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.

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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.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A tale of two tours

I grew up on the outskirts of Enniscorthy. The nearest shop was about half a mile away, a small grocery store very typical of its time and place. In the US it would have been called a Mom and Pop store, but we just called it "the shop". Or maybe just a Pop store: the proprietor was an elderly widower who knew all his customers by name and in broad strokes the things that interested them. I remember chatting with him about the type of maths we'd be doing in fourth class, while he complimented my mother on her hair. We went shopping in the supermarket in town once a week to buy most of what we needed, but went to "the shop" for everything else.

His prices were a fair bit higher than the supermarket in town, but not so high you felt it was worth the trek to town for a few items, or that you were getting gouged. And he was a lot friendlier and more knowledgeable on hard sums and feminine hairstyles than any of the bored checkout girls that worked in the supermarket. So even though money was always tight, he got his fair share of our business, and I always thought that if my mother's wealth plan ever came in (it involved getting 6 numbers right in the shop, apparently, a deceptively simple task I always thought, but one she never successfully pulled off) he might scoop all of our business, given that my mother would have more expensive hairstyles she wanted complimented and I'd have harder sums to brag about my ability to solve faster than any other boy who had ever set foot in the shop.

I guess Pop (as we never called him) eventually got too old to keep abreast of everything he needed to know about to charm people into his shop, or he had enough money to get out of the grocery game altogether, because he accepted an offer from a minor league chain to have the shop transformed into a more efficient Mace mini supermarket. This meant a wider selection of items to purchase, lower prices, and bored checkout girls not quite good enough for the major league chain in town, who wasted no time asking you about hard sums or telling you your blonde highlights really suited you. I tried to impress them with my ability to calculate the total quicker than the cash register, but learned the hard way that girls just weren't impressed by that sort of thing.

Not long after the changeover, we stopped going there, and my parents bit the bullet and moved to a two shops a week schedule in the big supermarket in town. Not long after that, the Mace shut. At the time I had no idea why, but looking back it's pretty obvious they just didn't know their market and basically fell between two stools. They were cheaper than the shop but still too expensive to compete on price with the real supermarket, and the fact that the overall shopping experience was just a slightly crapper version of the one you got in town really brought that into sharp focus.

I thought of the shop for the first time in decades on my most recent poker trip. I went directly from an MPN tour stop in Tallinn to the Pokerstars events in Barcelona. The contrast between the two tours is not so much chalk and cheese as shop and Mace. The MPN tour is cheap and very cheerful, with tour honcha Clodagh, her sidekick Mark, and skin reps like 32Red's Nick Diaz working flat out to provide as much cheer as a presumably quite limited budget allows. Whether it's instantly materialising at reception to sort out some confusion over my hotel booking, arranging to change my dates to come a day later and stay a day longer at no added cost to me, allowing all the players stay in a really high quality hotel for way cheaper than some of the crap hotels Stars puts us in, or entertaining at the players party and exposing herself to getting the face bitten off her, Clodagh works herself so ragged that by the time I saw her on the last day, she was telling me the same two anecdotes over and over in an overwork induced state of Grampa Simpsonmania. Players may come for the poker, but they stay and keep coming back to stop after stop for the experience.

Stars used to be very good at this. In the early days they treated live events as marketing, and budgeted accordingly. Over time they decided they didn't want to spend money on this any more, and the goody bags got meaner, the parties less impressive, the hotels simultaneously worse and more expensive, the tournaments simultaneously faster and more raked. In Barcelona I was told that Amaya no longer want to break even from live events: they want to make as much money as they can from them. And boy does it show.

The 10 am starts means they can churn more bums thru seats every day. The 20-25% payouts mean more people get their money back to go and register another event. I was told in Prague last year by a TD that every seat in the large room was occupied on average 5.5 times a day by a reg paying customer. With more hypers and bigger antes now, that number may be even higher. Before we know it, we may be playing 8 Win The Button hypers a day with 10% reg and a 1.02 buyin min cash sipping water at the table from the sucky cup flask that are the Stars goody bag.

The 10 am starts also make for a lot of tired grumpy players and dealers. One of the features of the EPT and Stars events in general used to be that you had the best and friendliest dealers in the world. Some of the same faces remain and are as friendly and professional as ever, but many have left, and most of their replacements are sullen and unsure of the latest rule changes. It seems clear that customer satisfaction is no longer a priority, and may not even be included as part of the training.

I don't mean to pick on the new dealers. I know it's a tough and often unpleasant job, all the more so when you're dealing to tired grumpy players who haven't had their morning coffee yet. I had a eureka moment about ten years ago when I was dragging myself to the morning commuter train in Clonsilla as part of a human ant trail, and realised I was seeing the same ants every day. I decided I didn't want to go on living like this and started looking for escape routes from the ant trail, which eventually led to poker.

I flashed back to that moment on Sunday (Sunday!) as I filtered into the casino just before 10 am on a Sunday (Sunday!), part of a human ant trail of grinders heading to play a satellite. An hour later, I'm wishing I had more coffee inside me when it all kicks off at the table behind me.

"You just shut up. SHUT THE FUCK UP!"
"You shut up"
"No, you shut up. You've been talking in Polish to your buddy there for the past hour. Were you born in a barn?"
"Maybe we take this outside"
"Let's do that. But just you. Not your buddies too"
"Go back to your barn in Poland and milk your cows"

I'm not sure how readers are visualising the protagonists as they read this, but I'm pretty sure your mental image of the American involved is well off. He looked like the kind of respectful well educated gentlemanly American abroad who can talk to anyone lucky enough to cross his path intelligently about a wide range of subjects. And apparently he is, normally: my friend and roommate for the week Willie Eliot told me that he's a recreational player who works in finance in San Antonio, and is normally one of the nicest people you could ever meet at a poker table. Is this what Amaya is doing to poker: tilting recreational players who have flown thousands of miles for a poker vacation to the point that they are ill advisedly soliciting car park fights with Poles twice their size?

Before you mumble "sample size" let me point out that this was by no means an isolated incident. Me and almost everyone I know was barged and shoulder bumped more often in the ten days in the casino in Barcelona than we are in most calendar years, and most of the tournaments I played would rank in my personal top ten of most Ill Tempered MTTs I've ever played. Stars seem to be trying to weed out the pros and other winning players, while making no effort to make things better for recreational players. None of the recreational players I know have much good to say about the way things seem to be going. Many have already voted with their feet. The pros will always follow the recreationals (and bitch loudly about every new "innovation" that gets rolled out), so hopefully when the recreationals reach the point they are too pissed off with Stars to go on attending, they will at least have a look around at other tours rather than just give up on poker forever. Tours like WSOP, MPN, Party, Winamax, GUKPT, GPPT and Unibet who are all making a much bigger effort to make their events fun and profitable rather than merely profitable.

It might seem odd that I'm writing all this negative Nelly stuff a few days after the biggest ever (and last ever) EPT, but poker is littered with the bodies of players, events and sites that were thought to have become too big to fail. And Amaya in particular have shown an amazing ability to think they can squeeze an extra buck profit by slaughtering the golden goose to sell the meat. I remember a time when OnGame was the fourth biggest site. Then Amaya took over, and killed them. I remember when Full Tilt came straight back in at number two when they finally got up and running again post Black Friday. Enter Amaya and another death spiral began. I remember marvelling at how the UKIPT had grown from very unpromising beginnings to 1000 runner fields in a warehouse in an industrial estate outside Nottingham. And marvelling again at how Amaya had ticked people off to the point that they could barely persuade a few hundred runners into the very sumptuous and centrally located Hippodrome in London back in April. Compare the number of, overall numbers and buzz created by UKIPT events a few years ago with this year's withered tour, and then tell me again how events like Barcelona are too big to ever fail. It's not just UKIPTs, almost every other regional Stars tour is going the same way since Amaya decided they wanted to make as much money as they can from them. And if you look past the banner events of Barcelona and Prague that are successful right now for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with Amaya or the current direction of Stars, their flagship tour starts to look a lot less impressive.

In all of these Amaya debacles, there was a tipping point where the short term greed for profit strangled the golden goose. As I listened to many pros say they'd be skipping Malta as the latest changes have sucked all the fun and profit out of such trips for them, and I heard recreationals complaining about a min cash that didn't even cover their expenses and I saw ultimate poker tourist Aseefo depart Barcelona early saying it just wasn't much fun any more I couldn't help but wonder if this might be a tipping point we will look back on in a few years. When you put in the earphones to block out the Zimmer music and closed your eyes to avoid seeing the confetti cannons and epilepsy inducing TV commercial imagery accompanying the announcement of the live branding changes we were "treated" to at start of play one day, you realised that all that was really happening was an attempt to parlay the success of one European brand (the EPT) into something more global without European in the title, and the merger of a number of dying brands (all the regional tours) into a composite (Pokerstars festivals). And you suddenly had the feeling the WSOP brand is not exactly shaking in their boots, and has no reason to.

After a week largely spent railing on social media at the latest "innovations" from Amaya  which are to the good of nobody other than maybe the Amaya shareholders, Ludo Geilich posted a joke. I say maybe, because even the Amaya shareholders may end up paying a high price for the sheer stupidity and short sighted greed of the people making and defending these decisions, which I'm guessing was Ludo's point in this joke about a protagonist who understands that the decision which makes you the most money in the short term may not be in your long term best interests.

A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer. “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Other Way

After Bowie's death, the English professional funny person Adam Buxton read my blog and asked me to talk about it on his podcast, something I was honoured to do. He contacted me again while I was in Vegas saying he was doing a Bowie tribute show in Dublin soon and very kindly offering to guest list me. The show was a few days after my Lille trip so the timing was great, and I was really looking forward to it.

We unfortunately got there a little late due to Mrs Doke's insistence she knows better than Google Maps. A good hour before the event, I made the fundamental marital error of presenting her with a Google Maps suggested route from our house to the Iveagh Gardens with an estimate journey time of 26 minutes. Her response to my effrontery was three pronged in nature: outrage that I doubted her navigational prowess, dismissal of the Google Maps approved route in favour of one taking us directly through the city centre at rush hour, and insistence that we take that route. I compounded my error by suggesting a compromise route that would have us skirting around the centre of a city rather poorly designed by the Vikings for modern traffic rather than right through it, at rush hour.

An hour later, we are edging along the quays as she wails about the unexpected traffic and I wrestle with the death wish impulse to say out loud "We should have gone the other way". The fact that I have survived several decades of marriage hangs by such slim threads.

So we sadly missed the start of the show, after a fun "are you really on the guest list? I can't find you. Who put you on?" sweat that echoed the one Bowie himself put me through over a decade ago outside the Point. We came in during Lazarus, Bowie's intensely poignant farewell to this world. As we were ushered to the only remaining seats (front row but of course) we got to feel like those naughty kids who always arrive late for class.

The show has an interesting format that I suspect no words I write will do justice to. In reductionist terms it consists of Adam coming in at the Bowie phenomenon from a number of tangents, then using a YouTube clip as illustration, sometimes followed by some hilarious dissections of some of the YouTube comments that (as anyone who has wasted too much of their lives reading YouTube comments will already know) tend to be silly, surreal, inane, irreverent, misinformed, grammatically atrocious and hilarious all at once. So perfect fodder for Adam's brand of professional funnymanship.

It's a format that is simultaneously engaging and deceptively simple. It feels like one of your funny mates rattling on about stuff on the Internet, except much better and more carefully crafted because none of our funny mates are actually as funny as Adam. It's a format I'm certain Bowie himself would have loved, as it arcs between different periods and aspects of his career, the nature of stardom and fandom, and hops between respectfulness and irreverence with ease. Some of the highlights (spoiler alert!) include Bowie's ingenious subversion of 1970s American TV censorship with mad puppetry skillz on Saturday Night Live (which I was unaware of before the show), Adam reimagining Bowie's annus mirabilis (1977, when he wrote and recorded two of the greatest albums of all time, and helped write record and produce two more with Iggy Pop) if instead of being an eccentric reclusive 70s star he was an attention seeking all tweeting inane hash tagging present day one, and a stomach churningly funny exchange between a fan and a web persona believed to be Bowie himself that whisked me back to the early days of the Internet when none of us were sure what the Internet was for and the barriers between stardom and fandom started to crack.

Overall, the whole thing was a much more enjoyable and possibly more faithful to the spirit of the artist affair than the hundreds of "serious" tributes to Bowie since his passing. No matter how serious he got about his work or his process, there was always a quintessentially English tongue in cheek subversive quality to Bowie himself, a refusal to take himself or anything else in this world too seriously.

Adam is currently touring this show I believe so if you like Bowie or just comedy in general, get your ass along to it. For Bowie fans still in grief, it can have an oddly cleansing effect. Since his death, I found it difficult to listen to Bowie's music (and impossible to listen to Blackstar, the Death album), but since the show have gone back to listening to the music that has been the soundtrack of my adult life. 

However, you don't particularly need to be a Bowie fan to enjoy it (I was struck by how young the Dublin audience was) even if it probably helps. She's not exactly a Bowie superfan and it's pretty hard to make my wife laugh when she's tilted by traffic, I've certainly never managed it, but Adam pulled it off with aplomb.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The freak

Every other year, the days after I bust the main before I left Vegas drifted by empty. With no more poker to be played, and most or all my friends already left town, the hours and days were passed in silent solitary mourning until the time to catch a cab to the airport arrived.

This year however, the WSOP had scheduled one more event, the Little One Drop, so the chance to get back on the horse presented before the long depressed flight home. This is a welcome addition to the schedule as time moping is time wasted, even if the tournament nobody wanted to be in, the FML I'm Out Of The Main, was always going to be the crankiest of the year, as one cranky participant who couldn't believe he was out of the main snapped at another equally as tilted.

I drew some comfort from words I recall Alex "Assassinato" Fitzgerald saying last year after he bust the main on day one, to the effect that nobody in his seat dealt the cards and situations he was dealt could have fashioned a different outcome. I pretty much felt the same. I could have played tighter, but since most of the chips I did win on day one came from speculative hands and steals, I probably would just have run out of chips earlier. I could have played looser, but I don't remember a single hand I folded that flopped well, so again I probably would just have spewed myself out the door earlier in the day.

There was also a certain satisfaction to be able to show up for work again so soon, even in a tournament nobody really wanted to be in, and just get on with it. You never really know how your biggest professional disappointment of the year will affect your next game until you sit down and start playing again. On this occasion, the comparative insignificance of the event and the greatly reduced buyin translated into a certain "whatever happens happens" blaseness, but this wasn't really a bad thing. I certainly don't think it affected my play adversely: if anything not caring so much as I normally would about the outcome freed me up to just focus on the decisions and the process.

I ended up making another day 2, and notching up another cash, my third of the series, equalling my previous highest number of cashes.

It is said that all political careers end in failure. It also seems to be the case that all WSOP campaigns end up back in the Gold Coast. Dan and Smidge were booked to fly out the day before us, so with our lease on the condo expiring with them, Mrs Doke and I moved to the Gold Coast for a night. Dan and Smidge were both great companions for the series, serious and focused on the work, but also fun and good company to be around on down time. Smidge ruled the condo with an iron fist, until the arrival of Mrs Doke was accompanied by a bloodless coup that installed her in charge, which he took in good spirit. The only problem with Dan is that he's too bloody perfect, with his flawless poker mind, his unflappable bonhomie, his boyish good looks, and his sharp mind and opinions and ability to discuss everything intelligently. On our last day, he topped it all by heading off to feed the homeless (literally: he delivered out unused food to the poor unfortunates who dwell in the sewers near the condo complex).

We had good company for our last night, dining out with John and Daiva in a place with good food, not such good service, and a bizarre billing policy that involves charging over $2 for each ice cube in your drink.

In each of my first six years as a professional, I left Vegas feeling like a loser, significantly poorer financially for the experience. Last year was the first year I got to leave feeling like a winner, not only richer but having wiped out all the losses of previous years and then some. This year was something of a new experience, the score draw. Without my deep run and my other two cashes, it would have been a losing year like all the others. On the other hand, if another flip or two had gone my way, it could have been a repeat of last year. While I didn't know whether I should feel happy or sad about the outcome, I did feel some satisfaction at the considerable work I put in before Vegas to get myself in top physical and mental shape before I got on the plane. And I was pleased that I coped well mentally as a barren streak stretching back to February live continued through the first half of my WSOP campaign (before my New York break) and didn't affect my play allowing me to achieve a different kind of streak after New York (three out of four cashes).

A few years ago, I noticed that every year there are a few players at the series having their last ever year. I wrote at the time that they seldom realise it yet themselves. I thought I had reached that point four years ago as I finished another unsuccessful series on a totally empty tank. Disillusioned by my inability to go truly deep even once in 6 separate series, and demoralised by my lack of energy, I allowed myself to think that my time had past, that I was too old for this game. The following year I sat out the series at home, clicking buttons, thinking I'd never set foot in Vegas again. A few months later, after some serious personal issues that had weighed heavily on me for years started to clear, I decided to see if I could increase my fitness by running more. At that point I was running a few miles a day four times a weak, a pale shadow of the kind of fitness I'd enjoyed only a few years earlier as a competitive ultra runner. I increased this to six days a week, and every Thursday I tried to go a little longer. 4 miles became 6, then 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27 until before I knew it I was running 30 miles every Thursday afternoon, and feeling less tired and more fit than I had in years. As the energy and enthusiasm I always had as a runner returned, I started to believe maybe I wasn't too old for the WSOP after all.

Last year, I resolved to give it another try, and in event 45 achieved my first proper deep run at the WSOP, my first final table, my first big score, and came within a couple of flips of winning the ultimate prize, a bracelet. That encouraged me to keep working hard and training physically, and in the last 12 months I have followed up my "breakthrough" second place finish with two more deep runs (a 9th and a 13th). I have no reason to believe that needs to be the end of it. I am very focused on continuing to work and train harder than ever.

My only real regret leaving Vegas was that I could have worked harder. When I returned to the series in 2015, I was mindful of having finished previous campaigns on empty, and my advancing age. It seemed prudent to err on the side of caution when it came to scheduling lots of days off, and a mid series mini break. This year I finished the series brimming with energy, and the feeling that I could have pushed harder (played more events). As a result, assuming my training and preparation goes to plan over the next year, I'm already thinking of a longer 2017 campaign with more events and less days off. As nice as it is to have fashioned 3 deep runs from not much more than a dozen efforts over the last two years, it can only increase my chances if I play more events.

But before that, there are a lot of hours in the lab to be logged, and a lot of miles to be run. While I kept myself ticking over on both fronts in Vegas, most of the physical fitness I took to Vegas evaporated in the desert heat, and the rebuilding process needs to be restarted. There will come a time when my age will really be a factor, and I'll have to be more prudent and selective, but for now I look around at my peers less than half my age, and feel myself more than their equal when it comes to mental and physical stamina. Then I look at guys my age and realise I'm something of a freak when it comes to energy levels and ability to recover, but if I'm a freak, I might as well be a freak that takes advantage of it.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Day You Bust The Main

Feeling I'd finally hit a bit of live form, I went into the main full of confidence, cold or no cold. My confidence grew as I started to realize my table was probably the softest main event table I'd ever played at. I'm pretty sure there was only one other pro there.

I was pretty unhappy therefore to find myself late in the day looking at the 15k remains of my 50k starting stack. No major drama or big spots: just a lot of little ones where I had the second best hand. By the time last six hands was called, I was feeling a lot better, having rallied back to 40k. Still below starting stack (something I consider to be kind of a meaningless and arbitrary anchor in any case) but 67 big blinds still seemed like plenty to work with at the start of day 2, especially in a structure this slow.

I think I had almost mentally bagged up and wouldn't have minded getting dealt nothing but 72o to see out the day, but on the second last hand I found 44 on the button. When a loose Asian player opened in middle position, I decided I didn't have a profitable call if everyone else folded, as I'd basically be set mining against an aggro opponent with a wide range who would rarely have a strong enough hand to pay me off fully when I did hit my set. However, that changed when a older English player who was mainly tight but tended to overplay one pair hands called and had already spazz bluffed once. Both blinds were loose passive so I figured once I called on the button most of the time one it both of them would call too, further enhancing the spot as a profitable set mine.

What actually happened was the small blind squeezed it up from 1200 to 4200. He's pretty tight so it's unlikely he's doing this without a hand and I'm being asked to put in almost 10% of my remaining stack so if it's folded back to me I think it's a close fold. However, after the initial opener folded the other guy thought for a little while and then called, so now again thinking I have a clearly profitable set mining spot, I call again.

Flop is q94r

After the squeezer continuation bet, the other guy quickly raises. I'm not loving this spot now but I can't really just fold to a single raise from him since I basically have the second nuts (he can't really have pocket queens). After I call, the squeezer tank folds moaning "why couldn't I just have been dealt a crap hand?"

The English guy doesn't look thrilled that he's been called, so I start to feel a lot better about the spot, hoping he now has a bare queen. His hesitation continues into the turn, a deuce, which he checks. I have less than half pot behind now so the only question is whether to stick it in now or on the river. I quickly decide now is the answer since a k or an eight on the river could scare Ace Queen into folding even getting three to one.

My opponent squirms a little before eventually shrugging in a "Well I can't fold" manner and pushes the chips in reluctantly. The only other pro at the table says "Ace queen, right?", exactly the hand I'm now hoping to see, but instead I get shown the one hand I really don't want to see, 99.

That leaves me feeling a little sick as I cling to the hope of a one outer on the river. When it doesn't come, I get up and stumble towards the exit dizzily as all around the room people start to bag up.

I walked back to the condo in something of a daze.  It's something of a cliche (and therefore, like most cliches, largely true) that the Day You Bust The Main is the worst day of every poker player's year. It does get a little easier every year though, as at least you have previous experiences to fall back on and you quickly realise that not only will you still wake up tomorrow, but you get to go on playing poker, and hopefully you'll be back next year.

But this bust hurt in an unfamiliar way. Maybe it's the fact that it was my first ever day one bust. Or maybe that I'd already mentally bagged a playable stack only to be ambushed by my first decent flopped hand all day right at the death, having grinded my balls off all day to stay alive. And maybe the fact that it was genuinely the softest table I'd ever sat at in Vegas so there was an enormous sense of missed opportunity not just to survive the day but build a serious stack had something to do with it too. As I stumbled in a mental fog through the part of the walk where you are most likely to meet homeless people, a tall leggy girl wearing very little crossed my path and asked me if I wanted something.

I looked at her confused. Maybe I did want something, but I had no idea what that something might be. So I walked on without a word, thinking Today I Bust The Main, to this melancholic tune.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Next event up was the Tag  Team event, which I entered with Daiva (one of the bloggers Christian dubbed our team Beauty And The Beast). This turned out to be the most fun event of the series and one I hope they repeat in future. Not much fun for us as a team though: Daiva played the first hour and preserved our starting stack without any real hands, and passed on a wealth of notes on hands played and opponent reads. I played the second hour and lost the lot with two premiums.

Hand 1: I open aces utg. An Asian playing every hand badly but hitting everything called in late position, as did both blinds. 


I cbet and just the Asian called.

Turn 4 (non heart)

I bet and was called again.

River Q (non heart)

I checked to induce bluffs from missed flush draws, but when I called his half pot bet found he had a different draw that had got there (AJ with no heart)

Hand 2: last hand before the break. With less than 15 big blinds and queens, my only thought now is how to try to get all in as early as possible in the hand. So I min raise, the Asian calls, and the aggressive big blind squeezes. I now stick it in and it's off to the races against Ak after the Asian folds. The ten high all diamond flop gave him additional flush outs, one of which he hit on the turn, and all that was left was for me to find my team captain and break the sad news that she had no stack to return to.

My next event was another 1k NLH side event. This was another gritty grind it out performance to the cash but not much further. Still, I was happy with the performance and having gone some ridiculously high number of live events since February without a cash, it was nice to get a new streak of cashing two in a row (in solo events) going. The only downside was as I came back from dinner in day one I suddenly got one of the most violent sore throats I have in my life. This was the precursor to one of the heaviest colds I've ever endured which persisted for the rest of my time in Vegas and beyond. Most players seem to get sick at some point of the series (hardly surprising in a chilly crowded environment where most of us aren't sleeping or eating the best, and we are continually passing chips and cards to each other in an environment that could be described as a giant Petrie dish). I'd been feeling smug about having avoided the bug that it seemed everyone I knew had fallen foul off so I probably had it coming.

That left the main up next. I was intending to play 1b, the Sunday. Day 1c always dwarfs the others and the conventional wisdom among pros is its the best day to play as it's the day recreational players and satellite qualifiers go for to minimise their expenses. Of course, this also means it's the day most of the pros play, which is why in terms of overall numbers it tends to get twice as many starters as the other two days put together. This can make for pretty hellish scenes at the breaks when almost 5000 people simultaneously throng the corridors of the Rio heading to the restroom. The WSOP is supposedly doing everything they can to relieve this bottleneck, this year moving 1c to a Monday, making it the only non weekend day 1. I assume the thinking behind that was that a lot of recreationals would choose a weekend day over a Monday, but it didn't really work out that way for a number of reasons, at least one of which I think I know.

I'd qualified for the main through an 888 satellite a good while back. Most of the emails I got from that were short on information and long on demands (that I wear their patch among other things). I didn't really need the hotel room in the package so I asked them if it was possible to get a cash alternative (something most other sites offer, sometimes at a discount which is fair enough). They were quite vehement that it was not. I contacted their official accommodation agent who I know personally to see if they could work something out. I was surprised to be told that while they normally would try to accommodate me (and I've personally found them very accommodating in the past), they had been explicitly prohibited by 888 from doing this. It says a lot about 888 as a company that they go out of their way to act against the financial interests of their clients.

After sending a couple of emails enquiring about the registration process, I received an email suggesting I present myself at the cage on the Wednesday before. When I did, the nice WSOP lady told me they had received nothing from 888 yet, and she suggested I wait a day or two and try again. I waited til Saturday, and having inched my way to the top of a very long weekend queue, was told that my registration was there, but I had to go round to the other side of the cage to get it (where VIPs register, and payouts are done). I expressed a little surprise that the person I was talking to couldn't just walk the ten metres or so to there to get my ticket for me and save me the ordeal of another weekend queue in my flu-weakened state, but was told in no uncertain terms that she couldn't.

When I got to the top of the second queue I was told blankly that I hadn't been registered yet by 888.

"Huh? I've just been told on the other side that I was"
"By who?"
"I don't know her name but she had supervisor on the tag".

After disappearing off to consult with the supervisor, she came back and said I was registered, but had to go behind a curtain at the end of the room (this is not a joke: a literal curtain) into the employees only area to get my ticket.

Behind the curtain, three guys were discussing a satellite they'd chopped. I was told I'd have to wait til this was resolved before I could get my ticket.

First guy up was South American, without too much English. The lady told him his options.
"You can take 7400 in cash, but we have to withhold some for tax. Or you can get 7400 in lammers (the WSOP equivalent of tourney dollars), or you can pay the extra 2600 to buy in to the main event"
"I take lammers"
"Ok but I don't have lammers right now so you'll have to come back"
"I can get dollars?"
"I can give you money but then we have to withhold taxes"
"I don't want taxes. I take lammers"
"Ok but we don't have lammers right now. You'll have to come back when we do"
"When you will have? Tonight?"
"Probably not. I suggest you come back tomorrow"
"I come back tomorrow"

The next guy, an Asian, also with rudimentary English, now shuttled forward.
"You can take 7400 in cash, but we have to withhold some for tax. Or you can get 7400 in lammers, or you can pay the extra 2600 to buy in to the main event"
"I take lammers"
"Ok but I don't have lammers right now so you'll have to come back"
"I can get dollars?"
"I can give you money but then we have to withhold taxes"
"I don't want pay tax. I take lammers"
"Ok but we don't have lammers right now. You'll have to come back when we do"
"When you have lammer? Tonight?"
"Probably not. I suggest you come back tomorrow"
"I come back tomorrow"

By now a queue had formed behind me. A Scandinavian and a South American behind me asked if this was the 888 registration queue. I confirmed that it was, hopefully. My heart sunk when the Scandi confided that this was the fourth day in a row he'd been through this rigmarole, and still no tournament ticket.

The third satellite guy was French, and had apparently almost no English.
"You can take 7400 in cash, but we have to withhold some for tax. Or you can get 7400 in lammers, or you can pay the extra 2600 to buy in to the main event"
"Ok but I don't have lammers right now so you'll have to come back"

At this point, the Scandi lost patience and wailed "oh for God's sake they have no lammers". This just confused matters to a halt, and eventually I ended up acting as an impromptu interpreter to explain the situation to the French guy. He wandered off, and I was finally handed my main event ticket. Surprised to be just given one without being asked which day I wanted to play, I scrutinised the ticket to reveal I was down for 1c, on the Monday. When I told the WSOP lady I wanted to play tomorrow rather than Monday, she sent me back to the main cage queue (the one I'd started out in) to get it changed.

When I'd finally edged to the top of that queue, the guy tried to change my day but seemed unable to. He went off to get the supervisor. Together they peered at the screen for a while before she exclaimed "Oh, you're 888. They're not allowing us to change their qualifiers from day 1c".

So once again, 888, great at prohibiting their clients from things everyone else can do. And even if there's some sound reason behind forcing us all to play on the busiest day 1, it would be nice of them to tell us why. Or even that this was the case....at no point in my communications with them before, most of which as I said was them insisting on patches, was I told my day 1 was 1c, and could not be changed. When the WSOP later tweeted lamenting the day 1c logjam and asking for suggestions on how to alleviate it in future, Adam Owen tweeted back referring to my tweets that it might be an idea to have a word with their proud sponsors 888 and ask them not to force all their qualifiers to play 1c.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Event 56

After the previous night's shenanigans at McCarran airport, I didn't exactly get the amount of sleep I'd have liked before Event 56, a  normal 1500 NLH event. I wasn't particularly worried about that after a restful few days in New York. In my personal experience at least, cumulative sleep deprivation tends to be a much bigger issue than one or two interrupted nights.

I was a bit more worried when I lost a third of my starting stack in the early going. After my stack contracted to 5k (from 7500) I reminded myself that this was starting stack in the 1k events. When it dipped further to 3500 I started to think it would be another early exit. From that low point though I rallied and made my first day two of the series, bagging up a bit more than average.

I must confess I was pretty relieved to get safely through the bubble. I hadn't cashed a live event since a min cash in the Seniors at EPT Dublin way back in February., easily the longest cashless streak of my career.

I didn't keep count of the streak this time but I'm sure it smashed my previous worst 23/0 streak from a couple of years ago. I was keen to break the streak ahead of Vegas, but it wasn't to be. Ultimately streaks don't really matter unless you allow them to affect your game, so I stopped worrying about ending the streak and slipped into a mentality of "it will end when it ends".

I had a very good day two until near the end when I went into reverse. I'd love to go into some detail on the interesting spots but to be honest there weren't any: just a lot of standard situations. One of those became significant in light of subsequent developments. I opened aq in early position late in the day. D Peters thought for a while (even by his standards) and eventually shoved about 20 big blinds. The small blind who had just been crippled reshoved for less, and I folded quickly. It seems like a pretty clear fold as I had a tight image, had raised from early position, so many of the hands getting shoved for value have me crushed. AQ is a deceptively weak hand: it looks pretty good but against true premiums has only 30-35% equity.

I was happy with the fold when both players flipped over AK. However, the queen high runout does mean that had I made a suspect call, I'd have eliminated D Peters (and he therefore wouldn't have gone on to claim his first bracelet).

Although I'd have liked to get there with a healthier stack, following my first day 2 of the trip with a day 3 was heartening. Overnight I was 13/28, and as fate would have it, I ended up coming 13th. I lost almost half my stack in the early going, mostly standard spots, but there was one hand I could probably have played better.

D Peters opened in early mid position, and I elected to flat with eights on the button playing 35 big blinds. My thinking was the hand was not strong enough to get in for that amount, and I didn't want to 3 bet fold. The small blind (the only player older than me left in the tournament at this point) also called, so three of us saw a 532 rainbow flop. Checked to me, I decided I had to bet to protect my equity (I usually have the best hand now but there's a lot of two over card type hands with enough equity that I'd like them to fold now). Unfortunately I got check raised by the small blind, and D Peters folded. Since my opponent had just arrived at the table, I didn't know anything about him other than he was older. He also had the kind of neat nit stack (no low denomination chips) suggesting someone who has blinded down from the last pot won, rather then the rich in ante chip stack maniacs tend to have from all the small pots they contest and win. As I tanked he also looked very comfy so in the end I thought it's a pretty clear fold. I couldn't find too many hands he'd play like this that eights beat, and even hands I might be ahead of for now have a lot of equity.

I felt a lot better about the fold after seeing the villain fold every hand for the rest of the time we shared a table. If I had to put him on a single hand, I suspect my opponent had jacks. However the hand niggled me for a number of reasons so I spent the next few days soliciting the views of all the best players I talk through hands with. The fact that all but one agreed with the flop fold was heartening, but Gareth Chantler suggested that the flop bet was a mistake and in fact I should check behind my entire range in that spot. Although it's a hand that benefits from protection it's only of the very few in my range I want to bet for that reason, so I should be checking rather than turning my hand face up as vulnerable, on a board where my range is more capped than the two villains (they can have sets, I can't really). Eventually all the other players I consulted agreed with this view,. Dan then went on to suggest that since I couldn't bet even this benign flop for protection, that makes the hand very hard to play profitably post flop, so I would be better off to turn it into a three bet bluff preflop, which is what I think I should have done.

The fact that it took over half a dozen fine poker brains several days to reach this conclusion means I won't beat myself up to much about not finding the optimal line in game (also, not to be results oriented, but if I had three bet, chances are I would have lost at least as much if not more against jacks).

My only other moderately interesting spot was when I got aces under the gun with 12 big blinds. Card death meant I had an even tighter image than usual, so afraid my shove would just get through too often, I elected to min raise. Naturally this is going to arouse the suspicion of strong players (assuming they don't just think I'm some stack size unaware fish) but I thought they were a couple of weaker players at the table who might not notice. As it was, one of the better players had kings and had to talk himself into getting it in (reenforcing the point that this play can cost you action from better players who will interpret the shove as weaker). My aces held for a much needed double.

Unfortunately that was my high point, and by the time we got down to 13 I was the second shortest. I was still hopeful I could repeat my feat of last year (when i was shortest or second shortest all the way from 18 left to headsup). However that requires you to win a few flips, and in this occasion I lost my first one (ace king versus Ivan Luca's nines). I missed out on a 5k ladder by dint of that and another race Luca won a few hands earlier.

I wasn't as deflated by my bust as I thought I'd be, it was more a case of Oh well. I think there are a few reasons for that. The fact that the tournament was a grind from start to finish where I never had a big stack is one. Also, I think I was just relieved to have broken my longest cashless streak and prove I was capable of not just cashing but going deep again. I was also relieved to have provided a decent sweat and return on investments from my investors after a campaign of early exits. The amount of support I got from my rail both present and virtual was very heartening too. A big thank you to Andy Black, Dan Wilson, Padraig O'Neill, Groggsy, Martin, Carlos Welch and everyone else. I'm well aware that railing is a dull affair (particularly railing someone as restrained as me), all the more so when you have no financial self interest (of the name I listed, only Padraig had a percentage). This is one of the times in poker life when you find out who your real friends are.

As I was led to payouts, I saw my friend Daiva wandering around dizzily looking for me, having pulled herself away from sun bathing and waiting for her husband to land. She joined us for commiseration drinks in the Gold Coast, which somehow escalated into a drunken grocery shopping expedition, a rather surreal end to a day I had hoped would end with a bracelet, or at least another final table.

While we were drinking in the Gold Coast I had a quick look at the updates to see how Cathal Shine was getting on. At dinner on day 1, he told us he was going back to a very short stack. When I spoke to him again on day 2, he was still short. When I saw him on day 3, he was still short: shorter than me in fact. When I checked the updates, I saw he was still in,10/10, still short. I was therefore surprised as well as thrilled when we got back to the condo after the night out to hear from Dan and Smidge that Cathal had laddered all the way to second. I probably shouldn't have been surprised though: while he doesn't play that much live, for as long as I've been playing Cathal has been a mainstay on the Irish online scene. I think when I first became aware of PocketFives shinerr was the top ranked Irish player, and over the years when so many other top players have fallen by the wayside, he has remainedahead of the curve, a constant fixture near the top of the Irish list. Great player, great guy, great performance, fabulous result.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Daiva, modern day siren

Before heading to New York for a much needed mid series mini break and mental reset (I still felt I was playing as well as I can but also felt that might not continue if I continued being the dog that gets beaten every day and wakes up sad), I went to meet my friend Daiva who had just flown in from London to start her campaign. Any meeting with Daiva is pretty much a guaranteed morale booster, and here's how this went (I already tweeted  most of this so apologies to my Twitter followers for the repetition):

1. Go to Treasure Island to meet Daiva and go to steakhouse Smidge swears is great
2. Send her message we are in coffee shop near check in. Get message back saying she's in check in line
3. Walk to world's longest check in line. Fail to spot Daiva in scrum
4. Back to coffee shop. Text Daiva saying message me when you get to top of line and I'll come back
5. A while later, walk back after she texts. Spot her familiar blonde pony tail and shape at check in desk
6. Alarmed when the Daiva I'm watching check in texts back without touching her phone or interrupting her chat with check in person
7. Suspicions of disconnect between Daiva I'm watching check in and Daiva I'm texting grow when I see she's checking in with a guy who looks like an extra from the Sopranos in an episode that is some main characters last
8. Disconnect confirmed when I get text saying she's not staying at Treasure Island but at another hotel. Walk over to other hotel wondering why I ever assumed she was staying at Treasure Island (answer: I'm an idiot) and finally find her
9. Walk back to Treasure Island steakhouse with Daiva where an angry hungry cranky Smidge is wondering why what I said would take 2 minutes actually took 45
10. We order Caesar Salad to the apparent annoyance of waiter
11. Brought two of the mangiest Caesar salads in history (three lettuce leaves dipped in something or other with a couple of bread squares tossed on top)
12. After a debate as to whether we should accept these imposter Caesar salads, I watch Daiva steal some of Smidge's pasta dish he gloats is awesome. Hear her assure him it is far from awesome. Resolve to stop taking dining tips from Smidge or anyone else from Longford

13. Go for my first night of drinks with Daiva safe in the knowledge I just have to flop on a plane to New York after. Daiva is something of a modern day siren. Sirens were beautiful but dangerous creatures who lured sailors to shipwreck on the rocky coast. Daiva is a more benign version: she is such good company time flies by in her presence meaning I usually come close to missing planes when she's around, and once again I cut it fine by not noticing the time
14. Walk back to her hotel so she can order me an Uber only for her phone to die in the act. Lend her adapter so she can recharge phone. Now got a genuine might miss flight sweat
15. Forget to take adapter but make it to airport just in time to be told my flight is cancelled
16. After an hour in cancellation line, told I'm on a flight to LA in 6 hours where I can try to sprint to make a NY flight
17. Type up this note in the airport on my dying phone as tired drunkenness turns into a fretful hangover

18. Spend a pretty grim night surrounded by slots and cleaners in Vegas airport, wondering if a 48 minute connection in LAX is even possible

19. Take only 2 minutes to walk between the gates in LAX. Still almost manage to miss the plane watching everyone else at the gate wondering when the boarding will start
20. When I finally stroll to the gate 15 minutes before takeoff, I'm urgently told "Final boarding. Run! Run!" (I guess LA is a bit too laid back for boarding announcements). I do run run down the shoot, only to find myself sitting on a plane waiting to takeoff for over an hour.

The last time I was as relieved to see Mrs Doke as I was to finally see her in JFK was almost three decades ago when I wasn't certain that I'd successfully tricked her into leaving behind a perfectly fine life in Nurnberg for the craziness of coming to live with an eccentric Irishman in pre Celtic Tiger Ireland until she got off the plane in Dublin. And the last time an Irishman was this happy to see New York, there was a potato famine going on back home.

We stayed (as we always do) with our friends Russ and Nancy in their wonderfully located apartment on the Upper East Side a few blocks from Central Park. Wonderfully located it may be, but it might as well be in Queens as we rarely left it except to eat and drink :)

The name of the game was chill, and that we most certainly did. After a few days largely spent lying on sofas watching TV and chin flapping with Russ, it was time to head back to Vegas for round 2 of my WSOP this year. In terms of outcomes it could hardly go much worse than round 1, so I was raring to go.

Mrs Doke and I traveled back to Vegas on different flights scheduled to arrive at the same terminal. We arranged to meet at baggage reclaim, but as I was about to head down the stairs to there, I  got a text from her saying I had to catch a train to train terminals. I arrived in a terminal devoid not just of Mrs Doke but anyone, and was unable to catch a train back. I ended up walking the mile and a half between the two terminals at 2 AM, along a route not exactly designed for pedestrianism (think roundabouts, flyovers and ramps). Highlights were when I start to gain on a homeless person in the midst of a rant:

"You're all fucking cowards, hiding in your compounds, keeping everything and everyone out, hiding behind your gates and your walls, driving around in your Popemobile"

and as I approached the destination terminal, a cop car started slowly following me. I guess they were wondering why someone who looked like me with a green ninja turtle bag was walking towards an empty terminal. After making my way inside, I followed the signs and found myself back at the exact spot where I had checked my texts. At the bottom of the stairs waited an impatient Mrs Doke.

Dylan Lindh tweeted that after his best ever WSOP last year, this year's worst ever was a humbling experience, but he had had enough humility and was ready to start running better. My thoughts exactly


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