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22nd April 2012 - Getting my Poker face on...

It’s been a busy busy couple of weeks at the sporting & musical coalface.

I had a unique experience last weekend (not sure whether it’s sport by the way, but that’s another debate) when I was asked by talkSPORT to cover the UKIPT Pokerstars final tournament at the Dusk Till Dawn club in Nottingham.

My poker playing up to this point has been limited to mobile phone apps rather than dimly lit pubs and clubs, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I arrived in Nottingham last Sunday evening. What I walked into was a really exciting event with a good deal more atmosphere than you might expect if all you’re used to is the Poker programmes they show on Sky or elsewhere.

Usually those sorts of shows have the players in a room where only the table is lit and all is silence save for the cards as the dealer does the shuffling etc etc – it’s all rather sterile. Nottingham was different – 1625 competitors had started out on the quest to win the top prize of over £200k (part of a prize pool guaranteed to be over a million, making it the largest poker tournament seen in this country).

By the time I’d pitched up to report on it for talkSPORT, things were heading for a climax – that 1625 had been whittled down over 4 days to 76 players upon my arrival, and by 1am the following morning we had the 8 finalists required to play Monday’s final table for the big kerblingy.

No sterile atmosphere here – the first thing you noticed (and couldn’t escape for almost the entire time) was the noise…the constant clicking & rattling of poker chips as nervous players displayed their idiosyncratic ways and habitual ticks during play – there were about 9 tables in play for the tournament, but coupled with that were standard club players participating in separate tournaments on the myriad of other tables available. It was like an angry rattlesnake convention in there, and whilst the club staff and those who regularly report and work on UKIPT events have learned how to ‘tune out’ from such distractions, it took me a good while longer to achieve the same Zen state as them.

There’s apparently a lot of snobbery about the Texas Hold Em version of the game that has become so so popular in this country and is the basis for almost all hight profile poker tournaments. There are accusations that the skill level required is nowhere near that of, say, 5-card stud poker, which is the one I remember from learning the game years ago, but the drama of the ‘flop’ - where 5 community cards are revealed by the dealer that players combine with their own hand of 2 cards to make the best hand possible – is great theatre, and especially in a setting such as this where fans and friends of the players crowd round the tables to shout their encouragement and support.

As usual with games like this, there’s a shedload of terminology that can go right over your head if you’re not careful; “Under the gun” “On the button” and “the river” for example – but the Pokerstars staff were on hand to patiently guide me through the slang and the vocabulary so that by Monday’s final 8 table I had a pretty good grasp of what was going on hand by hand.

The eventual winner was a great story in itself. Robert Baguley, a retired landlord who’s a regular at Dusk Till Dawn playing just low level tournaments, figured he’d stump up the £700 entry fee and have a go at the UK final, qualified on the Wednesday and ended up scooping the big prize by 7pm the next Monday night. And with his bank account £220k richer…he planned to take his wife to Cornwall, as they’d not been able to afford a holiday for 6 years. For me it was just nice that someone who didn’t wear mirrored shades, a hoodie top or had iPod headphones on actually triumphed! Surely all that stuff has to be gaining unfair psychological advantage? Looks daft in any case…

It was straight from Nottingham back to Solihull to give a talk at the local Referee’s Association, following a kind invite to speak from former Prem ref Vic Callow, who now works at Blues as a player liason officer. The (sizeable) crowd weren’t too hostile, thankfully, and my Mick McCarthy impression was a hit.

Speaking of which, I’m writing this blog having not long returned from Molineux where Wolves were relegated this afternoon by losing 0-2 to Man City. Rarely have I seen a manager as despondent and, frankly, close to tears as Terry Connor was post-match. Put in an invidious position by the owners, he’s been hung out to dry as the club lurch from one poor result to the next. He’s spent the last 13 years ‘doing the best I can’ as he put it in very broken tones in the players’ tunnel.

He shouldn’t have to have been put through this. A more experienced, media-savvy, Prem savvy man should have been in his stead and allow him to get on with his coaching role, which you sense was all he ever really wanted to do. I hope that this brief but chastening spell in the spotlight hasn’t put TC off either staying with the club that clearly means so much, or even staying in the game. He looked that disillusioned. I wish him well – have to say that Wolves fans were brilliant today too. Never once got on their teams’ backs…there was some great gallows humour when the result was beyond doubt: “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Barn-ser-ley, que sera sera…” drifted out from the South Bank with 10 to play and got progressively louder.

Wasn’t Mick McCarthy from Barn-ser-ley anyway?

Of course the recent news about Trevor Francis’ health problems took us all by surprise and, with the news that he is out of hospital following a heart scare, I hope he’s been able to relax and get away from it all to begin his convalescence. Get well soon Superboy.

The old album is coming along nicely – almost all instrumentation is done and it’s now a case of getting special guests in for the odd solo here and there and for the lead vocals to get recorded too. I surprised myself last week about the performances I was putting in on guitar solos. Producer Alex (not Alice) Cooper really pushed me to play some stuff that I didn’t think I technically had in me as a guitarist – sign of a good producer there I feel…

Still no idea at this point when it’ll be finished and ready to unleash on all & sundry – hopefully before the summer if diaries and schedules can sync up.
And that’s usually my fault for not being around! Leicester tomorrow, Villa Tuesday, Manchester Wednesday…but not for football that day!

That’s because I’ll be at Manchester Drum Centre for the Press Launch of Stick It To MS 2012, when in July 800 drummers will attempt to break the world record for simultaneous playing at Event City up there in the north west. I’m honoured to say that I’ve been asked to host the event on behalf of Natal drums and Marshall Amps who are getting behind this project. Might even get to be one of the 800 myself if I’m very lucky :o)

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