Leading from the front, getting it in behind

Experience has taught me at least one thing: it always take me a while to re-adjust to playing live in Ireland after Vegas.

Doke's PocketFives Poker Player Profile

Click image above to check out my PocketFives player profile

Do you wanna be in my gang, my gang?

As you may have read elsewhere, I've been appointed the new Team Irish Eyes Poker captain. Click image above to find out more.

The end of the dream.....for now

Maybe I should stop writing mid tournament blogs as it never seems to end well.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman and Paddy Irishman

My first Unibet Open was in Citywest in Dublin in 2011. Looking back six years later, I have four abiding memories:

(1) It was the first time I played a tournament where I felt like a foreigner in my own country. Exactly how much the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent austerity affected the Irish poker economy was made clear that there was a tournament in Ireland that got less than a dozen locals to buy in.
(2) It was around this time I started staking a young Irish player nobody had heard of at the time called Daragh Davey. As I recall, Daragh and I ended up chopping the Last Longer for Irish. Daragh seemed a little hesitant to chop presumably on basis that he fancied himself to win it outright
(3) I spent part of day 1 on the feature table. When I got home IrishPokerBoards was ablaze with some comments the livestream commentator (a well known local pro) had made about me, or more precisely the size of my head which, with just a hint of exagerration, he suggested could be seen from space. I laughed the comments off and then started answering the numerous texts people were sending me asking me about them
(4) The following day, I scooted off to Lemongrass with Daragh at the dinner break. We were three away from the bubble and I was, surprise surprise, short. After being shown to our table, Daragh brought my attention to a nearby table where a friendless commentator sat alone (the same one who had described my head as a celestial object).
"Do you see....?"
"Yes. The man himself"
"So you heard....?"
"Yes. Not a big deal in my opinion, although it does seem to be a minority opinion"
"But how....."
"Not a big deal Daragh"

Daragh seemed a little surprised by my reaction or lack thereof, and did what any good friend would do in the circumstance: glared disapprovingly at the man himself. Or maybe it was just his natural scowl. This was pre happy Daddy Davey: he had not yet worked out which facial muscles were required to smile.

A few minutes later, the man himself dropped over.
"I hear you are short and not to jinx you or anything but if you do happen to bust, I was wondering if you might join me in the commentary box"
"Sure thing"

Daragh's mouth was wide open at this stage. After the man himself had returned to his table:
"What the Hell?"
"The brazen faced cheek of...."
"Not a big deal, Daragh"
"You did hear what he....?"
"Yes. At least 20 people told me"
"And....but.....the cheek...."
"Not a big deal Daragh. Just banter. Banter is good"

After scraping across the bubble, I did find myself in the commentary box: a fun end to a fun weekend. It turns out feeling like a foreigner in your own land doesn't have to be a bad thing, if the atmosphere among the visitors is as friendly as it was at the event.

Fast forward five years and I'm in Bucharest at the biggest ever Unibet Open. The first thing that stood out was the friendliness I'd seen in Dublin was there still in abundance. In the intervening five years I'd grown accustomed to less friendly and more testy atmospheric conditions surrounding live poker, so this felt like a refreshing return to the good old days of live poker. I was also surprised how many faces I recognised from Dublin: Unibet had clearly done a better job retaining players than other sites and operators. After shooting the breeze with some of the Unibet staff, it was easy to see why. The whole ethos and culture of the company is geared towards the recreational poker experience. This is something that ties in with my view of how poker should be. It should be fun for the so-called fun players: if not what's the point? Live poker in particular shouldn't be 9 robots sitting at a table wearing hoodies shades and Beats grinding GTO ranges. Unibet clearly recognizes this, which is why I'm delighted to announce that I will be representing them as a brand ambassador alongside my good friends Ian Simpson and David Lappin starting at the Unibet Open in London. Watch this space for more announcements as to what that will entail.

First up, we all get to play an ambassador sit n go on Wednesday evening at 7. I believe it will be streamed on Twitch. If nothing else, there should be some good banter. David has already gone on record pointing out he's played more stts than the rest of us put together: he seems to believe grinding out a solid 0.2% ROI over a couple of thousand 6 max hypers will give himself a decent edge over the rest of us. And Ian has taken to the social media to point out that being English makes him innately superior and the only conceivable outcome here is Paddy Englishman will box the two Paddy Irishmen around.

We shall see.....

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Can't be SlowDoke

So I'm on the final table of the Low Roller (as Richie Lawlor dubbed it) at MPNPT Vienna and there's a typically boisterous Irish rail. One of them yells "Cmon the SlowDoke", which prompts the following table talk in German between runaway chippy Dennis Wilke and his partner, WPT Vienna champion Jamila von Perger:

"SlowDoke? SlowDoke is here?"
 "I think they mean the Irish guy"
"There's no way that's SlowDoke. They must have been joking"
"SlowDoke is Irish though"
"Yeah but he doesn't play tight. He's a maniac"

Not for the first time, I didn't let on I understand German as the argument raged on as to whether the oul lad in seat 5 could possibly be the online maniac known as SlowDoke.

I got to the final table with barely over starting stack, so with only 4 paid it was going to be a battle to get to the money. I fancied my chances though even at a tough table as I genuinely believe my final table game and understanding of the intricacies of ICM are the strongest parts of my game.

The stacks and payout structure (min cash was almost three buyins, first place less than nine), plus an unfavourable seat draw was the main reason I played like an old nit. I had online cash Twitcher Espen Uhlen (check out his Twitch stream at https://www.twitch.tv/uhlenpoker some time if you want a change of pace from all the tourney streamers) to my immediate left for the entire tournament, which was fun because he's very friendly and entertaining, but not fun because he's very good at poker. First hand I opened at the final table had to be folded when he threebet. My hand wasn't good enough to call but was almost good enough to turn into a light four bet shove, but after some consideration I decided to stay disciplined as I was a pip or two too far down to go with my hand. Note to self: no more light opens.

I nitted it to the bubble with even less chips than I started with, at which point the runaway chipleader had run further away, Jamila was also prospering and myself Espen and a German kid were eyeing each other wondering who was going to be bubble boy. Bubbles when the short stacks understand just how tight they have to call and the big stacks just how wide they can open or shove can be torturously long, and this one dragged on for almost four hours. I had pretty much the worst seat with the chipleader to my immediate right meaning I never got to look at my cards in the big blind without hearing the words "all in", but I kept my discipline patiently folding all the hands I'm supposed to fold in such a situation. When I folded 88 in the big blind to a shove from the chippy (who showed ace nine) that seemed to be the final straw for the German kid who was the one playing a little too loose already for the situation. A few hands later he made a light shove into the chippy, got snapped off, and bubbled to sevens.

That allowed myself and Espen to start climbing out of the ICM coffin we'd been in for the last four hours, but not entirely. Lagging so far behind the other two meant trying to outlast each other to lock up third was the main priority. Thankfully that mini bubble didn't last as long, with Espen falling to a marginal shove that ran into a dominating hand. He asked me afterwards if I thought it was the right side of marginal or not and I answered honestly that without running it through an ICM tool I wasn't sure. The very definition of marginal.

Finding myself three handed with barely over 5% of the chips meant the handcuffs were well and truly off and I could flip with impunity. A couple of won flips later I was actually able to start playing poker, and clawed myself past Jamila and close to Dennis in the chip conte. Game on. Then game off. Dennis offered an ICM chop and I snap accepted. Even though the three handed was going well up to that point, it's important not to get carried away and think you're suddenly a poker God when the prudent thing is to deal rather than flip for thousands. By now it was 7.30 am and even if I felt less tired than the other two (Dennis seemed barely able to make change at this point), the thought of locking up more than second place and more than a third of the remaining money before heading to bed had a lot of appeal. I also didn't feel this was a good spot, sandwiched between Germany's power poker couple.

I know some people (mainly recreational players) don't like the idea of chops and view agreeing to them as a form of cowardice, but when you're a professional, your job isn't really to gamble for thousands when there's little or no edge to be had and it's inevitably going to come down to who runs best. Your job is to claim your fair share of the equity provided by the players you have a genuine edge on (usually the very same people who shout "Chops are for pussies" :)).

There was other success for the Irish travelling contingent, with Richie final tabling a turbo side, Keith Cummins continuing his recent impressive live run with a second in the last side event, and David Lappin was unlucky not to go further when he bust the main event three tables out. Sean MacCarthy also cashed the main.

There's always a great atmosphere around MPN events, something the MPN live team and skin reps like Nick and Sean work tirelessly for. Poker tours ultimately stand or fail on the recreational player experience, and special credit as ever to the very ladylike and demure Clodagh Hansen who leaves no stone unturned and no photo unbombed.

Vienna itself is regularly towards the top of lists of great places to live, and it's not hard to see why. On my day off Mireille and I went sightseeing in the centre, and with lots of palaces, churches and great places to eat and drink, there are few better places in the world to have a day off. David and I weren't too impressed when the girls forced us to pose for this photo, but it was a small price to pay for finding ourselves in one of the greatest cities in the world.


So all in all a very enjoyable trip, and it's good to get the live year off to a profitable start. I always enjoy catching up with old friends and making new ones on these trips. David and Saron have a baby on the way so this might have been the last trip me and David make together for a while, which makes me a little sad as we have had some truly great times together on these trips, and I just want to pay tribute to him as a great friend and travel companion.


I'm looking forward to a few weeks grinding online. Next up live is the Dublin Poker Festival, centred around the tenth running of the European Deepstack. This event will always have a special place in my heart as my first live score came with my win in the first running in my first year playing poker. After that it looks like my next event will be the Unibet Open in London at the end of the month. Unibet events are always great fun too so that's definitely one to look forward to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Health and ecosystem matters

Life update

This is my first blog of the year because it's been a quiet start to the year: not much to blog home about. I came out of Prague reasonably happy with how the second half of my year had gone live, but also a bit jaded with live poker and looking to a spell at home.

I've gotten better over the years of eating well and trying not to lose too much shape on the road, but the fact remains whenever I am away I can't eat as well or exercise as regularly (more on this later). So periods at home recharging are much needed.

I felt a little out of shape as an online player too given how little I'd played in the last six months, but got back into the groove easily enough with a PocketFives Triple Crown and an otherwise satisfactory start to this year.

As I write this on the eve of my first poker trip of 2017 (to MPN Vienna), I'm quietly pleased with both the work I've put in online and studying the game, and getting back into physical shape. With three 30 mile training runs under my belt already I'm in a lot better shape physically than I was this time last year.

The reason I've waited this long to write my first blog of 2017 is that's pretty much all I've got, so  I'm going to fill it out with some stuff I get asked about a lot, and stuff I've been thinking about lately.

Health matters

This is going to sound like a brag (maybe because it is) but I'm in a lot better shape and healthier than most guys in their 53rd year on the planet. It's not entirely a brag as I think luck plays a large part in it, but I also think I've improved my chances with my lifestyle, in particular exercise and diet. I get asked about these periodically, so I thought I might as well put my answers here.

When I was running competitively, a typical training weak consisted of:
1. Two long runs, one 25 to 30 miles, one 20 to 25 (usually both done on same day, or on consecutive days)
2. Three speed work sessions, a tough one, a lighter one and an easier one
3. Seven recovery runs, 8 miles, in 1 hour

Total weekly mileage 125 to 135 miles, done as two runs a day 6 days a week. Besides running, there was some gym work and other cross training.

The first two years of my poker career overlapped with the last two of my competitive running career (I was still representing Ireland internationally and trying to win races). During this time I definitely struggled with maintaining energy levels and recovery. Prior to poker I slept and rested a lot to recover from training. As poker took over I slept less and hoped sitting at a desk clicking buttons was sufficiently restful for recovery (it wasn't).

At the end of the two years I realised it wasn't possible to juggle the two, so I retired from running (by this time I was a successful online player making multiples of what I could ever make from running).

For the next five years or so, my training was 5 or 6 easy runs a week (weekly mileage 40). Basically just enough to keep ticking over.

Two years ago I became aware that I was a lot less physically fit and had less stamina than before. I think I maintained both residually for years after quitting competitive running but by now it was gone, and I felt the lack of stamina in particular was adversely affecting my poker.

I switched to:
1, one long run (25 to 30 miles)
2. two speed sessions
3. three easy recovery runs

Total weekly mileage 65-70 miles. So nothing like what I did when I was competitive (and younger), but the most I can too without feeling drained when I play poker. My routine is to run once a day before breakfast, and I start my online grind after breakfast. I feel the run wakes me up rather than drains me, but generally don't play on the day I do my long run as this does take too much out of me. This schedule also goes out the window when I go on live poker trips. When I'm away the most I can do is try to slip in a short easy 4 to 6 mile run whenever I can.

As for diet, my typical food intake in a day at home consists of:
A large bowl of fruit
A large bowl of porridge
Two boiled eggs
A tuna salad baguette
Meat, veg and rice or pasta
A large bowl of grapes
A small amount of walnuts
Cheese and crackers or a tin of sardines

I should point out that I have zero qualifications as a nutrition or exercise expert: at best I'm an autodidactic lay person, but this combination seems to work for me.

Ecosystem matters

In Bucharest last year at the Unibet Open, we had a lively debate with the always informed and interesting Kat Arnsby on the new Stars "Beat The Clock" format. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's basically a coked up version of the old Time Tournament (another truly pointless format: basically a cash game with bigger rake masquerading as a tournament) with rapidly escalating blinds and an unbeatable rake. After I'd moaned a bit about the format, Kat sharply countered with "sod you pros, it doesn't matters what you guys think. It's a fun format recreational players will enjoy".

While I agree in principle with the view that recreationals should drive the bus, I don't feel that raking them to death in a new format is the right road to take. But I was unable to mount a coherent argument as to why. Then a few days later I heard an interview with a Daily Fantasy Sports pro, and I remembered why.

He was talking about the sweet spot DFS operators are trying to find between maximising their revenue while minimising the drain on players funds. He used an example from Sim City where you can destroy a vibrant successful city by increasing taxes to the point you lose citizens, and revenues go down rather than up. This is a lesson some poker operators, certainly Amaya, seem to have forgotten. If you take the myopic view of increased rake increased profit, you end up cannibalising your player pool faster than you can gain new players. If it's not clear how let's try a little thought experiment.

Imagine a site with 300 players. The only game the site offers is a $50 game aggressively raked at 10%, lasts 15 minutes, and is unbeatable long term.

Each player deposits $1000 at the start, and they hope for 20 hours of enjoyment in a week. That means playing 80 games.

Due purely to variance, 100 of these players run well and win (excluding rake), 100 break even, and 100 lose all their money.

It's easy to see how the losing players lose. In point of fact, they are the least affected by the rake, as even if there was no rake, if they have a negative ROI of 25%, they'd lose the lot anyway. All the rake does is speed up the point at which they go busto.

Now let's look at the "break even players". They break even excluding rake. Including it (ten per cent of $50 times 80) means they actually lose $400, ending the week with $600.

How much do the winning players "win"? Well, since money doesn't disappear we can work it out. At the start of the week, each player deposited 1k, so that's 300k into the system. The losing players lost the lot (100k between them) while the break even players lost 40k when we adjust for rake. In total each player paid 400 in rake, which adds up to 120k, which represents the site's profit. So of the 140k lost by losing and break even players, 120k goes to the site, and only 20k to the"winning" players, who therefore win $200 each on average to end the week with $1200.

So how about it, recreationals? Does that sound good to you? Deposit and a week later there's an equal chance you either are up 20%, down 40% or down 100%? I think we'd agree you'd have to be a mug, and while there are undoubtedly mugs out there, they are in limited supply, and you eventually run out of them. Yet this is exactly the model Amaya seem to be pushing.

A couple of years ago after the dust settled from the Amaya takeover, a Stars employee told us that the new strategy revolved around eradicating the pros. I don't think we fully believed it at the time, but we do now. There are a number of problems with that strategy (it's hard to maintain liquidity when everyone is a long term loser, for instance) but even if there's some sense to it, the implementation has been nothing short of disastrous. Spray bombing insecticide on the player pool in the form of worse structures and increased rake may eliminate the pros, but you end up killing recreationals even quicker.

Just as increasing rake does not lead to increased profit, reduced rake does not necessarily reduce profit. What it does is give losing players more bang for their buck. They will still end up losing in the long term, but if they do so more slowly while having fun, they are much more likely to be willing to redeposit. There will be much less "I deposited a grand and it was all gone in a few hours" stories to dissuade new players. There will be much more liquidity and much less need to keep finding new players to replace those going bust. This is a lesson DFS operators seem to be learning, and the online poker industry needs to relearn.

Up next

I generally plan my poker career in six month chunks (before and after Vegas), and the plan for the first half of 2017 is a fair amount of live poker in February, then a break until late March. Then four or five weeks concentrating on live poker again (mostly in Ireland) and another break before Vegas. I'm planning a longer WSOP campaign than in recent years, maybe even getting there as early as June 3rd.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Life in the old Doke yet (YWNOM)

2016 got off to a pretty shaky start for me personally. Laid low with a particularly bad bout of food poisoning, I found it hard to get in the volume online. I spent some of my  recovery time struggling for inspiration to finish a trip report blog on Prague. I finished it in the early hours of January 10th listening to the new David Bowie album Blackstar, and went to bed with the intention of proofreading and posting it when I woke up.

I woke up to the news that Bowie had died. Suddenly the Prague blog seemed especially pointless, and I struggled through the day feeling unspeakably sad before deciding the best way to deal with it was to write about it. The blog I wrote took on a life of its own over the next few weeks and months, quickly becoming the most read blog I'd ever written, by a factor of over 500%. Even now one year later it tends to be my most read blog in any given month.

A little embarrassed by its reach, I struggled with the idea of "How on Earth do I follow that?" Following it up a few weeks later with a blog bemoaning how badly I ran at EPT Dublin seemed a little pointless, so I told various people who asked that it would probably be my last ever blog. I continued to struggle mentally and physically through the next few months. I followed two min cashes at the EPT Dublin event with the longest cashless live streak of my poker career. I stopped keeping count as I figured keeping a scoreboard on failure would just worsen my depression, but it stretched through the European Deepstack, Norwegians, JP Masters, Irish Open, UKIPT London, Sofia, Malta and the first half of my WSOP campaign. Online I struggled for focus and motivation even if in strict profit terms I made a decent start to the year. The changes Amaya continued to foist on Stars were clearly making online poker increasingly difficult to make any profit at. Online gets tougher every year, but for the first time this year there was a massive cull of winning pros, and Stars in particular made it clear they were out to end online poker as a career option.

I did manage to keep studying and working on my game through this time, and mentally I felt I turned a corner in April. After busting UKIPT London early, I got to hang out with my study partner and amazing friend Daiva in London for a few days, and she did a great job helping me see the forest for the trees and regain my focus. Only another poker player can understand the peculiar brand of crazy that drives someone trying to be an elite poker player. With Vegas just around the corner and having already committed to following up my most successful WSOP campaign ever last year with a similarly ambitious schedule, I threw myself into preparations for that. I decided to restart my blog with a poker "comeback" blog (shortest retirement ever!), and I came back from London fired up to get back to work seriously. While there I snuck in an online session and won a Party tournament. I followed it up with two more wins back home to clinch the fifth PocketFives Triple Crown of my career.

I followed that with an op ed blog on the GPL, which became my most read poker blog in a long time and sparked a lot of discussion about the GPL and its future, which I guess was the point of writing it in the first place.

My last trip beforeVegas was to Malta where I was lucky enough to stay with Lappin and grind with Ian Simpson.

My journey to Vegas was not without incident and my cashless streak live continued for the first half of my WSOP campaign. I almost missed my flight to New York for my mid series refresher break, ending up spending a sleepless night in McCarran airport waiting for a diverted flight to LAX.

I came back from New York feeling recharged and my luck turned in event 56 where I came close to making my third WSOP final table in a year. I was obviously disappointed not to go all the way but also relieved to have at least ended the cashless streak.

I followed that up with two more cashes meaning I cashed 3 of my last 5 events at this year's WSOP. Unfortunately the two bricks were the two I'd most like to have cashed, the Team event and the main. But I left Vegas on a high enjoying live poker again.

Back home, I wrote another Bowie-related blog, a review of Adam Buxton's Bowie show I was fortunate enough to attend (earlier this year I was also fortunate to join Adam on his podcast).

My good live form continued with a High Roller cash in Lille and a cash in the main event at EPT Barcelona. I went to Barcelona straight from a very enjoyable trip to Tallinn for the MPN tour stop there. Although I cashed in Barca and bricked everything in Tallinn, on every other front Tallinn was a much better experience than Barcelona. The blog I wrote contrasting the two events and the differing philosophies of their operators quickly became my most talked about and widely read poker blog ever.

It also caused quite a stir internally at Stars, as I quickly realised when I turned up in London for the UKIPT the following week. I lost count of the number of Stars employees or associates who came up to say they agreed fully with my blog and that of Lappin on the same topic, but it was more than their jobs were worth to acknowledge that in public. In the mean time, I concentrated on my own job, nursing a short stack through the bubble all the way to the final table. With Stars already having announced the death knell for the tour, it was an ambition realised to finally make a final table after several last two table finishes. I ended up doing my customary "ladder the short stack to headsup, then lose" but came out of the event feeling I'd done everything I could and got the most out of it.

I also came out of it thinking that would be the highlight of my year, but one week later I had to revise that. I went to Killarney (one of my favourite places to play poker) knowing there was a small but almost impossible chance of having to multitable two events, if I made the last few tables of the WPT having already made day 2 of the GPPT with a big stack. In the event that big stack was needed to prevent me from blinding out of the GPPT while I battled my way to fourth in the WPT. I got to the GPPT having lost almost one million chips blinding out (over fifty starting stacks!) and ended up making my third final table on the bounce. Once again I laddered to headsup with a significant chip deficit. I turned this around to lead headsup at one point, but ended up coming second yet again.

Next up was Hamburg, and my back to back to back final tables added another back as I final tabled the High Roller there. Away from the tables, this was one of my favourite trips of the year hanging out with a great crew that included High Roller champ George Danzer, and a memory of us tricking a puffing and panting Lappin to ascend seemingly endless stairs ("THERE WAS AN ELEVATOR? YOU BASTARDS!") that will live long in my brain.

Another final table and another second place in the last ever UKIPT side event, and a nostalgic blog looking back on the UKIPT tour that became one of my most popular and most read ever.

Another enjoyable trip to Morocco for the MPN stop there where I managed to finally break my appalling record of never having cashed an MPN event (I came third in the High Roller won by Lappin) and then the most enjoyable trip of the whole year, to Bucharest for the Unibet Open. Not much joy for me personally on the poker front (one final table bubble in a turbo side event) but lots of joy away from it. I even got there just in time to see Daiva ship the Ladies Battle Royale after she put on a master class of poise, discipline and ICM.

My last trip and blog of the year was a much less joyous affair where Stars proved that not only are they trying to suck all the profit out of poker for the pros but also all the fun for the fun players. I came back from Prague a little jaded with live poker, which is understandable given how much I played in the last six months. Travelling almost non stop meant my online volume in the second half of the year was a pale shadow of former years. Doing so little online volume was one big reason why I've had my least profitable year online since I switched to mtts. The other reason is just that online got so much tougher this year as Stars policy of squeezing out the pros bore bitter fruit. I basically broke even this year on Stars before rakeback so I only turned a profit there due to the rakeback I enjoyed as a Supernova. With that now gone, I'll be slashing my online volume there further next year (I already reduced it by 35% this year). The good news is that other sites thankfully now see an opportunity for the first time in years to grow at Stars expense, so are showing encouraging signs of not joining them in the race to the bottom attempting to squeeze the last juice from the last few recreational players. All my profit online this year basically came on the other sites I play, and if any of you recreational players are buying the Stars spin that this is good for you guys, well, all I can say is you are being duped. An exodus of pros from Stars doesn't mean you guys will lose your deposits more slowly: it just means less liquidity, smaller prize pools, that all the money you lose will disappear down the rake hole, and that Stars will go on implementing policies to make structures worse so you lose money faster while they screw you on currency exchanges and any other way they feel they can get away with without pros biting at their heels complaining.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly disillusioned with staking as a good use of my time and bankroll. This year I cut back even more, and it's unlikely I'll ever take on someone and fully stake them again. On the other hand, the fact that I had less horses to coach freed me up to coach more people I don't stake, and 2016 was the year I did the most of this. One thing which has held me back from doing more coaching in the past is the nagging feeling that I'm a much better player than coach, but I do now feel I've improved a lot on this front to the point where I can transmit my ideas and approach better. Several of the people I coached had massively successful years (more successful than my own), which admittedly might just be variance (one guy who won an online major immediately after our first session commented wrily that I at least seemed to have given him the ability to win all the flips). But I am finding coaching more enjoyable than ever so will be doing more of it in 2017 (drop me an email at dokepokercoaching@gmail.com if you are interested).

I also made my official Twitch debut in 2016 (doing the first Poker School Night for Party Poker) and that's something I'm definitely interested in doing more of in 2017 once I work out exactly how I want to approach it. I don't want to half ass it, so first I need to work out what I can contribute that is unique. Livestream commentary is something I always get a kick out of, and this year I did some at the Irish Open, in Tallinn, alongside Lappin in Morocco, and with Lappin Daiva and Convey in Bucharest.

Reflecting on my online year, and that of several of my friends who basically lost their livelihood this year (there has never been a year where so many pros I know have been forced to seek alternative employment, and there are guys who ranked in the top 50 or even top 10 in the world not so long ago who were forced to admit defeat this year), it's easy to be a bit depressed. But I draw comfort from the fact that I managed to remain profitable this year online even as I struggled with illness and personal issues in the first half of the year, and focused more on live poker in the second half. Towards the end of my running career, I knew it was coming to an end, and hoped I could successfully transition into poker. After poker, I hope to transition into writing. Looking back at this blog I realise that the one area where 2016 was unquestionably my most successful year ever in poker was on the writing front. The last few years my end of year thoughts on my blog were of the "getting difficult to think of new stuff to write about, might just call it a day" variety. Like most online poker content, the popularity and readership of my blog grew steadily until Black Friday, and then went into decline. This year reversed that trend, with my blog attracting more readers than ever before by a considerable distance. Admittedly most of that distance is accounted for by the totally unexpected viral success of the Bowie blog with zero poker content, but even taking out that blog, this year would have been the one I got the most hits ever for the poker blogs. I also enjoyed writing my continuing Bluff Europe column.

That said, the fact that I'm planning for a career after poker does not mean I'm planning to end my poker career just yet. On the live front I still feel I can compete with the best, and my deep run in Vegas and several final tables since are grounds for optimism that I haven't written the final chaper (or blog) of my WSOP career. I feel as fit and hungry for success as ever. I've always been a contrarian in the sense that as soon as I notice I'm doing the same as everyone around me, I stop wanting to do it. Seeing the same faces on the ant trail to the morning commuter train was a big motivation for me to leave the ant trail and find another way to making a living, which ultimately was poker. Seeing more and more of my friends, several of them more naturally talented at poker than me, give up and go back to work just makes me more determined than ever to do everything I can to go on in poker.

After I got back from Prague and reflected on my online year, I decided I wanted to finish it on a high with a concrete achievable goal: my sixth PocketFives Triple Crown. So immediately after eating Christmas dinner, I settled myself down for a marathon 16 hour Sunday grind that culminated with me winning a tournament on ACR. Two days later I added a win on Ipoker, and two days later I clinched the Triple Crown. Having played so little the last six months that I was feeling a bit rusty online, it was good to feel I could still do it if I tried hard enough.

A poker player tweeted wrily that it's ironic how many players tweet resolutions for self improvement the night after the most debauched session of their year. In true contrarian fashion, I spent the afternoon of my New Year's Eve running 23 miles round my local park, and the rest of the day studying poker. I have lost some shape in the last six months of endless travelling, but I intend to be back in 30 mile long run shape by the end of January. To survive as a pro in poker you have to be prepared to study more than ever but if that's what it takes, then I'll put the work in. In the words (or letters) of my Lithuanian friend Laurynas, YWNOM.

Looking forward to 2017, the plan is to work harder and smarter than ever. The WSOP will always be the main focus of my live poker year. Before then, I intend to travel a lot less and be much more selective in what I play, focusing on events I actually want to play and places I want to visit. I want to rededicate myself to online, as that has always been the main focus. I want to do everything I can to be in top shape physically and mentally again when I get off the plane in McCarran airport. And I want to end 2017 feeling that online poker is still a very viable option as my main source of income. Most of all, I want to look back and feel I gave it my best shot and hopefully proved that there's life in the old Doke still.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bumrake in Prague

I don't have as many happy memories of EPTs as I do of, say, UKIPTs. I only started playing them when Stars introduced 3x satellites, a new format most regs dismissed as crapshoots. I quickly worked out that not only was this not true, it was way off, and massive edges were to be had in them. Not to blow my own horn but I think I was the first (or at least among the first) to work out optimal strategy from first principles. Certainly for a good 12-18 months, I enjoyed the highest ROI of anyone in the world in them, and my first massively profitable year on Stars was based almost entirely on them (I played almost nothing else on Stars at the time, preferring to grind softer Euro sites).

Winning several packages to every EPT and UKIPT stop meant I was in a sense freerolling the tournaments themselves, but that's not how I looked at it. I still wanted to do well, but didn't. It took me almost a dozen EPTs to notch up my first cash (in Berlin). My record since then is much better (cashing roughly half the time), but a truly deep run has eluded me.

Given that, and the fact that Prague would be the last ever EPT, I went there hoping to run deep. I have been in good form live the past few months, but sadly it wasn't meant to be. My tournament was a pretty miserable grind to hang in around starting stack for most of day one before a memorably ugly exit.

I grinded side events with more success, cashing over half those I played and notching up 7 cashes on the trip. Unfortunately most of these were min cashes, with the only half decent score a bink in the only EPT satellite I played (I really should have played more). Nevertheless, a profitable trip is always something to be grateful for.  I also managed to sneak in one mini Sunday grind, where a couple of satellite binks and my deepest run ever in the Milly made for a decent day.

Whine moan bitch

Before I go on, I should warn the reader that moans and complaints from pampered pros such as myself are not everybody's cup of tea. If you are one of those people then you should stop reading now.

However, I do think most players realise that these complaints come not from a place of self pity, but from a desire to raise legitimate concerns and issues with the quality of service and experience provided not just to myself but much more importantly to recreational players for whom an event like this represents a much bigger deal. A bad experience at a live event won't stop me from playing live (it's my job after all) but could very well turn away recreational players. And once that happens, the game is up for all of us. I was very grateful to all the players who personally expressed gratitude to myself (and Lappin) for the abolition of the refund min cash and the 10 am starts after we vigorously complained about them in our Barcelona blogs. I don't think we can claim all or even much of the credit for the reversals of policy, but it's always nice to be understood and appreciated.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's look at what was bad in Prague.

Clock chaos

I have literally never seen anything like some of the clock problems I saw in Prague. One flight of the Cup was marred by a clock that seemed to have a mind of its own. Random stops and starts, level jumps, unscheduled breaks, inability to display prize pools or number of remaining players, the clock software seemed to be designed by Murphy as everything that possibly could go wrong seemed to.

The next turbo side event I played was even worse. By now I was starting to wonder if having won the election for Trump, Putin had now instructed his hackers to turn their efforts to bringing down Stars. We were sent on a break near the bubble as the excellent and overworked tournament staff tried to sort it out. We came back to find they'd just given up: thereafter they were reduced to walking around like town criers shouting blind levels and number of players left while we all looked at a frozen clock. In this medieval environment I missed a pay jump narrowly not realising I should be tightening my ranges slightly because of inaccurate information from the town criers.

When I finally bust I stood up waiting to be collected and brought to the payout (standard operating procedure). After an awkward delay I realised nobody was coming so I attracted the attention of the nearest town crier. He derisively tossed his head in the direction of a faraway payout table. I don't blame him as he was run off his feet at this point due to the clock chaos, but I also don't see how I was supposed to magically divine where the payout table was.

By day 2 of the cup, the most common floor announcement was "please ignore the clock in the cup". I was told by Stars staff that the problem was eventually identified as a bug that couldn't have been tested for before as it only arose when two people were editing the clock simultaneously. As someone who worked for almost two decades in software, I strongly disagree with that assessment. That's not "impossible to test for", that's pretty basic stress testing.


Last year we were told by tournament staff that every seat in the big tournament room was "turned over" on average 5.5 times a day, meaning that five and a half rake paying bums occupied each seat each day. That's testament both to the organisational skill and efficiency of the organisers, and the "bums in seats" mentality that has taken over since the Amaya takeover.

I don't know what this year's bumrake number was, but I'm guessing it was even more than 5.5. Stars crammed over 100 tournaments into the schedule, mostly turbos and hypers. That's grand for pros like me who are there to grind, but really not much fun for recreational players. Many of the other issues that added up to a very unpleasant experience (ten handed tables, tired tilted dealers, large alternate lists, tables in noisy draughty corridors, lack of sociability) flowed inevitably from this decision to cram the schedule. The WSOP spreads fewer events out over 6 weeks: cramming 100 into one week is just a recipe for disaster. When the pros are all rushing from one event to another and the recreationals are in a long alternate list waiting to be seated and everyone is tilted from ten handed poker dealt by tired snippy dealers, nobody has either the time or inclination to socialise away from the table, or at it. A rather dark hostile atmosphere loomed over most of the tables I found myself at.


EPT used to be known for having the best dealers in the world. No more. Why have so many great dealers disappeared from the scene in the last year or so? Why do they seem to insist on replacing half the dealers with total newbs every single stop? I've been told the answers to both these questions is "to keep established dealers on their toes" and "to reduce costs". Whatever the reason, EPT can no longer claim to have the highest standard of dealing, and the whole culture has changed from one where the dealers knew their job and more importantly how to handle inexperienced players to one where they don't necessarily and they snip at inexperienced players who are slow to ante.

I don't like hating on dealers or floor staff. I have at least as many friends on that side of the business as on the playing side. I recognise its a tough largely thankless job, all the more so when you are dealing to tired grumpy players tilted by lack of personal space and the slow nature of ten handed poker. I felt guilty complaining about dealers to the point I started tweeting  pictures of the good ones I encountered every day as "Doke's dealer of the day".

I have nothing but admiration for floor staff like Kate and Dena and Glenn and Nick as they whizzed around breaking tables and dealing with bubbles in the most trying conditions imaginable, all the time maintaining the professionalism and friendliness that distinguished them as great dealers in the past. The point is they should not have to be exceptional just to be adequate. The finger of blame points squarely at their corporate masters who exploit their work ethic by overworking them.

Ten handed misery

The stock excuse for ten handed play is always numbers. Too many players too few tables not enough dealers. This was exarcerbated by the packed schedule. If the night club is too full, you don't respond by adding attractions and letting more people in, but this is basically what they did when they decided to increase the number of tournaments dramatically this year.  Worse, it was exposed as a damn dirty lie on my last full day in Prague, as I sat in a room where 75% of the tables lay empty (these events start to die slowly a few days from the end as more and more people leave town), and yet the tables that were occupied were still ten handed! The reason for this was reportedly that most of the dealers had been sent home the previous day, leaving just enough to cope with remaining demand, so long as the tables remained ten handed. So basically, more cost cutting.

Structures and rake

As I mentioned, most of the schedule was turbos (15 minute blinds) and hypers, designed presumably to maximise bumrake. Add in the fact that almost every event regardless of structure was apparently raked at 13% plus and you started to smell the ripoff. I say "apparently" because it seems to be the new policy to hide the rake, advertising only the buyin. I think the 550 hyper buyin broke down to 500 plus 50 in rake with another 3% taken out for staff costs. If a Stars employee knows differently, please advise me. More importantly advise your employer to start advertising the rake again.

I boycotted all the hypers due to rake concerns. As much as I love a good easy Hendon mob cash, 13% rake on a ten minute crapshoot is a ripoff too far.

Moving from the general to the specific, the worst single example of a ripoff came in the turbo I played on my last full day in Prague. By then I'll admit I was somewhat on autopilot and looking to getting home, so I didn't notice anything until uproar erupted at the table behind me. Recreational players were demanding an explanation from floor staff as to why the clock had been changed from 30 minutes (as advertised) to 15 without anyone being told. They were told initially that it just was. Then that it was a typo or a mistake. Several protested they wouldn't have registered had they known it was a 15 minute clock, only to be told there was nothing that could be done about it now.

It fell to Lappin and myself to take to the social media to highlight the change. This apparently annoyed Stars to the point where Lappin was pulled aside at the next break for a discussion with Stars staff. I wasn't present for those discussions so I'll leave it to David to reveal what was discussed.

And now, the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain

Some people who follow me on social media were concerned I was a bit life tilted by the whole experience in Prague. Nothing could be further from the truth. Prague is a beautiful city and a wonderful place to be in winter. I was lucky enough to be sharing accommodation with a great bunch of guys, and enjoyed many great meals, walks, runs and coffees in their company. I thank my lucky stars every morning that I get to play cards for a living, and to have a wonderful wife and lots of great friends who support me in this.

I don't want to be the guy who just complains about Stars all the time. I will do so until I reach the point where I think there's no longer any hope of change. After that I'll vote with my feet. There's a decent chance this will be my last blog moaning about Stars. As a result of the loyalty programme changes, my Supernova status there will expire at the end of January. After that I expect to reduce my volume on Stars dramatically, concentrating even more on better value sites. There's a decent chance this will be my last ever complaint blog if for no other reason Prague might have been my last Stars live event. Again, it feels like the time to vote with my feet and favour other tours is at hand. Before finishing, I would like to acknowledge some of the things Stars got right in Prague. In growing the numbers attending the festival year on year they are doing something right. The registration and payout procedures flowed relatively smoothly, thanks in no small part to being staffed by several top notch long term Stars staff. The security queue chaos was less than in previous years, thanks mainly (as far as I could see) to a Stars security man whose name I don't know but have seen at other events who supervised the local security staff excellently (edit: I'm reliably informed by my good friend Willie Elliot that the gentleman in question is a Scottish guy living in Ireland called Tony (according to Barny Boatman): his accent is indeed a marriage. In the words of Willie he is "conspicuously good"). The floor staff were for the most part excellent, and even if overall dealing standards have fallen, a lot of great dealers remain. The damage done to the Stars live events brand in the past year or so is (in my view at least) both irrefutable and reparable. They clearly haven't as yet lost the masses and there is still time for them to avert crisis. However, it is sad that the last memories most people will take away from the successful EPT brand will be for the most part miserable.

While the work experience and atmosphere at the tables in Prague was as unpleasant as I've ever encountered, I'm perfectly capable of sucking it up when it's my job. I worked in unpleasant environments long before poker. The reason I moan whinge and complain as much as I do about these things is the same reason I would complain about bad service in a restaurant. I'm hoping my complaints will result in better service for myself and other clients in the future, or if not, help persuade customers to look elsewhere for better service. I feel that players like myself and David who have a louder voice than your average recreational player have a responsibility to air the concerns of recreational players after they've been told to like it or lump it. It would be far easier for us to just keep our heads down and wait for things to reach a tipping point before we vote with our feet, but as long as there's any prospect, no matter how remote, that we can annoy the powers that be to the point that we can at least help improve things for the better for players of all levels, then we have a responsibility to continue as thorns in their side.

I started this blog with a declaration that I didn't have many happy memories of EPTs. But judging from a personal message I received from one young aspirant in the industry, there must have been some. I won't reveal his name for fear of hampering his future career prospects, because if there's one industry that needs insiders that care about the customer experience, it's the poker industry.

I get a sense that Stars have come to see vocal critics like myself and David as an annoyance they would like to get rid of. But they should perhaps remember that it was the genuine praises and plaudits we heaped on them in the past (and that we continue to heap on operators like Unibet Party and Microgaming who do still care about customer experience and deliver a positive one) that helped romanticise and build their brands in the first place. They may accuse us of what the Aussies call tall poppy syndrome, but if you cut off the heads of all the poppies, you are left with a field of stems that nobody wants to look at.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


"The great thing about Oonibet..."
"It's Youneebet David"
"Yes the great thing about them is that Oonibet..."

So I'm doing some commentary on the Unibet Open in Bucharest alongside the legend that is Marc Convey and the gobshite that is David Lappin, who has found a ooniquely pretentious way to pronounce the sponsors.

Another flawless wictory for....

My trip to Bucharest couldn't have gotten off to a better start. After cabbing it from the airport to the Marriott and dropping a suitably impressed Mrs Doke off in the room, I went back downstairs to rail my study buddy and close friend Daiva in the Ladies Battle Royale. Unibet had assembled an impressive lineup for this one table invitational event. In addition to Daiva, they had Luciana Manolea (who as luckyno75 has crushed online for years and is to my mind the best female online player in the world), Gaelle Garcia Diaz, Kat Arnsby (one of the best poker bloggers right now) and Maret Komarova. Daiva crushes Ladies events but she still prepared specifically for the format so I was hoping her efforts would be rewarded.

I got there as she was mid tank three handed having raised the button and gotten shoved on. She made a great fold and a couple of hands later she had sealed another Ladies event victory. 

After her interview, we went for a celebration dinner which she paid for. Always a class act.

In for the long haul

The following day I did my first stint in the commentary box alongside Daiva and Marc. I'd already made my first excursion into the Old Town with Mrs Doke and Daiva. We ate in a restaurant (La Mama) the two ladies liked so much they decided we'd eat there again that night, with Saron, David and Ian Simpson who got in that afternoon.

Our commentary duties completed, we headed to La Mama in two cabs. We went in the first one with Ian, which led to us sitting in the restaurant for 45 minutes explaining to a suspicious waiter that we really did have three other friends on the way while I swapped texts with Lappin.

"Where are you?"
"Still in the cab. Think we are being long hauled again"

"Where are you now?"
"Walking. Nearly there"

"Where are you now????"
"In the restaurant"
"I doubt that"

"Turns out there are different La Mama's. We are in the wrong one?"
"Really? Oh well, these things happen. Not like one of you was in the right one just a few hours ago"

Why are we here? Oh yes...poker

By the time I sat down to play the main event on day 1b I had started to get a sense of what my friend Timmy said made Unibet events unique. A couple of late nights socialising might not be the ideal preparation for optimal day one play, but it was a good crash course in how much fun these events are when the site (Unibet) makes an effort to foster a community spirit and a fun experience rather than viewing its players purely as rake paying oonits.

For once I made a good start, but a few sharp reverses meant I found myself late on day 1 shortstacked. I opened ace queen, looking for action, and got it. My 4 bet shove was called by tens, and I lost the flip. I felt unusually sad to depart, perhaps because I was enjoying the tournament so much.

At least that freed me up for some more late night socialising. Around 3 am Daiva, who despite having the physique of a supermodel, is capable of stuffing her face with any sort of fatty food or alcoholic beverage any time of the day or night, decided she needed more food. Word reached us of a Chicken Staff (Romanian KFC), and with Lappin (a man who knows the word for No to late night chicken in no language) and Kat Arnsby we had a couple of willing accomplices for the walk of shame. Daiva proclaimed it to be the best late night chicken ever, and in fact it was pretty tasty. There is no hotel too fancy that can't be improved by close proximity to a decent late night chicken joint.

Somehow we always end up in a supermarket

The next day I juggled a few options in my head as to what to do. As a general rule at poker festivals, the juiciest side event is the biggest buyin below the main: in this case the 330 that started at 2. But Ian said that Unibet high rollers also tended to be super juicy, and that started at 4. I decided to hedge my bets til 4, knowing I could still late reg the 330 if the High Roller proved unjuicy.

As it happened a third attractive option presented when Daiva awoke from her chicken fuelled coma and decided with Mireille they wanted to go to a shopping mall they'd heard good things about. I wouldn't be the biggest fan of malls in general, but I have to say the AFI Palace is unique as far as malls I've been to. It's centred around a number of attractions to children like a skating rink and rollercoaster and giant slides,

It also boasts a wide selection of excellent restaurants. We chose to eat in a Lebanese place which was pretty awesome. As always seems to happen whenever I go out with Daiva and Mrs Doke, it always seem to end with us buying booze in a supermarket.

The plan was to drink the booze back at the hotel but I got the call back to the commentary box for the night shift (it was players party night and I imagine most of the others were headed there). Myself and Marcus Maximus Convey were joined by Lappin, who had found his own oonique solution to the "330 side or High Roller" problem (play and bust both in good time to do comms with us).

Don't touch any buttons

After an hour largely spent teasing David about his pronunciation of Oonibet, we went on a break. Marc told us to start back without him if he wasn't back. Yes, we fell for that old trick. After a while of holding the fort terrified to touch any buttons in case we broke something and dealing with requests for raffles from the chat with "we have no clue how to do that" the realisation sunk in: he wasn't coming back.

Nevertheless I felt we did pretty well in the circumstances, and I hope others apart from my various Facebook friends who said they enjoyed it a lot did too. As I've said before I think Dave and I have good natural chemistry as commentators stretching from our debut years ago through the Chip Race, based on similar views on the game and understanding how to slag each other without anyone getting too insulted. Probably the fact that we were pretty much sloshed contributed to proceedings too. You can listen to it back here (we come in round the 7 hours 30 minute mark)


Why are we here again? Oh yeah...poker

I woke up on Sunday feeling like I should probably play some poker again, so I hopped in the last turbo side. Part of the motivation was a flag: I wanted to add Romania to the list of different countries I've cashed in. During the event I was chatting to Keith Cummins (who was looking for some advice on a potential chop) and he ended up shipping the trophy which I know he was very chuffed about. Well done Keith.

Meanwhile I secured the cash and the flag in the turbo, but ended up bubbling the final table. After cashing out I hung around to rail the finale of the main event, which was now headsup. The two players battling it out were Brit Eli Heath, and local hero Traian Bostan. Heath had been on the feature table for both of my commentary stints, and was the player who most impressed on both occasions, but I was rooting for Traian, a Facebook friend of mine I've chatted to a few times (he went to the trouble of shaking my hand on day one, and we swapped some Facebook messages over the weekend). Traian ended up shipping it, to the delight of me and the locals.

Learning the ways of Estonians

Afterwards was time for more socialising. I'd made a new friend from Estonia, Hanno, despite the fact that he told me that Estonians take years, sometimes decades, to make new friends. I guess it's testament to the friendly spirit that engulfs Unibet events that even Estonians make new friends there.

Having been to Estonia for the first time this year (and even though I thoroughly enjoyed it I can attest to the Estonian aloofness as I don't think I managed a single conversation of note with any Estonians while there), I was intrigued to learn more. Hanno and a lovely Estonian lady whose name I didn't catch (maybe she'll tell me in a decade or so when she gets to know me) offered some insight. In particular I was tickled by Hanno's assertion that "When one group of Estonians sees other Estonians abroad, they point discretely and whisper "Estonians". But they never go over to talk to them".  Exact opposite of Irish, then.

Also got to hang out with Unibet community hero William Hens, fresh from his 12th place finish in the main. As I quickly learnt on commentary, HensiePensie is a hero to all in Unibet chat.

The list

Miireille and I loved Bucharest so much we decided to stay on a few days afterwards until it was time for me to head to Prague. We moved into a hotel in the centre, but spent our first afternoon there with the last few survivors in Bucharest, HensiePensie, Kat, Marek and local Andrei. Good company and good food in one of the places on Mrs Doke's list (more on the list later).

The following day we arranged to meet two Romanian friends Dani and Toni in another restaurant on the list, Zexe. They'd chosen it independently of "the list", but it was on the list, and became our new favourite. Dani and Toni are my two favourite dealers but sadly since they retired from the EPT circuit, I don't get to see them as often as I used to. So it was really nice to catch up with them over some great food in great surroundings. 

Afterwards we cabbed it into town and ended up in an Antiques market. Again with the shopping but thankfully neither Dani nor Mireille are the type to spend hours deciding what not to buy.

Our French niece Leia lives in Montreal with her Romanian boyfriend Cosmin. They gave Mireille a list of recommended restaurants which she was determined to complete. With just two left to hit, the plan for our last full day in Bucharest was to skip breakfast at the hotel, go to one on the list, and make a reservation for the evening.

As we settled down to "breakfast" (maybe a meal with soup wine and stew needs a different name) I decided to try out a new toy, Facebook live. Mireille was aghast at the thought that people were tuning in to our breakfast (even more so when the number watching grew to 200), so I may have to get her to sign a permission slip for future meals. Like all new toys I'm not entirely sure what Facebook live is "for" (I never worked out the point of Snapchat) so any guidance would be gratefully accepted.

After "breakfast" we walked around for a bit of casual sightseeing before heading back to the hotel to sleep off breakfast. It's a solid indicator that you are over eating and imbibing when your wife suggests setting an alarm to make sure you wake up for dinner.

Our last dinner, in Hanu Lui Manuc, may have been our best. It's always a good sign when a big restaurant is jammed to capacity at 9 pm on a random Tuesday in winter. Once again I found myself roundly defeated by Mrs Doke in the Eating Game.

When I was a runner Mrs Doke travelled everywhere with me. She was basically my sports psychologist, massage therapist, nutritionist, coach, race helper and spiritual companion. One of the few things I regret most about my transition into poker is the loss of that closeness we shared around big events. She's never enjoyed the role of hanging around waiting for me to bust, and dealing with my moods after I do, so she hasn't tended to travel with me. Mindful of that, once she'd signed up for this trip, I decided to stay a few days after the poker in Bucharest as a pure holiday. I'm glad I did as we had a great time. She's anything but conventional but always entertaining, whether ranting about a cab driver or determinedly setting about opening a wine bottle armed only with a spoon (she succeeded) before delivering the line "it's got some cork in it, but not too much".


Before I flew out to Bucharest I did my most comprehensive interview ever, for the Inspireland podcast. The brief was "not just poker" and in addition to poker we went through my running career, my experiences as a parent on an autistic son, and my unlikely pen friendship with David Bowie. I admit to getting a bit teary eyed during the segments on autism and Bowie, so I am very grateful to everyone who sent me feedback saying they enjoyed or appreciated it. For those of you who missed it, you can listen to it here.

 Sod sportification

As we waddled through security in Bucharest airport, we felt a little sad to be leaving, and a lot fatter than when we arrived. Romania was a blast, the food was the best I've ever had anywhere, so good it seemed to be trying to kill us. I managed to sneak in three runs while I was there, but I will really have to hit training hard when I get home to get back in shape for the New Year.

I headed to Prague with an open mind for the grind. I don't want to keep hating on Stars and I really do hope they take on board the criticisms of myself and more importantly so many recreational players who are the lifeblood of the game. Myself and David may not be always able to agree on the pronunciation of Youneebet/Oonibet but we both feel that their vision for the future of poker is much more positive and likely to succeed long term than Amaya's. Sod sportifying poker: how about we all just try to make it fun again as Unibet are doing?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Running through airports

The wheels on the bus go round and round.....

At least til they don't any more. So, we are on our second day in Morocco, on a shuttle from Casablanca (where we spent our first night) to Mazagan (home to the latest MPN stop). Mrs Doke and I have Saron and Mr Saron (aka David "Gobshite" Lappin) for company, so it's all going swimmingly after an unforgettable start to the trip. It turns out that Gobshite's response to a crisis (in the form of a mosquito in the shuttle) is neither fight nor flight but flail and flap. In the course of flailing and flapping at the mosquito, he first removed the annoyance of the coffee he was (in Gobshite's own words) "quaffing" (pretentious Gobshite) by flinging it all over the person in front of him. Me as it happened.

As I sit there soaked in pretentious quaffee thinking it can't get worse after such a start, the shuttle putters to a halt on an upslope. Apparently we have a flat tire. So there we sit, literally teetering between a packed motorway with cars chaotically careening by to one side, and a ditch that drops down to a rocky field on the other. The driver is very adamant that on no account should we get out. He does at least open the back door for us, so that for the 45 minutes it takes to sort out the tire, we all get to inhale the sweet perfume of motorway traffic fumes.

Can't be too careful when Chantler's about

So we made it to Mazagan, who it turns out have the kind of security you generally only see at airports. Reassuring in a sense though, given the threat that Gareth Chantler (who is currently rumoured to be in the nearby village of El Jidadi) might materialise at any moment.

The resort itself is pretty luxurious, the kind of place that makes you think a quick bustout that allows you to enjoy the facilities free of poker commitments might be the smart play. Obviously this means I instead lingered as long as was humanly possible without actually cashing.

Gobshite who was on the worst run of his career live bust before me, and announced himself done with poker for this trip at least. So obviously a few hours later he's cajoling me to enter the High Roller with him. We do, boosting its numbers to 14. My tournament followed the not unusual trajectory of me slowly losing my chips until none remained. However, I managed to lose them slowly enough that by the time the last of them were pushed to Gobshite after he busted me, only two others remained, and I had cashed.

Gobshite went on to win the tournament and end his recent bad run. So well done Gobshite. Also well done Clodagh the MPN tour manager and Nick Diaz (32red) for a most enjoyable stop.


After getting home, I made my full Twitch debut on the partypokertv channel. They asked me to kick off their new School Night series aimed at providing some free training content to players of differing levels. My brief was to aim at beginners, but I also figured that most of the people tuning in from my Twitter following would not be beginners, so in addition to some stuff on opening ranges and position. I thought long and hard about what else I could cover that would be useful to beginners but also players of all levels. I was very pleased with the feedback which suggested I managed to pull this off. The replay is available at https://www.twitch.tv/partypokertv (click the Follow button to access the replays) for a limited time.

I will admit that I found the experience downright weird at first. I basically felt like I was talking aloud to myself in an empty room in front of my computer. While I could see that people were watching and read their comments in the chat and therefore knew on an intellectual level that I wasn't actually talking to myself, the lack of any sounds other than my own voice still made it feel like that. My previous guest appearance on Twitch was on my friend Christin's channel, and I had Gareth Chantler sitting beside me to share the talking duties. Similarly when I've done live commentary or podcast appearances, I've always had one or more people to bounce off. Despite what you may think, I have very little experience of talking to myself.

Overall though, I greatly enjoyed the experience, particularly the interaction with viewers, so I'm looking to do a whole lot more Twitch in the near future.

Why does it say RyanAir?

After a few days grinding at home, it was time to head to London for a long weekend chilling with my study buddy Daiva and her husband John. We cut it a little fine getting to Dublin airport safe in the knowledge that security queue times at the European Airport of the Year are always minimal. We got in the slowest queue but still had loads of time. After clearing security, I scanned the screens for the gate.

My heart sank when I saw that the 6.30 am flight to London was leaving from gate 102. Regular visitors to the European Airport of the Year will know that as fine an airport as it is, it does have one baffling quirk. For reasons best known to itself, it insists on pretending that several gates that are actually in Terminal 1 are in Terminal 2. It compensates in part for this by allowing you to walk to the gate from terminal 2, but it's a long walk that feels all the longer once you realise how unnecessary it is.

I'm about to break the bad news to Mrs Doke (who hates a good unnecessary walk as much as the next person) when I notice that the 6.30 flight to London is going to Stansted, not Gatwick. Phew. I scan further down and notice another 6.30, this one to Gatwick, leaving from......gate 105. Scratch that phew.

So there we are in terminal 1 at the back of the queue boarding the 6.30 to Gatwick when Mrs Doke, who knows our flight is an Aer Lingus one, asks suspiciously "Why does the screen say Ryanair?"  A panicked run to the nearest Departures screen reveals the answer to be "because there are two 6.30 flights to Gatwick, and the Aer Lingus one leaves from gate 416 all the way back in (actual) Terminal 2". Mrs Doke takes this news as badly as you can imagine, while I exhort her that we should at least try to get to the other gate in under 10 minutes (the signs are cheerfully telling us it's a 25 minute walk).

As we weave through the hordes coming the other way, I'm quite certain we are drawing dead (I'm already trying to decide which coffee place we will regroup to so I can stave off the divorce demands of a distressed Mrs Doke and book us new flights) but too stubborn to admit it, so we press on. I figure there are two slim hopes: the flight might be delayed, or I might somehow get there before it's closed.

Buoyed by the second possibility I abandon my beloved and go into full sprint mode, figuring if I get there first I can stall til she arrives. I get there a couple of minutes before takeoff. An Aer Lingus angel is closing a rope that symbolises the end of boarding. She pauses from her task to look at the panting mess that is standing before her, a manstanding in front of a woman, asking her to let him board a flight. And also his wife, absent.

She takes my boarding pass.

"Go on then"
"Um....my wife....is.....just behind"
She thinks about it, then shrugs. The good kind.
A minute later, Mrs Doke has failed to materialise.
"You said just behind"
"Is that her?"
She points at a woman who is making haste in the distance. It is not Mrs Doke. That much I know. I also know that revealing this knowledge is not optimal in this spot. Time to improvise (or in non poker player speak, lie).
"That's her"
For a good minute we share the illusion that the woman is Mrs Doke.
That illusion is sadly shattered when not Mrs Doke hurries on by.
"You said...."
I see Mrs Doke, gamely sprinting into view for all she's worth.
"That's her"
The Aer Lingus Angel looks at me suspiciously. Then shrugs again. The good kind. The kind that could never get a job at RyanAir.

Mrs Doke takes a remarkably benign view on the fact that I made her hussle the entire length of the airport. Unnecessarily. Twice. There isn't even any talk of divorce. I remember why I married her (because she is literally the only woman on earth who would put up with all my bullshit).

Lazarus in London

After getting to Daiva's place and allowing Mrs Doke some nap time to recover from the ordeal of being married to an idiot, I had to face the ordeal of accompanying the two ladies to High Tea. Tough gig, but somebody has to do it.

Afterwards we met up with John and walked around admiring Christmas lights in central London before arriving serendipitously in Heddon Street (scene of the iconic "alien in a London phone box" Ziggy Stardust album photo) for some cocktails.

The following day we headed to Lazarus, the musical. I'd purposely read as little as I could about Bowie's farewell work so as to keep an open mind. However, mindful of the fact that Mrs Doke hates musicals the way rednecks hate Hilary, I did tell her that reviews were at best "mixed" and the main word bandied about in them was "weird". This made her much more optimistic about it all (she's nothing if not contrarian: if I'd told her it was basically a Bowie version of Mamma Mia and reviews were ecstatic she'd certainly prehated it).

I was frankly overwhelmed by what was very much an emotional experience for me, a sort of final farewell to my hero that reflected all his wonderful eccentricities. Mrs Doke loved it even more than I did, loudly proclaiming it to be the best thing ever. Much more surprisingly, Daiva (who knew little or nothing about Bowie's music) also loved it, despite the fact that Bowie remained true to his own contrariness in his selection of what songs to include. To say he erred on the side of obscure is an understatement: as I said to John and Daiva afterwards, with over 50 hit singles to chose from, Bowie decided to use just two of them (and none of his number one hits), instead filling it out with album tracks.

On Sunday we went to meet Sameer and Fran, and Monday was all about walking around London and a frankly harrowing photographic exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall. I had a bit of a sweat to make my flight thanks to the train strike and a couple of boarding passes that Computer Said No to, but made it home in one piece.

Patron saint of international travellers

"I checked in online. Machine wouldn't take boarding pass on my phone. So I was told to go back to Aer Lingus desk. They gave me this boarding pass. That doesn't work either"
"One minute"
Scans pass
"Says invalid flight"
"... "
"Where are you trying to fly to?"
"Dublin. Look. It says on my boarding pass. Both of them"
"Is that home?"
"Conor McGregor"
"Do you like Conor McGregor?"
"Yes. I like Conor McGregor"
"He's my hero. Cocky bastard though"
"Yes. But that's good. Cos he's Conor McGregor"
"I want to go visit his gym but he'd probably beat me up for being English"
"I doubt that"
"Sure. It's not really grounds for a beating. Even from Conor McGregor"
"Cool. Go on ahead"
"Huh? Really? Why?"
"Because I love Conor McGregor"


I have a week and a half at home before I head to Bucharest for the Unibet Open.

While we were in Mazagan, Gobshite and I dropped into the livestream to do some guest commentary. I always enjoy that sort of thing, especially when the company is good. I've been fortunate enough to commentate alongside some real masters of the medium (Jesse May, Neil Channing, Padraig Parkinson, David Tuchman, Mike Leah, Jen Mason, Marc Convey, Nick Wealthall and Emmet Kennedy to name but a few). Like many other things I deserve no real credit for, I always try to take credit for Gobshite's commentary career, as he made his debut several years ago at an Irish event where I dragged him into the box to commentate with me. Since then he's become a sought after commentator (drawing particular plaudits for his work at the Irish Open a few years ago), but somehow we've seldom shared a commentary box since. So it was nice to do so in Morocco, and even nicer that we have both been hired to do commentary for Unibet in Bucharest. I'm also looking forward to playing the 500k guaranteed main event while I'm there, and seeing Bucharest (and my friends Dani and Toni). I may also have persuaded Daiva to join the party.


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