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Seconds Out: Oli Bell's Monthly Blog
Hello Racesharers! I hope you’re all enjoying the lead up to Christmas wherever you are in the world. I have just landed back having completed my first trip to the World Series of Poker event in the Bahamas!
For those that don’t know already, I would say my main hobby outside of work would be poker and it has introduced me to some really interesting people and taken me to some very cool places. I can’t really remember properly how I learnt the game but I have a vague recollection of my Mum teaching us round the dinner table on a couple of occasions. Obviously the prospect of beating my brother at something meant I must have focused intently on the early lessons from Mum. I didn’t have any guide on whether I was good, bad or indifferent but back in the mid noughties poker was on TV all the time and I used to watch it religiously – listening to the commentators, learning what to do in certain spots, seeing how some of the best in the game played, studying people's moves. This all meant that when I started my first job at Racing UK as it was back then, I was by no means out of my depth in the monthly office poker tournament. This featured some well known racing faces, Lydia Hislop, James Willoughby and Richard Hoiles would often have a seat at the table and it was a great way of getting the team together outside of office hours. For me as an impressionable teenager – (I was 18 or 19 at the time) it was such a formative time because not only was I listening to and absorbing racing thoughts and opinions from some of the greatest brains in the sport – I was also able to learn and play a game I had a real interest and passion for. Whilst I was very much the bottom of the professional and poker ladder, these days are some of the fondest I have in my career.
After a couple victories and a steady improvement in my game I remember James Willoughby telling me he thought I had what it took to take poker quite seriously. He, along with an American handicapper/poker pro Dave Gutfreund both really encouraged me to try my hand in a few events. At this time at Racing UK I was essentially a runner – making tea and running tapes up and down stairs so I couldn’t really afford to be taking any wild chances but Dave kindly agreed to ‘stake’ my first tournament – the London Poker Masters at the Gutshot casino. I had never been to a casino before and certainly never played in a proper live poker event. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. I remember Dave on the phone to me talking me through how to register for the event, what to do in breaks, should I talk to people, should I wear sunglasses…(I don’t btw), can I go to the loo (you can) - point was – I had a million questions, all I’m sure very naïve but it was really helpful having Dave essentially holding my hand through that first big event. I ended up getting to the final table, with family friends watching online it was the biggest buzz! I think I ended up finishing 5th in the end – Dave getting a handsome return on his investment and me now planning my next tournaments.
I would play regularly online with my brother ‘railing’ me – I would enter the major tournaments I could afford to play in mostly on Sundays and we would sit in my room, watching the NFL and hoping to go deep and win some money! I remember for about 6 months my brother Phil would stay up late with me – making me coffee and keeping me focused whilst I would be approaching the final table of some of the big tournaments. If we ran out of any food, milk or I needed a Red Bull to keep me up he would leg it at some ungodly hour to the local Shell petrol station and stock up for us. When we had a big result we would celebrate as if we’d just won the World Cup. I probably shouldn’t admit this but after I won my first big tournament I had to go straight into work to make the teas and do the tapes on the back of ZERO hours sleep. Thankfully the excitement, adrenaline and Phil’s Red Bull purchases got me through the shift! After a few years of perfecting my tea making/poker skills I moved to Australia to further my presenting career. This move put an end to any visions I had of playing poker full time and proved a really good move for my professional development, but maybe not such a good move for my bank account!
I then didn’t really play for a good few years until lockdown – where, like so many people, was invited into many poker games/zooms as a way of entertaining us and keeping in touch with friends. This reignited the spark in me and I was very fortunate to be invited into categorically the best lockdown/zoom game anywhere in the land - MONDAY NIGHT POKER – as it was known, featuring some real characters and plenty of sharks. This has been ongoing now for a good few years and has given me friendships for life. It was here that I met my travel buddy for the Bahamian adventure – Warren Wooldridge, or ‘Pops’ as he is now affectionately known.
Warren’s poker career is illustrious to say the list – he’s ranked 53rd on the England all time earnings list and very nearly won a WSOP Bracelet a few years back, but for his AJ losing to A9 all in pre flop. That bad beat cost dear Warren about 1 million dollars and unsurprisingly has irked him ever since. Warren is a great man to do a poker tour with because he is basically an older version of me. This might give the game away as to the success or lack of success we both experienced on the felt but my trip highlight was Chirs the poker floor manager asking Warren ‘whether his son was playing today’. After a few days of Warren applying anti ageing cream and moaning about that comment – I’m not sure what bothered him more, the bad beats or that comment!
Poker is without question a game of skill but it is also undeniable that you need a bit of luck along the way – something that Warren and I had none of all trip. We played in a total of four events and some of the situations/beats are almost too unbelievable to be true. First up, Warren lost a hand with a 7,8,9,10,J straight in tournament 1 to a player needing runner runner hearts for a flush. The opponent hit his 5%’er and Warren was out. Meanwhile I was rolling along steadily and had an opportunity to take a healthy chip stack into the final few hours play on Day 1 – I was all in with KK v 77 – a delightful spot, the opponent needing to hit one of two 7’s to survive. I’m 80% favourite. Until I see the flop 689…meaning a 5 or a 10 wins it for him, and guess what…my chip stack was decimated. I was then table moved into the big blind three times in the space of ten minutes to essentially wipe me out. So that was tournament one and highlights the need for a bit of luck at the right time. The guy who beat me with 77 v KK went on to cash for a sizeable amount.
Tournament two and the carnage continued – this time Warren losing with AJ v A10 – and me losing with A4 v J3 all in on a flop of A74 – the opponent needing runner runner diamonds to hit a flush. Which he did.
Tournament three saw Warren run into a horrendous call and catch from his opponent and myself have QJ on a board of 33Q, turn is a Q, I have a full house – Queens full of 3’s. Lovely jubbly. Except...this is poker….and when you’re running bad, you're running bad. My opponent in this hand had flopped quad 3’s and I was out.
But variance is a wonderful thing and it will eventually level out – so after a morning swimming in the sea, playing our 500th game of backgammon and enjoying our 300th coffee from the Sun and Moon coffee shop we decided to play the main event. 3000 players from all over the world including some of the best names in poker, Daniel Negreanu, Hellmuth, Elky along with famous sports stars such as Sergio Aguero and Tony Parker. Shuffle up and deal.
Except we didn’t run good in this either. Warren’s KK met AA and my QQ met KK. The dream over for this year. We will be back though because despite this bad run of cards/beats it was still an amazing experience and one which I have undoubtedly learnt a lot from. The cards didn’t fall my way this time but I felt comfortable and confident in my ability in that company and at that level and that was a positive to take from the trip. The Bahamas is a beautiful island, the tournament was well run and despite one fairly comedy hotel move, when we eventually got into the Atlantis – we really did nail the trip. A big thanks to Warren for his companionship during the trip, and to everyone back home who was cheering us on. It wasn’t to be this time, but one day I'll get my hands on a bracelet!
As for the racing – I haven’t followed much of it during my time away but it sounds like there wasn’t a lot to follow with various abandonments. I did read an article suggesting the BHA are looking into limiting the number of runners in handicaps from one stable. I’m not convinced this would be a good idea but would be interested by your thoughts so if anyone is reading this and has strong views on it then get in touch and Ross and I can discuss it on the next monthly show.
Not to get too overly gushy but I just want to say once again what a brilliant first year it's been being involved in RaceShare and getting to know and meet you all. It really is a lot of fun and to see the RaceShare community expand and grow month on month is terrific. I look forward to seeing you all soon with your RaceShare scarves at the races. In the meantime, I’ll get my head in the form book and in next week's video pick out a few horses to look out for over the Christmas period. Whilst I do that, make sure you all eat lots of chocolate, stuff your faces with good food, watch Home Alone 1 and 2 (tails off from 3) and have a very very Merry Christmas.
Lots of love,
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