In this interview we talk to Neil about his win at this year's Irish Open, his English record setting seven cashes at the 2008 World Series of Poker and spends a bit of time talking about why the "Greekfish" is only the second worst commentator in poker.
Could you tell us a bit about your Irish Open run? Were there any key decisions which you felt turned the tide of the tournament?
This is the third time I've been to the Irish Open and the two previous times, I was disappointed to get knocked out early. The first time I probably didn't appreciate what a big tournament it was - how much money it was, how many people there were and how prestigious it was. The second time I found myself looking around and didn't recognise anybody. If you're at an EPT the standard is quite high and it's always going to be a struggle, but my second Irish Open, the table I was on was really tough and they were all people that I knew and I wasn't going to be able to get away with very much.
I ended up playing a huge 50-50 where I flopped a straight flush draw and I stuck it all in against a guy who had an over pair, he was also someone that knew me very well and we couldn't really avoid putting all the money in and so I got knocked out quite early on. This year I went there really determined to last a bit longer and try really hard to do well. I'd been on a run of doing well in tournaments and I really thought I would do well in this one.
At my first table, I really didn't do too well. I dribbled away chips trying to flop a set - I kept calling with pairs and missing and there was a guy who seemed to be making notes after every hand, and it was a bit annoying. He made a few comments that were just a little bit annoying, and I remember thinking "God, this day's going to be so long, this fella's clueless and he still managed to beat me in a couple of pots. I'd gone down to seven grand from ten without really doing anything" and I just thought "Oh God, it's going to be one of those days."
Then, I hit a bit of form. I went for a walk around the room for five minutes to clear my head and when I came back I couldn't miss a thing. I made a few little moves that got through and I hit a couple of hands and the next thing I'd gone up to 27000. I thought "this is good, I've got a proper stack..." and I got moved to another table and I thought "oh, this is alright, I'm going to be able to dominate." Then I had two bad beats within the first five minutes and I was back to 7000 again and I just thought "oh, this is just not going to be my day at all, I'm in a mess."
I played well the rest of the day and I got back up to 34k and that was how I ended the day. I think there were 240 odd players left out of the 670 and I felt quite good, that was when Paddy Power updated the prices on the field betting and I had a £500 bet on myself at 100-1. I was 200-1 at the start of the tournament, more than half of the people had been knocked out and I had one and half times the average, it just can't be the right price. I mean, unless the 200-1 was completely wrong, which I don't think it was, the 100-1 was definitely wrong. I thought I should have been about 40-1.
I came back the next day and started to play well. I was very confident. There was a guy on the table who'd been in London for quite a while, a Norwegian guy, he was the chip leader at the table, but despite him being there and having a massive stack I was really dominating the table from probably only being about fourth in chips. I knocked out a guy and everything was going really well. And then...
The other night in the Vic, I played with this kid, Javed Abrahams who I know quite well. He just finished 8th in the WPT event in Bellagio. He was just playing a cash game with me in the Vic two nights ago, and it suddenly reminded me that Javed, (who was also someone I backed in the tournament – I didn't back him in terms of sponsoring him or putting money into him, I backed him in the betting, he was 125-1 after day one and I thought he was quite a good bet as well, so I had £100 on him) had quite a lot of chips. I found myself on his table on day 2. He actually played quite conservatively and nothing much happened right for him and then suddenly he raised my blind. He hadn't raised my blind very much, and he raised me from early position. It wasn't much for me to call his raise and I looked down at king queen off suit so I thought "I'll just call and see what he does."
It came Q10 and a small card, the Queen Ten of clubs, and I thought "well, I won't lead into him now, because if he raises I'm going to have to throw it away" and he could easily raise me on a bluff in that situation. I'd much rather check and call, or check raise him, I'll just decide depending on how much he bets. So I check, and he makes a small bet so I decide to check raise him. Then he thinks for a while and then re-raises, and he re-raises not quite all-in, he leaves himself a little bit of chips left, which I thought was quite suspicious. I'm also thinking, you know, "he's raised pre-flop, its come Q-10 of clubs, a lot of the time he's going have AK of clubs, he's going to have AQ, he's going to have three 10s, two kings or two aces." He's not really going to play this hand this way if he's got two jacks, he's not going bet into me and me check raise him and him come over the top of me for all his chips, that would be a ridiculously fearless way to play two jacks or even two 8s or two 9s.
So if you think of the range of hands and think of the kind of hand he's going to raise from early position when he's been playing quite conservatively, there's not really much I'm in good shape against. So I think I have to throw my hand away. Anyway, I throw my hand away and he wouldn't show me what he had, and I was left with 20,000 and the average was 80,000 and it meant that the rest of the day was just a struggle. He completely screwed up my day! Anyway, he tells me much later he had Ace King of clubs and I believe him. I just remembered the hand the other day...it was a really key pot. I just remember thinking I had loads of chips, and this one mistake and I'm sure to be eliminated by the end of the day.
I had a bit of luck in the tournament, during that day I moved in with King Three, I think it was the first hand after the dinner break and a guy called me from the big blind with sixes and I hit a king on the flop. I then got moved to Liam Flood's table, which was good. I saw Liam today as well, and we were talking about that, the Irish Open comes up quite often. He was the tournament director of the tournament – I'm in the big blind and he moved in from the small blind, the blinds were 1000-2000, he moved in for twenty four thousand. I looked and I've got Ace Jack, and I called and I think he had Seven-Eight. He flopped up and down, so he's actually favourite on the flop. I managed to survive and win with ace high, which finally got me back to average. Later on I was low on chips again and I pushed all in with Ace Queen of spades, a guy called me with Ace King of hearts, and the first card was a queen. He was left with one ante chip – 1000 was the ante at the time. Four hands later he got it up to 70,000 and he made the money. He just kept moving all in; he moved all in for the ante, managed to win that and won the next three hands. It was a pretty good tournament...I was down to 42k when the blinds were 5k-10k with about 35 people left...
So how did you go from four big blinds with 35 left to winning the tournament?
I remember I had to move, we were on the TV table and we were playing seven handed and I think I've got to move in on one of the three hands and on the second of the three I found Queen Nine and I thought "that'll do" - two high cards, that'll do me. I moved in, everybody passed. I thought, "Well, that's good!"
Bit of a result?
Yeah. The next hand I moved in again, I had Ace Eight of diamonds and now I'm pushing in for around 70k because you pick up quite a lot for just going all in. Surinder had about 120k - he's on the button, he's got two people behind him, if he calls he's effectively calling all in. If he loses the showdown he's only got 2 or 3 big blinds left, and he likes to be first in, he doesn't want to race for his chips and he wants two chances to win, he's not keen to race. He passed Ace Jack after a long think, so that was good for me.
Then a guy gave me a walk in the big blind, and they broke that table and I got moved. Then I found ace king and a guy had raised and I moved all in and he passed. I got to 100k and sort of hovered around there. Everyone passed around to me on the button and I stuck it in with 10-8 off suit and a guy in the big blind called me with king seven for all his chips and I flopped an 8 and knocked him out. I was motoring after that.
I found a pair of Tens and a guy moved in with Nines and I called him for all my chips again and that doubled me up and after that I just kicked on. Now I had average, I kept re-raising people, there were a couple of people who were just obviously stealing and I just moved in whenever they raised, nobody ever called me.
Then, with two tables to go, I decided to slow play two hands. I had a pair of Queens, a guy raised, I just flat called and it came Queen high. I let him bluff off a lot of chips on me before I decided to finish it. The very next hand, the same guy raised again and I thought he might be steaming. I had a pair of Tens, so I just called again and took a chance. Again I got a bit lucky – he kind of half hit the flop and bet again. I gave him a chance to do some more chips on the turn, but he gave up – I moved in and he passed, and that left me with 1.7 million out of 6.7 million in play with 15 people left and I just ran over them after that.
When we were down to ten handed, we were playing down to six for the final there were five people who all had roughly the same chips. Of course there's a lot more money for being in the final, and a lot more prestige and nobody wanted to take me on. I raised eight consecutive hands at one point and I think the best hand I had in that spell was Jack Eight but nobody was calling, they were hardly looking at their cards. They were all desperate not to get knocked out.
I wanted that bit of the tournament to last forever. I thought, "Tomorrow, when people have slept and woken up and assessed the situation and thought about it, they're going be braver. I just thought "I'll do it now, I'll get a big chip lead now, and tomorrow when it's harder I'll have done my work already hopefully." It was good!
And then it was a super quick final table – about three hours?
Yeah, I knocked out four of the five people – I got a bit lucky – I had one big hand where I made a straight against a guy who tried to check raise me with top pair on the flop. On the turn I made a straight and I talked him into doing all his chips – that was quite good. I got lucky against two people, I raised and pot committed myself and both times I was behind and both times I hit, but that doesn't tell the story of all the times I nicked the blinds. I mean, I didn't really have big hands in the final, I just raised all the time, raised the small stacks, and they just waited for a hand to put it in with. I was pretty aggressive. It worked out quite well really...
Neil Channing is sponsored by Poker Verdict