Strangeways Here We Come

The soundtrack to my adolescence was written by The Smiths. The Manchester-based guitar band combined the lyrical genius of Morrissey with the brilliant guitar playing of Johnny Marr. Their songs were full of angst, pain, misery, disillusionment and ultimately disappointment. They were great.

Somehow, the sound of The Smiths on my Ipod seemed the perfect accompaniment to a pleasant train journey from Euston to Leg Four of the Grosvenor Poker Tour in Manchester.

The tournament was held in the new "G" Casino. This is a Grosvenor branding thing which means an out of town location, wide open spaces, wooden floors, a sports bar and plenty of space to play poker. If only someone had thought to fit light bulbs with more than 40 watts it would look great.

The senior management who selected the location must have done so without visiting the area. It’s definitely a bit dodgy. A story is going around that some of the people who played on the Thursday got robbed by thugs with baseball bats who burst into their hotel. Bit of a result if you’d just done your bollocks in the cash game. The place is handy for the prison and the McDonalds is the first one I’ve seen with an entry-‘phone.

I decided to warm-up for the day’s action with an hour in the cash game. You might think that the risk of losing, and putting myself on tilt, might be too much, but I couldn’t resist the line-up and played for one hour.

Sixty minutes and £1400 later I was on tilt. If I wanted to just give Bambos money I could easily stay at home.

My first table was interesting. I found myself sitting next to my good friend "Mad" Marty Wilson. I hadn’t seen him since Dublin where my reporting of his exploits in the cash game had caused some consternation. He’d had a tough time there, and some had felt that I shouldn’t have "given him the rub" in print for it. He assured me that it was all ok and we were still mates. (All sorted Rory). He did remind me that the last thing he said to me was

"Whatever you do don’t tell Katherine how I did…"

and that when I bumped into Katherine near the lift at 7am (around 30 minutes later) she cunningly tricked me by asking

"How did Martin get on?"

causing me to let slip that

"He did his bollocks."

Everyone appears to be speaking though so I think it’s ok.

Long after Marty’s departure I was sent to another table of old friends. God knows how I managed to get AA to stand up against AQ when I chose "London’s Luckiest Man" (Ian Woodley) as an opponent. The heady heights of twice the average were to last until the next hand when a slightly overplayed (is there such a thing?) AK sent me back to the pack.

I was now reduced to stealing from the one true legend Willie Tann in order to stay alive. (sorry WT – it’s just business).

Although Nik was out quite early, him and India kindly waited and the three of us stayed at her parents’ fantastic house. A lovely sleep and a nice bit of breakfast left me in a great mood and ready to play well.

The dealers soon put an end to that.

Generally, I’m not one to complain about the dealers. It’s a tough job, the pay could be better and I certainly would never think about adding to their woes by moaning about the cards I’m given.

If trainee dealers must be used on these tournaments because of costs or staffing issues I can just about forgive that. If they’re keen to learn and prepared to listen, they can soon improve and the experience is great for them.

I personally think that the dealers at the Vic are among the best in the World. It stands to reason, that if they’re dealing the most hands in the UK, they will get to be the best. The fact that Grosvenor won’t let them come and deal on the tour because London Waiting means they earn more than their provincial colleagues seems short-sighted and mean.

The other busy poker casinos like Luton and Walsall have good dealers too, but the problem that the tour is having is a lack of consistency. One of the purposes of the Tour is to establish a national standard, throughout the group, for running poker tournaments. It’s just not on when dealers come to the table and want to deal "the way we do it in…", especially if that means their procedures are wrong. There should be one Grosvenor way and they should all be able to rise to that standard.

By the end of day two I was thoroughly frustrated. It should not be up to me to teach the dealers to collect the antes correctly. The number of mistakes with people missing antes, and in one case, a player being forced to put the big blind in twice, are not acceptable. Even less acceptable is the surly and belligerent attitude of some of the dealers when the players try to help.

I was very conscious of the way I was starting to sound like a miserable, grumpy old git. I could have just stood for it and ignored it but I chose to speak up. It certainly didn’t help my chances in the tournament, particular when one dealer chose to have a full blown argument with me rather than simply call the floor. Throughout the next couple of hands I could see him sneering when I got reraised. I was glad to get away.

My demise was quick and not too painful. I played a 6c9c the way I should and I can’t help it if a pair of jacks holds up.

I would have loved to do better in this tournament, and with four down I’m disappointed to have drawn a blank. I do feel some pressure to represent my excellent sponsors, who, while providing live coverage of the event, put the spotlight on me. I really hope that the tour can learn from some of the mistakes so far, move on and improve. I’ll definitely be packing my sunglasses and swimming trunks for a nice trip to Brighton where hopefully I won’t moan at all.

Neil Channing is sponsored to play tournaments by