13/11/2007

My last diary to you wasn't actually a totally accurate picture of the way my poker had been going. I was quite enjoying whinging on about my bad luck and miserable run and didn't want to clutter up the story with any mentions of fleeting success. Just for completeness, and to remind the sponsors how great I am, I'll mention it now though.

As I staggered off the set from playing the 24-hr TV cash game a few weeks ago, the Matchroom guys totally mugged me. Before I realised what I was doing I had given them $6000 of my own money and had another TV six-handed crapshoot to look forward to. I'd be trying to beat 107 others to become the 888.com UK Open Champion. The $250,000 might be nice too.

It was only a few days after paying my money that I started to think a break from playing might do me good. One skill I have, which has served me well over the time, is good self-awareness. I knew I wasn't playing my best - I was tired, I'd been playing sessions that were way too long and I'd been suffering from a lack of confidence. On top of that the games in London had gone a little quiet. If only I could use this skill of mine and act on it by forcing myself to take a break.

Luckily fate intervened and the nice Welsh ladies from Presentable Productions came calling with a job offer. They were making a new series of Late Night Poker, (the first series of which I'd rather foolishly turned down the chance to appear on), and wondered if I'd like to come down and interview the players before and after their appearances. It's a fun job, quite hard work, but not exactly coal-mining, and it'd be a nice chance to get away from playing for a few days and see some old friends. The only problem was the 888 Tournament would clash.

"That's Ok." said a kindly Welsh voice "It'll only clash with the semi-finals of the 888."

She must have been watching me play recently.

Cardiff was a great week. The team there are very professional and experienced, so a bungling amateur interviewer was given a lot of help and made to feel very welcome. I'm pretty nosy and so I just asked a load of questions I wanted to know the answer to. The place was crammed with old faces, Late Night Poker legends like Devilfish, Korosh, The Hendon Mob and Jac Arama as well as recent millionaires Annette Obrestad and Jon Kalmar.

My plan to have a week without playing didn't quite happen. I'd really enjoyed my UK Open heat and had played about as well as I can (they've shown it already, so if you missed it just trust me - I was brilliant). The semi was going to come smack-bang in the middle of my time in Cardiff. Luckily The Sweep has about as action-packed a schedule as me, and he was available to do my work while I rushed off to Maidstone.

I won't say much about the semi because it wasn't much fun. I think it was on telly the other night. They probably didn't show much of me but you may have seen the hand with 33 when it comes 2,3h,9h...Jh...Kh and the geezer has a pair of kings. Not sure why that wasn't the exit hand but it may as well have been. Seventh got you your six grand back. I certainly needed it.

A quick seven hours on the train for one hour of poker meant I was itching to play again, and that's what very nearly happened. Korosh's habit of leaving enormous bundles of cash in each of his fleet of luxury cars almost meant that he wasn't able to pay or play. I was nervously warming the subs-bench until a last-minute whip around meant my old pal could take his chance. My only opportunity to play would now be if official reserve Karl "The Mantis" Mahrenholz couldn't make it in time to stand-in for hospitalised Jamie Gold. Unfortunately for Karl he got there just in time for his aces to get cracked and I had a couple more days off.

I won't give away too much about the results as it'll be shown on C4 in January. I can say the final was a good one though, and I was particularly pleased that, despite a busy and difficult week, The Champ was able to come down and commentate on it.

When I did venture back to the Vic after my eleven day sabbatical it was weird. I was actually quite nervous and apprehensive. It was nice to see everyone though, most people either thought I was dead, skint or had been in Ireland. I played really well that night and the hunger returned to my game. That was just the novelty though and two days later I was beginning to think about taking a month off. I then got an email from an old friend that gave me a completely different idea.

When people say "If you're ever in (insert place name), look me up." they don't really mean it. They certainly don't expect you to turn up three days later. They were having the final of the Gala Poker Tour in Bristol though, and I'd really enjoyed the first leg in Edinburgh. Presentable were covering it for ITV4 and Coral Eurobet were very generously adding some large prizes to the pool. There may only be about one hundred players, with a good mix of internet qualifiers, local players, old mates and international superstars.

The tournament turned out to be brilliant fun more or less throughout. My first table was with Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak. These boys love a bit of banter and were a great laugh. Phil and I have a mutual friend and have sort of known each other for years so I was a little sad to knock him out. Antonio I remember pushing to the front of the queue for the super-satellites at The Horseshoe by showing a couple of magic tricks to the people who'd stood there for an hour. He's a charismatic and talented guy. We clashed a lot and I was proud to come out on top.

As well as playing well in a tournament, (which I really did on Friday), you have to be lucky (which I really was on Saturday) and after cracking aces with 5h7h and winning two races I took my seat in the final alongside a difficult line-up. There were a few I know really well like Barny Boatman, Roland De Wolfe and the person who shares my birthday Joe Beevers.

I was especially pleased that a pre-final brunch with my very good friend finally fitted round the poker, and it was a cheerful and optimistic BadBeat who rushed off to interview himself for TV.

Having Bambos there made it seem like just another Sunday afternoon game at the Vic. I joked with Bambos telling him that I didn't want him to hit the front and leave with two other finalists to go to the Palm Beach inside two hours.

Roland was really getting involved in the banter and we had a lot of fun. At one stage he and Joe were talking about the fact that they both are past Irish Open Champions.

"What is the biggest title you have won Neil?" he asked me.

I had to point out that the tournaments I've won don't really have titles apart from the Tuesday comp or the thirty quid rebuy. How we laughed.

If it wasn't for a pesky pair of Jacks it may have been a perfect weekend. Obviously I'm now aware that by raising I could have won a large pot instead of losing one, and so if you see me, you'll be doing me a large favour by not mentioning that fact. I was so dazed and shell-shocked by the hand that I almost failed to revel in the absurdity of two people asking for my autograph as I left.

I was genuinely pleased for Joe, who I'd picked to win it after my exit. I think he's playing better than ever these days. I was also glad to see Barny do well and felt he played some very good poker. I'll probably get over it in a week or so. I told the Sky Poker people that tournament poker is all about pain, misery, suffering, dashed-hopes, anti-climax and stupid, stupid luck. I'm off to Blackpool this week for some more of it.

Neil "Bad Beat" Channing will be off to find the donkeys in Blackpool thanks to PokerVerdict.com