Neil Channing Interview
2008 Irish Open Champion
Full Audio of this Q&A HERE
Q: Can you talk about the ‘Devilfish’ Dave Ulliot? (NOTE: We interviewed Neil shortly before the passing of poker legend Dave Ulliot)
NC: Dave was around long before me. He’s a formidable player. He’s been a rival at the table. When I was an up and coming guy he was very much established guy. I watched the first Late Night Poker in 1999 and, the same as everyone else, I was like, ‘Wow, the Devilfish is completely better than all of these people.’ He understood tournaments. He was a professional while a lot of people on Late Night Poker were amateurs. He just got it more than they did. He was very inspirational actually to a lot of people of my generation, those who got into poker pre-Moneymaker, not the early 90’s but the turn of the century like 1999, 2000, 2001, where the Devilfish was on TV all the time. Rounders had been around for a few years at that stage and there was a lot of people who thought, ‘Hey, I’ll get into poker.’ He’s definitely a character. The Devilfish came to Luten, a provincial town north of London, and they had a series of tournaments just before Christmas, which they called the Luten Christmas Cracker. The Devilfish was kind of a big deal by then, he had been on TV lots by that point. There was
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a $200(pounds) tournament where he showed up to play. I remember people saying, ‘Oh my God what’s he doing in this $200 (pound) tournament? He’s too big for this?’ Earlier in the week there was a situation where he was having a squabble with someone on his telephone. He kept having to miss hands while he was arguing on the phone. It seemed to have something to do with the booking of his hotel. It seemed to be taking a long time. He had to speak to three or four different people. In between that, he was in the big blind, I was in mid position and thought, ‘Well, I’ll just steal his blind while he’s busy.’ So I raised. He decided to three-bet me. I knew the Devilfish was likely to be aware of what I was up to so I four-bet because, even though nobody really four-bet in those days unless they had at least jacks, I just thought I’d get away with that one. So, I four-bet. I think I had six-eight suited. He five-bet shoved on me, obviously I folded, and he showed me deuce-five off suit. We had a good laugh about that. Later on in the week, we both played the final table of a different event. I was the short stack and he had half the chips in play at the start of the final. Somehow I got to be heads-up with him but he had a 7-to-1 chip lead. It was $10,000 to the winner and $5,000 to second. People were saying the Devilfish, at that time, was having a few hard times and really needed to get the win in order to go on to play the WPT, which was at Foxwoods. It was the first season of the WPT. He beat me heads-up and then went to Foxwoods and made the final table of the main event there. I was basically his bankroll to go over there. He managed to win. Phil Hellmuth was commentating on the final. Phil Ivey was in the final. Hellmuth said it was the most impressive performance he had ever seen on a final table by anybody and that was what basically got Devilfish his UltimateBet deal. You see, if I could have just beat him heads-up he would have never been representing UltimateBet. I’m only kidding Dave!
Q: History would have been changed. I was in London for the gaming expo there, covering it for Poker Pro magazine, and of course I had to visit the legendary Crown Victoria casino. Can you tell our listeners about that wonderful place?
NC: It’s changed a lot actually in recent years. The Victoria Casino was the place in London, long before casinos were legal, so there was kind of a grey area about the whole thing. It existed under a different guise, a different premise, than it does today. It merged into another club and moved to the current site in the late 1950’s. Then they legalized casinos in the mid sixties. It was called the Victoria Sporting Club because, if you were a bookmaker in the UK, you joined a trade association called the Victoria Sporting Club. If you were a member of the Victoria Sporting Club it meant you were an honourable bookmaker. So, even though you weren’t licensed or legal, people knew they could deal with you because if you didn’t pay up the Victoria Sporting Club would meet the debts. Bookmakers that were members of the Victoria Sporting Club were kind of seen above all other bookmakers. The headquarters of the Victoria Sporting Club was where the Victoria Casino is now and they just had a little card game among all the bookmakers. It developed into the Victoria Casino. That’s how it originally started. The bookies would all get together at lunchtime, talk business, and have a little card game. I started going there quite late really. I was 20 before I ever went there. It’s legal in the UK to go to a casino at 18 but I was too nervous to go there actually. I knew it was the HQ of poker. I was playing poker in a few other casinos but that place? It was like, ’No,' it seemed like the players are too good, the place is too big and the gamers were too massive. They used to have a game there, 27years ago, it was $1,000 lowball. You needed one-thousand pounds to sit down. So $1,500 Euros just to sit down in the game. Everybody would ante and it was London Lowball, a low game, a big bluffing game, and there were a couple of guys who were really good at it. Some of the otter guys thought it was too big, that there was too much gamble in it, so they introduced Omaha to the game. It became PLO and Lowball. When I first started going to the casino that game was running from Thursday to Sunday. Donacha O’Dea was the big player in the game, he’d be in it every single time. I would go in, ask what games they had running, and they'd say 'Lowball,' where the average stack was $25-grand, or you could play a one-pound running ante 7-Card Stud. It was $100 pound minimum to sit down. The average age was 73 and they’ve all played with each other at least 15 years. There was also a 50p/1pound blind game where it was a round of each, pot-limit Hold’em and pot-limit Omaha, and you had to deal yourself. They didn’t even give you a dealer. There was definitely a bit of cheating going on. The waiting list was like a week. You’d put your name down and wait five hours to get a seat. They never started a second game. I never understood that.
Q: You’ve had great success at the World Series of Poker with 33 cashes. Its quickly approaching. How do you gear up for poker’s big showcase event?
NC: It’s funny because the first time I ever went to the world series was 1997. I had been going to Vegas for about four or five years, off and on, and those first few trips, seems funny to think about it now, I was so intimidated I didn't even play poker the first few times. I just went to watch and take it in. I figured the rules were all completely different from England, the etiquette, playing behind, what do you do when you want chips, and there was stuff about the number of raises you could make in limit poker. I found it to be a casino-to-casino thing and I didn’t like to ask any questions. So, the first time I wen t to the world series, from 1997 to 2001, I would just go and sit in a cash game. The WSOP would run for five weeks in those days, in May, and I would go for three weeks and play in the cash games. I would play 14 hours a day in a cash game. I would usually have a crack at trying to get into the main event. 2001 was the first year I tried that. I got off the plane, jumped into a super satellite for $200 and I won a seat. It was rebuy event. I thought, ‘This is easy.’ For a few years, that’s what I would do, win my seat in a satellite every year. The first time I played in the main event I thought I had a good chance to win it. It was the year Robert Varkonyi won. If ever I have a regret in poker I would like to get that day back. I had so many big hands, that were marginal, and I should have gambled. I was just so nervous. I just felt if someone was a famous player I had seen on TV, and they three-bet or four-bet me, they must have it. In those days there were literally three poker books. There were no training videos. We hadn’t seen poker on TV with hole card cameras. I am still relatively new to poker. People think that I’m old school. I didn't really start playing poker for a living until 2005. I’ve been a gambler for a living the whole time but poker was always incidental. It became something that got bigger and bigger, with more and more events, and for me personally it also got bigger and bigger. One year, I went for two weeks. The next, I went for three weeks, then four weeks, and then from 2003 to 2013 I just went for the whole thing every time. From the first card being dealt, in the Dealer’s Event to now the November Nine, I was there for the whole thing. Last year, I didn’t go at all. There were a few rings from the year before I didn’t enjoy about it, the World Cup was on, and I just didn’t go. This year I kind of feel the same. I may play the main event. Many times, by the time the main event rolls around, I’ve been burnt out. I don’t know. It’s such a good tournament and it’s a lot of money, $10,000, to put up for one event, no matter how much money you have, and I’ve decided to go out there nice and fresh and maybe play one or two other events.
Yes, they do come in!
Did you know?
Neil Channing is an Ambassador for Sky Poker.
Q: The reason I bring it up is because the WSOP bracelet has so far eluded you. You’ve come close, finishing 2nd twice. Can you tell us about those two final tables, each experience, and does it still bother you that you were that close?
NC: Oh it definitely bothers me. I’m the same as Padraig. Every time I think about it it bothers me. It was definitely a tale of two final tables. The first one was a very tough tournament, a 5k shoot-out. If you look at the people who win the tables, in those shoot-outs, they’re all good players. It’s very tough to fluke your way through one of those. We got to the final and it was tough final. There really wasn’t a big dominate stack at the start of the final, a 6-handed final, and I guess I was 5th heading in. I was 5th but only 5 big blinds behind second, so it was close. I tried a few things early on, I three-bet a guy and he four-bet me or somebody called my four-bet and I didn’t really have a hand. Suddenly, I was a real short stack. I had to get back into it somehow. They weren’t respecting my raises and I felt like I needed to change things up. It’s hard because the natural reaction in that situation is to play tight for a while but I couldn’t afford to. I ordered some sushi and I started fiddling with the sushi. I was squeezing the wasabi, mixing up the soy sauce and making a little well to dip it in. Then I got my chop sticks out and I made a real big fuss about it. Then, I three-bet shoved on a guy and immediately went back to eating while he was making his decision. He folded. And, he actually folded a really good hand cause he showed it. I carried on eating now and I raked in my chips like I was not too bothered at all. About 12 minutes later, I began fiddling with the sushi again. Somebody raised and I three-bet shoved again. He folded. Stuart Rotter, who finished third, said to me later, ‘The reason I folded to you that one time is because you were fiddling so much with the sushi. You obviously must have had a really big hand?’ I told him I had J8 suited and I felt if I did the whole wasabi thing you might think that. It was a ploy. ‘Oh no, it was a ploy? A part of me thought that. You did it so well,’ he said. He was gutted. I was really pleased with myself about that and I think it kept me hanging in there. It was a strange final because after the first knockout I was suddenly in 5th with only 18 big blinds. For some reason, everybody else just went to war. There was a 6-bet shove, a call, and when the hands were turned over it was pocket 10’s against AJ. Six-bet shove and a call? Then, two other people got into a raising war and suddenly I’m heads-up as a 12-to-1 underdog. The difference between finishing 5th and 2nd was $175,000. All I did was fold three hands.
Q: That’s when second place feels real good?
NC: It was a brilliant second place. We played heads-up for three hands and he had a dominating ace and that was it. He won and I was like, ‘Wow, I was supposed to come 5th, or 4th if I’m lucky, and I’ve come 2nd.’ Was I disappointed? No. A) It’s a really tough tournament and B) These guys gave me an extra $175k. The other one, the other final table, is so painful. I had great chips, like double average the whole final, and I had half the chips in play 4-handed. We got heads-up and I had a four-to-one chip lead. Built it up to an 8-to-1 chip lead. I lost seven consecutive all-in showdowns. I’m not complaining, it wasn’t like I was ahead in all of them, but seven on the spin is painful. I lost a flip to get back in it at the end, he nailed it on the river as well, and we played heads-up for about six hours. Three times I was a 5-to-1 or bigger favourite in chips. That was pretty tough. It was a tough final. There were seven pros at the final table. Those $1,500 events, you know, people have got used to the structure now. A lot of people complain about it but I like it. Now, you’re getting five times starting stack and I think those events are getting tougher and tougher for recreational players.
Neil Channing Thank-you!
High Roller Radio has interviewed some of the greatest gamblers, casino insiders, sports bettors, authors and poker players in the world. Here is our Q&A with UK poker great Neil Channing, winner of the Irish Open and twice a 2nd place finisher at the World Series of Poker. Channing represents Sky Sports & Sky Poker in the United Kingom.
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Q: You talk about the 2002 WSOP main event being a big regret in your life. We had Irishman Padraig Parkinson on the show. He was 3rd at the 1999 main event and I asked him if he ever thinks about how close he was to becoming world champion. He said to me, ‘Only everyday of my life.’ At the time though, he was more concerned about the prize money.
NC: I had a beta-max video of Padraig playing in that. I watched that 200 times and, every single time, he looks like he should have won. He looked like he was the best player. I love Noel Furlong and I think he was really underestimated.