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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 22 Aug 2006

Location: London, UK

MapSTRIVING (BUT STRUGGLING) TO BECOME A CHAMPION

It is everyone's dream to one day become a Champion at something, and at the moment, life in and around London is abundant with all sorts of opportunities. Now, most people I know will tell you that I truly am a Champion, but that’s not enough for me, I want everyone to know that I am a Champion. I need a title, something that I can clearly state on a business card – Michael Krischunas (Champion).

The big question is – what on Earth can I become a Champion at?

After six months of traveling, having taken in part in some amazing challenges, adventures and activities, I still haven’t found a reason to put the title of Champion on a business card, but I have had my opportunities, and the best opportunity occurred last weekend, right here in the heart of London. There were actually two distinct opportunities for becoming a Champion, and both well within the reach of the average punter. It was like I was stuck in a Champion seekers dream, with a genuine chance to walk away with the title Champion – maybe even Dual Champion?

So where does the drive to become a Champion come from? I don’t know. Perhaps it dates back to 2003 when a friend of mine from back in Australia made the antipodean adventure to London, and while on his travels, he competed in the World Sauna Sitting Championships in Finland. Whilst he didn’t win, he came to the conclusion that he did in fact post the best time of all the Australian’s competing. Upon closer examination of the times from the first heat where he was eliminated, it was apparent that he also posted the best time for the Southern Hemisphere, and the Commonwealth. So whilst he wasn’t THE Champion, he did later declare himself the 2003 Australian, Southern Hemisphere, and Commonwealth Champion. However, I wouldn’t suggest that my desire to become a Champion isn’t simply a case of trying to get ‘one-up’.

So what exactly were the championships of choice? Saturday saw the First World Strip Poker Championships at Café Royal on Regent Street, thanks to Paddy Power. Sunday saw the 2nd Annual UK Mobile Phone Throwing Championships at Tooting Bec Athletics Track, organized by 8th Day UK. Two very different competitions and both wide open to the public. Whilst the chances of winning were slim, in the strive to become a Champion, each and every opportunity has to be used to it’s full advantage, even if it mean’s getting naked, as the case was at the strip poker championships.

What started as a simple April Fool’s Day joke with a press release stating that the Irish online booking company would sponsor the First World Strip Poker Championships, quickly turned into a publicity stunt that could not be neglected. Requests for more information continued to flow into Paddy Power until they decided to run with the joke, and make something of it.

Joke or not, the 195 entrants starting the poker tournament, 127 men and 68 women coming from 12 different countries around the world, were all striving for the same goal. Not so much to become the Champion, but to take the £10,000 check that came along with the title. Oh yeah, and not end up naked.

Having not trained for the event in almost 12 months – yeah, I played a bit of poker back home in Australia – I really didn’t know what to expect. Scanning the crowd prior to the first hand, I was thankful for two things. Firstly, the smattering of beauties that the event organizers had no doubt found at modeling agencies through London certainly improved the overall good looks of the competitors. Whilst the gender ratio was still near 2-to-1, it was closer to even than I thought it would be, and the quality of the ladies certainly made up for any lack of numbers. Secondly, the agency talent also had a profound impact on my chances in the game. The 30 minute No Limit Poker tutorial session prior to the event beginning was so lop-sided with females that one had to assume the majority of them had never seen a poker game before, let alone played.

The idea of the game appeared simple, but was still worrying enough to have everyone shivering – and at this stage we were all still ‘fully’ clothed, so it couldn’t have been the temperature. Each player is given 1000 units worth of chips at the start, and when their chips are gone, the player is allowed to remove one article of clothing in exchange for more chips – a re-buy. The amount of new chips was 5 times the big blind, which increased every 20 minutes of play.

Each player was given 5 items of clothing to change into prior to the start of the tournament. Everyone received a pair of underwear, shorts, t-shirt and cap, with the females bringing their own bra and the men also receiving a wrist band. The items could be removed in any order, but one of them had to be removed in order to get the new chips.

It didn’t take long to see how the concept would work in real life, as I had a front row seat to the first ‘all in’ of the tournament. In fact, it was the very first hand of the tournament, and there were three people (2 guys and a gal) risking all of their chips, and an item of clothing on the first hand. The dealer made the call of ‘all-in’, and it bounced around the room, with heads quickly turning away from their own hands in anticipation of seeing some skin. As the final card hit the table, it was clear that Mark, the 34 year old from Copenhagen had just tripled up on the first hand of the tournament, and for a moment in time, was leading the championship. More importantly, two players on our table were already without their caps, and one step closer to being removed from my path to the title of Champion.

There appeared to be a battle for the first person to get naked, and it seemed to focus on my table and the table next to me. Andrew Mellescu was quickly shirtless, and looked to be a lock in favourite for the first walk of shame with just his shorts and jocks left, inside half an hour of play. It wasn’t long before the battle was turned up as the player sitting next to me was soon disrobing again, and again, to be left in nothing but his Y-fronts. He did however manage to protect his stack, and his dignity, for long enough not to be the poster boy for bad poker playing. As Andrew ‘busted out’ of his last hand, the media circled like sharks and the first victim stood up, and took the last strip. Flashes erupted from the cameras in what looked like a strobe light at a night-club, and then Andrew calmly reached for his towel to cover up. As the first session wore on, my championship attempt was starting to look grim, and I wasn’t getting the cards I had been hoping for, but I still had all of my clothes – for now.

Finally the hand came, pocket aces, and what’s more, I had a couple people bite at my bet. When an ace and a king hit the table on the flop, I tried hard to contain my happiness, now playing trip-aces. With a bet ahead of me, I raised, only to be called all in. With no risk of a flush on the board, and the best possible hand on the board being trip-kings, or a straight draw, I called to find the other player holding ace-king. He was dominated, and running kings was all that could save him. He hit one, but it gave us both full houses, mine with aces up. Finally, a decent win, and I had inflicted a morale blow with my opponent having to remove a piece of clothing.

Unfortunately that was as close as I came to being the Champion. At the first break, after 80 minutes of play, the tournament officials decided that at the current rate, the tournament would last well into the night, maybe even well into the week. In order to speed things up, each player was given 1500 chips for each piece of clothing they were willing to remove, up to 6000 chips. If you opted to trade in all of your re-buys you would be left in just one item of clothing.

After the break, the scene appeared more like a Turkish bath than a poker room, as people streamed in, wearing little more than a white towel. Most men were in nothing more than their tightie whities, with the women more diverse. The more serious, and game, were wearing the provided g-string and a towel, while those who needed a little more comfort decided to keep their bras on.

As the competition continued, with no more re-bys available, the amount of all-in calls slowed, but the anticipation when they came was incredible. Players were now risking all of their chips, and clothing, each time they put all of their chips on the line. Again, I managed to find myself at a table of firsts. The event organizers threw one more change into the mix. If a player looses all of their chips they may get back into the tournament under one condition – strip off and wave you’re towel around you head. The feat was enough to earn the players 2 times the big blind, and the slightest hope of getting back into a position of winning the title.

After the first player at our table took his towel off, twisted it round his head and waved it like a helicopter, the guys simply seemed to take it as a challenge. It wasn’t long before the display, meant to humiliate, had progressed to simply showing off. People starting standing on chairs, and it wasn’t long before people were standing naked atop the poker tables. The biggest cheer of course was when the first and only girl took the option to top up her chips, taking off her towel and waving it around her head, with the organizers allowing her to keep her g-string on. Unfortunately, that was not a first that took place at my table, in fact, it could hardly have been further away.

As my chips stack continued to fall, taking small hands mainly on bluffs, it was looking as though I would have to last a further day without being a Champion. The challenge ended on the 3rd last hand before the second break when I went all in for 2,700 chips (blinds were 500 and 1000) with my Ace-7 suited. I was up against pocket 10’s (and a German with almost 15,000 chips) and never recovered. The flop brought an ace, but also a 10 and I was beat. The towel stayed on, as I decided the 2000 chip re-buy for a towel waving, groin shaking dance probably wouldn’t have helped me much, and may have caused the people at my table to seek therapy for years to come.

With people fading out of the tournament so quickly, and the tournament organizers running around arranging more chips for the towel waving, butt-bearing, poker players, there was no definitive knock-out placements. I got knocked out with 10 tables left, varying between 8-10 players each, so probably at about the 90 player mark, around half way. At that stage there were still 8 women left, and a couple of the agency girls were giving it their all trying to earn an extra £10,000 for the days work.

Upon getting changed, and packing away my commemorative clothes and towel away, I headed back to the gaming area, and made the most of one of Paddy Powers best ideas of the day – The Open Bar. As the players continued to be knocked out, the number of tables shrank down to 5, then to 3, and finally down to just 2 tables. Everyone wanted to be a part of the final table for a one in ten chance at the money. The last female player was knocked out in 12th, and quickly after, the 11th place was determined and we had a final table.

Weather it was the excitement, or nervousness at the thought of winning, or maybe the air-conditioners had been turned up, but all of the players were shivering, and their nipples were standing on end as they were called to the last table. The first six players were eliminated reasonably quickly, and then the grinding started. The fourth place finisher couldn’t hold on long, and was removed leaving ‘Terminator’, ‘Fabio’, and ‘Hairy Bearded Man’. All of their chip stacks went up and down, hand after hand, but no-one busted out. Eventually, after what felt like half an hour of play – it was 2-3 beers in duration – Fabio (real name actually, looks like Ice from Top Gun, but with dark hair) busted and gave all of his chips to ‘Hairy Bearded Man’. From there it didn’t take long as Hairy Bearded Man used his chip advantage to take the championship. But there was one more surprise in store.

Paddy Power had offered to double the prize to £20,000 if the lot would be donated to charity. I’m sure at some stage it had crossed everyone’s mind what they would do when approached with the moral dilemma. Instead of giving John Young, the winners real name, only one choice, they offered a second alternate - complete a naked victory dance, and there would be two £10,000 checks, one to John, the other to the charity of his choice – Cancer Research. It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing, and pretty soon John had his towel waving in the air.

Congratulations to John, but where does that leave my quest to become a Champion? I headed back to the bar, sure I would find the answer in the bottom of one of the complimentary Becks that I was polishing off. At the very least, I was now in the Guinness Book of Records.

After a shabby sleep, not because I wasn’t a Champion yet, but because I didn’t know strip poker players like to party so late into the night, I woke up groggy asking myself, why did I not succeed? Am I not experienced enough? Is it because I needed more practice? Did I not take it serious enough?

This line of thought worried me. If any of these answers were correct, I’d be in the same predicament Sunday evening, after the UK Mobile Phone Throwing Championships.

Experience? How often do you throw your phone? Not just throw it, but throw it as far as you can? We’ve all hung up the phone, sometimes even before we’ve hung up, and thrown it into the couch, across the room, and sometimes at a wall, but never trying to throw it as far as we can, and never at an athletics track.

Practice? The only thing I have been throwing of late were the chips into the pot on Saturday, the cards into the muck pile, and a bunch of empty cans into the bin. It is safe to say that any athletic ability in my throwing arms has been on a steady decline since I stopped playing baseball about 10 years ago.

Seriousness? How can you be serious about something like strip poker and mobile phone throwing? At the end of the day it is just a bit of fun.

So what went wrong? Upon closer examination it became clear. Having never played in a multi-table poker tournament previously, I did not have the stamina for the event. It is a physically demanding game (ha), but the mental demand is incredible. With the monotony of looking at loosing cards over and over, and with the easy distraction of scattered ass walking around the room in nothing but a white towel and cowboy boots, or a white towel and high heels, or a white towel and knee-high boots (you get the point?) it wasn’t long before the outcome of the card game didn’t seem as important. With that conclusion, I headed to the Phone Throwing with a new found confidence. As long as no-one was throwing wearing nothing more than a towel, I gave myself a chance.

Armed with the knowledge that the previous year’s UK record was just under 70m, and the world record was just over 93 meters, I thought that I would at least have a chance to take out the championships, leaving the world record for my title defense the following year! Upon arrival I was shattered to realize that a distance of 84 meters had already been recorded earlier in the day, by a South African, and I saw my chances of becoming a Champion disappearing quickly. After doing some stretches, and poses for a photographer from the Metro newspaper things got worse quickly. Not only did my photo never get in the paper, but a 2m tall blonde javelin thrower, by the name of Chris Hugff from the UK, showed up, and all chances of winning were out the door.

Whilst the organizers salivated at the thought of an Adonis of a UK representative getting the title back, and the Korean and German film crews completed interviews with Chris, I quietly sat back and did my stretches, hoping to be fully prepared. When asked for his target distance, he flippantly replied he’d like to throw it a hundred meters. Has anyone told him what the world record distance is? Good luck to you buddy!

So, placed in a group with the UK power house, as well as another big German, I saw my chances fading quickly. The German threw first, and had a respectable (okay, it was good) distance in the mid 60’s. The next big thrower was Chris, and he turned the competition on its’ head. Despite being a javelin thrower, it was obvious this guy had spent some time around the odd athletics track in his time, and he proceeded to throw the phone, a Motorola V300, with a discus run up. It was incredible, and the second it left his hand I should have turned around and left. His first attempt registered 92.35m, a new UK record and quickly encroaching on the world record. Finally my first attempt, and using the old school Nokia, I launched, and launched long. I promise, it was long, but it was caught by the sudden wind gust and taken out of bounds for a foul throw, but certainly above 60m.

As the competition wore on, the German in my group continued to extend his distances, finally breaking 70m, but Chris couldn’t recapture the 90+m effort. I finally got on the board with my second throw, putting it in play at 62.25m. Having watched the measurements take place, I was aware of the tendency for the tape holder to measure form the right side of the foul line. As such, any throw to the left of the field would have a greater distance than the same throw to the right. I took a chance, needing to eek out and extra 30m to become a Champion, and most likely a world record holder, and aimed to the left. Again, the wind took it, a risk I had to take, and it sailed wide. Great, three throws, and only one registered. In the end, I did record the 8th longest throw for the day, and was also the longest throw by an Australian - and no I wasn’t the only one there!

Robbed of my chances to become a Champion, I contemplated using the term Australian Mobile Phone Throwing Champion, but quickly ditched the idea. Instead I have put all of my efforts into chasing my next opportunity. There will be practice, training, and a serious attitude. For now I will still be Michael Krischunas, but with the UK Mini-Golf Open being held on the 9th and 10th of September in Hastings, it won’t be that way much longer.