Talking Betting With......Neil Channing


How do you succeed as a professional poker player? How do pro poker players stay ahead of the game? Today on the blog we continue our Talking Betting series as Stephen talks poker and betting with pro poker player and professional punter Neil Channing.

Neil Channing

In our Talking Betting series we interview some of the people who rely on the world of racing and betting to earn a living in a number of different ways. We try and get inside the mindset of these "insiders" and unearth advice for all bettingexpert punters.

In the latest in the series we chat to pro-punter Neil Channing, who is something of a legend in betting rings and on poker tables in the UK and round the world.

How did you first get into the world of betting and gambling?

Whenever people ask me about how I first got into betting, I tell them I was a slow starter and I never really gambled much before the age of ten. It is true though. I used to be quite good at marbles and the loser would give the winner his prized marble. I also liked conkers for the same reason and loved trading football stickers.

The progression to pontoon for small money at 10 or 11 and then poker at 13 or 14 came naturally. My first bet in a shop was at 16 years old but I had bet on-course at 16. Between the ages of 11 and 18 I lived quite close to Ascot racecourse and it was a way of life to go to the meetings. Even the teachers skived off during Royal Ascot to go to the races. Every Monday I would cycle to Windsor to bet the last race favourite from the age of around 16.

How do you maintain discipline over many many hours spent at poker tables?

In poker, as in all gambling, discipline, patience and self-control are the key. In sports and horse betting you should never gamble too great a proportion of your bankroll on one event, in the same way as you shouldn't play a poker tournament for more than 5% of your net worth or a cash game with more than 5% of what you have to gamble with.

In betting, as in poker the temptation to chase losses is always there and in both, there is always another day, another event, race or poker game. The best advice people can take in either is to cut short your losing sessions and prolong your winning ones. In poker that advice is even more important, as your opponents can see when you are off your game or on tilt, and the sharks will try and punish you. When things are going well, the confidence gives you an aura and it can intimidate opponents into playing badly against you. In sports gambling your judgement can be clouded by losing runs so that you stake badly or place too many bets. You have to remain calm and detached, not placing too much importance on individual events.

What is the biggest win and losses you have ever had as a punter?

I honestly cannot remember amounts that I have won or lost too well but I can remember the events. The Super Bowl of 2000 I bet the St Louis Rams at 100/1. They had won a couple of games but it was early in then season. It was one I just spotted and I pressed at 50/1, 40/1, 33/1 etc etc as the weeks went on.

I was particularly proud of betting Paul Lawrie at 50/1 in-running in The Open in 1999. He was a long way back but I thought 12/1 a place was good and then Jean Van De Velde helped me to get the jackpot.

Biggest losses are probably times when I laid things at the racecourse during my ten years as an on-course bookmaker. I do remember one game when a big win was taken from me.

In the Euros of 2000 I was involved in the Italy/Bulgaria game. It was one that Italy needed to win to go through but ONLY IF the two Scandi sides didn't draw 2-2 (they managed to contrive to do so).

The public went mad for Italy. They were backed as if they were a certainty. I laid them and I backed Bulgaria at big prices. I bet under 2.5 goals and continued to press all bets in the first half. Bulgaria went 1-0 up and people reacted by massively pressing on Italy. The market was so skewed towards them I trebled all positions.

Italy equalised and the market now believed that they would CERTAINLY win. I bet against Italy next goal (they were heavy odds-on). I needed the game to end.

Italy scored in the 97th minute and then found out the other game was 2-2 and they were out. I would have won £78k on the game. I lost £4k. (I had won lots on the first goal and the half-time betting and had done my money at great prices).

These days I often play poker with Teddy Sheringham. I think I've told him a few times that Man Utd vs Bayern Munich and the late two goals cost me around £75,000. He isn't massively sympathetic.

How do you find dealing with fellow punters and colleagues on the poker circuit?

When I was in my 20s a group of people would travel around the pro-snooker circuit and to all the UK events on the PGA golf circuit. There was tax to be paid on bets in betting shops, but not if you were at a sporting event. The big firms would have "on-course" betting at these events and the pro-punters would flock to them.

I find the poker circuit a lot like that. In those days all the gamblers would stay at the same hotels as the players and you become immersed in the event. We would eat and drink together and the whole thing would be about punting.

These days it's just the same but the players are all hanging-around telling each other bad-beat stories.

What advice would you give to any aspiring punters/poker players trying to bet professionally for a living?

The best piece of advice I ever heard about gambling was - "You can have an ego in this game but you have to pay for it". I'm not ashamed to admit that I know very little about some of the sports I bet on. I think being a good judge of judges helps. I read a lot and listen to other people to form my opinions. I make lots of mistakes but I try and learn from them.

Do you bet on other sports these days such as racing/football etc?

These days I spend every summer in Vegas and some of the winter in Oz. It means I miss most of the flat season and having attended 20 consecutive Royal Ascots without missing a race, I haven't been for six years.

I do still bet on racing most days though, on NFL every week of the season and on big events like the Oscars, the Grand National, General Elections, The Masters and The Open every time they come round. I mostly focus on events where the market is stronger and the pathetic UK bookmakers may actually take a bet.

What are the hardest things about the job you do now...upsides and downsides?

The hardest part about modern poker is keeping up with the youngsters who are all very hungry, studying hard and watching training videos and discussing the game at the highest level. In sports and racing, people have not improved so much and there is probably a bigger edge. Even there though things always get harder. The little edges I have spotted over the years get noticed by other people, the market corrects and I have to find a new angle.

Luckily I still have some tricks up my sleeve. The absolute hardest part that never gets any easier is finding bookmakers who wish to lay a bet and getting people that lose to pay.

The upside is being your own boss, picking your own hours and the rush you get from being proved right.

What mentality do you need to thrive in the competitive world of poker?

The world of poker is just as tough as sports and horse betting. In both areas the ratio of winners to losers is around 95%/5%. There are always people coming along to try and topple you and both games can only support the winners if there are enough losers. With the world economy as it is there are less losers and with numbers dropping there is less room for winners. The cannibals are eating each other.

You have to be able to see those changes and in poker, an awareness of where you are in the hierarchy in terms of skill-set is important. This self-awareness means you will pick the best games that you can beat and that way you can survive.

As a punter do you use "inside" information for betting/trading or purely your judgement?

Many years ago my horse-racing bets relied heavily on a vast network of contacts. I believe I was one of the best informed punters in the country. After many years of holding a hot phone to my ear and exchanging information with dozens of people every day I realised that my years on the planet were being used up and I wasn't working efficiently.

In 2006 I went into a hermit-like existence and while locked away, I worked as hard as I ever have for around 20 months. I won so much money in that time and I barely spoke to more than 20 people. I barely listen to any contacts now, I just spend a lot more of my time on getting on and hardly any time coming up with selections.

How do you see the poker and betting world developing in the next ten years? Optimist or pessimist?

Poker is having a really bad time. The boom started in 2003 and continued for several years. The market has been in decline for around two years now and unless the US start to allow online poker again or the global economy gets much better the situation won't change. I was playing poker 20 years ago though and things were much worse then. I think I'll still do ok from poker but it may never return to how popular it was five years ago.

I really worry about the betting industry in this country. All I see is bookmakers who are totally reliant on FOBT machines in shops and online casino products who treat their customers with total disdain. I quoted 5% as the proportion of winners, but I reckon 25% or maybe even more have suffered some sort of restriction when asking for bets of just £20 or £30. I cannot understand why none of these firms want to employ decent odds-compilers and actually go back to being bookmakers.

As for what Betfair have done to ruin a great company don't get me started...

I genuinely fear for the UK horseracing industry if the punter who wishes to bet £100 is just not able to get on with anyone.



Follow Neil on Twitter: @SenseiChanning

Read check out his new site

Racing Editor for bettingexpert. Always searching for winners against the crowd and trying to find the value.