Las Vegas, NV
Paul. John. George. Ringo. Before stepping foot on America soil, four musicians had already detonated a revolutionary cultural explosion that continues to ripple through history almost fifty years later. The British Invasion led by bands like the Beatles (and The Hollies, The Turtles, The Zombies... lots of two word named bands with 'The' as the first word) descended upon the America and dominated the airwaves from Brooklyn to Bakersfield.
Almost fifty years later, a new wave of Brits descended upon the Nevada desert. Poker players. They all have one goal in mind -- a bracelet. Within the first week of action, one Brit claimed a bracelet and two others, including Neil Channing, came oh-so-close to winning on Thursday.
"This year compared to other years, there could be bit of a British Invasion," warned my colleague Snoopy, a writer from London who has extensively covered different circuits on the British Isles over the last five years.
"We have a couple of young hotshots emerging," Snoopy said. "Like James Dempsey, Sam Trickett, James Keys, Dan Carter and Stuart Rutter. If Chris Moorman can get a bit of luck at the right time he can win (a bracelet) this year. These young guys come in and play every single event 5K or below. With the exception of John Kabbaj, they don't have the rolls to play the 10Ks or higher."
November Niner James Akenhead is regarded as the best of the bunch, although J.P. Kelly won two bracelets last year, one in Vegas and the other in London. Praz Bansi picked up his second bracelet in Event #5 Donkament, the second donkament he's won. We're gonna start calling him Sir Donkey Slayer.
Expect to see a slew of young British players this year at the Rio, but you won't hear too much from them because they tend to keep a low profile.
"Americans don't care what people are thinking," explained Snoopy on the differences between 20-something British and American railbirds. "They'll start with the booze and shouting and cheering and making funny comments. Then you'll see groups of British young kids watching from the rail. The British are almost embarrassed to even clap. You expect all these young kids to be whooping, but they are shy and embarrassed by it. "
I quizzed Snoopy about the older generation of poker players in the UK. Many of them were deeply respectful for the tradition of the WSOP played out downtown at the Horseshoe. Many of them did not welcome the expansion and transition to the Rio. Just when I thought the oldest generation of British poker players were Luddites, traditionalists, and anti-corporate, Snoopy clued me in... "And another thing, most of those old guys are broke."
A small group of British pros fly out to Vegas to exclusively play in cash games. Those sharks go where the action is and five years ago, Neil Channing would have been one of those players.
Channing got his start in the gaming business by setting lines as an oddsmaker for Ladbrokes betting shops. If you've been to London, you know that there's a betting shop on every friggin' corner. Just like the Ace Rothstein character in Casino, Channing had a knack on how to set lines. Anyway, he migrated to poker and became a success poker pro.
"Neil never used to play tournaments," Snoopy said. "He used to just grind 25-50 at the Vic, day in and day out, and suddenly he just had an urge to become famous. It was weird. He was happy to take money off of tourists and not say much, but then in 2007, he had a good set of results and people started to take notice. He learned to love the camera. When it comes to publicity, he's a bit of an expert. He's like Roland de Wolfe, he can get on any TV show and they don't have to win any events to get invited. They are really good about keeping their profile."
Channing began staking young pros and became the Dr. Dre of the British circuit. He gave so many current pros their first shot that he's revered by the scores of his former horses. A dozen of them were on the rail sweating him in Event #6 $5,000 NL Shootout.
"Neil probably staked every one of them at some point," remarked Snoopy.
Channing could not overcome a huge chip discrepancy during heads-up play. He busted in a disappointing second place.
"Neil is absolutely one of these people who is 100% dedicated to winning a bracelet, even if the structure is rubbish," Snoopy said. "Winning is assurance that he's a top player, because that's how people are measured today in poker. Bracelets. It's about bracelets now."
And karate outfits apparently.
Sensei Channing playing in the Black Belt Open in London
Alas, Channing was unable to win a bracelet after coming up short in the 5K after losing to Joshua Tieman heads up. Fellow Brit Stuart Rutter finished in third.
"It was disappointing but I'm sure there will be other opportunities in the future," Channing said moments after the conclusion of the final hand. "Having finished second in the London GUKPT Main Event, second in the iPoker Monthly Million, and now second here, I think I should definitely give the WSOP heads-up event a miss."
Channing came close and missed, but as Snoppy suggested, the young Brits are coming this summer (although he failed to mention Liv Boeree). Don't be surprised if another Brit ships a bracelet this year.