20/09/2010

Really Late Night Poker

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

Sadly, I never got to play Late Night Poker.

A friend of mine said he could get me in the first series. Apparently they were desperate to find a few more players who could dig up the £1,500 entry fee. We were told you were allowed to wear a logo. We weren't told who'd want to sponsor some unknown degenerates in a world with no Internet poker and no history of TV poker.

It was 1999 and the show was to be shown on Channel Four at midnight on a Friday. In retrospect I don't think I had too many moves that weren't well known to everyone, but at the time I was very much from the background of: "Why make this hard game any easier for other people?"

I imagined the TV people would be making a fortune with the players chipping in to the costs and I certainly didn't want my bank manager or any of my many bookmakers finding out anything about me. I'd always been pretty low-key. I passed.

That first series was magical though and I would rush in from the pub to watch Devilfish bash up the table.

I had played with some of the people that appeared, but generally I was a cash grinder and the biggest tournament I'd ever entered was a £100 rebuy. When I now saw some of the same players in similar £100 rebuy tournaments around London I suddenly became overawed and was unable to play my best against them. The fact that they played on TV made them seem so much better at poker than they undoubtedly were.

I remember having an epiphany. I was in the final of a £100 event at the Russell Square casino in late 2000. I ran over the table that day and there were three Late Night Poker regulars in attendance. In the end I ran a bit badly and finished fifth but I now knew that it was going to be possible to compete at the level required to make a living from poker. At the time I was still very involved in horse race gambling, but this new found back-up plan filled me with confidence and spurred me to go to Vegas to actually play a WSOP event rather than just grinding the cash.

If you turned down that first Late Night Poker series when they were desperate it was hard to get invited again when everyone suddenly fancied it. It took me until 2009, and at times I regretted not doing it earlier.

I got the swine flu just days before I was due to travel to Cardiff for filming and so my debut on the show waited until this year.

It was a rush to get to Arthur Smith at the Edinburgh Festival with The Camel Family, but I did enjoy it. It was then a rush to the airport and to get home to London for 10pm. At 11pm a car came to pick me up and drive me to the Celtic Manor Hotel (where the Ryder Cup will soon be played). I arrived just in time to run into James Akenhead who had obviously won his heat, so I was forced to have a couple of swift pints before heading off to dream up schemes to beat a genuine poker hero in Carlos Mortensen.

I woke up early and took a call from Lucas, who works for Full Tilt. One of the players had failed to turn up. Would I like to swap heats and not have to face Jake Cody, Ram Vaswani and Carlos Mortensen? I could play in the morning and simply commentate on those three terrifyingly good players. I'd be prepared to pay money just to watch the hole cards in that game, so I immediately said yes without asking who my new opponents would be.

I think I played OK when it came down to it. Not great, but OK. I had a shot, it was obviously a crapshoot, and a lot came down to who knocked out the third guy when we went three-handed. I played a hand in a funny way heads-up. I like my play but it ended with me losing a race which others might have avoided taking.

It used to be that second got to come back for a runner-up heat. I'm hoping I'll get the consolation of coming back to do more commentary.

I got myself back from Cardiff as quickly as I could. Since I won the GUKPT in Luton I find myself third on the GUKPT leaderboard. Third gets you £5,000 but second and first are £10,000 and £20,000. I can never resist any added value so I plan to give Alli Mallu a run for his money.

Normally a £500 event with 80 players wouldn't seem as attractive as the bigger cash games, but the bigger cash games have been thin on the ground and I had some big side bets. If I won it I would double the first prize and move up to second in the points table.

I must learn to fold K-K to a five-bet from A-Q. I could have had a massive stack with 35 left.

On Saturday I played the £750 main event. My stack was about 20 percent of the average with four tables left but all my cross-book and last longer gamblers were already out, so I still had a shot at a big payday. Lots of the bets depended on me final-tabling and I could easily win double the first prize. The field of 134 was good for a nice chunk anyway.

When I came back for Day 2 with 19 left and the twelth biggest stack I fancied I might make the final. After 30 minutes we were down to 16 and I was over average for the first time. 13 got paid but I wasn't one of them. Maybe my semi-bluff was a little rash when I think of all the extra action I had. Several people were very relieved to hear news of my bustout.

Having to go back to the Vic that Monday meant I'd have to play the 'harder Day 1B at the new London WPT. I'm glad I did. I thought there were some very weak players spread around the room and with an EPT still running in Vilamoura (well done Toby and Teddy, unlucky Sam), and a holiday for some in Cannes (having fun, Nik?), it was a field that didn't seem to be full of top pros.

On my table we had three total madmen and three good players as well as one professional who probably will play well when he settles down a little.

One madman busted another one before dumping his chips liberally around the table (obviously missing me). He doubled his 30,000 starting stack immediately and then failed to make the dinner break. As soon as he busted, the other madmen got insta-moved.

I went out shortly afterwards. If I'd have simply four-bet my pocket kings I guess I could have folded to the cold five-bet, but I still don't think it would have been easy.

In the end I was glad to get away from the Palm Beach where, despite the 10.4 percent juice, a cup of tea was still £4 and the phone got no reception.

I ended the week attempting to educate people. Some of the Vic regulars wouldn't be very happy if they knew.

This was the third Poker in the Park and the second one that had been an important marketing tool for Black Belt Poker. We ran the training tent which meant groups of 10 signing-up to the site and getting a free half an hour session with myself, or if they were luckier, one of our team of pros.

I also gave a hastily prepared lecture, which was basically me telling some anecdotes, and I talked to thousands of people until my throat was sore.

It was great fun and we met lots of customers old and new. Lots of the Black Belt Poker team were there, we did a great job at getting our message out and i got to do lots of media interviews.

I still think the first idea of pillow-fighting lingerie models would have got us more sign-ups though.

Next week Neil Channing will be moaning on about TV poker again and also reporting on the British Poker Awards and the WSOPE, both of which he proudly wore his Black Belt Poker colours for.