Toe Punt

From October to December, 2010 I spent most of my time stressing about The Grading.

This was the third time we have run this experiment and I feel that we’re getting better at it each time. The idea is that we take a group of pros and aspiring pros and put them through their paces. We get them to play online cash games and check out their skills, we ask them to blog about their experience, discuss hands together, to write strategy articles and to come along to workshop days. We are trying to see which ones are capable of winning, but also whom are capable of improving, and which ones will represent our brand well.

It’s my strong assertion that those that can beat online cash games will do just fine in live tournaments.

We went to Australia to test my hypothesis.

The two guys we chose from the 25 that started The Grading would fly with us to Oz and would have a chance to play the Aussie Millions. They would also play some side events and we’d pick up the tab for expenses. Of the 25 there were quite a few who didn’t make it. You don’t need to be Einstein to work out that £25,000 for the top two prizes and a bunch of other packages for those who came so close was not going to come from the rake of those that finished playing a few weeks of $1/2. The players would be on our standard 50/50 with make-up and we definitely needed a return so as not to do our conkers on the project.

No pressure then, Sam and Adam.

It was another of my brilliant and cunning plans that we would fly into Sydney and hang out there. I felt that going directly to Melbourne would be just too tempting. Rushing to the casino and getting stuck into cash games and side events without having time to acclimatise and beat the jet-lag wouldn’t help anyone. I needed these guys to be ready to win. What we needed was a lovely three-day rest, a time to go to the beach, to eat out and to bond as a team. A chance to be away from the casino atmosphere.

We checked into an apartment at the Star City Hotel and Casino Complex in Sydney and the boys got stuck into a soft $2/5 game. It wasn’t my fault; it was hard to book an apartment in Darling Harbour.

We did eat and sleep a lot and we did go to the lovely beach at Manley on the ferry.

On the Monday I was up at 6am to play the iPoker $200K Guaranteed. There was a bounty on myself and fellow Black Belt Chufty. If a Black Belt player busted us we’d give them a WSOP main event seat. Not bad for a $100 tournament.

After the closest of close shaves, we jumped on a flight to Melbourne. The appartment at Docklands was lovely; it had sensational panoramic views and all mod cons. I asked the lady about the Internet and she said the place was all set up and handed me a dongle. Not exactly what we needed as a five laptop family. Apart from that, it all looked good. Without the Internet, we got an early night, ready for our first event.

The $1,100 shootout had 158 runners, about 20 of whom were from the UK. There were 16 tables and eight of them were won by the Brits. It was only physically possible for the Brits to win nine, and in three cases, two of our countrymen got heads-up. Sam lost on a table that included David Tighe, Barny Boatman and winner Toby Lewis, while Adam lost heads-up to James Keys. I ran pretty good and joined the other seven at the last two tables. There I raced for the chip lead and was a bit sick when the ace dropped on the turn to smash my queens. Another Aussie flag, but a very min min-cash.

The next event was the $1,100 six-max. Again, the boys fell early and I managed to grind along with a short stack and give myself a shot. With 26 players left, I was starting to go through the gears and I was lying sixth. I thought I’d peel to the button’s min-raise; I quite like 7s-4s as a hand. The flop looked good, it was As-10s-2s. Why did he have to have Ks-Js? Why was he one of the few that had me covered? Another day, another min-cash.

By now it was getting painful. Not the poker, I wasn’t too upset with that, but my foot. The area around the base of my big toe had swollen up and I was in agony. My attempts to not walk on it had now given me blisters. I hobbled to a doctor and he diagnosed gout. At least it wasn’t deep-veined thrombosis which several kindly souls had suggested.

My main advice to you would be don’t get gout. It really hurts. You can avoid it by cutting down on red wine, red meat, not overdoing the shellfish and not taking in too much fructose. It would take around a week for the swelling to subside and it hurt like hell. It really screwed up my plans to sleep well, go to the gym and to play long cash sessions. It didn’t seem to affect my ability to lie on the sofa doing my brains on tennis matches on Betfair.

One of the best events of the whole Aussie Millions is the rebuy. You can double rebuy and triple add-on and so many of the field just aren’t prepared to do that. With 86 players putting an average of $4,000 in, it was a total split between those that did a couple of grand and left and those that had a realistic shot. By the time the antes came in, it was a deep-structured event with 40 people playing for a $100,000 first prize.

I lost a race to Eoghan O’Dea who went on to come third. I also lost my last-longers to my regular opponents JP [Kelly] and John Eames. I would do a load more if they cashed, finalled or won. I was a little steamed when I sat in the cash game.

The cash games in The Crown are generally good. I played $10/20 No Limit Hold’em with a maximum sit-down of $4,000 that day. They charge you $25 an hour to play and you can’t legally tip. I ran pretty badly and was winning $7,000.

A combination of bad luck, bad sleep, bad play and bad toe and I was stuck $2,000. It was my first ever losing Aussie cash session. It was time to sleep.

I came back the next day refreshed and ready to play. This time I tried $25/50 No Limit Hold’em. The game wasn’t so good and I lost a $30,000 pot when a player made a poor decision to set-mine that worked out well for him.

I was pretty grumpy.

My two fellow Black Belt Poker pros and I were going to have to get something out of this Main Event. It was time to get some sleep and to wake up ready to dig deep.

The Main Event in Oz had 721 entrants. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard for one of us to final table?

Neil ‘Bad Beat’ Channing will be letting you in on the secret of how they got on next time.