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Interview with Neil Channing

Poker Shark Magazine talk to the poker pro about winning, losing and how to improve your poker game

Published on July 13th 2011.

Interview with Neil Channing

HE has to be the most recognisable British poker player around. With a CV showing live cashes in major tournaments, commentating jobs on various TV channels, and most recently, forming his own online poker community, Neil Channing must be the hardest working poker pro in the UK. However, this true gentleman found time in his hectic schedule to answer some questions for us. All we can say is mmmarvelous.

Can you tell us how you got into poker and describe your progression to where you are today?

We used to play at school when I was thirteen or fourteen. We played five-card stud with one joker and at first we didn't understand about the betting and 'table stakes'. There were a lot of IOU notes written. I was owed hundreds by kids that got £3 a week pocket money.

At around fifteen I started to play hold-em in home games and at nineteen I went to the casino. I've always been a gambler and I didn't get my main income from poker until 2001 when I switched from playing a couple of times a week to playing every single night.

Are there any valuable lessons that you learnt that you could share with our readers?

Most valuable lesson is to know when to press and when to quit. I would advise the opposite of what most people actually do. When you're winning, the game is good, the people are fearing you and you're playing good – keep going, play longer and punish them. When you're losing, your table image has gone, you're tired and the game is not good – that is the time to quit. Most people can't manage this.

What advice would you give to a low to mid stakes player who hopes to move up in this game?

My main advice is to learn. Read books and articles, there is so much good stuff for free on the internet. Join a training site and really watch the videos. I would recommend Deuces Cracked. I would also suggest sharing information and learning with a poker-buddy. Communities of people getting together and learning together is the reason why the Scandis and Americans got so good. That is why the English are now managing to catch up. Websites like ours [Black Belt Poker], should be part of that process.

There are a lot of players out there who prefer live play rather than the internet. Do you think it is possible to progress through the ranks from pub league player to cashing in higher stakes games just on live play alone, or do you think internet play is a must?

I think it's tough to just be a live pro as when you really start to climb there aren't enough good games. If you need £2000 or £3000 a month to live on then you'll need to be earning £3000 to £4000 on your better months to make up for the bad ones. It's hard to win that much playing £1/£2. Obviously the standard of play has improved so much quicker on the internet and the games are much harder. I think that if you play and get to master the internet games you'll do just fine in any live game.

How do you prepare yourself for a major tournament, and do you ever suffer from nerves before a game?

I sometimes suffer from nerves in events where I really want to do well like the EPT London, the Irish Open or the WSOP main but generally I'm pretty relaxed. I normally am careful to arrive late or right on the scheduled start time as I like to have a clear head and I find that if I arrive even five minutes early I get bombarded by poker-stories, staking requests and other distractions.

Have you ever completely busted your bankroll? If so, how did you recover from this?

I've been totally broke twice.

In 1995 I had been going horseracing five times a week for six years when I suddenly ran out of money. I went and got a job but after a few months I was back to gambling around my monthly salary every day. I then changed jobs and started working in Spread Betting which led me to really build up a seven-figure bankroll through betting on horses, American football, cricket and football.

In 2002/2004 things went very bad again after a failed business venture, a bad run on the stock-market and a series of people letting me down. I now owed £365,000 and had nothing.

A friend gave me £10,000 to gamble with. We planned to split any profits. After the first day I was down to £3,000 but 20 months later I'd built up to over £300,000. I was gambling on sports on Betfair for eighteen hours every day, I would never take a break.

My health suffered in 2006 and I had a serious operation and illness. I got healthy and I now only owed £100,000 but I was basically broke. Another friend gave me £5,000 and I took it to the Vic. I barely left until I'd paid off all my debts and built up my roll to 6-figures again in 2008. It was just after I paid the last guy that I won the Irish Open.

Black Belt Poker is one of the better sites on the internet. How did you come to be involved in this, and how proud of the site are you?

I was involved in staking players from 2007 and I started to grow the stable a lot in 2008 with the intention of making it into a commercial venture. I was also involved in commentating, writing a column, writing a blog, training, managing and betting on poker. It was getting harder to focus on all of these things and to play and the games were getting much bigger. I felt that by forming a business I'd be able to delegate.

I liked the idea of communities online and I took the ideas of aspiration and development from Stars and Tilt and moulded them.

The job is certainly not finished but I'm very proud of what we've done with the site so far and hope it'll keep growing.

Are there any names off BB poker that could make an impact in the game in the next couple of years?

I think our first player to get to Black Belt Sam Razavi will certainly be winning money in poker for as long as he chooses and he could easily follow up his Aussie Millions 6th with a really big win.

Jerome Bradpiece, Kevin Williams, Jamie Burland and Adam Stoneham might be other names to give us a big win, but really I love all the team and we're very happy that this year we'll spend around $900,000 putting them into live events.

Who would you credit with being the biggest influence on your career?

I think the boys in The Vic are a great influence. I listened to Jeff Duval, Willie Tann, John Kabbaj, Fred Carle and the boys along the way. Some of the great international players like Thomas Bichon and Albert Iversen have taught me a lot and I've spent many hours over the years talking to my old school friend Keith Hawkins.

These days though I learn the most from the young kids on the scene. There are too many good ones to mention.

Describe to us the sickest beat that you have seen/received.

I had a pretty bad one two years ago. I was playing £25/£50 and I had KK. I got around £1100 into the pot preflop and the flop was K73. I led out and the guy chose to float me. The turn was a 9 and I check-raised all-in. The other guy said, "At least I have outs," and called with J8. It was a £32,000 pot and the 10 dropped off.

That fella won a bracelet in the WSOPE this year.

The worst one I gave was in the TV cash game with Viffer. I had 44 on 843 and he had 88. There was £75,000 in there and the 4 came. I don't see what I could do though. I don't think of them as bad beats if they play themselves. I actually ran really badly in that game and everyone just remembers that hand.

What are your aspirations for the future and where do you see yourself in ten years time? Player or presenter or both?

My main focus at the moment is on building something with Black Belt. It's growing all the time, in players, as a company that employs people and as a brand. I'm excited about that.

I am travelling to events and I'll definitely be working very hard on trying for a bracelet as I do every year, but my main focus otherwise will be on the business.

Biggest regret?

Regret – should have done a few things quicker – realised that racecourse bookmaking was a dying game, quit my last job before they quit me, quit the job before earlier, started Black Belt a year before.

Favourite starting hand?


Favourite venue?

The Vic.

Pre-game meal?

I like to be hungry when I go to play, eating is for when I bust.

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