Blink and you missed it. In what can only be described as an Easter miracle, it took Neil "Bad Beat" Channing only 150 minutes to utterly dismantle his competitors at the final table of the 2008 Irish Poker Open.
Channing came into Day 4 of the Emerald Isle's largest poker tournament holding a commanding chip lead over the five other survivors who took their seats under the mood lighting at 2 p.m. (GMT) at the Citywest Conference and Golf Resort in the Irish capital. The English pro's stack totaled $2.75 million of the $6.67 million in play, giving him a massive advantage and clear favorite status once play began not a minute before 3 p.m.
He seemed to know how to use his big stack, too, having bullied the final table of nine players the previous night, raising nearly every pot and daring his shorter-stacked opponents to put their tournaments on the line in order to see whether he was bluffing.
The only member of the final nine, and then the final six, who seemed to have any hope of contesting Channing's path to the title was sole surviving Irishman and crowd favorite Donal Norton, with whom Channing had clashed late in Day 3.
Among the many traditions at the Irish Poker Open (another of them is Liam Flood's traditional "Bellowing into the Mic" before, during, and after each tournament day) is the "Lethargy of the TV Crew," which sees the start of play delayed and then, once started, stopped almost on the hour so as not to put undue strain on the camera crew and hosts. Thus it took an hour after the 2 p.m. official start time for the game to begin, but once it had, there was no looking back.
On the second hand of the final table, short-stack Edwin Tournier put his tournament life on the line with K-7 on a J-J-4-Q-K board, holding kings-up but finding himself called by Norton, who tabled J-10. Trip jacks were good to take the pot and just like that we were five-handed, with the sixth hand already off at the cashier's cage collecting his €135,000 prize.
What followed was a brief lull of chip reshuffling that saw almost all of the remaining five players test out the re-raise function and take down a pre-flop pot without an action. After everyone was sure they'd mastered that key poker concept, the game continued and Danilo Paulsen soon found himself eliminated.
Paulsen called a button raise from Neil Channing in the big blind and together the two adversaries saw a flop come K-8-6. Both checked and the turn was a 10, putting two spades on board and prompting a bet from Paulsen and a raise from Channing.
After some serious thought, Paulsen moved all-in over the top and saw his opponent snap-call, holding 9-7 for the nut straight and leaving the Scandi drawing dead. A seven on the river made Paulsen's demise official and he was off to the cashier in search of a check for €175,000 in recognition of his fifth-place performance.
Fourth place would go to Tim Blake, who himself battled with a short stack throughout the day and ultimately could not make it work against his better-chipped opponents. Blake's swan song came after he got all-in with K♣ J♣ for what amounted to peanuts and saw Channing call with Q-6o. The board brought two more queens to give Channing trips and Blake the boot and the Englishman was headed home €220,000 richer.
Three-handed play was essentially a preview of the heads-up match between Donal Norton and Neil Channing, with Thomas Dunwoodie holding one-fifth of the average stack and hanging around for a bit of variety. He wouldn't last long, though, getting all-in with A♦ 8♥ against Channing's A♥ 7♣ and, though looking primed for a big double-up, watching the river bring a second seven and thus eliminate him from contention. Dunwoodie hit the road in third place and takes home €275,000 for his time.
That left only Channing and Norton to face off for the €801,400 first prize. Channing came into the heads-up match with a 2-1 chip lead, but with the average stack at over 50 big blinds each player had plenty of room for movement, and we might have been headed for a long-drawn-out heads-up battle had Norton not been victimized by a cruel deck early on.
The Irishman would lose half of his chips in a hand that would prove to be the turning point of the short heads-up match after turning trip eights with J-8 on a 9-8-6-8-A board. Norton would bet big into his opponent on fourth and fifth streets, but when his bets were called and he turned up his trips, he could only watch in disbelief as Channing turned up K-8 for the same trips with a better kicker.
Thus Norton was left needing to make a move and after a few more hands, he made it, open-shoving with a pocket pair of fives and getting a call from Channing, who turned up A♣ 9♥. It was a race for the Irish Open title and after the flop came A♠ Q♣ T♠, the Englishman took the lead. The turn was the K♣ and the river the A♥, giving Channing trips and clinching his victory!
For the win, Channing gets the aforementioned €801,400, a trophy, a giant novelty check and the glory of a PokerListings.com interview. Donal Norton earns €420,000 for his runner-up finish as well as quite a few free pints in the pub later on this evening.
Congratulations are due both to Channing and to Norton, as well as all finalists, the Paddy Power staff, Headmaster Liam Flood and, indeed, all of Ireland for playing host to another incredible Easter weekend and a tournament quite worthy of representing the Emerald Isle. So long from Dublin!