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Hey kids, do you like violence?

I always expected the reception I’d get at Stoke Grosvenor would be frosty. This is a regular haunt for many of my former so-caled friends and other ex-poker buddies and I knew that whenever I went odds would be that I would bump into at least one of them.  Tonight for the £20 freezeout it actually took until level five and my second table move until I came face to face with any of them across a card table. As expected, they were ignoring me just as hard as I was ignoring them.

Allow me to introduce some characters: James Welsh, my estranged business partner on a poker-related venture and the mastermind behind UK Poker Info – a forum from which he has subsequently banned me for posting a strategy article with only the slightest hint of superiority – busted out a couple of hands later, moving all in without looking and tabling garbage that thankfully didn’t improve. Jim Fryer, the former owner of an illegal poker club that is somehow no longer running, and who still owes me ninety quid for a table, was riding high with about 40k in chips allowing him the freedom of only playing every other hand whilst running backwards and forwards to have a smoke. Negative expection on two counts.

I never got to play a pot with Jim, and only contributed to only two hands at that table before I went home. I’d raised once with AQo and folded to a reraise all in, then made a squeeze play with AJ against an early position raiser and a caller. I still quite like the move, even though I ran into a squeezee (I need to know if I’m the first person to use that word) with AQ. I had a chance to nearly double my stack uncontested, which was fairly likely given the extreme tightness I had shown, and the prospect of taking a race with 4.5k in dead money wasn’t too shabby. It’s only real bad when you are dominated – and he calls. Which it turned out I was, and he did, thinking he was behind.

Earlier though, I had a confrontation with "Deadly" Darren Sutton. Daz is not someone I know well at all. I can really only remember one time I’ve spoken more than a passing sentence to him, which was actually at Nottingham Gala on the same day I discovered that my so-called friends from the saturday night game I have such fond memories of were a bunch of ignorant back-stabbers. Let’s move on.

Darren comes over to tell me how nobody likes me, and then how I owe various people an apology and how I owe James some money. He tells me "you and him need to sort it out, or I will sort it out". Whether or not he has a point doesn’t much matter – none of this is any of his fucking business, but he obviously loves the action. I am brought up to speed as he walks away. "You don’t know me. I used to be a minder. I look after people".

Another person he is looking after tonight is Rob Ho, although I doubt this is with his knowledge or consent given that Rob is a martial arts expert and could cripple me as soon as look at me if he wanted. On the very rare occasions we had a saturday game without him, we would gossip around the table about how he is likely connected, a Triad probably. I owe him an apology, I’m informed, because of how I insulted him on the forum – by which he can only mean the "strategy article" I mentioned above. As I walk to the bathroom at the first break, Rob actually yells up from his cash game at me "Hey Chris, are you winning?". I’m so startled, I don’t really know how to respond and mumble back god knows what before running away to take a piss. Unless it’s part of an overly elaborate and highly doubtful good cop/bad cop routine, then Rob isn’t holding a grudge. And I would have gone back to talk to him too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

Deadly Daz followed me into the bathroom. He followed me into the fucking bathroom! He stood next to me, and carried on with a routine which I pretty much ignored, trying instead to concentrate on whether he specifically was the reason I couldnt go, or just that there was another gent right there who was more interested in me than his own bodily functions. That would usually do the trick.  As I left (he was done before me, and didn’t wash) he was waiting near the door to keep yelling across to me and point out exactly where Rob was sitting. I don’t know why he was yelling. I didn’t stop to see who he was with, whether it was even anyone I’d ever met before. Or whether they were impressed. I just kept walking. I don’t know – nor did I care to find out – whether he was all talk. But I was glad to be back on the casino floor. As far as I know, there’s no cameras over the urinals…

So there we have it. I was threatened and intimidated – twice – by a guy I hardly know in my friendly neighbourhood casino. Just one contribution to a general air of violence in the Grosvenor Stoke where threats, fights and beatings appear to be an everyday occurrance. When the cash game was announced, some cheerful soul piped up "will there be a punch up tonight?". Apparently there was yesterday, and it sounds like the crowd loved it. And I heard two guys at my table very openly discussing how they might teach someone a lesson. "Careful though, he’s the kind who’ll run down the cop shop first chance he gets", says one. "Yeah, but what’s he gonna do with a fucking broken neck?", came the reply.

Gambling Commission response

I asked whether it was in fact OK for casinos to bump up the rake, and if so whether there was an upper limit.

Thank you for your email.

Casino guideline 3 sets out the advice for running card room competitions including the permitted fee for the competition.

There is also provision under the Gaming Clubs (Hours and Charges) Regulations 1984 for a casino to charge an hourly rate for the use of the facilities. This could be in addition to any fixed charge. There is no mention of a maximum hourly amount in the Act.

The price of poker just went up, Vince

At Leicester Gala the £20+£2 tournament on Wednesday is now a £20+£7.

That’s a 26% rake!

Well, no it’s not. That would be illegal. Instead, there’s a £5 "session fee" that you have to pay before you can register for the tournament. And apparently they not only have the backing of the Gaming Board to do this, Gala is piloting the scheme for them to see if works well enough to use at casinos across the country.

The fee does cover you for as much as you want to play that night, however. Whoopy doo. If you’re very unlucky you could perhaps fit in two sit-and-goes (I have no idea if that’s the correct way to pluralise it) but if you do well, or have no intention of playing anything else after you bust it’s another five quid on top of a twenty quid tournament.  You effectively get taxed more when you win, than when you keep on losing.

The terrible thing is that people are already paying this. Even worse is that last night those people included me. Well, I’d driven an hour to get there and if I’m prepared to drive a 140 mile round trip to play in that game it does seem a little on the stubborn side to go straight home once I’m there. Won’t be going again though.  Numbers were down, with 40 runners compared to the usual sell-out 56, but the night before they’d still managed to fill the room for the, effectively, £10+£6 tournament.  If they owned up to what the charge really was, that would be a 38% rake.

Las Vegas Advisor maintains a list of the poker tournaments in town with their respective percentage paybacks.  Only Sunset Station and Sams Town are this greedy, which actually surprised me a little.  Even the quick and nasty tourist tournaments on the strip are 80-85% payback.

Geoff and I spoke to cardroom manager Steve, who was obviously disappointed that he had to do this, knowing that it would drive away many of the regular players.  However this seems to be exactly what those higher up are trying to achieve.  You see, the Play and Party Poker Zone is not really a cardroom.  The casino is not interested in developing poker players or creating loyalty, because they do not generate any profits until they are either paying their 10% on three-figure buy-in tournaments or generating hourly seat charges in cash games.  And whilst a £100 tournament would attract a handful of gamblers who fancy a shot at a big prize, it’s something that takes more effort to promote than a regular game, and not something you can do every night in a provincial casino.  So it’s quantity over quality, and they just want to get as many players through the door as possible hoping that if you throw enough suckers in the direction of a roulette table then some will stick.

So why am I so upset about this?  I guess mostly because of the stealthy and semi-legal way in which it’s been done.  The Gambling Commission’s Guidelines for the Casino Industry document states that a registration fee may be no more than 10% or £50, whichever is greater.  Simply calling the charge a "session fee" doesn’t cut it, and I just can’t see how this is legal.

The casinos who have put pressure on the Gambling Commission to take action against borderline-illegal clubs – who take a "service charge" out of every pot, don’t anyone dare say the word "rake" – are hypocrites.  Now is a time when poker desparately needs a new way of being regulated to protect the player from an inevitable undesirable element.  If indeed the GC are behind this scheme, as Steve suggested, all they have managed to come up with is a way to allow the regulated venues to charge an unlimited rake and legally fleece their players.  Well, I guess that’s what casinos have been doing for years, just not quite so blatently.  Meantime the clubs that do cater for those that just want to play some cards (there’s no blackjack, no roulette, just a 10% rake – let’s call a spade a spade here) are still waiting to hear whether they will get shut down.

Could my timing be any worse?

Played at Gutshot on Wednesday this week, back to the £30 + 1 rebuy tournament.  Everything went so right in the first 20 minutes that I knew I was doomed to not get very far.  With pocket kings twice and hitting at least 2 pair on most of the flops I played I was up from 1500 to over 4000 by the end of level 1.  Even when I hadn’t hit the board, I was betting and picking up more pots than I thought would be possible in one round of a super-fast tournament.

I’d never actually counted my chips up to this point, for once taking note of Kenny Roger’s advice, but had to take stock after losing with TT against a desparate all-in AT.  The all in was about 1200, and it left me with about 3000 afterwards.  But things never recovered after that.  I peaked way too early and by the time the crap shoot came into effect my timing had become just dreadful.  Seeing KTs in mid position I moved in for my remaining 2500 – blinds coming round were 250/500, and there were still 40 players remaining.  "I have to call that" is never a phrase you wanted to hear, especially when it leaves the caller obviously pot-committed.  Yet someone puts in a third raise and I’m left calling for clubs with something of a whimper when they flip over KK and AA.

Hard work

Back from London and I played the Thursday night freezeout at Gutshot again. It’s looking like I’m going to be down there Thursday and Friday for the foreseeable future, which in terms of having a poker tournament to play in the evening should be just about perfect.

However I’m already starting to get frustrated with it, and I’ve only played it three times, cashing once and coming close the other two. Last week there were three tables left when I busted from just of 90 runners. This week I finished 17th from 98, with 9 getting paid. One coinflip can make the difference between money (and having to decide just how much you should tip the dealers in a self-dealt tournament) and just finishing early enough to get the last tube back (Barbican station closes at 00:30, and I was running through the barrier at 00:15).

For a £50 tournament, the structure is surprisingly oppressive. With a starting stack of 2500 and 20 minute blinds, you get an hour of poker followed by three hours of racing off random cards and trying to get lucky. When the blinds were 600/1200, the average stack was little more than 6000. It never really gets any better than this. Players drop fast, with an all-in on almost every hand. There’s almost never a smaller raise than the whole lot, even for the chip leaders who will only end up playing against a crippled stack that actually represents a fair chunk of their hard earned chips and leaves themselves crippled when a miracle four hits, or something.

I went home after facing a situation that I don’t think could have played out any other way. I hope someone will correct me if I was a complete donkey here. I am on the big blind with 6600 left, which is now falling behind the pack, but I haven’t had any kind of stealing opportunity for two rounds and playing 8 handed the blinds are eating me faster than ever. My blind is 2000, leaving me with 4600. A player makes a minimum raise to 4000 and everyone else folds. I look down at J9s. If I fold, I have a small blind of 1000 to post next hand and 3600 more which won’t do any damage, which would be a sorry option to take if my hand was completely hopeless, but in this situation J9s is much too good to let go. The only choice is whether to push all-in right away or call and move in on the flop regardless. I plumped for the latter, although I can’t really see the extra 2400 into a pot of 9000 ever getting any hand to fold. Maybe if the board comes AKQ I could force a small pair to pass. Unlikely though.

After fighting for nearly 3 hours to stay alive against the madness that was happening, my fate was sealed by a queen-high flop to give my opponent’s KQ an almost certain winner.

Obviously three of these is not enough to judge whether I have any kind of long term edge. Although there are some very good players there they make up only a fraction of the field of nearly 100 players. The dilemma I have is that I actually feel quite confident about playing this again, it’s just such hard work in the later stages – AND the middle stages! – that I just don’t know if it’s how I want to spend my evening when I’m working away from home.

A quickie in Leicester

It’s 5pm and I get a message from Geoff asking if I fancied going to Leicester to play the £20 tournament at the Gala tonight. I did, so I rushed to leave and even then nearly missed out. I was 45th to register (maximum 56) at 45 minutes before kick off. Geoff told me the night before (the even more popular £10 game) they had essentially opened registration early by giving everyone in line a ticket with a number so they could come back at 6.30 and queue up again in the same order. Just like getting your cold meat and pork pies at Tesco.

I didn’t last long, failing to find any opportunities to start with, then having to push with 88 twice in quick succession, flipping against AK (and winning) and AQ (and losing). So I stuck my name on the list for a £20 sit-and-go and waited a good hour for them to find a dealer that wouldn’t be making the casino more money on a blackjack table.

The SNGs are intense – 7 players, 10 minute blinds and only 2000 chips to start. I wasn’t going to mess around, and got them all in with 99 early on, called by 44 and holding up. Three players fell in the first 7 hands. A drunk aggressive guy called Wayne – it was his birthday, so he’d been on the free champagne-style pop – wanted to own the table, but I found the perfect opportunity to show him who was boss. Poker rarely feels as good as this…

Getting a free ride with Q7 in the big blind, I see an unsuited flop of 752. I bet the pot (500) and he calls. I check and let him bet at the turn, which is a rather scary K, but somehow when he makes his bet of 700 I know I have the best hand. I don’t know how, but I understand now what it means now to trust your reads. The all-in check-raise move I made in that spot is something I could never have done six months ago. I was actually so sure I was ahead that I wanted him to call! After nearly a day he eventualy folded and I showed the 7, asking (in that extremely cocky way that lawyers only ask questions they already know the answer to) if it was good enough.

I didn’t get much resistance for the rest of the game, and managed to pick up blinds and small pots uncontested the majority of the time. Wayne actually wasn’t a bad player and made a couple of quality laydowns. I felt certain I was going to get a drunken payoff when I hit a flush with 2345 on board. Wayne laid down his ace-five straight. Or maybe he was just weak-drunk…

Down to two players and we were fairly even in chips – roughly 7000 each and blinds were 400-800 so I jumped at the chance to chop for £70 each.

GSOP Day 3 – Twenty Four Hour Poker People

It took me 24 hours and 13 minutes to bust out of the Gutshot Series of Poker Main Event. In a strange way, I almost wanted to make the 24 hour mark more than I wanted to make the final table. It’s a landmark of poker endurance, don’t you think?

I actually finished tenth, with the final 9 coming back tomorrow to play out for the big money. I’d sat pretty at somewhere between 60k and 70k most of the day. As the number of players dropped from 30 down to the 18 in the money though, I hadn’t really had much chance to accumulate chips and continued to slip behind the pack. Even so, it wasn’t really until right at the end after a very dry spell that I couldn’t maintain my stack at this level that I had to force opportunities. I had 21,600 when I moved all in with ATo, and blinds were at 1200/2400 with 300 ante. I had a few hands left if I wanted to wait, but this one seemed good enough. I got to flip with a pair of fours, but I didn’t improve and everyone got to go home.

Here are the hands that actually made it into the live updates. Sorry about the shirt…

http://www.gutshot.com/bforum/showpost.php?p=138535&postcount=150
http://www.gutshot.com/bforum/showpost.php?p=138564&postcount=173
http://www.gutshot.com/bforum/showpost.php?p=138591&postcount=196

Much as I wanted the experience of being at the final table, I really didn’t want to come back tomorrow to play one hand – the difference in money was £100, and it would probably cost me that to stay here another night, plus I’d lose working time on Tuesday. If I was coming back, I wanted to at least be able to fight for a higher spot.

This was a FANTASTIC tournament, and I am very pleased indeed that I managed to last so long. I got pretty much everything I wanted to out of the weekend, and even managed to avoid the heartbreak of going broke and watching everyone else keep playing – when I busted, I was more than pleased with my performance, had accepted my probable fate, and even then the game stopped for the night anyway! No major bad beats since my AA got cracked on day 1, and I only recall two close races before the final hand (I lost AQ vs 22 and won KJ vs AT) – there was more post flop play than in probably all of the tournaments I played in Vegas combined. I made good decisions and maintained my composure for a marathon of a poker game. Room for improvement? For sure, particularly in small pot dogfights. Fair result? Well yeah, I kinda rocked.

So the hunt begins for my next major tournament. I have my eye on the Ongame Poker Classic in Barcelona, and the EPT events are coming soon. Better get qualifying….

GSOP Main Event Day 2 – 157 down, 29 to go

I am absolutely over the moon to still be in the hunt for the GSOP championship. This is an amazing tournament, and has really just confirmed that I want to be playing more major events. I just need to either win enough this weekend to fund it, or get really good at online satellites :)

30 players remain. My chip stack is 69,900 – just above average. 18 get paid, but with the difference between 18th and first being £17,500 I’m hoping the bubble won’t really be that much of a consideration – I want to win now! I was worried about create a false bubble effect last night, when I started wishing the night would end after I’d amassed a decent stack, but a lot of other players were feeling the same way and the game slowed down nicely as the end came into sight. We’ve played 16 hours of poker now, and it was starting to show. When it took a good five minutes for both the players involved in a hand to be happy that neither they nor their opponent made a straight on a 4579T board (one had one pair with an 8, the other had two pair) it was clear that no great poker was going to happen before the restart.

I started to get ahead with an effective double up coming from one of the worst mistakes I’ve seen this tournament. I raised with AJ, and the big blind calls. The flop has an ace and he check-raises me on the flop. My bet was 1500, his raise was 5000 and I only have about 6000 left. I clench my teeth and hope I read him right, and it seems I did as he wasn’t even going to call the extra 1000 for a pot of about 14k. Getting 14-1 with two cards to come, it surely cannot ever be correct to fold. Virtually any two cards can draw out on me profitably there. Clearly I was happy to get the pot uncontested!

Then, hooray, aces held up. There was a raise to 2500 and a call ahead of me and I moved in for my 15k stack. The middle player must have thought I was trying it on, because he called with KQo. The dealer scared the shit out of me with a JTx flop and didn’t improve things when a third spade gave him a one-card flush draw on the turn. Somehow I survived and was back into the game.

The rest is a bit hazy. I’ve gathered chips up to nearly 70k without having to risk it all. I recall one monster pot where I limped with 89s, got to draw to a straight for cheap and made my draw when two players looking for different flushes both missed. QQ held up against AQ to knock out a short stack, but mostly I haven’t shown down any hands for a long, long time. There was a decent period of time where I managed to maintain through stealing almost exclusively from one player who had noted very loudly how tight I’d been playing. My raising requirements when he was on a blind were significantly lower than usual… he eventually got moved to another table though.

So it’s all good so far. I’m in decent shape with ages left to play. Blue Square now has me down at 20-1 to win, I guess based on my chip count alone as I still haven’t made a single hand review on the Gutshot site. I’ll be alright…

GSOP Main Event Day 1 – Bagged and Tagged

Clearly this is not the best way to adjust back to British time. It’s nearly 5am here, which is only about 9pm in Vegas. I’m somewhere inbetween really. Maybe if I was in iceland it would be the right time… My body doesn’t know what’s hit it. I’ve eaten funny food at funny times the past week, had more exercise than I usually get in a month just walking around London (my hotel is situated just far enough from King’s Cross Station to make it quicker to walk to both the Gutshot offices and the club) and tonight I’ve been playing poker since 8pm with almost no breaks (it’s a two hour clock with just ten minutes off every level). My body has tried to shut down on me several times, and I’ve not let it. It would be pretty bad form, and I’m also fairly sure that if you’re not in your seat – and awake – when the second card hits the button your hand is dead.

So now that I actually have the chance to go to bed, instead you’ll find me blogging about how tired I am, and also doing a little rampaging on Empire Poker with a free $20 they stuck in my account. It’s up to $61 so far…

The GSOP Main Event played to half way through level 4 tonight. Something of a compromise between being able to get enough levels played out before the end of the four days and not wanting to keep the players up too late. A 4am or 5am finish doesn’t make a whole load of difference if you ask me. Finishing in the middle of a level – particularly as we’ve also redrawn for seats – feels just a little bit odd.

Maybe I’m resentful of the fact that I just couldn’t concentrate for that last hour. I hardly played a hand. The only one I can recall was a QT in the big blind, a Q on the flop and I decided to raise the small blind to find out if I was good. She pulled the old stop-and-go on me, my one pair was way behind, so I took the opportunity to run the clock down a little before mucking.

Part of the experience I wanted from playing this four-day event was to see what it felt like to play endurance poker. I’d even given myself a head start with my useless sleeping pattern. I’ve very pleased that I’m coming back for day 2 (beginning at 3pm tomorrow – probably just after breakfast) but it could have easily ended in tears. I’d worked my way up to a reasonable 13k stack (not way ahead of the starting chips, but not a bad gain at all for the early rounds). I hadn’t really had many hands – most of my income came from a flopped two pair in the big blind with J6, and two players didn’t believe me. The action dried up when a third 6 came on the river. I also flopped a set and did OK from it.

Then I said hello to pocket aces. Hello. It’s raised, I reraise, and pocket kings moves all in. Fortunately he didn’t have enough to bust me when a the king popped up and I’m left with 4400 chips. Which is still plenty at the 100/200 level, but a serious setback. This tournament structure is great. You can get hit by a beat like that and still recover without having to switch to push-or-fold mode (I managed to draw to a flush and got a good payoff, putting me back over 10k). You also have to make decisions up to four times during each hand – the way Hold’em was intended!

This field is tough. I was amazed at one hand where AA and JJ both flopped a set, and JJ managed to get away from it. I’m really not that good. Yet. :)

I ended the night officially at 9025, with my chips safely stuffed into a ziplock bag. The next level is 150/300 plus 25 ante, so it’s still fairly comfortable even though I’m starting to fall behind the pack. There is plenty of time still, and anything can happen. 117 of the 187 entrants are still in the hunt for a first place prize of around £20,000. And a bracelet of course.

Gutshot £100 Freezeout

The last time I played at Gutshot I did remarkably well, despite not playing a hand for the first hour and a half. Then I hit pocket aces and shortly afterwards doubled up with AK. Last night, it almost felt like the same story. I’d played a few hands and not really got anywhere. I found it very difficult to spot opportunities in the early levels, and once I’d lost almost half my stack to blinds and a few speculative hands there wasn’t any room left for manouvre.

One hand troubled me a bit, although I think I made the right decision. With Q4o in the big blind and a free play, the flop comes KK4. I check out of position, with four more players to speak and knowing that most of them are capable of making a move if I lead out here. It’s checked round, the turn brings up a third K and this time I bet the pot but get immediately reraised the minimum. I could have made this bet with any two cards, so the fact that I actually have something – albeit a pretty weak something – makes it a tough decision. Does he realise that I would take a pop here anyway (I haven’t given much away yet at all) or does he want me to get carried away with a worse hand? He almost certainly didn’t have the K – quads doesn’t need to narrow the field here, and a free card absolutely doesn’t hurt him – but against any pocket pair 5s or bigger and I’m screwed. I can’t improve (but my hand can be killed by a K or 4, and really only a 2 or 3 is a “safe” river card if I do think I’m good) plus I know I’ll have to pay to see a showdown not knowing where the hell I am at. Good laydown or weak laydown?

Dwindling away I got moved to a new table with only player who had seen how tight I’d gotten. When I found AA under the gun I managed to get all my remaining chips in preflop against a player who was also holding … AA. That doesn’t happen very often. I’ve seen it only once before, and actually it was myself against Claire in one of our home games. Small blind vs big blind. And we both tried to play it cute, to much amusement. Then there was the race to see whether Steve could find the odds of it being dealt in Super System before I could work it out in my head :) I can’t remember the answer, and this time I didn’t care. It’s one of those things that just tells you it’s not your night.

I actually managed to work my measly 2k up to about 7k before the “last orders” break at 11pm, and got lucky with T7 against A9 along the way. Then I have to take a coinflip with AK against QQ and it doesn’t work out. My miracle comeback from 600 chips is not forthcoming and the hunt for a kebab shop begins.

Tonight it’s the Gutshot Series of Poker Main Event. This four day marathon uses the same structure as the World Series main event. With a two hour clock and 200 runners it’ll be just like the WSOP used to be, before that Moneymaker fellow fluked his way to first place, leading millions of wannabes to believe it was their turn next.

There’s even a couple of bookmakers taking bets on the winner (http://www.stanjames.com/betting/?gi=22 and http://www.bluesq.com/bet?action=go_events&type_id=3536, although don’t expect those links to last long).

But as I’m neither a regular down here, nor have an amusing nickname, I’m not on the list…