While some consider the UK to be the home of bad food and worse weather, one commodity we can pride ourselves on is the quality of the British poker scene. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the month of October and in addition to our nation's fair capital hosting back-to-back international tournaments – the WSOPE and the EPT London – the busy home-grown tournament schedule was also one to keep Britain's poker players happy.
The GUKPT Thanet saw 132 runners battle it out for a £132,000 prizepool. Dusk Till Dawn's 20Twenty Weekend saw two consecutive days of tournament action, pulling in a combined field of 563 players for their two one-day £20k guaranteed deepstack tournaments. Bolton's G-Casino attracted 205 players eager to test their mettle at the APAT English Amateur Championships and the Coral British Masters Poker Tour concluded in Bristol.
This was the busiest and most successful leg of the CBMPT so far attracting 150 players to the Harbourside casino in Bristol, each coughing up the £550 buy-in to create a £76,000 prizepool. Alistair Findlay and the AWOP (A World of Poker) boys were on hand to keep the tours firm fan following up-to-date, streaming the action live onto the internet. The CBMPT has a strong regular following and while larger tournaments like the WSOPE and the EPT may be where the high rollers ply their trade, not everyone's bankroll stretches to £5k and £10k buy-ins. With buy-ins ranging from £110-£550 the CBMPT provides a perfect proving ground for Britain's budding poker professionals. In addition to the Teesiders who seem to follow the tour everywhere, also present competing for the £24,000 first prize and a seat in the 8-man Champions STT for a £10,000 Coral sponsorship were Steve Holden, Reigning Gala Bristol Champ Neil Blatchley, successful female player India Storrar, Black Belt Poker's Toby Lewis, Nick Romanello (brother of Roberto), serial GCBPT final tablist Dave Maudlin and Yucel 'Mad Turk' Eminoglu.
Mark O'Donnell, Gala/Coral's head of poker feels that Coral's foray into the British tournament poker scene has been a success:
"I think that the Coral British Masters Tour has been well received, we didn't start till late in the year, but last year's Gala Tour was really popular and we're the same company but we got behind it with Coral this year because there are so many people who've got Coral accounts and play online with Coral that we felt it was something that would fit with our aspirations as a brand; being associated with the Masters Tour. We kept most of the same ingredients as the Gala Tour and to be fair we have seen a lot of the same players and a lot of new ones as well. The tour has been a successful one and I think that it's something we can grow on."
When the Day 1 dust had settled only 30 players remained in contention. Casualties included Black Belt's Toby Lewis, Dave Maudlin and Steve Holden who's Pocket Aces fell afoul of Neil Blatchley's Jack Ten. Neil, the defending champion powered through the field to return on Day 2 as chip leader with 161,000, closely followed by India Storrar and Chris Brice on 113,800 and 112,800 respectively. While Nick Romanello was unable to recreate brother Roberto's success and reach the final table, he did cash in 15th for £950.
The final table was a good mixture of keen amateurs and rising talent; India Storrar made the cut but was unable to get anything going on the final, busting in 9th for £1,600 after a blind on blind battle against Tom Piccirilli who woke up with Ace King to send her to the rail.
Neil Blatchley's monster stack took a beating on his way to the final and he was unable to recreate his success of last year, busting in 8th for £1,900 after missing his flush draw in a hand against Chris Brice. Ady Eaton playing in only his second live tournament (the first being the live satellite to win his entry into this event) enjoyed a good run eventually busting after running into local boy Richard Lewis' quad Fours to finish 7th for £2,350 payday.
Trevor Pearson was the next casualty and he was unable to recreate Richard's success with Pocket Fours, running his into the Pocket Aces of Chris Brice for a 6th place finish and £3,050. Just a few hands later Chris took his third scalp of the final, his Pocket Fives rivering a set against the Pocket Sixes of Adrian Pound to send the later to the rail to collect 4,200 of his namesakes for 5th place. Richard Lewis enjoyed slightly more success with Pocket Sixes, beating Tom Piccirilli's King Queen in a race to take the final three-way, leaving Tom to collect his £6,250 winnings.
This gave Richard a commanding chip lead, which he promptly used to barter a deal taking £20,000 for his troubles. Chris Brice took £16,500 and a shortstacked John Gardner sitting on 10 Big Blinds took £13,500. However, with the trophy and seat into the £10,000 Championship STT still up for grabs, play continued and in a strange reversal of fortune it was the shortstacked John Gardner who turned it around. Perhaps with the redistribution of prize money some of the pressure abated causing some to take their foot off the gas, or perhaps it was just Lady Luck with her ironic sense of humour. Whatever the reason, after being reduced to just a small blind, in a bizarre twist of fate the Swindon-based businessman eliminated Chris Brice and Richard Lewis in quick succession to take the trophy and STT seat for the £10,000 sponsorship.
"I'm an ex-army man so I get things done,' confirmed John.
'I didn't want to do a deal but gave in at the end and I'm happy. As it happens I took the least out of the three of us but you know, it's not all about the money and I won the trophy and the seat in the single table tournament for the £10,000 Coral sponsorship package.'
The winners of all six CMBPT legs will reconvene at the AWOP HQ in Blackpool later on this year alongside the tour's most consistent cash finisher and highest scoring online qualifier to battle it out for a £10,000 Coral sponsorship. While Coral have yet to announce whether the tour will continue next year, this year's CBMPT has been a resounding success, becoming an integral part of the thriving British poker scene. Let us not forget that while the world's attention may be focused on the upcoming WSOP final table and James Akenhead's shot at the title, without homegrown tours like the GUKPT and the CBMPT the best of British would have nowhere to develop their live tournament skills.