Thursday, June 29, 2006


A few weeks back, I ventured into the Gutshot Club in London for only the second time. The first was a media event for the Irish Poker Open (attended by poker pro Barney Boatman!) and to say I was unimpressed would be a hell of an understatement. The place couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a sauna or the North Pole, it was chaotic, cramped, and uncomfortable, and the actual interior of the joint was poor to abysmal.

However, on my second step into the Gutshot Club (which happened to be during their ultimately disappointing festival week), it was as if my inner moans had somehow been answered, as they’d opened up a new room next door.

Now this room wasn’t just your run of the mill cardroom, no siree, this place was surprisingly impressive and I feared ordering any food in case the waitress served up my own words for me to munch on.

Big, chic, modern, stylish, well laid out, air-conditioned, bar one side… toilets on t’other, this place, although being no Binions, was a huge advancement on the dingy site that lurked next door. Even the dealers, whilst admittedly painstakingly slow, were pretty darn efficient.

So, why the one step back? Well, the third time I played (a visit that I was now genuinely looking forward to), I witnessed some rather poor tournament directing. It was a £100 freezout and, as per usual, the place was brimming with those lovable (?) Cockneys. ‘Shuffle up and deal!’ exclaimed the T.D and we were off.

Initially, I was thoroughly enjoying my opening hands, but, before long, my joy turned to chagrin when I saw this new ‘exposure’ rule put into practice. Now, I’m all for stamping out cheating, but this rule is quite simply ridiculous. According to the Gutshot’s policy, if at any time you ‘expose’ your cards whilst a hand is in progress, you automatically receive a 10 minute ban. ‘Cool,’ I hear you cry, ‘bravo Gutshot for making a stand.’ Well, don’t clap too hard just yet. After about twenty minutes, one young lad, a broad smile on his face and clearly enjoying his night’s poker, mucks his hand preflop, accidentally flipping one card as it hit the felt. ‘Ruling!’ shouted the dealer, and, yes, the poor fellow had to sit in the docks for 10 minutes.

Now, I don’t know about you, but this is ridiculous. Surely the point of a rule is to prevent angle-shooting in which the individual intentionally gains an unfair advantage over another player. Well, does this sound like angle-shooting to you?! What possible advantage could he have gained, and how on earth can it be deemed punishable. There had been the slightest of action (perhaps 1 preflop caller and one preflop mucker), the revealed card was something raggy like a deuce, and no one on the table was complaining. In fact, if anything, people were complaining about the absurdity of the rule.

Okay, now just once doesn’t seem that big a deal. Yes, in a near crap shoot like this, 10 minutes is a cruel punishment (especially in the later stages), but what if it happened twice, three times, or even four?! And that was just our table!

Well, officially, it only happened three times; the second when someone swivelled in their chair to reach for a magazine, and the third when a player, who amusingly had been previously backing the rule but briskly changed his stance once he was on the other end, mistakenly flipped his cards in a similar manner. All ten minute bans, all not happy bunnies, and all totally innocent in terms of the supposed accusation of cheating.

To be honest, if this silly rule is set in place precomp and the T.D abides by it, then I have no complaints until post comp. I know the rules, and I still choose to play. However, when a clear lack of consistency is displayed, I find it rather annoying, and begin to feel sorry for those victims of the crooked rule.

To give you an example, the fourth chap to expose his hand, which he undertook by revealing his hole cards to his neighbour, was let off Scott free. The inevitable argument ensued - ‘Hey, I was sin-binned earlier on for the same thing!’ ‘You’re a cheat!’ ‘You’re scum!’ etc, etc, etc. And still, even with such a big fuss made, play was ordered to continue and the player in question, a regular (hmm), goes unpunished.

The Tournament Director (or Cardroom Supervisor, if that is the preferred term these days) not only fudged this one up, but he later showed inconsistency once again in terms of decision-making.

A local fellow raised from the button, and I, holding K-Q and suspecting a button steal, moved in over the top from the small blind. I smoothly slid my chips across the line and looked back at my cards. The big blind folded and so did the original raiser… even though it was only 500 more to call (!!!) I was shocked, but just suspected that it was a newbie error on his part. Then, out of nowhere, he suddenly tried to pull his cards back, obviously not realising that I’d moved all-in.

‘Ruling!’ The T.D trotted over once again, and, although the local pleaded ‘I’m not going to fold Ace-Jack for just 500 more!’, ruled that, as the hand had been mucked, the fold stood and the chips were to be sent my way. Sound fair? I guess so, standard rule from what I understand.

Well, guess what! He changed his mind!! After a bit of pressuring from the local and listening to those frightening words, ‘There’s no way I’m accepting that decision,’ the T.D quickly reversed his decision and informed me that he was going to let him make the call.

At this stage, I didn’t really care. If I had my way, I’d let him make the call anyhow. He’s obviously not trying to cheat, no one doubted that he’d make the call if he knew I’d gone all-in, and so was in no way trying to cheat me or the game. Sometimes, I believe T.D’s need to adopt a level of common sense into their decisions.

Anyway, he made the call, and I flopped a Queen to take down the pot. The T.D. scuttled off and I got it in the neck with the chips being flung across and taunts of how I managed to get my chips in with just King high.

I must confess, I don’t really care which way the decision goes. It’s not the World Series and so it’s not really any skin off my nose. I fancied a double-up, but, at the same time, I wasn’t too concerned about making my exit and heading to the bar. What I do detest however is when decisions are reversed without the correct justification.

Inconsistency like this really is a pet hate of mine, and only further strengthens the argument for a governing body, one in which can clarify these rules, thereby eradicating such high levels of inconsistency and, hopefully, doing away with such oddities as the Gutshot’s ‘exposure’ rule.

I don’t blame the T.D personally, and I hope this article doesn’t appear to be too much of a written ambush. Directing tourneys is clearly a very difficult and, from what I hear, vastly underpaid job. Therefore, I won’t hesitate to return, but, what I will say, is that although they impressed with their beautiful and sumptuous new cardroom, the way in which the comp was run bordered on the disappointing and I hope these imperfections are ironed out for when I next frequent the Club. I look forward to finding out…

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


For the four years I’ve been involved in the game, there’s been one player, one poker ‘star’, that’s always amazed me, and that man is none other than the self-acclaimed Poker Brat himself, Mr Phil Hellmuth.

Annoying, irritating, rude, obnoxious, arrogant, whiney, childish, immature, all these terms have been used to describe the nine-time bracelet winner at one point or another, but, there’s one word that critics often forget to mention – ‘entertaining’.

He might be a right pain in the exit hole, but he ain’t half an entertaining one. If I hear Phil’s playing on TV, I’ll tune in, if I know he’ll be having one of his now infamous temper tantrums too, then I’ll definitely tune in. Whether we like it or not, Hellmuth is good for the game, perhaps not technically, but in terms of promotion, having these characters is key to us moving forward. Would football have been the same without Cantona? Snooker without Higgins? Boxing without Naseem?

And it was for these reasons, that I was thoroughly looking forward to witnessing Phil’s antics for myself, as the WPT took it’s next stop in France for the Paris Grand Prix.

At first, I couldn’t find him but, after poking Jen several times, she eventually informed me that he was seated right behind our press table with his back facing the window. Now, it wasn’t until I actually saw Phil in the flesh that I was actually convinced he existed. Part of me still thought that no man could surely be like this and that he just had to be a projection of some sort.

I stepped into the cardroom and took a quick glance, and there he was. He was real, but no wonder I couldn’t find him as quickly as expected, the guy was as silent as a mouse! Arms crossed, blank expression, cap and shades hiding his face, if he wasn’t ten feet tall you’d have barely have known he was there.

I watched on, patiently waiting for him to do something out of the ordinary, but nothing, he just played his cards and kept stum. Even some of the onlookers that flooded his table seemed to be frustrated with his lack of Hellmuthism. It was then that I began to think that perhaps it was all an act, merely a way of promoting himself. Director says ‘Action’ and away goes Phil, merely playing up to the cameras and audience in an attempt to market himself as something he’s not. Well, that was my initial thought, until…

Day 2, we’re half way through the session and I begin to hear the tender tones of Hellmuth. As I draw closer to table, those tender tones gradually form the familiar sounds of the Hellmuth moan. Moan moan moan, whinge whinge whinge, waaaaaaaaaaaa. The Poker Brat had risen from his slumber!!

What was he blowing his top at this time? Well, Christer Johansen, one of the nicest guys in the building, had returned to his seat whilst his cards were being dealt. Phil raises, and Christer sticks in a chunky reraise. In full moaning mode, Phil begins to complain that Christer’s hand should be dead as he arrived a second after the cards were dealt. What followed was more whinging, more whining, and more moaning. No one dared to mention that Phil had only started complaining about this issue after his bet had been reraised. Would he have been so rattled if the table had folded? The word ‘fickle’ springs to mind.

Anyhow, it was clear that the Phil I new, loved, and despised was back in his element, braced for an onslaught of Hellmuth whinging, and he didn’t let me down either. Comments like ‘Let me just check, I think I have the nuts here, buddy. Yep, I call’ and ‘This is a joke. I can’t believe your luck tonight’ were not uncommon at all. And, as we moved into Day 3 of the Event, the following Hellmuthism took place…

A few players see a flop of 8-Q-3, all check round to Phil who bets 15k, only to find Christer (again!) checkraising for 100k, a hefty bet indeed. Phil rises from his seat in disgust and, in a matter of minutes, manages to squeeze in the following rants:

“All those hands he’s been lucky.”
“Still doesn’t matter, we’ll get him later.”
“There’s a long way to go yet, my friend.”
“You’ve got away with murder so far, absolute murder.”

Surprisingly, Phil opted for the fold.

Not too long after, Phil eventually fell with just the two tables remaining. And I couldn’t help but snigger, it was an outdraw! Hehe. A-T v Zuo Ping Angelo Yu’s (what a name!) A-5 of diamonds. Two diamonds on the flop, and then one on the river.

You have to laugh, especially when your opponent bangs the table and shouts ‘I killed you!’. Boy, ol’ Phil must have been well chuffed about that one. And guess what, the ranting doesn’t stop at the bar, I must have heard Phil go through the same ‘Can you believe this guy, how lucky can he be?’ spiel about three times. Once at the press desk, then at the cashier, and finally at the bar. Crikey, this guy could moan for his country!

But, you know what, through all his whinging, I still love the big guy. He makes poker interesting, and, for most, he injects a lot of fun into what could be a potentially dull game. We need characters like this and, whether they are top guys or complete baboons (I’ll let you categorise Phil yourself), they’re good to watch.

I rarely approach players. I'm not one to pester the good guys and I prefer not to massage the egos of the bad ones. However, I’ve recently decided to form a unique pack of cards, one in which is to be signed by 54 of my favourite poker players. Phil will undoubtedly be one of those guys. He may be disliked by many, but he’s an entertainer, and a pretty good one too! And for that, I give the guy a certain level of respect.

He’ll still be signing my joker card though…

Friday, June 16, 2006


It’s a bright Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, and the sky is clear – a perfect day for being active and hitting the great outdoors… or, alternatively, I could head out to the casino and play same poker.

Non surprisingly, this pale-faced addict opts for the latter and, with his brother residing in Nottingham, decides that it’s time for a return visit to the cardroom that introduced him to the game 4 long years ago.

But with all the bad press the Gala sometimes justly receives, is this a place I still want to frequent? Damn right it is.

With an array of competitions ranging from a non-smoking £10 (one rebuy) comp, to the highly successful £200 freezout, the Gala remains one of the best places to play. Competitions aside though, its true strength lies in an attribute that so many modern day cardrooms lack – character.

Whilst the majority adopt an open plan casino with the cardroom being a part of that, the Gala cardroom is separated from the house games and allocated its own room away from the annoying hustle and bustle of the true gambling addicts. Hence, a more communal feel is created with all poker enthusiasts compacted into one area where they are free to play poker, roll the backgammon dice, drink, eat, and so on, all in the company of people who share their love of the beautiful game.

Add to that the incredible influx of characters and personalities that the Gala manages to attract, and you really do have one of the most entertaining places in the country. Orlando, Bouncer Kev, ‘A bag of bollox’ Ali, Raj, Chippy – not to mention blondeites tikay, Chili, LittleMissC, AdamM, Yoyo, Junior, and jammer… to name just a few. They’re all here and, although some may appear intimidating and brash on the surface, are mostly good guys who help create a real buzz about the place.

It had been a good month or two since I’d last hit the Gala felt, but, for the above reasons, I was eager to return. Sunday’s £30 freezout was to be my comp of choice, and rightly so too. This now weekly tournament is, in my opinion, one of the best around. Okay, it won’t bring you the big big bucks for your final table finish and it’s never going to rival the set-up of a Main Event, but what you will stumble across is a good slow structure, plenty of starting chips, flatter pay-out, and a friendly atmosphere – something that seems to be a rarity these days.

What always amazes me about this affair, is that so many play it as a rebuy, as if forgetting that once their chips are gone, they’re out the door. For the disciplined player, the comp is a most welcome addition as the regulars tend to be gamblers who like to chuck chips around with a ‘don’t care’ attitude.

So, within minutes, as so often happens, I’d doubled up and found myself in a strong position. A local lad, seemingly on tilt raises, I reraise with bullets, and another local calls, leaving the original raiser to make an unnecessary all-in push with his A-Q. This is how it goes at the Gala. The majority can’t release a hand, even if they know they’re beat. Music to your ears, huh?

To cut a long and potentially tedious story short, I eventually finished 13th, after seeing my A-8 suited shortstack move run into pocket tens. But, the important thing is that I had a thoroughly entertaining time, a hoot in fact. The banter at Gala is untouchable and there are more than a few gags voiced per round. Amazingly, a few of them even came from me!

The Gala is also the only place where I play live cash. Anywhere else and it just becomes a chore, waiting patiently for a hand that never comes whilst the table sits in silence, faces liked smacked asses after being eliminated from the tourney. Not here though, people still try and have a laugh, which truly is refreshing. Anyhow, a few hours later and I’m £350 up, big smile on my face, and already looking forward to my next visit.

However, to describe Gala Notts as a frequently joyful experience surrounded by rows of pretty flowers would be slightly inaccurate. True, there are a few bad eggs in every casino, and, although most Notts’ regulars do indeed have a heart of gold, there are some that mean the bad things they say and are people that need to be avoided like the plague.

Also, the service is suspect to say the least. The incredibly hard-working Margaret is a lovely human being, but, on the occasions when she is missing, I normally find myself met with a frown and bad attitude. Hissy fits are not uncommon and if you want to make an order, it has to be demanded rather than asked. Three times I was intentionally blanked by the waitress last week, which, in my view, is totally unacceptable, especially when I ask in a polite and understanding manner.

Finally, whilst their £200 freezout has emerged as a huge success, proving that the affordable comps are the ones that people prefer to play, the once renowned £100 monthly rebuy is slowly disintegrating. Less than 50 players, just a few k for the winner, and a structure that turns into a bingo come last 2 tables is a big disappointment. When I lived in walking distance, players, such as Lawrence Gosney, used to come from all around the country to play this event, and the place would be heaving – but not anymore.

Overall though, although the Gala Notts has its critics (justifiably so in several areas), it still retains a place in my heart and I hold fond memories of the joint that made me the poker addict that I am today. Although, due to an influx of younger players, the clientele is slightly different, the atmosphere is still top notch and maintains the cardroom as one of, if not the, most fun places to play cards.

If you haven’t been and you can take a few wisecracks, then give it a bash. Be timid, and it could prove unenjoyable, but let the atmosphere suck you in and you’ll have a great night.

Now, about moving that shortstack…

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Recently, I have decided to play a lot more online poker and really give it a good bash. When I first joined the blonde team, I just played every so often, but over the last few weeks I’ve hit the felt on an almost daily basis.

So why do I suddenly decide to post today? Well, since I got back into the swing of online poker, today has been my first losing session, and I feel crap as a result.

The time is now 7.32am, I’ve been threatening to hit the sack for hours now, but, a combination of fatigue, insomnia, and desperately trying to make a profit have all prevented me from doing the sensible thing. This irritates me no end as I thought I’d conquered this disciplinary part of my game. Although on past occasions I would have played for longer and lost even more due to my stubbornness, this area still needs a lot of work.

The problem I have is that I am still refusing to take breaks unless I am doing well, and, even if I do manage to pull myself away, I’m back on in no time, eagerly trying to pull back my deficit.

The last few weeks have seen me make a profit of some kind on virtually every session. I felt good, was enjoying my game, and seemed to be adding to my bankroll at a rather brisk rate.

Today, however, it all went downhill. The reason for this, I believe, is that, for the first time in a while, I’ve had the whole day completely free. Normally, I play for a couple of hours, then shoot off to do something else that needs to be done. I don’t need to worry about breaks, because I only plan on playing a short session. If I know I have hours ahead of me, I tend to just play, and play, and play, gradually allowing fatigue to take control of my decisions. Then, I start to make mistakes, which, when playing four tables simultaneously, can really throw you off your game.

Of course, if I start off winning, then I have no problem taking a break after an hour or so. However, if, like today, I run my set into a bigger set and immediately find myself $200 down, I then move into the mindset of ‘Must get my money back’. Very dangerous indeed.

Several months ago, I would have started playing badly right from this point, but now, I can still maintain a solid game. On many occasions, I will pull back this deficit, joyfully finishing the session in profit. However, every so often, you run into a series of bad luck scenarios, which is what happened today. Without boring you with the details, I quickly found myself $500, and wondering how my solid play could be punished so fiercely.

Now, this is where I started playing poorly. Several hours later, I find myself several hundred down and only just manage to pull myself away from the laptop before I fall even further down the pit.

What seems to send me hurtling down that pit is my state of mind. My shoulders slump and I let poker become more important than it really is. In short, I let it get to me too much, and I start to think the following thoughts: (i) 'I don't deserve to be down' (ii) 'All that profit that I made over the last few days is going in the space of a few hours' (iii) 'What a waste of my time this has been' (iv) 'I could have done something productive rather than spent my time losing money' (v) 'This isn't fun anymore' -- Once your start thinking like this, then it really is time to stop for the day.

This is what I really despise about days like these, they make me feel low. But why? The big picture is that I haven’t lost a lot, I didn’t tilt, what I did lose was just profit from 2 or 3 days weekend play, tomorrow’s another day, and there are more important things in life. Also, due to an improvement in discipline, I believe this loss would have been double several months ago, as I surely would have encountered the dreaded Tilt Monster.

However, I’m still pissed off that I let it happen at all. Why I can’t just say, ‘okay, I’m down, but I’m tired and it’s unlikely to get any better, so I’ll take a break for a couple of hours.’ I’ll never know. But tomorrow, I’m going to make a change.

This is the plan. Get up at 3pm, eat brekkie, then boot up the lappie. Throughout the day, I’ll play in 1hr 15min shifts. Whether I’m winning or losing, I’ll take a break for an hour, then get back on. True, if the table’s soft, then I really should stay seated, but, at this point in time, I really want to get into the pattern of being able to take breaks.

I have no idea how this is going to go. There are a few things that concern me. (i) Perhaps I’m just not playing well at the moment (ii) Maybe I’ll be tired tomorrow after going to bed post 8am (iii) I’m feeling kind of down.

But, I’m going to give it a crack and see what happens.

Watch this space. True, we all slip up now and then, but what I believe sets the good players apart from the bad, is that they can come back twice as strong.

Friday, June 02, 2006


It’s not often that I fall foul to uncontrollable urges to put pen to paper, but this evening, I am cowering away from those compulsions and whimpering ‘take me’.

Today I shall shine the spotlight on the online winner, those players who play in the shadows, quietly grinding away a living, leaving others, and predominantly less successful players, to take the limelight.

In my opinion, the current pool of cash game sharks that feed off the online fishes are, without doubt, the most underrated players in poker.

I say this from experience as I had a short pre-blonde spell around the end of last year where I was jobless and forced to frequent the online cash tables. Hours upon hours of staying indoors, glaring at a dusty monitors, watching endless streams of cards go round and round and round – hardly the most fun way to spend your week. With a tedious and repetitive, but highly effective, system in place, I was like a robot, only rarely displaying the characteristics of a human being, which normally came in the form of tilt.

Back then, I thought that it would be one of the easiest ways to earn a crust, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, and for that, I bow my head to the Internet grinders. My online game is currently more financially rewarding now that I am playing part-time, but perhaps that is due to the welcome distractions that split my daily life into nice refreshing segments. The grinder, however, may not have these outlets, often forced to endure a whole day of pokering just to maintain a healthy living, pay the bills, and feed the kids – pressures that I never really faced.

So often I’m scouring through Poker Europa, running my finger down the results page for any recognisable names. Then, from over my shoulder, will come that familiar cry, ‘Look at Mr X, he’s cashed again, incredible. What a player he must be!’ Admittedly, Mr X could well be the best player in the world but, just because he’s won a few live comps, does that make him any better than the online grinder? In my opinion, not necessarily.

The written result fails to take into account all of the following:
  • Amount of rebuys Mr X had
  • What Mr X spent on hotels, etc.
  • The number of comps in which Mr X has played and failed to cash
  • The high potential for a deal being made
  • The luck factor involved in tournament play
  • The possibility that Mr X gambled the equivalent of his prize away on the house games or cash tables
All these factors pass us by when we read a result. We completely disregard the actual profit, merely glancing at the figure next to Mr X’s name and simply assuming that such a lump sum is now sitting pretty in his bank account. But how often will this be true? Playing the circuit is a costly affair and it is often stated that the guys at the top of the ranking tree aren’t big overall winners in terms of profit. Incredibly, many will in fact be down for the year.

So, who are the real winners, the competitors who most deserve our respect as fellow poker players? The limelight players who can win the odd comp now and then, but still be down for the year… or the highly disciplined poker machine who grinds away on a daily basis, rarely having a losing session and, come rain or shine, constantly and successfully keeping the Tilt Wolf from the door. Personally, I’d opt for the latter, perhaps because I have been there myself and know how hard it truly is, but more because they don’t pine for the stardom like others do, and can happily scoop their winnings without the need for it to be displayed to every man and their dog.

So, this is where I send out my respect to those shadow players. They don’t need to be named, they know who they are, but I tip my proverbial hat to you.