At the start of the year I went to Galway, in Ireland, for a few days and played some tournaments. Ireland was great as usual, and the people were brilliant. I’ve never really had the time for TV when I’ve visited, but poker must be the only thing they ever show over there. Even when I was only ever known as: "That bloke that never wins anything" people would still continuously want to say "hi" and shake my hand because I’ve been on the telly. The people that play are really fanatical and are constantly asking me about hands we played four years ago, and asking what I had when I bet the turn card when a third club came.
Since the Irish Open I popped over just to lord it over the vanquished people of Ireland and it was the same, but even more so. Taxi drivers virtually crashed the car on realising "The Champion" was on board and people in pubs asked me to talk to their friends on their mobiles. One guy even followed me into the gents. When I won the title I knew it was a pretty big deal, but I just had no idea how big.
It’s been really interesting to wonder what the reaction would be over here. In the UK I started to become a bit more high profile a few years ago, appearing on a few TV tournaments where my bad luck seems to get continuously rerun just to rub it in. It was about four years ago that a bloke came up to me in Ladbrokes to tell me that he thought I was a great player, that he’d seen me on the TV and could I lend him fifty quid just until Thursday. Last year I started to get requests for autographs, and people are forever emailing me questions about hands they’ve played. Generally it’s all great fun, although I do find it a bit weird. I come from a school of gamblers where the norm is to hide your wins, exaggerate your losses, and attempt to quietly get all the money.
I came over here in 2005 and was walking around The Rio with Gary Jones. I learnt how to operate a plethora of new cameras that year as young girl after young girl wanted to be captured standing with "The Choirboy".
I’ve been in town for a day when my first photo request comes along. She knows my name and is very enthusiastic and friendly. She may be around sixty though. It’s not precisely the demographic I was aiming for, but I’m still quite chuffed.
Other than that lady all the UK and Irish players that are here come and say "good luck". This one is more awkward because I have to try and remember if they’re in the 50% that I’ve met or played with before.
As for the Americans, the ones who I’ve played with over the years and whose games I really respect, they coming over and saying nice things give me a big kick. There are people who I’ve long admired, who I’ve played many times, where I’ve always wondered what they thought of my game. They seem to have heard about the Irish Open and delight me by giving me the required blarney.
As expected there are also quite a few nippers. The people that are really skint, or who have a policy of never gambling with their own money, are really professional. Valuable time on the rail has been spent reading the results sections of the magazines. Opportunities to put people in satellites and tournaments have never been so plentiful.
The Prince is particularly pleased to see me. He decided an enormous hug is in order. It’s an awkward one though. I do like him a lot, and I have spent a lot of time sitting at the table with him laughing and joking, while we both grind along. As he lets go of me though I can see the dollar signs lighting up in his eyes. We haven’t spoken another word this trip.
Meanwhile my poker has plodded along quite well. I squeaked into the money in the $1500 PLH without ever really having chips and lasted as long in my first ever attempt at the $1000 rebuy, just missing a cash. I spent $8k on that tournament and it wasn’t until 11.30pm that I started to feel like the extra money was giving me a shot. A perfect squeeze would have finally taken me to average if the guy hadn’t had made a terrible call with the Ac9c or if I was better at 40/60s.
I shouldn’t have played the $2000 NLH on Wednesday. I was tired from a late night Tuesday and I KNEW my queens were beaten on the second hand of play, but just called anyway, so desperate was I for a sleep by the pool.
The reason I was so tired goes back a few years now. I first met James Akenhead in the Vic while playing a supersatellite for a large buy-in tournament. With just two more guys needing to be eliminated I would probably get a seat if I could just win a few blinds. It would help if this young kid on my left could pass the odd hand. In the end I decided to "help him" with some advice. I suggested he’d got his seat and that with his chip stack he should sit back and not take any risks. I suggested that we’d be done within an hour and that if he just went off for a walk, or sat on his hands life would be easier for everyone. I reminded him that it wasn’t a tournament and that he couldn’t get extra for having lots of chips. He listened to everything I said intently and showed me the respect I deserved. The next time I raised he immediately reraised me.
Since that day I’ve watched James develop as a player. Occasionally there have been moments of self doubt, and I’ve received the odd call where he’s questioned his whole approach to the game. When I started to back him in some tournaments he had a short bad run and his confidence was a little low. He never deviated too much from his creative style of play though, and with some good wins in London and his third in the GUKPT event in Newcastle he came to Vegas on a high.
It’s a long time now since James became a former-train driver (great news for the commuters of southern England), and on Tuesday he cemented his place as one of the country’s top players. The fact that he couldn’t get AK to beat 10,4 was the only reason he didn’t win the bracelet. Everyone who was there at the final knows how well he played. He didn’t lose focus once, even when his kings were beaten by A,10 and he was definitely the moral victor.
He thoroughly deserved to win at least the $520k second prize. He’s just a bit unlucky that I’m running so good at the moment. When I checked my sheet I found it was one of the tournaments where I was down for 50%.
Neil "Bad Beat" Channing will be reinvesting dozens of thousand dollar chips in half of the UK’s poker players’ attempts to win a bracelet. A lucky few will wear a PokerVerdict shirt.