05/06/2008

To the Brave and the Faithful Nothing is Impossible

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

I've been here a week now and I'm totally knackered.

It's my own fault really. I often spend a lot of time telling people how surviving Vegas and the World Series of Poker is just a state of mind, and I forgot for a second that, although it's a totally mental place, the physical is very important too.

It's not like I didn't prepare properly. In May I eased off my schedule at the Vic a little. I indulged in a lot of lunches, caught up with lots of people I won't be seeing this summer and cleared my desk and my mind a little. It must have been the right thing to do, as my form in the cash game turned again. I was back to playing my best poker and winning ridiculous amounts every day. The games were great and I was having fun.

I had a mini-holiday which was a perfect way to relax before my long summer of "work", got myself a serious haircut, threw a few things into a bag and flew eight thousand miles to the office. The haircut was only seven quid, but it's already caused four people to ask if I've lost weight and one to say I'm looking very young (it's either the haircut or the $1.2m that's causing this flood of compliments). If I can stand another thirty minutes of a Turkish bloke who can barely speak the language bemoaning the state of the country, I'll probably spend another seven quid as soon as I get home.

Customs was a bit trickier than usual this year. I stupidly left some suntan lotion in my hand luggage, and the fact that most modern bombs are made from suntan lotion, caused a massive search of my luggage and the discovery of an enormous amount of readies.

Apparently there is a new law that you must declare amounts of over 10k Euro on leaving the UK and a form must be filled in prior to leaving the security screening area. The fact that there is no obvious desk for this or any signs to tell you of the law seems to not worry the men in uniforms, and various people are called for by 'phone and radio while a nice looking labrador has a good sniff of the offending bangers.

Eventually Ginger Tony suggests they should Google my name, (Tony is very proud of my European ranking), and he points out to the officer that I barely travel to the newsagent without three or four grand on me. We fill out a form, tell the man a bit about the WSOP and he asks us about playing Jacks from early position. We all agree it's impossible and we're allowed to board the plane.

I'm running so well at the moment that despite the aircraft being 95% full I get three seats to spread across when the people next to me are moved closer to their friends. That means I can receive visitors from the first class cabin, (European poker's Mr Big), and the Premium Economy ("Hi Barny"). The rest of the trip passes quickly as John Kabbaj leaves Tony sleeping and comes to have a good gossip about people in the poker world.

US customs is not too bad. So many people are declaring more than $10k that the lady is too busy and flustered to make me count it, or to ask any stupid questions.

Getting here a couple of days before the $10k PLH was always the plan. Cabbage and I planned to show Tony a few of the sights and to get him acclimatised to life in Vegas. We had a great first night downtown, a nice meal at Hugo's Cellar, a few glasses of wine and an inspiring walk down memory lane through the Golden Nuggett and the Horseshoe.

Thursday was spent looking round the Bellagio and the Rio and getting ourselves knocked out of the Super and a couple of one-tables. By Friday John and I were rested and focussed for the $10k Pot Limit World Championship.

Despite the $20k starting stack some people felt that starting at 100/200 made the structure too fast. I can't really fault it as my flush under flush and QQ vs KK would probably have killed me whatever. John was surviving better though. He told me he played very tight and that he'd struggled with no hands, but to me he seemed very focussed and ready to win, despite his slightly low stack.

I came back on Sunday to play the $1500 nlh. Although you only get 3000 chips in these the secret is to not panic, realise that the other players are truly terrible, and that you'll soon get paid on your hands, and just to wait for good things to happen without wasting chips trying to push it. I followed my advice perfectly and got to 7k without having to try hard. It was then that a perfect looking squeeze situation cropped-up. The only thing not perfect about it turned out to be the guy's hand - he had the boots. Marvellous!

Having been knocked out I went to watch John. It was 2004 when he and Ram got to the last three in a $3000 nlh event and somehow managed to finish second and third. John definitely didn't think of that as a good day, despite finishing second for $260k, and I knew how important this chance to atone was to him.

I really felt for him when at 4.30am, the queen fell on the river to kill John's aces. He would have had a decent stack and a great chance in the final. Instead he was now the short-stack and would soon lose a race and go out tenth. There isn't much you can say to someone at that time. John wanted to immediately fly home. He's had a few days to recover now and is off to play the $10k mixed games event today. I'm glad he's got it together again, I've seen since Ireland how well he's playing, and I know he's ready to win.

My own game hasn't been 100% since I've been here but I'm hoping a quieter day today will help to return my mental state to the perfect place it was at last Monday. I'm hoping a rest today and the inspiration from the performances of one or two friends will lift me for the rest of the week. I just need to believe.

Neil "Bad Beat" Channing has not stopped believing. The bracelet will go nicely with his red PokerVerdict top.