I knew it was a great opportunity, but I also knew it was a 5-1 shot. The only downside of my qualifying for the Ladbrokes Poker Million was that I had to play the heat on TV. Normally, if I am eliminated from a competition, I am allowed to slink away on my own to lick my wounds and convince myself I was unlucky. No such luxury is afforded the losers in televised single-table tournaments. And if I won, I wouldn’t need the TV coverage, as I would be telling everyone I know, anyway.
We crawled through the London rush-hour traffic at 2 miles per hour, knowing that five out of the six of us would be sacrificial lambs, and only one would enjoy the pleasure of winning. But for now, everyone had convinced themselves that the one winner would be them. Of course I’m going to win it! I win all of my 5-1 shots.
Our tacky but practical white stretch limo took an hour to cross London, and then we alighted in Isleworth. I just wanted to get on with it, but I knew there was a long time to go before any cards would be dealt. Pre-match interviews were first, then putting on a monitor for your heart rate, and finally, makeup. At least the buildup was finally reaching a conclusion after three months of anticipation, and the game was in sight. I was finding it difficult to treat it as another day at the office, which would have been the ideal mindset for the tournament. All of the razzmatazz was distracting, and served to remind me of the size of the game, which was far bigger than usual for me. I needed to ignore all of that if I was to play my best game and have a chance of winning.
As predicted, my fellow competitors seemed a tough bunch at the table, but I was still surprised to find that on the very first hand, my raise on the button was reraised by the small blind, with the big blind going all in behind him! These guys either ate too much red meat or both had a hand. The spectators in the green room knew the answer, as they could see the cards of both players on the under-table cameras. But I was in no doubt that they both had big hands. At a normal six-man table, live or online, both the reraises would have been suspect. But in this situation, with all the additional pressure, bluffing most or all of your stack on the very first hand would require a degree of fearlessness that is very rare even amongst experienced poker players.
As with most things, the buildup was much worse than the game itself. I agonized for weeks over strategy, worried unnecessarily about my opponents’ abilities, and was fearful of playing badly in front of the cameras. Once we got started, though, I went on automatic pilot and my …