The Beat with Neil Channing

The Beat with Neil Channing

Friday, 4 July 2014

In praise of Richard Ashby.


As I sit down to write this, we are around 25% through the WSOP. Obviously the second you get your grubby mitts on the new mag you turn to these pages, so by my reckoning you'll be reading this with 95% of the events done and just the Main to come.

Right now I'm reading a lot of stuff about how the US players are dominating the events and how the Brits are having a poor series. I'm not so sure, though. You can only talk about how any individual country is doing at the WSOP by referencing the number of entrants that each country has had.

Sure, we haven't won a single event yet, but I would guess by reading all the coverage going on that we have far less players there in the early weeks than we did in previous years. Perhaps it is the way the schedule is constructed – there's no point having an extra week of hotel bills if the only events are a $25k buy-in and a Limit O8 event. Maybe it's a general decline in internet poker in the UK, or the fact that it clashes with UKIPT Marbella; it could even be that the UK doesn't have enough players with the bankroll or the stomach to face a whole summer in the desert.

In the recent past, we have seen Canada, France and the UK do really well at the WSOP against all the odds. Those other two countries are doing about as well as us so far, and if it wasn't for a legendary Belgian and a versatile German, Europe would be really having a slow start. I personally don't think it's much of a boast from the Yanks to say that they are winning all the bracelets. First of all, they have such a large percentage of all the players in the $1,000 and $1,500 events. Secondly, there have been quite a few $10,000 mixed games events, e.g. Razz and 2-7 Draw – games that just aren't really played in Europe.

From following events on Twitter, I can name at least a dozen high-profile UK pros who aren't there, or who have just arrived with two weeks gone. The lesser-known guys who are playing a $10,000 or $20,000 set of $1,500 events get far less coverage, but I suspect that if the sponsored pros aren't staying the whole seven weeks, then the smaller pros definitely won't be. I just don't think those guys are there in the numbers we've seen in the past. In the last few years, a quick scan of the table draw for any $1,500 day two would reveal around twenty UK guys with a shot at the bracelet. This year, the number seems to have dropped to about six or seven. I haven't seen any numbers on the percentage of entries for each country, but I reckon there must be less than half the number of UK guys than we had two or three years ago.

We often read stories these days of young guys, who were flying high in recent years, choosing to retire. Maybe we could look at the success of the EPT and say that these events are now way more prestigious. Perhaps the tradition of the WSOP and the whole allure of the bracelet has finally been devalued in the minds of younger players, who don't have the romantic memories of the dingy old Horseshoe, and who only remember the corporate days of the Rio and Harrahs with their super-efficient "bankroll hoover". Maybe people are less inclined to fly 6,000 miles to play when there are so many events available in Europe.

I'm hoping that all this negativity is all based on a small sample of events, and within a day of me sending off my column this month we'll have "our" first bracelet.

The Beat July 1

Chufty Returns
One player from the UK who I'm sure is feeling like he's having a fairly decent WSOP is Chufty. Richard Ashby went into the heads-up of the $10,000 O8 event with a massive chip deficit, so my guess is he'll be pretty pleased with a 2nd place finish and $274,019 payout. Richard is definitely a guy who has suffered big highs and lows in poker, and I always think that after he gets a result he is way more likely than variance would suggest to get another. Sure enough, he managed to snag a very nice $150,625 for his 4th place finish in the $10,000 buy-in HORSE event.

I can remember very clearly when Richard attended his first WSOP at Binion's in 2003. The first event he ever played was a $1,500 Hi-Lo Omaha tournament. This was a Limit event. He'd never played Limit before. People tend to assume that there were only about 20-odd people in the events those days and that bracelets were easy to come by, but that isn't how I remember it. Richard faced 259 players that day and he made the final table. One or two of the grizzled veterans were a little shocked at his play. Some suggested he'd be lucky to survive in poker, and I even remember one pro asking me how a hand with two Eights and a Nine in it could be a good hand to call a raise with in Hi-Lo.

I remember Richard being confused by the form they gave him to fill in with his "poker bio". There was very little media coverage in those days, but they did like to read the names, occupations, home towns and notable poker achievements to the crowd. Chufty went for "winning the monthly £50 7-Card at Luton twice running" as his achievement, and then, having no more admin to take care of, he chatted to the kindly old man next to him by asking what he would be writing there.

The man modestly said he'd tried to find something, and then proceeded to fill the box with details of his 40-odd cashes, five bracelets and a Main Event win from 1986.

That was how Richard met Berry Johnson.

The Beat July 2

It slightly annoys me, and I know it must slightly upset Richard, that he gets very little respect among the poker media and his fellow players. Of course, it should be a good thing to be winning all the time yet still finding players queuing up to play you, leaving you with their money, and then telling everyone that you are a lucky fish who has no idea what they are doing. I think part of it is that people just forget that poker is not about "how many", but rather "how much". Richard may often be seen playing every hand, putting money in with terrible starting hands, and forgetting to fold when logic tells you that is all you should do in his spot.
However, his expertise comes in post-flop. He excels in through-the-streets play, and for that to shine out you need to see more flops, which for him means playing every hand. He just loves to try and turn a trash hand into a winner.

In 2011, Richard cashed in three events at the WSOP. He made two final tables, including a 4th and 3rd place finish in the $10,000 O8 and the No Limit 2-7 Draw (an event he claims to have entered in error, thinking it was Limit Triple Draw). Richard was one of just two or three UK guys to enter the $50,000 Players' Championship that year, as he has been on two other occasions.

I remember clearly speaking to a lazy high-roller friend of mine who was entering the $25,000 WSOP Fantasy Draft organised by Daniel Negreanu. This guy had done very little homework, but I realised something – the scoring system meant you really needed to pick guys that would play lots of mixed games. These players would be underrated by the other people taking part in the contest, yet would rack up some hefty dividends. In other words, Chufty would be perfect. Many people (particularly those whose bankrolls he has plundered over the years) are still too short-sighted to realise that unusual doesn't necessarily mean bad. Richard just does stuff differently.

In the end, the guy ignored me and picked some internet NLH wizard who played a dozen events without cashing. Chufty went undrafted, and would have pretty much won the thing for any team that had the foresight to stump up a dollar.

Prior to that particular WSOP, Chufty was still playing some of the world's biggest online games. He would frequently try and start games, would never quit people, and would be bum-hunted relentlessly. He would play three-handed with the Dang brothers, as well as Ivey, Antonius and Townsend. He had his ups and downs, but generally this was a winning proposition for him.

In all that time Chufty never won any awards (as far as I remember), for being best in the UK, best all-rounder, best cash player, best mixed games player, or anything. His versatility was partly the problem there. He suffered from getting the 2nd and 3rd most votes in several categories. Despite being one of the top few most successful players at that WSOP, Chufty was not featured in any magazines after he returned home. He is probably reading this thinking, "I wish he'd shut up, I never wanted any of that, I just wanted the money.”

I do know it hurt him a little that year not to get a bracelet... he already had one in 7-Card Stud of course, and UK two-time bracelet winners are pretty rare creatures.

This year I read many previews of the WSOP. There were long lists of players to watch out for, new UK superstars, and most likely to win a bracelet for the UK. I wish I could have bet against all the people that wrote those lists. Most of the guys they picked were big long shots in my book. Again, nobody ever mentioned Chufty.

Negreanu held his draft again this year. At $25,000 to buy in, the WSOP Fantasy is really one of the bigger events of the summer, but it still amazes me that some of the pros that enter clearly do zero homework.
Players constantly repeat the same mistakes of picking a couple of high-priced individuals instead of a team, drafting players who are not going to play many events, and paying too much for internet guys who don't play enough mixed games.

Chufty was undrafted again.

If nobody else is going to celebrate this great player, then I will. Over the last ten years this guy may be the greatest poker player that the UK has seen. He has represented us in all games at all levels, live and online, and has played against the world's best. He has done all that and remained a great guy with a young family who people like to play against. He wins every year, and nobody he plays against can figure out how.

I hope by the time you read this he has won the $50,000 Championship in order to gain his second bracelet. Maybe people may start to give him a little respect then.

Nifty Numbers

I would have to think that the WSOP are very happy with how things are going so far in terms of numbers. The $1,500 "Millionaire Maker" got a staggering 7,977 players, which just goes to show what can be done with a snappy title and an easily attainable guarantee. The Seniors got 4,425 players, which is also pretty incredible, especially considering that around 65% of the poker players at the Rio are ineligible for it. Finally, it looks like the Main Event may see an increase in numbers for the first time in a few years.

In 2010, the "Big One" got 7,319 players. That has dropped just a little each year with 6,875, 6,598 and 6,352 being the numbers for the last three years. On that basis, there should be around 6,100 players.

With the huge fields we have seen in the preliminaries so far, as well as the $10m guaranteed 1st prize, the organisers will surely be hoping to once again top 7,000.

The Beat July 3

Tags: Neil Channing, Richard Ashby, WSOP