It ain’t Natural

When I was a kid I wanted to be a ticket tout. That was just about my only career wish apart from on-course bookmaker or actor. I decided to keep this a secret from the careers advisor as it didn’t seem as respectable as the other two. I actually tried it a couple of times on a very small scale. The other blokes outside The Dominion shot dirty glances at my friend Richard and I. Our unbroken voices weren’t really rough enough for the necessary patter ("two near the front, anyone need briefs?, I’ll buy any spares"). We realised early on that even front row seats to see Shakin Stevens were gonna be hard to shift. With just minutes to curtain-up we sold them to another tout and went off to watch The Killing Fields at the Tottenham Court Road Odeon.

Since my career switch to poker player, degenerate and general lazy-bones I spend much of my time worrying about tickets. For the opening European Poker Tour event in Barcelona I decided not to buy one. Eight grand is quite a lot for one tournament, even if it is only Euros, and with ten legs of the tour this year and others to be announced, only the millionaires will be playing all of them. September and October are busy enough months as it is and I’ll definitely be playing the London Leg.

If eight thousand Euro is a lot of money then ten thousand pounds is a totally ridiculous sum for a man who hasn’t got a house, a car or a job, to spend on playing one poker tournament. The World Series of Poker Europe does give out a bracelet though, and imagine how disappointing it would be to be in London and not be playing it…

I understand enough about my former career choice to know that you sell the ticket before you part with any cash where possible. I’ll need to get rid of about 50% of my action. Luckily I’m a good salesman – I’d have been a great ticket tout. My ‘phone bill is well up, but I’m in the tournament.

A nice way to warm-up for this one would be to finally get a result in a Grosvenor Poker Tour Event. My lovely sponsors,, must be surely thinking, as I am, that it’s not going to happen. A nice train ride down to Plymouth, where it’s always sunny, (I’ve never known weather like it), followed by a well run, well structured tournament. There might be a few less players, due to the clash with the WSOPE and the distance from civilisation, but that just means a much greater chance of getting the "lucky" red shirt on TV.

The night before I tried to win three 50/50s in a satellite for the WSOPE at the Sportsman. I’d gone because my friend Champie Douglas from Reno was in town. Champie was out of the EPT Barcelona, and had a couple of spare days before flying home. I suggested he and his friend Raul from Barcelona could add an international flavour to Plymouth.

When Barry Neville caught an eight on the river to make set over set against Champie’s flopped 5s it seemed a shame. Four hours on the train to go out in 40 minutes was a bit cruel. At least he’d get to see the beach. I myself was hoping to last a bit longer, especially as I had inexplicably not packed my trunks for this one.

"Big Slick" (as only complete eggs call it), is a hand which you want to get dealt a lot in the latter stages of a tournament. With the blinds high and people making desperate moves around you it’s often a big favourite and rarely much of an underdog. In the early stages of the tournament it’s a bit of a nightmare though. It looks so good but you know it isn’t really worth much. When you’ve only won three hands in the last two legs of this bloody tour it can start to look great though. When you get dealt it about five times in the first half an hour you feel obliged to play it.

The fourth time I looked down at AK I raised under the gun (constantly getting it out of position…marvellous). The geezer decided to put in a biggish reraise of five times my bet. He didn’t look too happy and I read him for a vulnarable hand, either JJ or AQ. The only problem is the Grosvenor Poker Tour appears to have very few players who are able to pass either of these hands. Maybe I should go all-in or just pass. I decide to re-re-raise three times his bet. He’ll surely see that I’m pot-comitted and I’ll be calling if he pushes. Either he couldn’t see I was pot-committed, didn’t understand about fold-equity, put me on a pair of 9s or fancied he’d race against the worst racer in European poker. I’ll never know which, but I know he didn’t pause for a second before he re-re-re-raised with his tens.

I got the AK two more times, actually winning one, before I misread "Action" Jackson for a squeeze play. I was representing the aces. He didn’t look too worried that he’d only be splitting. Maybe it’s for the best though. I got to a chance to be chip-leader early on, in a tournament where 12th place barely makes a profit and anything less than 4th would be a huge disappointment.

I stopped momentarily to chat to my good friend Des Wilson. This is his "local" leg of the tour, despite being about a three-day journey from the tip of Cornwall. He presents me with a copy of his new book "Ghosts at the Table", which is a history of poker. I’ll read it on the train.

I often dream of long train journeys through the Siberian mountains or on the Orient Express dining on sumptuous feasts. This train has no restaurant car, the toilets are out of order and the buffet car only does cold sandwiches. At least I was back in the Vic by midnight.

It’s important as a professional poker player that you don’t let your emotions stop you from playing your best game. Unfortunately we’re all human. For various reasons I allowed myself to get wound-up over the weekend. This is not something a professional should do and can be a very expensive habit to get into. The final straw was when I came into the Vic on Saturday night and had to wait two hours for a game.

Now I love that place and I’ve spent a lot of time promoting it, and defending it from criticism, while on my travels. I’ve been incredibly loyal, often staying there when I know there’s a better game across town. When I go in on a Saturday night and can’t get a game though I’m cross.

September has been scheduled since January to be the busiest month of the year, the place has twice the number of tables as it had before the refurb and there were at least 20 names waiting to play on three different lists. To say they didn’t have enough dealers in is just unacceptable. A recent policy has been to put experienced poker dealers (on higher salaries) back into the pit and replace them with inexperienced trainees (who earn less money). Some of the new staff are excellent, but some haven’t worked out and are gone, leaving them short. I might suggest they get some more before the EPT Festival as they’re going to need them. With London Clubs struggling to deal with the numbers at the WSOPE The Vic has a perfect chance to cement itself as THE place for cash games. It’s a shame it looks like it might miss this open goal.

I moodily leave the game and amble home, stopping only for a brief chat with my good friend Max Pescatori. He asks if I mind him telling me a hand from the WSOPE PLO. I’m usually asked about at least twenty hands a week but not often from WSOP bracelet winners. The only two of these that ever ask for my help just want me to book them a hotel or talk about girls. I’m flattered and cheered-up.

Maybe I do know how to play this wretched game.

Neil Channing will be at The Sportsman on Tuesday for his WSOPE Day One, with the help of and a team of people who will be praying he can finally win a race.