Since I became a businessman who plays some poker instead of just a poker player, I'm always involved in meetings. Before I used to quite like talking, but now I do nothing but look at my diary and schedule a meeting for this and a meeting for that.
The social network at Black Belt Poker started in May. Since then we've built up quite a loyal community with more than three thousand members. It was back in October that they suggested getting together. They wanted to book a meeting for Christmas.
I personally thought the idea of a Christmas dinner was bonkers. Where would we find a table for a hundred and how would everyone get to speak to each other? These people know each other because of poker. What we needed was a poker tournament.
If my ex-flat mate Paul Spillane had never invented the IPO - the small stakes, big fun poker tournament that Boyles hold annually - I'd have never had a picture in my mind of what Black Belt London Live should be like.
I wanted a smallish stakes buy-in tournament with a proper big tournament feel to it. We'd give the players a really decent structure and get loads of "celebrity" pros to play. Everyone would remember what it felt like to be new to poker again, the community members would get to see what they all looked like, we'd sign up a bunch of new players, people who repeatedly ask me what this Black Belt thing is all about might get an idea of the answer, and the pros would all have a laugh because we'd make it fun.
All I needed to do now was persuade the Vic to let us take over their whole card room, using up all their nice dealers, who'd have to come in early, and blocking up all the empty tables that could be filled with cash games.
Once I'd cracked the Vic I'd simply have to get 300 poker players to commit to doing something in advance, and to buy into a tournament, where they could only register online, and I'd like to get them bought in a month before the event. I also had to contact a whole bunch of people for whom $220 doesn't pay the butler for an hour, and persuade them to come and play.
It nearly killed me.
The amount of excitement I actually felt in the first few days when the buy-in number went up by just one was ridiculous. It was like a chemical reaction. I became obsessed and watched the number of entrants at all times I was online. If three people signed up in a day I was almost orgasmic.
Over Christmas I spent two hours every day contacting people about the event, in Australia I upped it to four hours and by the time I got to Uruguay with two weeks to go and with only ninety people signed up, I was really beginning to panic. I was begging people to play.
It wasn't until a week before that the floodgates opened. As soon as Saturday's Day 1B sold out I started getting five messages a day from people who wanted to get into that day. Many were people who just weeks before I'd been haranguing to sign up. Now they harangued me.
The second that Friday's Day 1A sold out the calls started coming through from people asking if I'd saved them a seat, if I could squeeze them in or if I would go online, register for them, open them account, pay in money and get somebody else to drop out.
They wanted me to get the Vic to put on more tables, to open up to alternates, to play eleven handed and to hire more dealers.
All I'd wanted was for them to sign up at Christmas.
I spent the whole week before the tournament sorting people out. There wasn't much time for playing.
When I settled down to play my Day Aa I was actually quite nervous, but also really happy just to finally pick up some cards and chips. I was even happier to get to tussle with some good players, who were having fun, and to chat to my old pal Paul Parker. I'm not totally sure that the rest of the table appreciated that. They must have regretted not charging their iPods.
I spent a lot of time schmoozing, meeting people and wandering around thanking players for coming. There were way too many big name pros to mention, but they should know if they're reading that I really appreciate the effort they made to show up and play.
As the bounties got knocked out they were photographed with their conquerors. Some people were cynical about this and said that people wouldn't be bothered and would rather just have a cash bounty. I was beginning to wonder as Jake Cody knocked out Praz Bansi, Rory Liffey busted James Akenhead and Black Belt's new CEO Warren Wooldridge knocked out our own Nik Persaud. Everyone really entered into the spirit and had a lot of fun with it though.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I was even more tired after Day 1B and I wasn't even playing. The endless planning and lack of sleep in the run-up was taking its toll. I probably didn't need a guy slagging me off on The Hendon Mob forum and 4am may not have been the best time to get involved with a troll who wanted to engage me in a pointless debate. It took me a fair bit of energy to realise that the guy is just a vindictive and cruel moron who wants to defame me and the business. I pity him, but probably shouldn't waste any more time on him.
While planning the event one thing I was so careful with was not to clash with any other tournament. I didn't want the ‘big boys’ to be off to the EPT or in the States, the APAT to be attracting the smaller players or the GUKPT to mean the Vic wouldn't be possible.
I forgot about my mum.
One poor fellow also forgot. I don't think he was allowed back on Mothering Sunday and his large stack blinded away until he cashed. My small stack got to be big enough to challenge until I cashed too. I was happy to be the longest lasting bounty and pleased to cash but gutted to get knocked out. Some people suggested it would have been bad form to win ‘my’ tournament, but I wouldn't have minded and I was certainly trying.
I decided to spend the rest of the day listening to as many bustout hands as I could stand. As people came to the cash out desk I nodded and offered sympathy where appropriate. I was secretly sweating the large bonuses we had offered with mixed feelings. If Black Belt ended up paying out $15,000 to a Purple Belt who won the tournament or $25,000 to a Green Belt or above it would be slightly painful. It would also have been tremendous publicity for the whole event. In the end we got away with that one though.
I ended up commentating a bit on the final, both for A World of Poker who provided our live updates, and live on the microphone by the table. I witnessed a worthy winner in Paul Pham who played very well. He's getting a nice picture to go with his $15,000 and the impressive trophy. It shows him busting me with kings against tens.
Must be nice.
Neil Channing will be playing the GUKPT in the Vic next. The field will have less pros so it won't be so tough. The money will help though.