Neil ‘Bad Beat’ Channing wins the 2009 UK Player of the Year award
UK Player of the Year 2008, NEIL ‘ BAD BEAT’ CHANNING
TOTAL POINTS 1,224
FINAL TABLES 2
HIGHLIGHT IRISH OPEN CHAMPION
Whether at home or abroad, Neil Channing’s tournament game has really hit a new level in 2008. We got up close and personal with the newly-crowned UK Player of the Year to ask him about the secret of his most successful year ever.
Neil Channing is a man in demand. To many within the UK game he occupies a multiplicity of roles: player, friend, confidant, coach, moneylender, bookmaker, role model, cash-game organiser, backer and general piss-taker – sometimes all of these rolled into one. But above all he is a top-class poker pro whose new-found focus has brought him triumph in the Irish Open and propelled him up the Ladbrokes UK player rankings as well seeing him challenge for the European Player of the Year title. But Channing seems relaxed when InsidePoker meets him. Well, he is at home after all. We find him in The Vic, bantering with fellow Vic regulars, taking and making bets and watching one of his staked players, Sunny Chattha, down to four-handed in a satellite final. Just a normal day for the amiable Londoner.
‘I usually get to the Vic anywhere between two and four o’clock. Just lately the games have been starting at half-one or two and they go on till five in the morning – that’s a long day’s work. I had to visit a friend of mine today so I woke up at quarter past nine, which is ridiculous for me. I didn’t know they had quarter past nine anymore,’ he laughs.
The secret to Channing’s success this year has seemed to be a determination to focus on poker and attempt to organise the various other facets that come with being a poker player. It has even made him streamline his cash games at the Vic.
‘I made a conscious decision to encourage the bigger game players in London to turn up at the same time. There’s a bunch of bigger players – the pool in London is probably 70-100 players – who are prepared to play with 10 or 15 grand in front of them. I take phone numbers and text people to say: “there’s a game tomorrow at this time – why don’t you come?”
‘I used to spend a lot of time hanging around here, waiting to see who might turn up. If you’re playing online that’s not such a bad thing – you can log on and piss around doing something else, make a cup of tea, do your emails, whatever. But if you start doing that here – then there goes your fucking life. You’re just hanging around all day.’
This policy to ‘play less, play bigger ’ certainly seems to have paid dividends for his tournament game. In March he came through a field of 667 players to take the 2008 Irish Poker Open and €801,400. The victory was made ever sweeter by the fact that Channing had bet £500 on himself to win at 100/1. He followed this by being an integral part of the Great British team that triumphed in the PartyPoker Nations Cup. Originally expecting to be commentating on the event rather than playing, until his victory in Ireland secured his team spot, it was Channing who claimed victory after beating Ireland’s Donnacha O’Dea heads-up.
‘That was fun. It wasn’t a lot of money but I was very proud. It’s a team thing, representing your nation,’ says Channing.
Channing’s tournament game seems to have benefited from the growing success of the Harrington on hold’em books. With the rise in popularity of the Harrington books, Channing says he was faced again and again by opponents who, influenced by Harrington, were playing in a way that he had been doing for years. ‘I sat down and thought, I’m now facing more people who play like I play so I have to imagine how I would best play myself and do that.’ This strategy, combined with some long-overdue good fortune, helped Channing to the Irish title. The man known as ‘Bad Beat’ had finally found some luck.
‘There’s definitely been a change in terms of my strategy but the main difference is that I’ve just won some races this year. I was pretty lucky in the Irish Open, in some ways. For example, I moved them in with Ace-Queen suited and a guy called me with Ace-King suited. We were virtually even in chips with 13 big blinds. I hit a Queen to knock him out. I’ve had bad luck as well, but I’m definitely running above average this year.’
The Irish Open is not only the biggest tournament that Channing has won to date, but has also helped raise his profile, especially in Ireland. For a man who turned down the chance to go on Late Night Poker some years ago in order to remain low-key, he is reluctantly welcoming this new-found fame.
‘I find the whole poker celebrity thing quite funny. Suddenly the Irish Open and a few other things that have happened this year and being on TV quite a lot have raised my profile. I went to Ireland to visit some friends and twice I got into a taxi and the taxi driver goes, “Oh my god!” – that’s a bit weird. I was going to the pub to meet a friend and a geezer was talking outside on the phone and he made me speak to his mate because he said he wouldn’t believe that the Irish Open Champion was there.’
I tell him that the way things are going he’ll need to get used to this level of recognition. It’s a thought that doesn’t seem to faze him. ‘I get some people coming up to me in here for autographs! What’s that all about? That is mad. But I guess it’s very glamorous this poker celebrity.’
Channing’s popularity among the poker community can be gauged, as with most things these days, by his number of Facebook friends. ‘I’ve got 800 friends and I think 750 of them are poker-related. I get quite a few messages each week and I try to reply to them all. Most are asking what advice I would give younger players, what books would I recommend, what do I think about CardRunners and so on; and then there are some really wild questions like, “What do you think of my cash game?” How the fuck do I know? I don’t even know you. But I quite like all that – it’s quite novel.
‘This guy sent me a message saying, “I played you for seven hours the other day in a tournament and I’d like to say that I’m very impressed with how you played and was particularly taken with how you never, at any stage, lost concentration. You were watching every single thing that happened on the table. May I be so bold as to ask if you noticed anything in my game that I need to work on or improve?” So I looked at the picture, looked at his name and I couldn’t remember him at all. I sent a reply back saying, “I might have looked like I was concentrating on everything but I was actually daydreaming about foreign beaches and beautiful girls. I remember you being a very polite guy and wish you every success in your poker.”’
Channing’s successful year continued into the WSOP where he racked up the cashes and realised he was on course to beat the record of eight WSOP cashes in one year, held by Hellmuth, Brenes et al. This realisation sparked a desire to break the record and engendered a focus and discipline towards the World Series.
‘I was super-focused. I went to Vegas with a lot of people and they were like, “Oh it’s great, we’ll party every night.” But I don’t think I went out drinking once in the whole six weeks I was there. I went out for dinner but never had a hard night out because I was playing every day – ten hours a day.
‘I did think it would be cool to break the record. I thought that maybe if I could get to ten cashes then that could last for a while.’ The quest for the record was also fuelled by a desire to gain some notoriety and put his name in the poker history books. ‘I’m not old but I’m getting older and I thought that if I don’t win a bracelet, at least I can have some record.’
Seven cashes at the WSOP combined with two at the WSOPE in London took him tantalisingly close. ‘And this fucking Russian, Nikolay Evdakov, has fucked me up by getting 10!’ he says. ‘So I didn’t reach the record, but I felt like I did something good.’
He says he remained ‘super-focused’ throughout both the WSOP and WSOPE, determined not simply to cash but to win the tournaments. It served him well. ‘I didn’t win a bracelet in Vegas or make a final but in those 2,700 runner tournaments I got down to the business end quite a bit and willed myself down there. I had good mental discipline.’
At the WSOPE he reached his first final, finishing fourth in the £1,500 no-limit hold’em event. After such a fantastic year, it was almost an anti-climax and it is an achievement the ambitious Londoner will be looking to surpass next year. I ask him whether he has noticed a change in the reception from the top pros since his Irish Open success. He answers that there are some players who now speak to him who would have ignored him in the past – an attitude that annoys a man who seems at ease talking to anyone. ‘I mean, that’s bullshit. Isn’t that bullshit?
‘I did a poker chat show about four years ago. The other guests one night were Mike Sexton and Howard Lederer. I had also been on a previous episode with Chris Ferguson. A few months later I was in Vegas in a tournament and was sat next to Chris Ferguson and at no stage did he refer to the fact that we’ve met or even seen each other. Now he’s supposed to be super brainy and some sort of genius. He must remember, surely, don’t you think? It was only like two months earlier and I’d already played with him about eight times before. But I’ve got a lot of sympathy for him really because he can’t go anywhere without someone wanting a picture on their phone. I mean, I don’t mind that stuff.’
His frustration is understandable – it can’t be easy to be snubbed by Jesus. ‘But contrast that with Howard Lederer. I went for a piss and he’s standing next to me in the urinal. Now, I never talk to anyone when I’m standing next to them at the urinal – that’s well dodgy. But he turns around and says, “How are you doing? Are you having a good trip so far? I see you did okay in that tournament or whatever…” – that’s normal.’
It’s safe to presume that the down-to-earth Londoner won’t let any success go to his head. At one point during the interview Channing’s phone rings. He doesn’t recognise the number but elects to answer in case it’s important business.
‘Hello? Hello Dave. A grand at 9/2 on Tom Dwan. That’s fine, yeah. Yeah, I’m not massively flush but I can do a bit if you need some yeah. Yeah, no sweat. Okay, see you later.’
He smiles: ‘People that change their number a lot are dodgy. And that person was very dodgy – Devilfish. Very dodgy character.’
I ask him what his relationship is like with the man he beat into second place as UK Player of the Year. He once commented on his blog that when Devilfish was captain of the GB poker team he could win the WSOP main event, the EPT Grand Final, the FA Cup, the Olympic 100-metres gold medal, the Wimbledon men’s singles title and the university boat race without Devilfish considering him for the team.
‘He’s all right. He used to hate me but he’s all right. He speaks to me like before. He still gets cross and grumpy with me.’
Channing adds with tongue in cheek that he had a hand in Devilfish’s ascent to fame and fortune. Before Devilfish hit the jackpot with his win at the WPT at Tunica the two were heads-up in a tournament in the glamorous surroundings of Luton. Devilfish won a coin flip to take the £20,000 prize money. ‘And he took the money over to play Foxwoods, which he probably wouldn’t have played if he hadn’t won in Luton,’ says Channing. ‘He won the WPT and that got him his deal with UltimateBet and that led him to become a millionaire. It all came down to that heads-up but he never acknowledges that.’
POKER’S MANY FACETS
His phone rings once more – another call concerning betting for Premier League Poker. He later reveals that Tom ‘Durrrr ’ Dwan had wanted £100,000 on himself to win his heat – Channing offers £5,000 at 9/2.
In the short time we’ve spent with Channing he has been interrupted several times with calls about bets, young players asking for poker advice, older players bantering with him, and he has also helped organise numbers for a tournament later in the day. Does he not find juggling all these things – the poker blogs, the magazine articles, the staking of other players, the organising of cash games, TV poker analysis and so on exhausting? Does he find it difficult to maintain his focus on playing the game?
‘It’s very distracting. I’m trying to find a way to get all this ancillary stuff that goes with poker and weld it together. There is just so much going on. But I don’t really mind all that extra stuff.’
Perhaps this desire to streamline his poker-related concerns is a factor behind his venture for the new year – Blackbeltpoker.com, an online community with poker discussion, education, a forum and training involving the cream of UK poker talent, including Nic Persaud and Dave Penly.
HOME SWEET HOME
His ambitions for the website has also driven his desire to race up the poker rankings. After taking the UK Player of the Year title he has his sights set on European Player of the Year.
‘Being number one in Europe gives the site a lot of credibility,’ he says. ‘And I’d like to go into it saying I’m number one.’
Channing admits that the rankings mean a lot to him in general and he intends to play in as many tournaments before the year ends in o rder to add European Player of the Year to his résumé.
So, is he looking for more of the same next year? And is he looking forward to defending of his Irish title? ‘It’s going to be so exciting to defend the Irish Open next year. I’d absolutely love to retain it. Also, I’d still absolutely love to get a bracelet – or even to make a final table at the World Series.’
However, despite his successes, his ambition and his burgeoning power and celebrity within UK poker, it is clear that Channing is happiest grinding and stealing pots at his beloved Vic. And, wherever his skill at the green felt takes him he will always be most at home here.
‘I just want a decent cash game here two times a week and know it’s here whenever I want it. That’s a nice feeling. I like to feel when I’m abroad that these two blokes over there are still going to be playing Padooki when I get home and they’re still going to be arguing with each other. I find it comforting.’
HOW WE WORKED OUT NEIL CHANNING’S POINTS
24 MARCH 2008 – €4,200 IRISH OPEN MAIN EVENT, 667 ENTRIES
1st = 672 points
22 SEPTEMBER 2008 – WSOPE £1,500 NO LIMIT HOLD’EM, 410 ENTRIES
4th = 144 points
TOTAL NUMBER OF POINTS
672 + 144 = 816 points
MULTIPLIER FOR TWO FINAL TABLES 1.5
816 x 1.6 = 1224 points
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