When it comes to betting on poker and predicting WSOP winners, Jesse May trusts only one man: poker legend and former bookie Neil Channing
Everybody knows Neil Channing is a very good poker player. If you judge by his results he might be a great poker player, and if you judge by his knowledge of the game he might be a superstar. But I am absolutely certain of one thing, which is that when it comes to judging poker talent Neil Channing is in a class all by himself. Neil is a former bookmaker and sports bettor, and is a master at applying this knowledge to judging poker players and their odds. Channing has become such an authority on poker betting that many of the top European sportsbooks won’t put up prices on poker without consulting him first. For years Neil survived as a grinder, always under pressure, with nothing to fall back on but his wits, trying to keep the rent paid and the grey skies away by pushing every edge he could find. Channing doesn’t have to worry about the rent any more. Not this year, anyway.
Though he hit headlines for winning the 2008 Irish Open, what people remember is that Channing also backed himself at 100/1 on the morning of Day 2. And although he cashed seven times on his own at the 2008 WSOP, his big money came from the pieces Neil had of Marty Smyth’s bracelet haul and James Akenhead’s second-place finish. At this year’s WSOP Neil did even better. With Black Belt Poker, his new website devoted to the training and staking of aspiring poker champions, Channing’s eight-player team produced more than enough cashes to be deemed a success. What’s more, he’s also got a piece of Akenhead in the WSOP Main Event, who – as one of the November Nine – is going to cash in the millions.
The late Irish bookmaker Terry Rogers is reputed to have been the first person to properly make a book on the WSOP. The Gentleman Liam Flood has often told me of the time, I think it was in 1982, when he was Terry’s clerk in Las Vegas, and Rogers held more on the book than was in the prize pool of the Main Event itself.
Liam played no small part in the advent of my own betting education. I remember trying to run a book on the first few Late Night Poker tournaments for the players and friends, and so comprehensively losing my shirt that the players all agreed to make me the official on-course bookmaker for the event. This was a backhanded compliment if there ever was one, especially when you consider that among my clients were some of the shrewdest gamblers in Britain. I’ll never forget the pity Liam took on me, a struggling-towards-going-broke gambler, as I sat in the green room during Late Night Poker II, taking bets in-running while desperately trying to balance my book. ‘Jesse,’ he commanded, ‘Give me the book!’ I passed him my notebook like a helpless child and Liam took a look through it and grimaced. Then someone asked me for a price. ‘I’ll be giving you the prices,’ barked Liam, and he started shouting out new odds, his pen scribbling. Within an hour, Liam had turned my nightmare into a balanced book and an education of sorts had begun.
GAMBLING ON GAMBLING
So when Neil Channing spoke with utter conviction during a phone conversation we had prior to Day 5 of the WSOP Main Event this year, I didn’t hesitate. There were 200 runners left in the Main Event and Phil Ivey had an average stack. A straight chip count would have made him about 20/1 to make the final nine, and one firm giving in-running prices had Phil Ivey to make the final at 5/1.
‘I’m glad you asked me about this,’ said Neil. ‘Nobody realises just how good Phil Ivey is. In my mind he’s about 6/4 to make the final right now, no worse. Phil Ivey when he’s trying is at least 20 times better than the field, Channing said, and he wasn’t just mouthing off. He backed Ivey at all kinds of prices to make the final table and make it Ivey did. The reason I bring all this up is because it’s now just weeks away from the WSOP final table, and plenty of firms have already opened up prices on the winner. Ivey is a bit short-stacked going in – by a chip count his price should be about 19/1. However, his current odds to become the new WSOP champion in November are about 6/1. So what I’d like to know is, what price is he really?
I don’t know. I haven’t asked Neil yet.
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