22/01/2009

On the plane back from Galway it looked like they'd had plenty of snow in the areas around London. As I was walking back from the gym on a recent Sunday morning, hands thrust into my pockets to avoid the cold, I congratulated myself. A couple of months of regular swimming, eating healthily and walking, had obviously convinced any passing germs that they weren't gonna get much joy here. This Adonis was never going to be any sort of safe haven for the colds that people insist on calling man-flu. I'd be looking good, feeling fit, and ready-to-go for my long trip to Australia.    

For the twelve hours of the first leg of the trip I coughed and sniffed. It couldn't have been very pleasant for my Premium Economy neighbours. Barny had wisely gone Upper to avoid any germs or ear-bashings I might have planned for him. We stopped-off for a shower in the Upper lounge at Hong Kong before I found a few new punters to infect on the ten-hour leg to Sydney.    

I've never been to Australia before and had only booked the flights and hotels for this trip a few days before I left. I did a great job though. Arriving in Sydney at 7am it was too early to check into the Park Hyatt, so I made the short walk round Circular Quay to the Opera House while Barny went to meet the friends he was staying with. I explored the botanical gardens before we met to take a cab to Balmoral Beech which was a lovely family spot. We both leapt into the Pacific, although I was maybe slightly less enthusiastic, and worked up an appetite for fish and chips on the prom. I decided I needed a hat and better sun block, and we retired to the Hyatt to sit on the roof, by the pool, looking out at the harbour, the bridge and the Opera House, while the sun continued to shine at 5pm and we had a cup of tea. To think we were missing the two-hundred quid freezeout in Brighton for this. I fell asleep on my balcony while the sun set behind the Opera House.    

Next morning I was up early and walked over the Harbour Bridge and back. Everywhere you looked there were joggers, but the heat, even at 9am, and my hacking cough, made me happy to just walk. After breakfast I walked into the town centre, looked round the shops, bought a hat that made me look a little like a camp explorer or possibly just a bit mental, and decided that wearing it was better than getting heatstroke. I found my way to Darling Harbour which was a mass of touristy stuff, and then accidentally stumbled on an enormous casino.    

The Star City Complex is Sydney's only casino. I wasn't sure whether I fancied playing poker but thought I ought to experience it. I put my name down on the biggest games going. The $80 sit-down nlh had blinds of $1 and $2 and the $200-$500 sit-down was $5/$5. While I was waiting an enthusiastic guy came over to speak to me. He told me the Poker Den was airing at the moment and that he'd been watching me. He seemed curious that I should be waiting to play in such modest games and told me how they get loads of TV poker here. He also was a big fan of Premier League soccer and the NFL.    

I soon got a seat in the game and was asked for $10 table money, this was the time-charge for the hour. I was then asked to post my $5 blind. I won the second hand I was dealt with a big bluff and the dealer raked the pot for 10%, getting the $20 maximum. I asked a couple of the regulars how it was possible for anyone to win. They all agreed the charges were disgusting, but had all presumably convinced themselves that they were good enough to overcome the rake. I think Phil Ivy might struggle to beat this game. I thought I'd just have a quick Coke before heading on my way. The waitress made me pay for it in advance. She seemed surprised when I tipped her the change.    

Later on Barny and I got on a ferry to Manly Beech. This was very much a surfers’ beach and a cool breeze blew across the sand. There were designated swimming areas and signs warning "Danger Blue Bottles". Barny said he thought the picture made them look like Cornish pasties and the man with a megaphone warned there was no cure for their sting. Having gone in up to my ankles I realised the sweltering heat hadn't reached the Pacific yet and I was happy to use the bluebottles as an excuse.    

Barny rushed from the ferry to the train from where he had to meet his friends for dinner. I was left to eat alone at the restaurant within Sydney Opera House. The food was fantastic and the surroundings pretty swanky. I'm not sure if the maître d' approved of me reading a magazine over dinner, but it made my people-watching less obvious. I wandered back to the hotel and got an early night.    

I was up by 7am on Thursday morning and found the journey to Melbourne pretty simple. Due to a cock-up with my debit card I had only $60 in Australian currency, but I figured that should be enough to pay the cab to the Crown. Thirty minutes and $55 later and I was there. It was a bit early to check into my room at the Crown Towers but I was able to dump my stuff at the bell desk, change up some pounds and dive into the $1000 rebuy tourney. I spent my $2000 having fun on a table with Ross Boatman, Michael Tureniec and some young Russian kid who I always used to see at the business end of every bracelet event in Vegas over the summer. Ah...So that's the Russian kid who won the Aussie Millions last year. Alex and I had fun and he spent lots of money while I got lots of chips.    

The rest of the day I just seemed to be in-the-zone. I played lots of pots, won and lost lots of chips, generally built my stack and felt like i was really playing my best poker. Two three-outers, twelve hours into the competition and I just missed the money.      

Next day I awoke to find the queue to buy-in for the bounty tournament was ridiculous. It would take me at least an hour. George McKeever saw my problem and came to the rescue. A quick word with management and I was a bounty. I could buy in at a $150 discount for $1500 and anyone knocking me out would get $1000. I also didn't need to worry about waiting on line.       

I decided that being a bounty might cause people to gun for me even more than normal so I vowed to play tight. I was a total nit and didn't play a hand. When we got to thirty-two players we'd be done for the day. I was twenty-ninth of the thirty-two but glad to be there. The tournament would now go to a shootout phase. the tables would be seeded to give each the same number of chips. Each of the four tables of eight would provide two of the finalists. It shouldn't be that difficult to get there from here.      

Neil Bad Beat Channing used the bounty event to warm himself up for the main event. Hardly anyone had a clue who the guy in the BlackBeltPoker.com T-shirt was, or whether he could play.