Big Hearts in Manchester

I’ve got a lot of love for the poker scene in Manchester, and after another great week up there, it’s only grown stronger.

Of course the Grosvenor Casino on Bury New Road is the host location for the Kav Cup, the charity tournament held in the name of my old mate Derek Kavanagh, who four years down the line is still bravely refusing to give in to his terminal cancer diagnosis that included an expectation of just a few months to live.

Hundreds of people turn out for the Kav Cup every January, to play some cards with and raise a glass to Kav as he battles on without ever once moaning and asking the question his lovely wife, his daughter and all us lot keep repeating – why him?

More than that, it shows what a joy the poker community can be. One little fella with a beaming smile on his face who plays regularly in the Grosvenor has made so many mates in this game of ours that would do anything for him, just as he’d do anything for them.

Poker can get some bad press at times – it is after all a game where the idea is to send everyone else skint! – but if you want to see the positivity of poker, the community spirit, the camaraderie (and no that wasn’t the Italian kid Trigger) then Manchester Bury New Road is the place.

And it’s that community that’s to thank for a fabulous week of poker, with a huge Main Event won by Andy Hills sporting the Grosvenor Poker badge he won the right to wear with the grosvenorpoker.com Passport promotion that ran over Christmas.

Andy won entry into all 2017 GUKPT Main Events, plus hotel and expenses, by topping that leaderboard with the best combination of online and live results to beat off the competition.

The prize was worth £10,000, and already Andy is putting his year of freerolling to fruitions, taking the lion’s’ share in a four-way chop before going on to lift the trophy and join the GUKPT winners’ club after a brief heads-up battle with Tuan Le.

A total of 263 players played Manchester’s Main Event. When you consider that four years ago, when there was a three-way chop between Sunny Chattha, Baz Hussain and a certain Mr J Kimber, Manchester missed its £200k Guarantee by £18k, it looked like poker, or at least £1,000 buy-in Main Events, would not be on the menu in Manchester for much longer.

But credit Lee Harrison and his team at Bury New Road. They put on more satellites than you could shake a stick at, and build it and they will come. More than 100 people won their seats in live satellites. Add in the 30+ sent by grosvenorpoker.com, winners in the twice weekly (Sunday and Tuesday) two (now 3!) seats Guaranteed £100 online sats and, as Bon Jovi might put it, you’re halfway there.

Making up the rest of the field from there isn’t living on a prayer though, as those that can afford to buy in like nothing better than playing a field of amateurs/recreational players who have got in via sats and might be able to be pressurised as the thought of even a min cash can represent a lovely spin up.

Of course the satellite players all get to play the biggest poker comp coming to their local cardroom all year on the cheap, have the chance to win big, and get to test themselves and hopefully beat the professionals at their own game.

For my part, the Main Event was a non event, which was doubly frustrating…as I played day 1a AND day 1b!

The field was tough on Thursday, with a mixture of good pros and decent local players, a combination which meant there wasn’t many chips being giving away. Any table that includes Steve Warburton, Ben Winsor and Dean Hutchison (who had taken down the Six Max Side Event the night before), was never going to be easy.

Still, once the table broke I still had around starting stack of 20k going into the last two level’s, and when the final level of 400/800 began the plan was just to make it through with around 20bb and not try and force things.

However, an interesting spot presented itself and I went for it. A young guy min raised to 1600 in mid position and I found pocket sevens on the button. I can 3bet here to get heads-up and take control, but I knew both blinds, both local cash players who like to see a lot of flops and decided they’d 90% just call too and I’d be getting a lovely price four-ways to try and flop a set, and might be able to use position to win the pot even if I didn’t.

The small blind came along as expected, but the big blind now started cutting out chips. If I didn’t know him I could put this down to squeezing, but he’s not the type. The original raiser passed, but when it got to me the raise size (from the open to 1600 to a 3bet of 9600) just screamed AK at me. I can pass and maintain my 20k stack here, or put my money in and flip for a 50k stack, given the dead money but also my lack of fold equity given his raise.

I decided getting 3/2 on my money with the best hand can’t be bad, stuck it in, got shown AK, saw an ace in the window and got shown the door!

Luckily I’ve won a couple of online seats so used one to re-enter Friday, now doubly determined to get a stack going!

Again it was a long day, especially having played 8.5 of the 9 one-hour levels on Thursday. Progress was slow on some more tough tables, and by the time the last level started (again) I was plugging away with 20k (again).

I’d been a little short of cards, and when I found pocket queens in the small blind against a lively player I’d encountered in the £300 Side Event, coupled with the fact the big blind was short and looking for a spot to get his chips in, I decided to just call.

The big blind unfortunately passed, but I’d seen this guy fire barrels and show bluffs, bet big to try and scare people off pots and generally be a bit spewy, so I hoped even without the chance to spring the trap preflop, I’d still get him.

The flop was 732 rainbow, hopefully perfect for him to keep firing, but when I checked he checked behind. I hoped the jack on the turn would hit him but again the action went check/check. A king on the river wasn’t ideal, and when I checked to him this time he fired 3k. I can’t pass given how under repped I am, never mind that I’d seen him do this with any two before, but when I called I was shown AK, a spot I really should have gone broke in with the maximum pain of the king on the river.

I decided having 15k wasn’t so bad given I could have and probably should have done my money.

I played snug until 20 minutes before the end of day 1 I got a nasty cooler to send me spinning again. Four players limped and I checked K5 offsuit in the big blind, a hand I’m obviously passing to any raise.

The flop was a lovely looking K52 rainbow and we all checked to the player in position, who fired 2k, about half the pot.

He could well just be looking to pick up the pot, but I felt that unlikely given the number of players, and instead thought he must have something, probably a king.

I’m not sure now raising was the best move, but at the time I decided to try and rep some kind of 34 draw or air, and made it 4700.

He asked to see my chips, thought for a while and called, excellent! The turn was a four and while it brought in some gutshots, I knew this guy would have played A3 type hands that way. We got it all in and my top two wasn’t good enough against a flopped set of deuces. Cold!

I felt I’d played okay and didn’t feel ready to give up just yet, so on Saturday night I decided to enter the Win the Button Side Event and really enjoyed it….and not just because I won it!

This format of game, where the winner of the hand gets to be the button next hand, throws up some really strange and interesting situations, be it the guy to your right limping every hand, therefore giving you a chance to be in the blinds every hand, to the guy two to your right being your worst enemy who must be attacked as if he wins a hand you’re the big blind.

Short-handed it gets even more fun, with quandaries like if three-handed the button passes and I’m in the small blind with 7-2off, if I give him a walk I’ll be the big blind next, so I may as well use those chips to raise here and try and win the button.

Heads-up of course is brutal, as the button has such an advantage and can win waves of hands in a row, turning it into a game of badminton or something, one of those games where you can only score on your own serve!

I was having a nightmare to start with, with the guy to my right getting lucky on me three times, costing me chips and also meaning I had to pay a blind as another penalty, but I soon got going and with eight left I had 60% of the chips in play.

The guys to my left were hating life as I won pot after pot and made them pay blind after blind, and eventually after a bit of up and down, I took down the trophy.

Given that my fellow pro Joe Beavers also won a Side Event, the 4/5/6 PLO, it was a pretty good week for those of us lucky enough to wear the Grosvenor Poker badge.

Team Grosvenor is descending on the APAT team event in Blackpool, hopefully they will hold up their end of the bargain and smash up the biggest team event of the year on UK soil.

But even given all that, the highlight for me was seeing my mate Kav turn up to play. Now wheelchair bound after the cancer found its way into his spinal column, and in need of a bit of help from his mates (especially Jamie Clossick, happily getting up to ferry the old boy round even though it cost him a blind or two), Kav was there, having won a seat in the online sat, battling away trying to make it to day two.

Alas his tournament came to an end on the very last hand of day one. It wasn’t to be, but hopefully this little fighter with the positive attitude and smile on his face will be there for Kav Cup IV in January and the 2018 GUKPT Manchester. I’m already looking forward to both.