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October 27, 2005

The William Hill Poker Grand Prix

I was lucky enough to be invited to play in the 1st ever William Hill Grand Prix last week. 56 players (and I mean ‘players’) would battle it out for the £150k first prize (buoyed by the £144k added by William Hill), but at £6k to enter I would only be in for 50% of the winnings as I decided it best and most sensible to sell 50% of myself to some nice friendly backers – I have a mortgage now you know and I got to be careful not to overplay my bankroll on too many occasions. I wasn’t initially in the competition and didn’t make the list for the first televised draw but due to some late drop outs (scared runners IMO :-) ) I managed to get in. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to be asked to play as I am sure this will be the event that everyone will be talking about in 2005 as the structure and line up was just phenomenal.

The event was being filmed at the Enfys studios in Cardiff by the same company that put together ‘Late Night Poker’ (the very program that first got me into this beautiful game). I traveled down to Cardiff on the Friday night as my heat was on the Saturday. I intended to get there late evening and just settle down for the night so I was fresh and ready for my heat, however… I spoke to my good friend Julian Thew (who was also playing) earlier in the week and he told me that the whole experience was just amazing (from the studio, the set, the green room, the food and the hospitality) so I decided to head down a little earlier and hopefully catch some action from the Friday heat.

When I got there, I realized Julian wasn’t bluffing… William Hill and presentable Ltd had put on an awesome show and really had gone to town on making this feel like a massively important event. The set was amazing and all the action could be followed live (without hole cards of course) by the audience and other players in the lounge style green room on a huge plasma TV from the comfort of a big plush sofa… yes, it was heaven. Friday’s heat ended around 10pm and we all headed back in the people carriers provided to the Hilton hotel in Cardiff city centre.

I knew the line up for my heat and immediately set about introducing myself to the rest of the guys I would be up against (I knew them but they didn’t know me sort of thing). I met Brian ‘the rookie’ Wilson who let me try on his WSOP bracelet (which looks a bit like cheap tat but on closer inspection is solid gold and contains real diamonds – wow!). Brian is a really interesting guy who hasn’t actually been playing poker that long but he’s full of confidence, enthusiasm and is a pleasure to have a drink with. I also ran into Barney Boatman, who is a real gent too and I met up with Marc Goodwin, who is big cash game player and mates with Dave Colclough and strangely enough he also knows the entire Warwickshire County Golf side, which I know so well myself and so love to beat. The Scandies in our heat were either flying in the following morning or were in their rooms playing a 1 million – 2 million limit hold em’ game.

I was loving it; I felt part of the game and couldn’t wait to get going the following morning. Bed time for me - later than planned at 1:30am – grrrr! (Poker stories mixed with poker players and free booze = late night).

To be honest, I didn’t sleep that well, partly due to the noise outside my room at 3am but mainly due to some excitement and anticipation of what lay ahead for me the following day. When I finally got out of bed I had an hour for breakfast before our driver was due to arrive to collect us at the hotel. I thought I would be nervous but I really wasn’t – I knew I could win my heat; I just needed to stay focused.

We arrived at the studio and I was immediately called into make-up - WTF? (Oh well, I suppose wearing foundation and concealing cream is a small price to pay for being on the telly). The TV interviews were swift and I thought mine went well – probably a few too many ‘er’s’ and ‘well’s’ but we’ll see when it’s shown. I was then asked if I would pose for a few still shots and sign a poker table, which was to be auctioned for charity – of course I will, I couldn’t wait to get my name on the same table as all those stars. The charity table was an awesome site, with the baize almost full to the edges of the names of all the top players that had participated throughout the week. As my heat was the second last one there wasn’t much room left and nearly everyone had signed their names already. I just stood there looking at all the names and then it hit me… I was where I wanted to be, playing in a TV tournament with all the big names that I had grew up admiring and I just felt so at home and so ready to win. – Let me at em’, it was time to show the world what I was capable of.

With the sound checks completed, final foundation applied, instructions on how to place your cards on the glass completed it was over to 8ft 4inch giant Thomas Kremser to issue us with our final instructions. The excitement was building, the sound of riffling chips increasing and the fight for dominant male was about to begin – and I for one wasn’t about to let myself get eaten up and spat out by these guys. – “shuffle up and deal”.

You’ll have to wait until it airs on channel 425 in December though to see the action as I am not allowed to reveal who won or how it went but one thing is for sure it will make GREAT TV and I can’t wait to watch it.

October 20, 2005

The Grosvenor Grand Prix (sponsored by Bluesq.com) – Trip Report

One of the best value tournaments of the year; I qualified along with 214 others for the 2005 Grosvenor Grand Prix, which was held at Walsall this weekend (15th & 16th October). This was the first time I had qualified for the event and was really looking forward to it. It’s a unique event in that you can only play by qualifying and you CAN’T buy-in to it. This gives the competition a unique feel to any other big prize pool event as the standard of play is moderate and none of the big names can come along and just stump up the entry fee – you have to qualify!

The event was split into 2 flights as Grosvenor had been caught out by the number of people qualifying and they didn’t have enough tables to accommodate the massive field of qualifying hopefuls… yeah right! They could have got us all in if they really wanted to and if course they kept all the roulette and black-jack tables running… Oh, and they also managed to squeeze in 3 cash tables, which obviously charged a rake! – Its really about time that casinos were required to accommodate big competitions properly and if they were going to lose money by doing so then the so called ‘sponsors’ and the take, take, take TV companies that film these events should make up that short fall by adding money to the competitions to cover the casinos costs and provide value to the players that they exploit. (William Hill excluded as they are running a ‘for TV only’ tournament next week with a whopping and fantastic £120,000 added! – big-up to William Hill and massive congratulations to them for taking the lead in looking after players and providing good value into a big tournament – more of the same from the rest would be nice!

Anyway… rant over – back to Walsall. I won my first coin flip of the day before the competition had even started by drawing a seat in the first flight, which meant that unlike 50% of the field I didn’t have to kill 7 hours before I could get my game under way – sadly, this would be the only 50:50 coup I would come out best in.

I had drawn a fantastic table in that it seemed to be full of nervous players that I didn’t recognise; therefore I expected the action to be very tight early on. The only faces I recognised or knew anything about were Phil “I would hate to win the WSOP” Peters and Paul “I can talk for England” Parker, so I really fancied being able to build a stack and run over the table, but to be honest I started badly. I was playing fast and loose but not really in a commanding fashion, it was more a display of stack self-demolition mixed with loose calls, all of which meant that at the first break I had doubled down rather than up and only had 5,000 of my 10,000 starting stack left – looks like a delve into my back pocket for plan B was required.

I met up with Stuart Fox and Tom “Red-Dog” McCready at the break. Tom had also doubled down but Stuart was in great shape with about 19,000. As poker players do, we discussed how it was going and I admitted to playing “like a ****” and not being able to stop myself. This, along with a quick look at the chips on the other tables seemed to kick me into action and I decided I was going back to my table with the sole purpose of playing good poker and attempting to at least get back to my starting 10,000 at the next break.

The 3rd hand back after the break found me staring down at QQ in 3rd position but UTG had limped (which I didn’t like). I had to define my hand there and then and made the full pot-sized raise – everybody passed except for matey boy limper who without hesitation moved all in – grrrrrrrrrrrr! It broke my already damaged heart but after a long dwell (Carlo Citrone style) I reluctantly passed the hand leaving myself with 2600 in chips and technically still in the game. I half thought I should have just called as I was so low in chips but in reality what hand could this guy have? And what else would he make that move with against the table low stack in a pot limit tournament? – I got my answer when he flipped over his AA accompanied with a smile! – Well at least I made the correct decision and prevented my exit along with adding 2600 to Mr Smug’s stack!

I managed to get a double up soon after the break. I then ducked, dived and pinched for a level and then doubled up once more through a great situation where I flopped two pairs in the small blind against another guy with a smaller two pairs in the big blind. All of a sudden I was up to 14000 and back in the game. I really had a feeling of satisfaction – I could have been out of this tournament about 19 thousand (no exaggeration!) times already and every time I took a step forward I seemed to take two steps back. I really felt that passing my QQ with only 2600 chips remaining had kept me in the game and could ultimately help me to go on and win the competition. – Sadly it wasn’t to be. Two big hands in the space of 45 minutes put paid to my dreams of progressing in the competition when my re-raise with KK ran into a monstrous A-9 and my re-raise with A-J against a perpetual thieving raiser failed to stand up when he made a value call with J-9 and spiked the 9 on the turn. – There’s nothing like a 3 outer to send you to the rail! – Grrrrrr!

Oh well, there’s always next week – looks like I am going from one grand prix to the next. I am a late entrant into the televised William Hill Grand prix with my heat being at the Enfys TV studios in Cardiff on Saturday 22nd October. It should be plain sailing really as I only have two WSOP bracelet winners, a Hendon Mobster and a European Champion in my line up so I expect to be in the final the following Tuesday. I’ll let you know how I do next week – providing that I am allowed – it could be that I am obliged to keep the result quiet until the whole show has been aired on TV – we’ll see!

October 11, 2005

Sorry?... Why be sorry to win?

I decided to play the £15k guarenteed on crypto tonight - (£50 entry, 288 runners and £4200 for the lucky fish that wins it).

It started slowly as always and i managed to build my 2,000 starting stack up to a whopping 2,010! - thats huge for me and right in my comfort zone!

After the break, i managed to find a few hands and a few situations in which to press home my advantage and as a result i got paid and i began to build some chips. I made a good call with my JJ on a KsKc4s board after i was check raised all in by the small blind who had called my initial raise pre-flop and checked the flop to me. I just didnt feel he had the king (spidey sense you know!) and I actually put him on the flush draw - i was right, well almost! :-) (just call me mystic greg) he had 99 but i didnt care as my jacks held up and i was up to 8,000.

I started to pick up some hands and i was raising fairly frequently pre-flop but i had the goods each time. I could sense the table beginning to question the authenticity of my raises somewhat and eventually one of their number decided to put me through the ultimate lie-detector test (known as the all-in re-raise), as it happens i was holding AQ and i decided to fold.

The very next hand i pick up QQ in early position and make my standard raise and again i get re-raised from mid-positon by a different player. The re-raise bet is half my stack to call, so thats what i decided to do, - he has 9-9, so obviously i am a huge favourite in the hand. The board pairs and brings all low cards until that goddam, fecking, ugly 9 came on the river. I sigh and get ready for the next hand with the remaining chips (half the stack they use to be!) when.... (and back to the whole point of this post) My opponent types in the chat box "sorry", (grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!),

Oh my good god yes, this did provoke a reaction from me and a bit of a strongly worded anger fuelled rhetort back to the mungrel claiming to be deeply saddened by my great loss but it also did lead me to think.... why be sorry to win? - Surely this guy isn't so sorry that he wants to give me back my chips or offer me 50% of his winnings! - in fact the toe rag was probably running around his bedroom humping his dog when the 9 rivered! - so why say it? - i honestly dont think it was to wind me up, i just think it was an unecessarry throw away comment that in that sitaution isn't required but is oh so often used.

There is a moral to this story.... I urge fellow players in this situation never ever to say sorry. It is wrong, it winds people up and it means nothing! - you are not sorry! - My suggestion is to say nothing or perhaps say 'unlucky', but really saying nothing is the very best thing you can say.

How did it end? - if your not bothered then don't read on.

A very similar hand developed (in fact i was holding QQ again) about 25 minutes later when i was down to 12 big blinds and a further beat put me out of the comp. - tell me just how do you call a 7X the bet re-raise with K-Jo?

I went on to finish 27th for £75 - rubbish!

October 07, 2005

PokerStars Blogger Championship

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Sit N' Go's (The Cardinal Rules!)

I have been playing a lot of sit n' go's recently but without the success i had about 9-10 months ago. I am still winning and feel they suit my game but i wasn't winning with th frequency i was used to so i dug out this little beauty i created about a year ago. It was a little self berrating checkilst that i created for sit n' go's. I swear by it! Maybe you'll find it useful, maybe not!

1. Play only Sit N Go’s and the odd MTT. Stay away from cash games – you totally suck at cash and will lose!

2. Patience is word of the day every day – you Muppet!

3. Do not get involved early on when the blinds are low unless you have a very good genuine starting hand.

4. No limping from early or middle position with shit connectors unless it is very cheap, you have good pot odds and the table hasn’t had much raising action – limping corrodes your stack!

5. If you have ignored point three because you are an idiot and you have limped with suited connectors, do not get married to your top pair! Only continue to the turn and river if you have hit two pair or have a pair with a 4-flush draw or you are up and down for the top straight. – Make sure you properly assess the odds, implied odds and value.

6. Do not make stupid bluffs when you are chipped up with four to go (five to go in a 2-table).

7. Do not make loose in-disciplined calls when you are chipped up with four to go (five to go in a 2-table) just because you can afford it. STOP PAYING PEOPLE OFF WHEN YOU THINK / KNOW THEY HAVE IT!!!!

8. When you bet out at a pot and you are called – think what they are calling with. If there is an obvious draw there then put them on that sought of hand. They may be calling with 2nd pair and a draw. If there is no obvious draw there then they could well have a monster like a set so beware. Don’t just blindly bet into people, bluffing all your money away!

9. Just because you are in the blinds it doesn’t mean you HAVE to get involved! – assess the hand for what it is. The cards don’t miraculously double in value just because you have money invested and you are in the blinds. - (Note to idiot self; playing after the flop whilst in the blinds means you are out of position!!

10. Do not get involved when you are chipped up with four to go (five to go in a 2-table) unless you have the nuts or are calling a smallish all in bet with an extremely good hand in order to knock out a player.

11. Play only one sit and go at a time!

12. Give it your full concentration in the latter stages (6 or less left and blinds increasing) – do not fucking e-bay, Hotmail or bank whilst playing!

13. Bluffing should not be done for entertainment or because you are trying to buy your way out of an earlier mistake. Bluffing is a science that will only work when there are few people to play against. You will know when the time is right, if the feeling is wrong and you know you’re probably going to get called then just fucking resist temptation and be patient!

14. When you get to the prizes don’t just go for coin flips and gambles, still keep it tight and trap. You want to win not just come third!

What’s in a question?

I read an interview recently with a well respected and successful high stakes tournament player. He mentioned that he always likes to talk to his opponents during a game in order to gather information, which he can later use to support his decisions when playing against them. I thought about this myself and wondered for a while exactly what he meant by this statement and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that he was on to something here. At key stages in a game and in certain situations you can use the power of questioning to your advantage when trying to ascertain the strength of your opponent’s hand.

Now... I am not talking about pulling out your pocket hot lamp and interrogating a guy until he says something like “I’ve got aces, I’ve got aces now leave me alone” – because as we all know that aint gonna happen, we are playing poker not cops and robbers! What I am however trying to get across is that the best way to find out what somebody is holding in their starting hand is to process all the information you have available to you, for example what did he do pre-flop, how did he bet the flop, was he confident etc but also to generate some additional information that might not be immediately available through asking a question or two. The power of questioning and the subsequent responses you get will also add to this jigsaw of information that you are so desperately trying to piece together in a very short space of time. Obviously the guy you are facing doesn’t have to respond but what have you got to lose just by asking?!

Confused? Well… let me tell you about a hand I played very recently in the final of the £100 PLH event at Gala Notts that may help you understand exactly how asking pertinent questions at the right time will reveal much more information than you might think.

I am sat two from the button and haven’t yet looked at my cards. There are still nine players remaining and the chips are fairly evenly spread as we all have between 40,000 and 90,000 each. There is a mid-position raise by Greek Jack Dionysiou, who is a solid performer and capable of getting aggressive with a whole range of hands. We are playing pot limit with the blinds at 5-10K so he pumps it up to 35K. The action gets to me and I look at my cards. I have A-Qo and my immediate reaction is that this is marginal and I almost throw it away out of respect for the early raise. However, I am in an attention seeking mood so I place my ‘lucky’ medal on my cards and examine my stack. I have 75K and could throw this away easily and still be in the hunt but I decide that I haven’t seen many of Jack’s hands tonight and want some information on what he is up to, so I decide to throw him a question.

“How much more you playing there Jack?”

Now I know that he has another 50K because I already did a quick count when I glanced across at him but I need to ask him directly to see how he responds. Jack looks briefly down to his chips and says

“about another 80 thousand”.

Now let me tell you that jack is a canny character with plenty of savvy and I would bet that at all points in the game he knows to within one chip how many he has so his response seemed a little fishy to me as he has grossly overstated his remaining chip count. I decide it s time to get clarity on this and plump for another question. I pick up my remaining chips and hold them slightly off the table as if they are about to go in play and ask

“Looks more like fifty thousand to me Jack – are you sure”?

He immediately responds with

“well, I got more than you anyway”.

This comment seemed a little too defensive for Jack who normally likes to mix it up and happily calls re-raises at will. It seems to me like Jack is not fancying the prospect of a caller or a re-raise. I ask one more question just to get a reaction as I now think he could be on the steal with a weak ace and I say

“are you trying to talk me out of it”?

Jack didn’t respond as he now knows I got his number, he just shrugged and let out a little laugh at my comment. I don’t want to waste any more time as we are inevitably heading for a chip count and I decide it s time to make my choice. I put him on a weak ace or a small pair. If it is a weak ace then my A-Q is dominating and I want to get all my chips in against him. If he has a small pair then I am even money. Faced with the prospect of being at worst even money to take the pot and become chip leader I decide I am going to move all in for another 40K on top of his initial raise. There is a slight chance that Jack may pass his hand if I am dominating but I have now gained enough information to base my decision. I announce “all in”.

Jack called after a slight deliberation and flipped over his cards. Was I correct in my assessment of his hand? Well… he was stronger than I expected, he had 7-7. I went on to catch an Ace and take down the pot but that is irrelevant. What I did here and what the moral of the story is I took information from a person when it wasn’t necessarily or publicly available. I managed this through asking a pertinent question or two in order to try and assess the strength of his hand. This allowed me to make a decision on whether I wanted to risk my tournament on a move with a marginal hand or whether I should pass and fight it out later with a better opportunity.

Why not try this a time or two in your next game and see how your fair – don’t do it every hand and with the blinds at 25-50 though or you might just get yourself lynched by the ‘lets shovel em in and gamble’ brigade.

The Biggie - Then there were 3!

Once we were down to three players, myself and El Blondie had a huge chip advantage over Chris Singh and I knew whoever got his remaining chips would have a huge edge heads up. Chris began to play very, very, very aggressively. He had not played a hand all night and suddenly he began raising all in pre-flop every other hand. After about the 5th all-in he announced he was a crazy ‘terrorist’ (a nickname I now always use whenever I see him). If only Dave or I could find a hand to take him out with. The very next all in on my big blind I found QK and decided to take a stand, knowing that if I lost I would be still slightly in front of him in chips but if I won I would take him out and go up against one of poker’s true greats with a slight chip lead. I also fancied my QK was the best hand… and it was!- Chris flipped over the 8-10 of diamonds, so I am in front but he has 2 live suited and connecting cards which makes me about 60% favourite. The flop brought a 10 and no help for me and Chris doubled up – not a problem! I was still second in chips and felt ok. Chris didn’t slow down and began making big raises and all-in manoeuvres again and again until he overtook me in chips. El Blondie was waiting for a hand and me likewise. The whole texture of the contest had changed and Chris was dominating. Then the following hand develops in the blinds… El Blondie makes it 4 times the BB to go and Chris moves all in. Dave thinks for a while and decides to call, figuring his hand to be in not hat bad a shape. Dave turns over QK and amazingly Chris turns over the 4-5 of diamonds! - A 4 on the flop brings a grimace from Dave and I but a Q on the turn sends Chris out of the competition and sets a heads up clash between myself (the little know lad from Notts.) and one of poker’s real tough guy opponents (Dave El-Blondie Colclough).

Heads Up….

The heads up battle took longer to get under way than it did to finish. Dave had a huge 2:1 chip lead over me and I failed to make any head way at all in the battle. Every time I raised he moved all in or pushed me off the pot and every time he raised I had absolute rags. The final hand was a remarkable one. The blinds were really beginning to hurt me and I had to get aggressive or I was gong to just die slowly so I made some action and raised all in with K6 and amazingly got called by Dave with K7! I am not sure to this day why he called, unless he could sense I was at-it but he had me severely dominated in this situation. However, the board brought K6A, which put me in great shape and would have doubled me up to within reach of Dave. The turn brought a 3, which was a great card for me but the river brought another ace, which gave us both the same two pair but his 7 kicker was the decisive card and I was eliminated in 2nd place for a life changing personal best of £37,000!

In truth I was hurting inside a little but was really delighted with my result and my play. I couldn’t wait to go home and check out Poker in Europe.com to see my name in the results section and see where I stood in the rankings. I had achieved everything I had wanted to achieve from the 2 days and so much more. I was over the moon and had a real taste for the tournament scene. Could 2005 really be my year?

The Biggie - The Final Table!

I was one of the short stacks going into the final but I knew that a double up would move me into the top 4, so my plan was to take a shot a doubling through early on. I knew the play was going to be cagey from the outset and decided that I was going to be the one making the early action. I nick the blinds a couple of times (not easy when they belong to El Blondie!), the button passes and I post the money that I have stolen.

I am then the recipient of the AK of hearts UTG and decide there and then barring a huge sign that I am miles behind, I am going all the way with this baby. I have about 15 big blinds at this stage so an all-in would be a huge over-bet so I decide to make a standard pot-sized raise. Everyone folds to the BB, who is young Scandinavian and top bloke Henning Granstad. He thinks for a few seconds and pushes all in. I think for a while and although I put him on a decent pair, something tells me he isn’t that strong (i.e. Not KK or AA) and being one of the guys shorter chipped than myself I read him for a move and the worst shape I feel I’m in is 50:50. I don’t like to play potential coin flips but saw this as a great opportunity to double through and get in the game so I called. Henning showed JJ and I flip over my AK and we race for the now sizeable pot. The board comes all low cards until the river brings my King! – Henning out in 9th and I double through.

I’ve now got chips and the confidence flows like a river through my veins. I begin to play, taking on all comers, steeling, re-steeling and generally dancing like Fred Astaire – it feels like heaven.

The rest of the players begin to freeze and the odd hand develops between them and I continue to play and look to accumulate chips whilst everyone else is sitting quietly on their chips. We lose a few more of the short stacks including Trevor Reardon and Justin Turner and suddenly we are down to 4 players. I look around the table and I am just chip leader, with El Blondie in 2nd, Stuart Fox in 3rd and Chris Singh in 4th.

Stuart and El Blondie clash and an all-in coup develops with A-J versus 99 respectively. The first card down is the jack of spades and Stuart punches the air but running spades for El-Blondie gives him a 9-high flush and eliminates Stuart in 4th.

It all becomes a bit of a blur to me as player after player keeps busting out. I glance up at the clock and prize structure displayed on the screen and suddenly realise I am guaranteed £20k. This was the first time I had even thought about the money – I had deliberately not looked at the board to try and maintain focus, making a note on my own watch when the blind intervals were due to increase. I was ecstatic inside, this would be a life changing amount of money, which could rid me of debt and allow me maybe to leave my job that I so hated. I had to maintain focus though as 2nd was £37k and 1st a whopping £70k!