Everything Changes

One event that was always a highlight of any poker year was The Big Game. The TV Poker Den cash game was great fun when we had a string of loonies rushing down to the studio in the East End, usually after they'd finished doing their brains in the Vic a few hours earlier. There were also some random tournament players demonstrating brilliantly the different skills needed to play cash games and the odd American with jet lag and an inability to top up their stack as easily as they wished to.

The year at Les A was pretty good. We had a fun game and it lasted a long time, but I didn't really enjoy the 72-hour game at DTD with the prospect of being voted off for not being interesting enough to keep some nerds in their bedrooms happy. I prefer it when you are judged on what you win and lose in this game. I've always seen that as a perfectly reasonable way to keep score.

I didn't go to Barcelona to play 25/50 for a maximum of 12 hours (unless voted off) in a line-up of wizards. I missed the chance to be shouted at by Tony G which was perhaps the most interesting thing that people will remember the game for.

It made me hark back to the days when Sammy George had money to burn (not his own, obviously). While I was thinking about this I learnt of the death of Spivver, who worked on a few of those shows as floor manager/tournament director and all round good guy. Padraig told me Mad Marty went to visit him the day he died. I thought I'd been running bad.

I did go to the Vic to play a cash game for the first time this year instead though. The biggest games in the Vic attract the biggest bum-hunters these days so I kept it quiet and invited a select bunch and we had a very nice game. Several people messaged over the next few days to ask why I hadn't called to invite them.

I did a twelve hour session and I wrote the figure in my diary as usual. I turned the pages and noticed that it was now exactly twelve months since I last played a cash game in the Vic. A few years ago that would have been inconceivable.

Talking about things that have changed, my next trip was to Ireland for Easter weekend. I was definitely lucky to win the Irish Open. I was even luckier that I won it when Paddy Power were adding money to guarantee the prize pool and when the buy-in was at it's peak and the Irish economy was strong.

I'm not saying I wouldn't mind winning it these days but with a 2,000 Euro buy-in the event attracts a different kind of player. Just a few years ago Doyle Brunson, Carlos Mortenson, Phil Laak, Jennifer Tilly, Dan Harrington and Jamie Gold came to play. It's hard to see them flying all that way for a 2,000 Euro buy-in (at least one of them would need backing), particularly if they object to a 250 Euro reg fee.

It seems the reduced buy-in really stopped a lot of the young UK pros attending and with French, Italian and Spanish online poker segregated there were few qualifiers from Europe.

Paddy Power are probably enjoying the fact that the numbers held up. They got 505 players and in 2012 it had been 502 with the buy-in at 3,200+300 Euro.

The sponsors should be happy that the texture of the field changed. It means they could qualify way more people for the same money in satellites and the field would be full of their loyal customers. It also meant a higher proportion of the field would benefit from the Sole Survivor promotion. They would argue that they are spending loads on that and players shouldn't complain about the extra rake.

Paddy Power are a competitor to Black Belt on the iPoker network (we are David vs. Goliath), so it's hard for me to qualify on their site and many of the last-minute direct buy-ins have not qualified, by definition, so maybe they just don't come.

I had a nice weekend there and was just as gutted as I was in 2009/10/11 and 12 when I busted, but it wasn't quite the same. I did have a lot of fun blabbering away with Emmet and Rebecca on the live stream, but the constant Paddy Power ads are a little tough on me.

I haven't played too much poker this year and I really planned to try and approach Vegas fresh so I wouldn't get tired or jaded during my long summer trip. When Barny picked me for the England team in the European Nations Cup I just had to say yes though.

The International Federation of Poker are keen to promote poker as a skill game and the ENC would be a 'duplicate poker' event where all tables would play exactly the same hands. Seat two on table 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 would all get the 7-2 off-suit and we'll see who plays it best. The event has no buy-in and no prize money but it would carry great prestige and there would be a team trophy as well as individual prizes.

The event was held in the lovely town of Paphos in Southern Cyprus. We were flown out there and put up in a lovely hotel for a weekend. It would be great to have a few days away and I was very proud to be picked.

As well as thinking about winning we spent a lot of time thinking about getting into the top four from fourteen countries. That would ensure that we qualified for the World Championships in November. The rumour was that the worlds would be held in Brazil. A trip to Rio in November sounded great.

I have to say that my team all played great. They must have done because I didn't really do too well but we still finished fourth. I was a little distracted by the very large amount of big bets I had placed on the US Masters and a few other things and I certainly didn't help myself by failing to grasp how the scoring system worked. I can only hope I get picked next time. I'll help carry the bags.

I had a few quiet weeks at home before the annual pilgrimage in June. For weeks my 'urgent' list had 'book flight' and 'sort out Vegas accommodation' written at the top. Most days I busied myself on Black Belt Poker promotions for iPops, the Spring Sales and our East End Live event. I even won one of the Spring Sales tourneys which was a $25 rebuy with hundreds of players.

East End Live turned out to be great fun. Aspers by the Olympic Stadium is an amazing place and it's just perfect for what we want. We persuaded over 350 players to buy in to an event online and in advance, although most of them failed to play the few hours it would take to get to Orange Belt and have a shot at a $10,000 WSOP Main Event seat added to their first prize.

It's almost like I forgot to mention it.

We paid our worthy winners and I was free to leave the country for two months to try and become the world champion. I'll tell you about that next time.