The Empire Strikes Back

If anyone decided to employ a private detective to follow me, that private detective would soon prove themselves to be totally lacking in initiative if they didn’t simply doss around on the sofa all day before sending off the odd report to their client describing how I went to the Vic at about 4pm and got home around 5.30am. They might throw in the occasional day where they report how I visited twenty-two shops connected to the William Hill organisation, and hopefully that I then walked round roughly fourteen of them a few hours later.  

In the last couple of weeks the lazy private detective would have been found out. My routine was turned totally upside-down and I started getting up at midday to head to Leicester Square and the lovely Empire Casino, where I hung around until returning home at about 5am.  

The WSOPE wasn’t much fun for me last year, I played in only the main event, and the fact that I managed to buy-in for less than the £10k entry fee didn’t really help me get £10k worth of fun. This year must be different though. I’ve consistently proved over the last twelve months that I’m so much better at coin-flips than I used to be, and I’m certainly able to stick my chips in much faster and more mindlessly than the average lunatic. Even the Sunday version of the Daily Star wanted to interview me, and described me as one of the UK’s top hopes in the events.  

Event no. 1 was a £1500 nlh. I knew from late in day one that I’d have to try and get something from this one as I’d staked eight players and most of them were out already. I liked the crapshoot structure though, and was happy to gamble until I got to an average stack by the end. Day two started way better and I found myself in a perfect position of having twice the average and only the dangerous Yevgeniy Timoshenko who could really damage me. Maybe if I call his raise with this nice pair of deuces on the button I might flop a set and bust him…  

In the last four years I’ve lost with set over set when holding deuces in deep-stack competitions four times. As I counted my remaining six big-blinds I wondered whether pocket deuces ought to be sent to the retirement home for former starting hands along with A10.  

Luckily for me, having no big decisions to make in tournaments is something I find so much more relaxing, and from that moment until my exit in fourth place I relished the fact that, when the action got to me, the only question I ever had to ask myself was: "I wonder if I should go all-in here." The answer was quite often: "Yes, why not?".  

Fourth place was a little disappointing. The instant the flop came JJ10 I just felt that my 88 was about to get counterfeited. Nobody played wrong though, and it was just the cards deciding. I liked Jesper, I was happy for him, it felt like he had played well throughout, and I was pretty pleased to make my first WSOP final table and proud of my eighth cash of this year’s series.  

There wasn’t much time for a break, as Jeff Duval, (who I was delighted to see making a great run at the HORSE event), INSISTED that I enter the £5k PLO. Pot-limit omaha has started to die as a live game in London, although on the ‘net, where you can get so many more hands dealt much quicker, it seems to be thriving. In the bad old days before the poker boom and pre the new hold’em revolution, I was forced to play omaha day-in, day-out. People would forever tell me that it was far more of a gambling game than hold’em, but I could never see the room for flair and creativity, viewing it as just a mathematical formula game.  

Despite all that, the chance to win a bracelet against just 164 people, many of whom have less experience of the game than me, was too hard to resist.  

The first day of the tournament was a total battle to survive. I found myself on a table with most of the best PLO players in Europe and was happy to walk away unscathed. They moved me later to a table with a few Americans and assorted gamblers on it where the banter was fantastic but my chip position was not. It wasn’t until my third table change that I actually hit a few hands and made a few nice plays, which put me into 4th spot of the forty or so who’d return for day two.  

I’d spent the day receiving various PLO bad-beat texts from various horses of mine who’d fallen by the wayside and, not for the first time, it was down to me (and the legendary RiverDave), to get the wages. With three tables left I found myself with Erik Siedel, Allen Cunningham, Donnacha O’Dea, Joe Beevers and Theo Jorgensen. It seemed like rocking-up for a while might be a plan.  

In the end I was pretty cross with myself. Eleventh place doesn’t sound too bad and the 9th WSOP cash was obviously nice, but the second consecutive final table would have been nicer. Obviously it’s not my style to just hang-in to try and make a final, but in PLO things can change very quickly and the move I made may have been ill-conceived and definitely against the wrong punter.  

RiverDave came to sleep on my sofa, for only the second time since the night before he beat me heads-up in the Vic in March. I was really excited for him making the final, as were his legions of shareholders. Flushy texted me from Slovakia to ask for the latest, and I told him there were eight left. He told me he’d heard there were six and Dave was the low stack. ("Where are you watching from, Mongolia?").  

As usual in poker it ended in slight disappointment. Just one more place would have got Dave out of it, but even that would have had us wishing for 4th.  

The main event was a real struggle for me. Some geezer who I’d been told was top-class at online tournaments seemed determined to get himself knocked-out while taking me down with him. He didn’t quite manage it and left me with 6k of my 20k while he was out after an hour. I fought back to 20k quite quickly but then fell all the way to six again and had to desperately hang-on just to get through the day with a meagre stack.  

Day two had some promising moments and I played pretty well on a couple of fun tables. In the end I lost with AQ twice in key pots where I was the dominating favourite and that was the end of my chances of getting to ten cashes and a bracelet for this year.  

Someone asked me, if the prize money was exactly the same, whether I’d prefer a bracelet at the WSOPE or to win the EPT London event at the Vic. I’d had a fun week at The Empire, the tournaments were really well run, everyone was in a sort of holiday mood and it was interesting to play with some different players from both sides of the Atlantic. I still have no idea of the answer, but for now I was heading home.  

Neil Channing was easy to spot at The Empire in his red PokerVerdict shirt.