Under Pressure

I always used to put a lot of pressure on myself when playing poker tournaments. If you play online you might play ten or twenty in a day, but I used to often just play twenty in a year. If there was a festival at the Vic I would look forward to it for a few weeks, and on the occasions when I travelled to an event, incurring enormous expenses, it would be to far off exotic locations like Birmingham or Southampton. If a two hour train journey was followed by the loss of a 50/50 I might be inconsolable until I played my next tournament two weeks later.

In recent years I’ve played a few more tournaments. My WSOP is twenty or more events where it used to be three or four. Even then though I’d be terribly down on myself if I didn’t win at least one bracelet.

In the last twelve months it’s changed even more. Poker helpfully provides a tournament on every continent every week of the year, and I can afford to just spin out of one to another if I choose to. The pressure is no longer caused by the fact that my next fix might be weeks away, I can overdose whenever I want now. The pressure is still totally in my head but it is now fuelled by the intense scrutiny of the whole thing.

There was a time when I could make the most ridiculous move and dump off an enormous stack of chips just before the final table with just a few circuit regulars noticing and gossiping. These days hands are noted and discussed on the internet, people spend a lot of time rating players and generally dissing them on the internet, and if you make a mistake on a TV hand it’s there for people to over-analyse forever.

As well as all the media scrutiny there is also all the extra attention you get at the table. Not only do people now want to play with you, making bluffing a lot harder, but also people will remember and discuss the way you play, so that any minor mistake will be picked apart by them and their friends. I’ve slightly set myself up for this stuff with the TV commentary and analysis I’ve been doing, so it goes with the territory.

I find now that friends will ask me about hands I’ve played, when they weren’t present, because people at the table have come to discuss the idiot move I made, with them. Even my mum, who used to concern herself mostly with why I don’t settle down and find a nice girl, now just wants to endlessly discuss balancing my 3-bet range and widening my 4-bet shove range.

If you throw in the mix the ridiculous number of magazine articles and interviews that I did about the Irish Open, and the launch of Black Belt Poker and how important a good run in Ireland would be to that project, my head was already bursting when I got to Dublin.

Having a quiet night in town, away from City West was a great plan on arrival, great company and great food, followed by just a little light cash action with a former world champion.

The tournament itself was hard work. I never really got on a good run, it was a tough table and I struggled just to hold my own. A couple of tricky situations late in the day left me on half the average overnight.

Day two’s table was better and I soon added to my stack by continually moving in. I then slid down one long snake, found a big ladder and then managed to get a bit rattled by a bad floor decision. It wasn’t such an important decision really, it was just one of those inconsistancies that rankles me and it lead to me moving 19,000 in utg with AK when the blinds were 500/1000. Maybe if I was less hotted-up I’d have gone for a limp-reraise and may have folded when two other players seemed keen to win the pot. We’ll never know. I did know that it never felt like it was meant to be. I’ve barely won a race in six months and this guys queens felt like they were 80%.

Throughout the tournament I recorded my hands on tape so I’ll have brought that scrutiny on myself.

I had expected to feel physically sick, be totally depressed, to maybe want to punch the wall, smash up my hotel room and fly home immediately. It ended up being an anticlimax. Nobody clapped, I never got to play on TV and I ended up just feeling a little numb.

I went off to the cash game and played until 9am.

The side events were pretty good, I never got to play them last year. I spent ridiculous amounts on the PLO rebuy before losing a race to my ex-flatmate Paul Spillane with only twenty-odd left.

The NLH 1500 event was pretty disappointing. With 209 players the first prize was close to 100k and that was all I ever played for. That strategy was what saw me moving 119k from 2nd position looking to pick up the 6k big blind with Q4 on a five-handed table. I’d played so well for two days only to suffer a mental block. I was very cross with myself.

I can make excuses. I’d been slow-rolled three times in this tournament, I’d caused the former world champion and all time leading money winner to be upset because I refused a saver for the bubble guy. He accused me of being cold-hearted, not to my face you understand. I never got a second of time to myself to zone in and concentrate on the job in hand. That last one could just be my own fault though.

It was an expensive weekend, I staked a lot of people in the main event, some of whom’s names I don’t really know, I lost a lot of money to Andy Black in one pot in the cash game (I hope he considers a move to London in the future), and I seemed to lend out money pretty liberally and randomly. By the end of it I was completely exhausted and mentally drained.

It’s been a great experience being Irish Champion for the year. I’d certainly like to do it again one day. I know some people think it’s changed me for the worse, and while I agree I’ve changed, I certainly hope they’re wrong.

Neil "Bad Beat" Channing is resting up before Monte Carlo. He has he launch of Black Belt Poker to focus on.