Away from Home

Not many people were planning the Blackpool/Las Vegas double.

There are kinda two tour circuits if you’re a British professional poker player, and there are also kinda two types of player.

The elite guys with large bankrolls and egos to match do the premier circuit with the cooperation of their gullible and patient sponsors. They play EPTs in Barcelona, San Remo and Monte Carlo, they pop to Vegas for the odd WPT, they do the Euro WPTs in Venice, Cyprus and even Marrakech. They only really stay in England for short breaks with friends and family, the TV tournaments six times a year and the madness of autumn when the circus comes to us. They are professional tourists; very few of them are winning players.

The not so elite guys are either hoping to break into the other group one day, when their bankroll dictates, either that or they were there once and they’d like to get back. A few are simply happy with their lot, are happy to play within their roll, and don’t really fancy the travelling. You can find these people grafting away in Cardiff and Bolton and Luton. They get to play GUKPT events where a really good week might get you 50 grand, and maybe twice a year they get themselves, through a satellite, into an EPT shot at the big time. The expenses are lower as are the rewards. Around the same tiny proportion of these are winning, but less are able to kid themselves, as they haven’t got the rewards from their one fluked prize nestling in the bank.

The elite guys were in Amsterdam. Some of the other guys were also in Amsterdam, getting stoned and playing the side events, but the elite guys were in Amsterdam trying to turn six thousand euros into a million dollars.

Jeff Kimber and I were in Blackpool. We disembarked from the plane at midday and were on a train at 9pm. By midnight we could just about see the Pleasure Beach, and feel the wind and rain on our faces.

Blackpool has probably never been elite. It used to be one of Britain’s most popular holiday destinations. Situated close to Liverpool and Manchester, thousands of textile workers would pour out of the factories and into the town for cheap fun in the days before budget airlines and package holidays to the Med. For those that have never encountered Blackpool, simply combine Coney Island with the worst aspects of Atlantic City, with an element of downtown Las Vegas and throw in a lot of places to buy fish and chips. It could do with a lick of paint.

We played PLO for a few hours that night and I was up just in time for the start of the GUKPT Day 1B. I’ve been doing this tour for three years now, I’ve played around 22 of the 30 events that come at you once a month and Blackpool is the only place where I ever made a final table. The cash games there can get quite lively, it makes a change from the Vic and the people are friendly. I was actually quite looking forward to playing.

I never got my fish and chips as I couldn’t make the dinner break. I don’t think I played too bad, but not much went right. It was raining so very hard now and I thought back to Vegas and the pool at The Wynn. I got the train back to London and by midnight I was at home with the heating turned up high.

I left the flat a few times that next week to go to Les Ambassadeurs which is close to the Hilton off Park Lane. Les A is a pretty upmarket casino which I’ve been to a few times before. I managed a few exquisite meals there in the days before the Sampoerna family owned it, and some not quite so exquisite poker tournaments in the days since they took over. Despite the fantastic surroundings and the place becoming the home of the biggest cash games in London, it’s a place I’m simply not welcome. Despite getting that feeling throughout the week, I still came back each day to witness three epic battles played out between Tom Dwan and his brave heads-up challengers.

Watching poker has never been a great pastime for me, but being on hand to witness some poker history was again interesting. Durrrr is a good guy and he was happy to handicap himself by spending the sleeping time between the 12-hour sessions playing some online sessions, for even bigger sums, against Isildur.

The first two matches didn’t result in enormous sums changing hands. Durr lost a little to luckexpress and won a little against Ziigmund. It was the last match that everyone was talking about. The guys on the London poker scene love Sammy George, and not just for the obvious reason. He’s a character, he’s fun to have around and he doesn’t half get the game going. He’s definitely not ready to play the world’s best players though. Up until the day I’d been thinking: “fair play to him for trying”. Now I just hoped against hope that he wouldn’t get killed.

In the end he lost $750,000. Tom let him off really. Sammy wanted to carry on and pull up another half a mill. He was really starting to steam. Durrrr told him to get some sleep and come and play another day.

Each day when durrrr finished his match I would rush off to the Vic to play cash. I left Sammy and within three hours I’d won nine thousand. Despite the win I went to bed feeling a little bit empty. I honestly promise I wasn’t thinking selfishly about the effect on our game and whether Sammy would be appearing there any time soon. I was just sad for Sammy.

Neil Channing “enjoyed” some volatility of his own in the week after the Durrrr Challenge. He played his best game on