Hilly heads north again, this time to Stockton-on-Tees
What is going on? Does anyone play online poker in the South East? London, for instance? It seems not, as yet another northern winner sees me embark on another gruelling journey in an increasingly fractious tour. At least I have the perennially chirpy Ross ‘Dreamer’ Jarvis for company; chastened by our epic car journey to Manchester in May, this time we wisely allow the train to take the strain, spilling into Middlesbrough on a muggy Monday afternoon.
Following the obligatory looseners and slap-up meal, it’s a short cab ride to Stockton, where we are greeted by freeroll winner Stephen Pearson. At short notice he has assembled a mere quartet of players, his preparation hindered by the fact that he had no idea what the prize entailed, having pilfered the password from a copy of PokerPlayer at his local casino. The rest of the players are also regulars at the nearby Gala, comprising his brother Colin (apparently something of a pro), cabbie Ian Woods, and youngster Brett Angell, who shares a name with a lumbering centre forward of Stockport and Everton fame.
Six-handed, I appoint Ross tournament director and he comes up with an unorthodox structure involving 4,750 chips each – it could catch on. With beers in the fridge and tenners in the pot, play gets under way in reasonably aggressive fashion, with everybody knowing what they’re doing and nobody scared to play. The short-handed format enables closer profiling of the players, and it appears that Brett loves a flop, limping in at any opportunity. Colin likes to play back at me, always assuming that I’m at it, while Ian simply gets dealt a swathe of large pairs and plays them accordingly. As for host Stephen, he seemingly does nothing while occasionally limping in with monster hands.
Weak become heroes
That leaves Ross, who in his first live game since announcing his intentions to ‘go pro’ is not blessed with the greatest of luck. Having lost chips to Brett’s rivered straight, he lasts a mere nine hands before running pocket Kings into Colin’s pocket Aces. All the money goes in postflop, and having taken two days out of the office and sat on a train for three hours, Dreamer is begrudgingly relegated to designated dealer and drinks server. The latter proves problematic when we forget that we stuck a crate of beer in the freezer, with Brett forced to negotiate a lager-flavoured Slush Puppie.
By recent standards, however, the game is a largely sober affair, and conversation turns to local celebrities, including Vic & Bob, Chubby Brown, Chris Rea and Ridley Scott, which would certainly make for an interesting final table. Meanwhile, back at this table, I need some chips, and Colin generously donates his by pushing all-in against my turned straight, my insta-call proving correct against his top pair. Refusing to learn his lesson, he has a stab at a further pot by betting into an Ace on the river, and I make a semi-hero call with second pair to bolster my chip lead.
Four-handed, a short-stacked Stephen limps in the small blind. I’m in the big blind, and buoyed by cheap lager and a big stack, I look down at A-J and announce all-in. Stephen looks incredulous, scanning the table for confirmation before flipping over pocket Aces to deal me a hammer blow. Shortly after I’m forced to stick it all-in with T-6, Brett calls with A-Q, and I make trip tens to cripple him. Preposterous game of chance…
Down to three, we’re on the live final bubble and I calmly announce that I will be exploiting the situation accordingly. True to my word, I push all-in with K-T but the speech play is wasted as Woods picks me off with A-T for a money bubble. Ross has by now relinquished dealing duties to Brett, who as well as fashioning an unusually ornate board is pretty quick-wristed. Presumably in a hurry to get out of here, he immediately deals the next hand after my bust-out before it is realised that we’re heads-up and the button is in the wrong place, precipitating an almighty ding-dong. As Stephen rightly points out, he can’t be big blind twice in a row, and farcically the cards change hands numerous times before we agree (correctly) on the order of play. With sick evitability, they’re both monsters, and a disconsolate Ian Woods is on the wrong end of 9-9 v A-6. Diplomatically disappearing for a piss, I return to what feels like a death in the room, as the angry cabbie’s remaining chips have gone in with K-9 against A-4 to give our host a controversial victory.
Celebrations are muted, but Ian pulls himself together and drives us to the local casino, where to compound the misery he does his bollocks in a cash game. I also spill a hundred quid when I run A-Q into A-A, and take consolation in a pint and three-course meal, to the horror of Dreamer, who nevertheless manages a steak. A stressful day comes to an end eating rhubarb crumble and custard in a Middlesbrough casino at 3am. Not livin’ alright…