded me very much of one of my favourite films: Goodfellas. The change of pace at the end when Ray Liottas character is rushing around town is how my return to London felt. I didn't have to pick up the guns from my Pittsburgh connection, drop them to Jimmy, who I knew would be a pain in the arse about them, I didn't nearly crash the car on the freeway causing the doctor to give me some valium, ring my brother to get him to stir the meatballs or become paranoid because I felt I was being chased by helicopters. I did however have to deliver money to around five different people in five different parts of town as well as change currency with three others. I then had to get ready for my very good friend Tim's wedding which was in Essex, and which was wonderful, and then rush from the wedding, just as the speeches finished, to meet The Champ at Heathrow to fly to Monte Carlo.
We arrived at about 3am and had a quick look about The Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, which is fantastic. I've never been to this tournament or to the principality at all, and I wanted to get the feel for it before getting a few hours kip ready for the EPT Grand Final.
I think I mentioned in a recent diary how there's a superstition at the races that the first person, (owner, trainer or jockey), that you see in the car park will have a winner that day. While taking the lift to my room I saw Robin Keston, who'd just finished his day 1 and was grumpily telling me how exhausting it all was. Typical, I thought. Why can't I bump into someone who really needs the money or better still, someone who owes me?