After having such a fun time in Bolton, I got all enthusiastic about tournaments and immediately broke my New Year's resolution. I went to Luton.
Despite the presence of the lovely Dena (who should obviously be running the show), and Ann (always my personal favourite waitress), I can really see precious few reasons for going to this casino. Some time ago they decided to completely f***-up all their structures causing the tournaments to start way too slow and end up a crap-shoot. They are also keen on starting late and getting as many people back for the second day as is humanly possible.
On the Thursday of the festival I played a monkey double-chance freezeout where we got 5000 chips for each of our chances, playing with 1hr levels starting at 25/25. These double-chance tournaments are quite a good idea when people have travelled a long way and don't want to get knocked out in five minutes. This tournament consisted of mostly locals. With the "special" Luton rule that you had to lose half your chips before taking the second lot, plus the lack of a running ante, it meant that by 1am we only lost 11 of the 89 starters.
We celebrated with a deep-fried buffet.
Although I wasn't among the 25 who came back the next day (only nine of whom got paid) I was still stupid enough to spend two days playing the main event there at the weekend. Eventually I managed to lose my chips to Andrew Georgiou and I was delighted to see that he turned them into 19 jibs for second place. At least I got to split the 27-way two hundred quid last longer bet that I organised. Hopefully when the casino moves to new premises they can think about sorting out their mess of a card room.
I had barely got back into day-to-day routine at the Vic when Vicky C announced she had found me a job. After the smelling salts worked their magic, she calmed me down by telling me it would just be four days of working at a poker tournament in Cardiff.
The Party Poker Poker Nations Cup is a rare thing, in that it is a team poker event which actually works, and which causes nobody to collude.
Vicky usually does the pre and post match interviews with the players, but commentary and presenting duties meant a vacancy had arisen. I would be off camera and wouldn't feature in the show but it would be my interesting and probing questions that would get the necessary sound bites.
On arrival at Monte Cardiff, the home of Presentable Productions, the creators of Late Night Poker, I was nervous. During the 2005 William Hill Grand Prix I had spent a few days there as a player, hung around the studio, played sit 'n' gos in the hotel and generally had a great laugh. This was different though. I was joining an established team, who all know each other well, to do the job of a professional journalist, something I'm not. Meanwhile, the players were all teamed up in their cliques and, since Devilfish had inexplicably left me out of the British team, I didn't feel like one of them either. I was going to have to bluff it.
Luckily for me everyone was great. The team at Cardiff are really nice and know their stuff. The players were all very relaxed and enjoyed the tournament. I think the interviews went well, and this was mostly down to something I really admire: the total professionalism of the players. People like Joe Beevers, Robert Williamson and Antonio Esfandiari have done a few of these before and can give you exactly the right sound bites needed for the programme. Others like Marcel Luske, Michael Keiner and Ram Vaswani are just great to listen to and their enthusiasm for the game, after all these years, is infectious.
It was also great to meet up with old poker friends. Bo Sehlstedt, who I had heard plenty of, but thought I'd never met, reminded me that I had knocked him out of the 2005 WSOP Main Event in an enormous pot on Day 4. It wasn't until the next day that I realised that he was Legato on Pokerstars and that we'd played many times, which meant he was the guy that used to come to the Vic festivals a few years ago. I'd been assuming he was a recent five-minute wonder.
My favourite interviews were probably those of Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilley. I could listen to the two of them all day and I wonder if there's ever a moments silence in their house.
The poker wasn't bad too. I won't spoil it with any results, but I will say that you'll love the last heat and particularly the final. I enjoyed it so much that I didn't really mind doing my brains making a book on the final.
A week of long hours, hard work and a freezing cold TV studio had been looking like no fun for a while. In the end it turned out great. I shall look back at my trip to Cardiff very fondly.