The World Series of Poker is getting under way in Las Vegas. The best players in the world along with thousands of wannabees to play for astronomical sums of money and a chance for a shot at fame and glory.
But I'm not there. I'm in Walsall, deep in the heart of the Black Country, playing a £100 freezeout. And to be fair, there's a pretty big turnout for a Bank Holiday Monday - 165 runners makes it a tournament worth winning for sure.
I'm here with my friend Joe, somewhat of a veteran of these casino crapshoot tournaments, having spent his time in the trenches in Coventry, Birmingham and *gulp* Dudley.
Sadly for Joe, he busts within the first half hour and after doing half my stack to the aforementioned known pro when I flop two pair with 4-5 suited and reluctantly pay off his flush on the river, I fear that I will shortly be going the same way. It's worth noting that the woman next to me makes me show my hand here instead of letting me quietly muck it and weep into my shortstack. "For information" she tells me. I inform her that she wasn't even in the hand at the river but rules state that I still need to show the whole table my hand.
Like all Grosvenor tournaments, it's not very well run and has certain unfathomable rules. Also of course there is a lots of breaks to let people
Thankfully I manage to build up my stack again, winning a big pot with 4-5 suited again, establishing something of a strange image to my tablemates. In one of the breaks I get chatting to a young guy at my table. He satellited into the tournament for £5, so this is quite a big deal to him. I make further small talk and wish him good luck as we go back to the table, making a mental note to apply maximum pressure whenever I am in a hand with him as he seems scared of busting out.
After the break we have a new dealer. She's female and Eastern European and despite the fact that she's miles better than the previous male dealer, the sexist comments from the known pro and his mate across the table begin. It's nauseating and I really wish I'd have said something about it.
They also talk about various other British sponsored pros and how most of 'em are busto.
Poker is a funny thing in that nobody really knows how other players are doing, if they are up or down, if they are broke, or doing well. No records are kept of cash games and certainly no records are kept of losses on sportsbetting or in the casino pit. There's a lot of jealousy and resentment that some guy can get the holy grail of being sponsored when they are a bad player and just got lucky in one tournament. Friends are slagged off behind their back and really, everyone is on their own and wants to win everyone elses money.
Soon afterwards a run of play begins which leads to three people at my table hating my guts.
First I slowplay three aces and get an aggressive young internet kid to bluff off most of his stack with ten high. He accuses me of slowrolling him and is disgusted when I make him table his failed bluff. I didn't slowroll but I did make him show the bluff. "For information" I tell him with a wink to the lady next to me.
Next I call the floor on the moustached guy to my right. He's doing what has become one of my pet hates in poker, folding out of turn. When the guy who looks like Harold Bishop from Neighbours announces raise, he folds straight away before Harold has stated his raise amount, giving him extra information as he now knows he has one less player to go through to steal the blinds. I ask him not to do this, but when he does it the third time, I call the floorman who looks about 12 years old. My conversation with the floor is long and protracted as the floor doesn't seem believe that Mr Moustache is doing anything wrong. After slowly explaining the situation as one might do to someone who is hard of hearing, floorkid finally understands what I'm saying and issues the most cursory of warnings to my facial haired friend, who of course is now furious with me.
Of course, this being a crapshoot tournament, the blinds grow at a fast rate and I find myself with 17 big blinds. It folds around the the satellite winning kid on the button who opens for three times the big blind. Mr Moustache folds and before I look at my hand I tell myself I'm going to go all in really light here. The kid has about 20 big blinds in his stack, so if he loses this hand he will be crippled. Added to the fact that he satellited in to the tournament and seems quite shy and tight means that when I look down at A-4 offsuit, this is an insta-shove.
The kid goes into the tank for several minutes, his face is a picture of pain and concentration. He wants to fold so bad but he can't bring himself to do it and after about four minutes he sighs and makes the call, turning over pocket jacks. I'm let to believe that this is called a 'nit roll'.
The kid is not happy when he sees my hand and then beams proudly at his great call, adding a few comments about how bad I play. "Careful" I tell him, knowing that he is only a 70/30 favourite.
When the ace hits on the river and he is forced to count out the chips to pass over to me, he looks as if he is going to burst into tears. He is CRUSHED. But after he gave me the needle about my 'donkey play', I don't feel bad at all.
The critique of my play continues as he nurses his shortstack for the next twenty minutes before he busts, convincing me even more that my decision to shove on him was totally correct and that he *wanted* to fold, sadly his hand was a notch or two too good to do so.
As the blinds grow, I ramp up the aggression, much to the annoyance of some of my table mates. My stack goes up and down as I am pot committed to call all ins with a couple of what might be called 'speculative hands'.
Finally as we are approaching the bubble I get involved in a huge hand with Harold Bishop and another guy and the three of us get it all in pre-flop. I have AQ, Harold has jacks (which he tanked for about five minutes before calling) and the other guy has KQ. If I win this hand I will probably be top five in chips in the tournament approaching the bubble and will have the chance to dominate my table, but sadly I don't hit my hand and I'm out.
At least I get knocked out in time to catch the last bus home.
As stroll through Walsall and make my way down 'the strip', I again marvel at the fact that the old people's care centre is located next to the co-op funeral home. It's practical, but can't exactly be inspiring for the residents!
Waiting at the bus stop, I eavesdrop on a young kid having a conversation on his mobile.
"I'm crazy for cottage cheese. The one with pineapple, innit. Got two tubs for £1, and it's healthy too innit.
As I wait for the last bus of the night I ask myself - Would I rather be sipping cocktails in the Bellagio right now?
Well yeah, I would actually...