The swings of life: Neil Channing on how losing a million helped turn around his life

He’s a UK poker legend and has contributed as much to the poker community as anyone, but things almost went disastrously wrong for Neil Channing

It’s not often that you get a second chance in life. Thankfully for UK poker legend Neil Channing he got just that in 2007. After squandering a million pound fortune, built up through poker and sports betting, Channing was at his lowest ebb ever – deep in debt, and physically on the verge of dying. 

Driven by his relentless work ethic Channing bounced back, building up a bankroll in low-stakes tournaments before hitting the biggest score of his life at the 2008 Irish Open to take him right back to where he started. Here is Neil Channing in his own words explaining how he managed to turn his life and career around…


The worst times started in 2003 and went on into 2005. I was making lots of money from everything – poker, horse racing and I also had a day job working in betting. I was at the races all the time, playing poker as much as I could and working – I never slept. My bankroll got as high as £980,000 and I felt I was untouchable. Then it all started going wrong in the middle of 2003. 

I was betting around £4,800 every day on horses and had a bad run for four months where I lost every day, and was spending more and more money on pitches at the racecourse – me and my partner invested £600k in that venture before it collapsed and we eventually sold them on for just £30k. And just if I didn’t have enough things to gamble on at that time I lost £100k on the stock market! I was watching all my life savings go away. 

My £1 million was no longer there. I’d lost it all and now owed 36 people a lot of money! The only way I thought I could get out of it was to gamble some more. 

Life and death situation

I had a friend who gave me £10k to bet with and told me to be bold and fearless with it. I immediately lost £7k at the races and he just told me to punt the final £3k. I did and twenty months later it had become £380k! I never left my house and didn’t have a break except for the WSOP. I was playing poker three nights a week at the Vic, would order a bottle of wine, get pissed and play every hand. It was my release from my day job – I still broke even but was not playing well. 

The reason I was working so hard was to pay everyone back. I would withdraw £5k every week, give a little to my friend and pay £500 to eight different people I owed. In September 2005 I still owed £120k to various people. I was in a terrible physical state, I was up to 248lbs and living on takeaway food. I was depressed and agoraphobic – then one day I just collapsed in the Vic. I was rushed to hospital with acute pancreatitis and there was a good chance that I would die. 

I eventually got home, but I was ill. I had just £2k to my name, internal burning and if I bumped into somebody it might cause me to haemorrhage so I had to avoid busy places. I’d pop out to the Vic mid-afternoon as it would be quiet and stress free. I sat in the £30 tournament at 2pm and played every day – I was the biggest winner by far and when I got stronger I started hanging around for the cash games. I was getting healthier, winning a lot in the cash games and then I went to the Irish Open in 2008…


Winning the Irish Open was life-changing for Neil Channing

Winning the Irish Open was life-changing for Neil Channing

Winning the Irish Open in 2008 was a life-changing event. I finished off paying all my debts at Christmas 2007 and was now a free man. I paid every penny I owed and that was really important to me. I have a working class work ethic and wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I have cleared it all. 

I was one of the few UK players that always went to Vegas and I knew that I was well known in the UK community. In London I was the king of the cash games, and people thought I never lost. But when I won the Irish Open all of that multiplied by one hundred. More than the money, my ‘poker fame’ was life changing when I won the Irish Open. I remember being very relieved to win the money because money had been on my mind every day for five years. From having a million to losing it all I now had a second chance. I pissed away the first million and by a total freak – and winning a tournament like that with 680 players is a freak – I had most of it back. I played for a large percentage of myself, 82%, so it was pretty good! 

A perfect stake 

What it means was that I could play in the big cash games in the Vic. We had an average sit down of £12,000 now because the games were much bigger. It sounds a bit miserable but I actually ran like sh↔t in those cash games for the next 18 months! I played against Andrew Pantling in a £28,000 pot where I had a set and he hit a gutshot on the river with all the money going in on the turn. Then there was a hand versus Andy Black where I had Aces in a straddled pot – he moved all-in for £17,000 with pocket Jacks and hit a Jack. I still won about £100,000 that year but it felt like it should be a lot more. 

After the Irish Open I didn’t slow down, I kicked on. I started going mental with the staking. Staking James Akenhead was pretty incredible. The year before the November Nine he was the runner-up in a $1,500 WSOP tournament – I’d backed James in a ton of tournaments but couldn’t even remember if I had a piece of him in this one! So I finally asked him and he was like, ‘you f↔cking know it is!’ I went over to watch him play heads-up and I fell asleep! He eventually finished second and the very next day I was playing in a $1,500 event when he came over to me. He then threw $125,000 in chips to me across the table – the other guys on the table looked at us like we were mental! Confidence is a massive thing and I was buzzing after the Irish Open. I felt like I couldn’t be beat. 

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