I recently finished filming the 48-hour cash game, the PartyPoker Big Game IV. More than a poker game, this was an emotional passage of life. And I was only watching. But it contained all my favourite things in poker: structure, character and style. With stacks that averaged between 500 and 1,000 big blinds deep, the game took deep-stack poker to town. Do you have any idea how much character you need to succeed in that format over a marathon session? In fact there were only three people who took the Big Game by the horns, three men who sat until the smoke had cleared and in the process of becoming heroes of mine showed that there is more than one style in which to succeed at no-limit Hold’em cash.
Man In The Hood
Phil Laak is based on illusion. With the advent of the televised game Phil led the charge in categories of nickname, outfit and quotability. But can he really play poker? Phil jumped in the game eight hours late but instantly became a part of the furniture. For the next 40 hours Laak was a dark shades genius in seat eight. Laak has allowed himself to become classified as a nit, and I love that he had me completely fooled for all these years. His style is based on a beautiful unpredictability. I remember when six people limped into a pot that had an £800 quadruple straddle, and Laak shoved in £22k with K-5 offsuit. Robert Williamson III tanked for over 15 minutes while Phil Laak put his head down on the table in a pose of the sleeper. Fifteen minutes is a long time when you’ve been up for two days and are bluffing with King-high. But Laak is rock solid, punctuated by timed fits of lunacy, and over a long session was impossible to pin down.
Neil Channing was the first guy I saw before the game began, sauntering up to the venue with his cell phone and a black leather satchel. Channing had a toothbrush and a change of clothes and the smirk of a confident man going to do his thing at the office. His game lulls you to watch but is impossible to play, and is only truly effective for numbers of big blinds ranging upwards to infinity. For 48 hours he played the most mistake-free game on the river that I have ever seen over such a haul. He could lay down a big hand or make a perfect bet for value, and get it right every time.
David ‘Viffer’ Peat, after two days of looking like he was scared of nobody, left his composure at the table and confessed to me with wild eyes. ‘I can’t do it any more!’ he shouted. ‘Channing is killing me!’ When you watch it back, count how many times Channing plays perfectly on the river. The man was a master.
One From The Old School
I had never met David Peat until an hour before the Big Game started. Talk about a throwback – Viffer showed up with nothing. No hotel room, no change of clothes, and no friends or backers. Just a pack of cigarettes and a bag of money. From the start Viffer said he would lay 3-to-1 odds that he could outlast anyone in the room, and on this point he wasn’t bluffing. Viffer’s style was aggression. For 48 hours if a pot wasn’t raised then he did, and he fired three empty barrels so often that Justin Bonomo came up with what I call the Viffer Corollary, which is that you must always call Viffer’s pot-sized bet on the river with anything at all. Testing out that theory cost Bonomo over £20,000 with bottom pair. In the end, Viffer was the biggest winner in the game, proving he has the mental fortitude and courage to be the best.
When the Big Game wrapped up nobody knew where to go. They’d been up so long that sleep was out of the question. Channing and Laak, after having been at each other’s throats for the better part of two days, headed off to Chinatown for a laugh and a meal. I caught up with Viffer in the waning sidewalk sunlight. He was standing there blinking, like a man thrown out of a bar. He wasn’t going home, but he knew he couldn’t stay there.