Game Selection

The whole Vegas planning thing finally fell into place. I actually booked the flight around three weeks in advance which is close to a personal best. Many hours were spent discussing accommodation and eventually Palms Place was booked with just a week or so to spare. It’s nice to be close to the Rio and the whole thing is a cross between a hotel with room service, housekeeping and a mini-bar, and apartments with a lounge, balcony, kitchen and a fridge. It’s so important to try and be ‘normal’ in Vegas and often I think it’s the fake lifestyle of living in a hotel that really gets to people and makes it tough to retain sanity.

Now that I’m running Black Belt on a day-to-day basis I have a lot more responsibility. We recently moved offices, there have been changes in staff and we have a never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Earlier in the year I certainly didn’t feel like I could just leave it for six weeks, but in the end I felt very happy to go for a month. The people we have are very capable and I can completely trust them to look after things while I’m 6,000 miles away. It’s tough to play lots of 12 hour days at the Rio and then come back to the apartment and deal with emails, banking and conference calls with the staff, but they have helped to make the whole thing so much easier.

I got on the plane feeling a massive sense of relief that I’d got so much done in the few weeks before leaving and I could finally start to feel excited about the WSOP that the Black Belt team were going to have – I didn’t really get round to thinking how I might do.

Our Black and Brown Belts Warren, Richard, Jerome and Sam had been in town from the start and I had been following them carefully from home. Sam had made a couple of cashes but it had been largely frustrating for them. Andy, Kevin and Jamie would definitely be joining them towards the end of the Series and a couple of others were undecided.

Black Belt hasn’t spent money renting a big mansion this year but we are definitely shelling out a lot on entries for these guys and I was feeling nervous and excited. It’s a big part of our year.

With all this to think about and the fact that I’ve played so little poker in the last seven or eight months I hardly gave a thought to my own chances.

I think the $3,000 shootout was my sixth tournament of the year. I love the shootout format and I was really looking forward to it. Then I sat down.

The random seat draw had decided to put me on the right of a guy I dislike more than anyone I have ever played with and fate decreed that he would win a massive pot from me on the very first hand. I had to listen to his spiteful needle and his stream of bullshit for the next hour. My misery ended when I got it in with Kc-Kh on a board with three diamonds and was shown the nut flush. He asked the dealer to turn my hand up, even though he wasn’t in the pot. I was drawing dead on the turn and I’d been trying to muck.

I really have a strong view that the events divide between the $1,500 and under buy-ins and the $3,000 and over. There are a couple in the middle that I’m not sure about but generally I think $3,000 is the cut-off at which the standard doesn’t just double – it gets about five times harder. I would state with certainty that anyone with even half a clue has a massive edge in the $1,500 and $1,000 events against the 3,000 players they sometimes attract. The $5,000 ones get around 800 players and the people who are missing are exactly the ones I have flown 6,000 miles to play against.

Not only are these 2,200 players not too great at poker, but they are also way more interesting and diverse. They come from all over the U.S. and the world, they have jobs and they have lived a little. On top of all that they actually speak to me. In the $5,000 events I can sometimes go a whole day without a single word being addressed to me. The average player in a bigger event is under 25, has headphones on all day, has a lot of stuff to be doing on their iPad and has zero interest in conversing with anyone over the age of 30. They literally talk across me and if I try and join in they often just completely ignore me.

It’s pretty ridiculous really – they all think I’m terrible but they have none of the professional poker skills required to do the job. You are supposed to amuse the fish, make sure he has a nice time and keep him coming back. If I really was doing my brains in these events I wouldn’t come back.

I played the $1,500 the next day and my spirits went right back to where they had been. We had a fun table and I bust after dinner having played okay. I suddenly wanted to come back and play some more.

I didn’t want to play with a load of monosyllabic, boring, whiny, deluded adolescents with no manners or conversation though so I skipped the $3,000 that Friday and jumped in the $1,500 on Saturday instead.

It didn’t start too well.

First of all my table had three pros on it. The one upside of this was that one of them was Vitaly Lunkin.

At the 2009 WSOP they had a $40,000 buy-in event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the WSOP. Vitaly, who had never appeared on anyone’s radar before, won it. He then went on to come 2nd in the $10,000 PLO and 4th in the $50,000 HORSE. This mystical man who speaks only a few words a day at the table had snuck up on the poker world. He acquired mythical status and it was said that if he passed you in the hallway you might benefit from "Lunkin Vibes".

I didn’t win a pot off him in the two hours we shared that table but I felt very happy he was there.

Maybe he was going to be lucky for me. Maybe it would be my time to win one of these damn things…