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A Year To Remember

With the Grand Final over and the GCOOP online festival that followed it, it’s time to reflect on another great year for the GUKPT and Grosvenor Poker.

10 years ago Jonathan Raab had the idea of turning Grosvenor’s festivals into some kind of tour, and the GUKPT was born. Though Jon has long moved onto pastures new (and is much missed), his baby has grown up, gone from strength to strength, and is coming off a record breaking 2017 that saw EVERY leg increase Main Event runners by at least 10%.

In a mature sector like poker, putting a minimum of 10% on all 11 legs of your flagship tour is no mean feat, and with investment in GrosvenorPoker.com increasing when others are tightening their belts, it’s the place to be.
The place to be at the end of November was the Poker Room at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino – the Vic – for Grand Final week.

A quick start to the opening event, the Mini Main, saw me take a top 10 stack to day two, but with chip leader Arron Woodcock sat one to my right when we resumed, there was always the prospect of a massive cooler, and so it proved.

I’d started day two pretty aggressively, though mainly through being dealt good hands, and was up to 160k playing 1/2, probably a top five stack but still dwarfed by Arron’s pyramid.

I’d been card dead all comp….in fact I couldn’t remember having many hands at all throughout the Blackpool festival and the poker I’d played in between….so looking down at two aces on the button when the chip leader had raised the cut off felt like an ideal scenario.

He raised to 5k at 1200/2400, I made it 15k with the aces and both blinds stepped aside. Arron peeled and we saw a 966 flop. I bet 20k when it was checked to me but was slightly taken aback at the check raise to 47k. I can’t pass here, and in one of the early hands I’d shown a propensity to c-bet in 3bet pots, ending up getting it all-in with AK on a 234 flop v an 88 I’d hoped would fold, only to find the rollercoaster 56 run out. So while I wasn’t loving being check raised, it certainly could be done with hands I beat and as a complete bluff to get me to fold AK type hands.

The action didn’t slow down on the turn – Arron bet 55k, I only had 80ish in total so had to decide there and then for my tournament life. I stuck it in, my opponent called with pocket nines and I was out of there, while Arron went on to take the tournament down for over £25k. It felt a bit cold.

I jumped in the £500 side event, a great addition to the Grand Final line-up, though I found it hard to get going. By 3am I’d managed to build up to 20bb but misplayed a hand, just raising pocket fives on the button into a big stack and having to give it up after c-betting 3bb on an ugly flop. A shove preflop would have been much better. Left with 15bb, I shoved KJ suited over a steaming guy’s raise but he made a good call with AJ to knock me out.

Wednesday was spent having a beer with the media team and the Grosvenor guys, and after a rough day that had seen dreams of Mini Main and then £500 side event dreams go up in smoke, it was very welcome.

The 4/5/6 PLO is always well supported at the Vic, and I was hoping to make a deep run in that before I got dispatched by what every PLO comp seems to have, an unknown Scandi who says “pot” every time it’s checked to him. He’d already accidentally won a decent pot off me by bluffing a river on a paired board and saying “nothing” when he tabled his hand before realising he’d hit a gutshot for a bad straight that you would never value bet before we got it in in what proved my final hand, my aces flopping an up and down but Scandi boys wrap hitting the low straight to get me.

The Grand Final Main Event is my favourite UK event of the year. 25k starting stack, every level included ending day one at 400/800, it’s a really great event, and one that deserves to be treated as such.

I played pretty tight to start with but was card dead, so after five levels of not much, I decided to use that tight rep to run a bluff…and ran straight into the nuts.

An active player raised in early position, the cut off called and I came along with QJ suited on the button, bringing the blinds in. The AK5 rainbow flop gave me a gutshot, so when the c-bet came in and was called by the guy to my right, I came along, obviously hoping to hit a 10, but also hoping to pick up some equity. The king of spades on the turn was a huge card for me, giving me a royal flush draw, but when my two opponents checked to me, it felt an ideal card to bluff.
I presumed they both had Ax, I could easily have come along with a king on the flop, and pocket fives were well within my range and would have just made a full house.
And of course if I did get called, I had a royal flush draw I could always hit!

I did get called by the preflop raiser and of course found the brick river. Now it was time to take advantage of that tight rep, I bet 6k on the river….and was quickly shoved on!
Sigh….I folded, and found out later he had aces full. Great timing!

I passed for another 30 minutes then finally found the big hand, aces, in the small blind.
I just called my opponent’s raise as I felt after passing for so long I’d look too strong taking off from the small blind. A K74 flop looked ideal to check raise and hope to get it in against a KQ or AK type hand. I did get it in….against pocket sevens. Twice I’d had aces in Grand Final week and twice in heads-up pots my opponent had flopped a set. Not nice!

I was tempted to head straight home, but I looked around me – a great comp, a field with lots of qualifiers and locals, over 300 runners (the second biggest Grand Final ever) and that was it, I wanted more! After a bit of juggling with the seats I’d won online, I was back in the game and determined to make my mark on this Grand Final.

I kept up the tight play, but had an unavoidable accident when I bet, bet, bet AQ on a Q62QJ run out, only to be min-raised all in on the river. My crying call was met with the bad news of a terrible river, QJ getting there and leaving me with 15 big blinds.

A slog of a day one came to a close with me nursing 18.8k, not even starting stack, but the beauty of this structure is that’s nearly 19bb on a one hour clock and plenty to be able to manoeuvre.

I ducked and dived on day 2, flopping a flush after raising the button with J8 of clubs, though sadly with the small blind donking into me a fourth club fell and slowed him down. Next button I raised again, and I could see the big blind wasn’t happy about me attacking him. He 3bet and I decided pocket threes and 20bb were just about enough of a hand and fold equity to shove, and I got that through.

I got up to 30k before I had to raise/fold AJ suited, Luke Schwartz showing me the AK when I folded, but I still had 18 bigs when an active player raised my blind as we approached the first break of the day. I shoved the lot in with AT and he called pretty quickly for a large chunk of his stack with KJ. A safe flop was followed by a turn that gave me the flush draw, but the river was an off suit jack and it was off to the commentary box to join the Tower for me.

Despite being out I really enjoyed watching the Main Event, there were some real characters left in on a multinational climax to the season finale, and when the five way deal was brokered I didn’t blame Eric Chen, just 22 years old, for locking up £129k having been the big stack all the way.

As it turned out, Egyptian Ahmed Abdella took the title after an absolute cooler of a final hand when his kings beat Jamie O’Connor’s JT on a KJTxT run out, an appropriate huge ending to a huge year.

I love the Grand Final week at the Vic, the Main Event is my favourite of the year and the events are huge. There’s big money to be made and it reminds me of Vegas the way you can bust one comp and go straight into another. However, whenever anyone asks me the best place to play poker in the UK, the answer has always been Blackpool for me.

Just before the Grand Final I spent another fantastic week in the UK’s answer to Sin City and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind with the perfect combination of fantastically supported poker tournaments offering the chance to win decent money, and great fun on and off the tables and the chance to spend time with poker pals, some who you see all round the country at events, and some who are only ever sighted at the traditional November stop on the GUKPT.

After playing the Newcastle 25/25, I was due to head back home to London, but instead had stayed on in the north east and was pretty pleased I had when my Mum had a funny turn in the night and I had to get first the doctor and then an ambulance to ferry her off to hospital.

She wasn’t too bad, with a chest infection making life difficult, and they decided to keep her in. After a weekend visiting her in hospital at every opportunity, she insisted I head down to Blackpool to do my job, and with my sister taking over bedside duties, I headed off on the train to meet an adopted Teessider. Dave Maudlin, and two of his Boro buddies, Latty and Ricka, for the drive across to Blackpool. After a brief diversion for breakfast at the Farm Shop we’d all stopped at in convoy on the way to the funeral of our much missed pal Kav earlier in the year, we were soon seeing the signs for ‘Ma Kelly’s, Blackpool’s Best Bar’ and were rolling into town.

 

 

The Mini Main is always well supported, and with such a buzzing card room as Blackpool’s we knew it would be a good start to the week.

We’d met up with adopted northerners Katie and Dean Swift, and while the others headed into the tournament, Dean and I decided we’d late reg and have a catch up in the bar.
I’m still not 100% sure when is the best time to reg a comp, either in general or for me personally, but the ultra late reg worked in this one for me, and I quickly got a decent stack together.

With one level left I moved to a new table and straight away I recognised one of the local players I’d battled over the last couple of years. He’s hyper aggressive, too aggro for his own good really, and when he raised my blind first hand from the button, I folded my hand but asked him ‘what was it you 6bet all in into aces in the Main Event last year, T5 off wasn’t it?”
He smiled and replied, “It was only a 5bet!”.

I’d let him know that I remembered how much he loves to run a bluff, so it was like a levelling war when we got in a big pot a couple of hands later. I raised UTG+1 with A4 suited and he was the only caller from the big blind. The K63 flop wasn’t great for me, but with backdoor straight and flush draws, an overcard and the betting lead, I fired out a c-bet. Once he’d called I was ready to shut down with no improvement, but an ace on the turn looked good. As I considered whether I should bet or check for pot control, I was surprised to see him lead out. I thought calling the only option here, though I was aware I may be behind. When the 6 paired on the river, my poor kicker now no longer played, but he bet 21k into me, almost a pot sized bet, and I was confused. A set of threes, or maybe A6 made sense, but they didn’t make up many holdings for me to be scared by. I knew this opponent loved to bluff, but we’d just had the conversation about me knowing he likes to bluff, so would he then run a huge bluff five minutes later? I found the call and he mucked his cards, apparently the answer was yes!

A strange pot soon after, for which my bluffing last year conversation may take some credit, got him his chips back. The chip leader limped, another big stack isolated in the cut off to 3k and our bluffy friend made it 8800 on the button. The limping big stack now 4bet to 30k and the isolator stepped aside. Mr bluffy obviously wasn’t at it this time, as he shoved for 53k total and the chip leader reluctantly called with T8 suited. Aces held!
I’d amassed 130k ready to bag and tag as the last hand of the day played out, but it was passed to me in the cut off and with two red jacks I raised it up. The button and the T8 suited former chip leader called.

A flop of QT2 wasn’t the worst, and I threw in a c-bet. Really I wanted to take it down there, and while I got rid of the first caller, the former chip leader stayed around. The king on the turn was another overcard, but it did give me an up and down, I had blockers to the nuts and I might be able to make a queen fold now too. I bet again, this time big, 14k, but was check raised all in. I’m not sure if I should have taken a free card or what, but with 105k back and the opponent covering, I couldn’t call, and I’d lost a quarter of my stack last hand. I’d still had a good first day though, and bagged them up and headed back to the Big Blue Hotel.

 

Next day we’d arranged to meet Janet Kavanagh for lunch and a pint. The beloved better half of our dear departed Kav, Janet has of course struggled since her husband and our pal had succumbed to cancer. We knew the little fella with the big heart would be smiling down as about 20 of us met up in Wetherspoons to catch up, chat over the upcoming Kav Cup IV, and tell old stories about what we used to get up to – my favourite being when Kav got knocked out of a 25/25 in Manchester, had a few beers, then a few more, and eventually jumped in a taxi back to Preston only to realise he didn’t have his keys.

He banged on the door until Janet woke up and let him in.
“I haven’t got my keys, dunno where they are,” Kav told her as he stumbled in.
“That’s because you drove up and checked into a hotel in Manchester Derek, you’re supposed to be staying over, your keys will be in your hotel with your car outside you dafty!*”

Janet may have used a word other than dafty, I can’t remember, but you get the idea….Kav was one of a kind and will always be remembered and missed.

Katie and I were the only ones who weren’t having a beer and needed to be back in the casino for day 2 of the Mini Main, so we left the others, the losers we’ll call them, and headed over. As luck would have it we were drawn side by side.

 

 

I go toff to a great start, calling a raise on the button with AJ and turning broadway and getting paid off. Katie was not so lucky, possibly a victim to our dealer not hearing the blinds go up too. She only had about 11bb, but actually the blinds should have gone up before she posted her big, and with around 8bb, she probably would have shoved her king high when small blind Mulla limped. Instead they saw a flop, Mulla made a flush against Katie’s top pair and she busted, managing to hold strong in not joining the others back in the pub, and instead went on to play and cash in the £300 side event, won by one of my oldest mates in poker, the Welsh Wizard Iwan Jones.

Back in the Mini Main I was still one of the big stacks but on a tough table, with Ben Winsor two to my left and Colin Gillon three to my right in a lot of pots.

I felt like I needed to play more aggressively to establish myself and won a few uncontested pots with well-timed 3bets. Unfortunately, it was to be my undoing when I found a genuine 3betting hand, AK, in the small blind.

Mulla, who had gone from strength to strength having been short before the Katie hand, had opened the pot and I decided to go big with my sizing giving my position and his propensity to peeling. He raised to 8k, I made it 34k and we saw a J96 flop. I bet 52k and Mulla instantly shipped all in. Maybe I can check this flop, or bet smaller, but I was pretty sure Mulla wasn’t trapping preflop (ie he didn’t have a big hand), and while he might peel J9, it was either draws or sets. With so much in there (saying that makes me feel maybe there’s a mistake with the c-bet) I felt I had to call, with QT one of the holdings I’d love to see. Unfortunately he had 666, and I was dead on the turn. Doubling up Mulla’s 100k left me about 40k back and I decided I was going to go big or go home with my 10bb. Next hand Mulla limped for 4k, I just moved all in and everyone folded.

Next hand I found 88 and shipped it and took it down preflop, and the hand after that Mulla raise/folded when I moved in with an ace. I was having fun, and not getting looked up at all while I built back up!

Whether it was the fact I had mates to go and meet if I bust or what, I decided to keep on pushing until I got looked up, and must have been all in and not been called at least 10 times when eventually Ben made a stand. I’d actually built up to over 20bb and had too many to shove, but I was all in again when big stack Ben reshoved. I tentatively turned over KT and was thrilled to see Ben had 99, a race. I could win this and if I did I’d have more than I started with. A 966 flop and I was using the Wetherspoons ap to order a beer as I walked across the road as the turn hit the felt!

A few beers later, then a trip to the infamous Ma Kelly’s was a great way to forget the poker for the night, a real must see for any trip to Blackpool!

Wednesday was the £200 8max, and a fun table with Dave and Brett Angell suddenly didn’t seem so much fun when I made backdoor flush under backdoor flush against my aggressive friend from the Mini Main!

With the reentry period coming to a close, our table broke and I headed to a new table with only 10bb, 4k. Fast forward to the next break and I’d built up to over 40k and was loving life again….before I ran flush into flush again!

I was back down to 10bb and in shoving mode, familiar territory. I did find the perfect spot, a raise in early position, a short stack shove and I reshoved from the big blind with AK. I had them both dominated, against KQ and A4, but came third. KQ scooped, making a flush, and the shorter stack would have beaten me anyway, rivering a 4….time to forget side events and get ready for the Main!

I came 4th last year for £18k and loved every minute of GUKPT Blackpool. The casino does such a good job getting locals qualified, and online sent loads of people who had won their seats on the new and improved GrosvenorPoker.com. Add in plenty of punters buying in, and we had a huge field, which by the time entries closed on Friday evening was a massive 314.

Looking around the Thursday tables it couldn’t have gotten much tougher, with the three players to my left Tim Hickling, Steve Warburton and Dave Maudlin, and other top players sprinkled around too. Steve and Tim in particular made it hard for me with plenty of 3betting and playing me in position, but I think it might have done me good, keeping me playing tight and not getting overly involved without the goods, and by the end of day one I bagged up the most chips at the table, 75k.

I was hoping not to have Steve, one of the best players on the circuit, two to my left on day two and I got my wish…he was directly beside me on the left instead!

Tim and local legend Andy Bradshaw also joined us from our day 1 table in what looked a pretty familiar line up!

With Michael Kane big stacked also making life hard, I wasn’t too unhappy when the table broke and we headed to new tables a couple of hours into day 2 with 100k in my stack. I was pretty card dead all day, meaning I was trying to maintain my stack and wait for a chance to get in a big pot with the goods, but as the bubble approached and another new table beckoned, my 160k was right on average with another 10 or so players needed to get us to the 30 paid positions.

A tight player, who had passed nearly every hand before a recent double up, raised my blind and I decided to defend J7 of spades. A 542 rainbow flop didn’t match my hand much but when the raiser checked behind I put him on an ace high hand. I knew I had no showdown value, and I’d need to fire multiple barrels as ace high would call one street, so as long no danger card fell, I decided I’d bet turn and river. An offsuit 9 looked innocuous enough and I bet 6k. The expected call came, so I bombed 16k on a brick river, and got the bad news that everything I’d assumed about this hand was right, but my opponent had A9, not any other rag ace, and couldn’t pass.

It was now a case of getting into the money before making too big a move, unless I got the cards of course, and with the deck not helping, I played pretty tight. I definitely made a mistake in one hand I did choose to play though. I had around 120k at 2500/5k and the action was passed to me on the button with pocket fours. I knew Dean Hutchison was shortish to my left but thought seat three had more than he did. I made it 12k and Dean checked both of our stacks before shoving for 70k ish. The big blind, who had about the same as Dean, passed, and I was left with a quandary. I probably had the best hand, but it was probably a race. I would have about 10bb left if I called and lost, but that would put me right in the danger zone with three more to the money. I eventually folded and said I wished I’d just shoved first but I’d not checked the big blind’s stack. Dean told me later he had AQ and might have had to fold given the situation, I just knew I’d much rather have put the decision on him rather than me!

Jamie Clossick took a brutal beat on our table, all in preflop against eventual champ Dan Corbett, Jamie’s AK turned dead by Dan’s AQ making broadway. Jamie is one of the good guys, and the last time we played poker with Kav, at the Manchester GUKPT, he was such a help as our mate, now without the use of his legs, needed a hand. I really didn’t want to see him leave, but locking up the £2k+ min cash was more than welcome.

 

 

By the end of day 2 I was standing 19 of the 25 left with 105k going back to 4/8 on Sunday.
My stack was still playable, but I needed to win the first pot I got into really. There was a time when every time I cashed in a GUKPT I’d make the final table, but after managing that 11 times, my two previous cashes this year had seen me take bad beats and miss the final – flopping a flush in Edinburgh and getting it all in against the bare ace, who found a fourth heart, and in Leeds getting it all in with AK v KJ, an ace in the window followed by a jack and another jack on the turn.

Unfortunately, that form continued when I shoved all in from the big blind over a Chris Wood button raise. I had AQ, and Woody quite rightly called for a quarter of his stack with AJ. Even when the flop came jack high, I still had 15 outs to redraw too on J98 all clubs, but it wasn’t to be and I departed in 23rd for £2510. I hoped, as had happened in the two sides, that the person who got me would use my chips to go on to victory, as I’ve been a mate of Woody’s for some years. But Dan who won his seat online for £30 – not a bad spin up to £87k – was a deserving winner, looking very calm and assured at the table and playing really well throughout.

 

So after two huge events to finish 2017, GUKPT Blackpool and the Vic’s Grand Final, another season of the GUKPT is in the books. I love the combination of circuit regs and new faces we see each GUKPT season, and certainly the final two big winners, Dan and Eric, were new guys on me who played fantastically on the big stage.

The year had started in that way, with Michael Zhang taking down January’s leg one for £113k at the Vic, another fairly unknown player who dominated his final on the way to claiming a first GUKPT title. GUKPT passport winner Andy Hills took down leg two, just reward for knocking on the door plenty of times and going from strength to strength in the live arena. He pocketed £47k for his February weekend in Manchester.

In March we headed north of the border and local player Paul Green took the title and £17.5k at the £500 buy-in GUKPT Edinburgh, though Colin Wu took more money (£24k) in the four way deal.

Another local took down April’s event, as Gareth Howard beat Ali Mallu heads-up after a deal to win £29k and GUKPT Walsall, and that man Mallu went one better a month later in Reading, winning GUKPT Reading for £35k.

Despite a lot of players being in Vegas for the WSOP, a huge 449-runner field assembled in Luton for June’s sixth leg of the season, George Alexander taking first for a cool £50k.

The final £500 leg of 2017 was held in Leeds in September, and it was another local who triumphed, Leung Chung beating Renee Xie after a heads-up deal, winning £38k and the title.

The £1k buy-in legs returned in October in Luton and it was John Eames who won his first GUKPT title there, pocketing over £68k for his troubles in a dominating performance.

And we rounded off the year with Dan Corbett in Blackpool and Ahmed Abdella (and Eric Chen) at London’s Poker Room at the Vic the big winners.

It’s been another amazing year of poker, with big things happening live with the GUKPT growing like never before, and online, where the GCOOP was a huge success and had the poker world buzzing. With the Christmas Cracker to look forward to, before a few weeks off ahead of us doing it all again for the first GUKPT leg of 2018 back at the Vic, it’s a great time for Grosvenor, the home of poker!

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