The scenic route to Monaco
I didn't have much sleep before going to the EPT Final, because my nephew was born at 5am on day 1a. Obviously I had to stay in London to rail that in.
Luckily, I was playing day 1b. So, after an hour's sleep and a dawn hospital visit to meet the world's cutest infant, I went to the railway station with a whole day left to reach Monte Carlo.
Yes, railway station. I don't like flying, because my fear of flying counsellor died in a plane crash. I'm not joking. If you want more detail, you'll have to read my book - but it doesn't really get worse (or better) than that one-sentence summary.
Besides, as I pointed out to my friend ReraiseAllin, it's elegant to travel by rail. Just two and a half hours from London to Paris on the Eurostar, then five hours down to Nice on a super-fast French train with lovely views of Provence and the coast. Delightful.
ReraiseAllin was convinced. He doesn't like flying either. I bought two tickets.
How we congratulated ourselves, as we settled down to play Open Face Chinese on a speeding Eurostar, for avoiding the whole nightmare of airport queues, check-in and security, scary take-offs and bumpy landings. It's all about the train! Best way to travel! We hi-fived across the table.
Then the train slowed... and slowed... and stopped. They announced a 20 minute delay.
No problem! We had a whole hour to change stations in Paris.
Then they revised the delay. To an hour.
So, we missed our connection to Nice, and there were no more trains to Nice that day. Our only option was to just try and get a bit nearer to Nice, then hire a car. Luckily, the helpful Eurostar train manager was on hand, with his map and timetable, to tell us we were stuffed for that too. Non, madame! He was quite certain. No way of getting closer to Nice that day. He said we'd have to fly from Paris airport.
Well, that would make a mockery of the whole scheme. So we decided to ignore him, go to Gare de Lyon and get on the first train that sounded like it might be going south. What can I tell you? We're gamblers.
We spotted one bound for Toulon. My 3G kicked in just long enough to type "MAP OF FRANCE" into Google, then cut out before the next page could open.
But we both had a vague idea that Toulon was somewhere southerly - so the train manager had lied when he said we couldn't go further in that direction. Plus, we'd heard of Toulon, which meant it must be a big town, with car hire places.
Many hours later, we got out of the train at Toulon. Plenty of car hire places in the station! All closed.
Luckily, there were plenty of car hire places at Toulon airport! All closed.
Except Avis. We rang them. They were open! They were happy to rent us a car! Except they didn't have any. Sold out.
By this point, we were seriously thinking of just giving up on Monaco and looking for a cash game in Toulon.
But it was the EPT final and ReraiseAllin had won a package online! We climbed into a taxi and asked for Monte Carlo. We had no idea whether the journey would take us 20 minutes, or 18 hours. But the driver certainly looked pleased with himself.
Two hours and €450 later (could've been better, could've been worse), we got into Monte Carlo. Success!
I won't bore you with tournament stories - meh, I had this, he had that, I bet this, he shoved that, I jammed this, his range was that; whatever. But I will tell you that I did not repeat my glory days of Monte Carlo 2012, when I won one tournament and came second in another. In fact, after a series of dispiriting exits, ReraiseAllin and I decided to leave a day early and make it home to play SCOOP and be reunited with any gorgeous new nephews we might have acquired.
We chose the Old School method of departure: stay up all night, then get the first train on Sunday morning. But how to spend the night before?
I spent mine in the cash games, which were soft as butter and just as salty. ReraiseAllin... well, all I know is:
(1) at midnight he texted that he was going into Jimi's nightclub
(2) at 6am I noticed him sitting on the floor of the hotel lift with Sam Trickett, both of them giggling and staring into space
(3) when I borrowed his phone, I noticed that the last number dialled was CHRYSTELLE, M-C at 5.15 a.m.
Beyond that, I didn't like to ask. We both made it to reception at the appointed hour, and left.
How lovely it is to settle down into a comfy and otherwise totally empty first-class train carriage at dawn on the Riviera, crack open a fresh deck of cards, and try to hit Fantasyland as you speed along the sunshiny coast. Let me tell you, it is absolutely idyllic.
Idyllic, that is, until you get to the second stop and a thousand people appear from nowhere, pour into the carriage and point out you are sitting in their seats. You have tickets for this train, but you do not have allocated seats. Who needs allocated seats at 7.30am on a Sunday? So we had thought.
"I'm enjoying this trip", said ReraiseAllin as we sat on the stairs, clutching our luggage.
A man in a blue uniform came out of the toilet holding a bucket. He stepped briefly on my hand. The bucket made a slopping noise. Somewhere, a child started screaming.
"Do you remember", said ReraiseAllin, "when you said this was an elegant way to travel?"
"This is great!" I shouted desperately. "It's only five hours from here to Paris! These are the most comfortable stairs I've ever crouched on! And you have an iPad! Let's play Chinese."
"I'm getting cramp", he said. "I'll have to play standing up."
Stretching his legs, he climbed the stairs and stood on the balcony above, leaning over the banister to tell me how to set his hand.
It was like Romeo and Juliet - only with Romeo on the balcony and Juliet below, him with cramp and her with an iPad. And both of them much keener on Chinese poker than I remember in the original. But we were happy. For nearly a whole minute.
Then the train tannoy crackled into life. Delay! Animals on the track.
Sheep, to be precise. Sheep on the track. Marvellous. It could be hours. We'd never make the SCOOP.
I looked pleadingly up the stairs at ReraiseAllin. He is a very good-tempered man. I've never seen him angry.
"It's not normally like this..." I whispered.
He paused. He took a deep breath. And then, in a tense voice, through gritted teeth, he growled: "Eight of clubs in the middle."
Next year, we might try the boat.
Vicky Coren is a member of Team PokerStars Pro