Survival of the fittestI've spoken before on the blog about how much emphasis I put on fitness since my return to live poker 15 months ago. When I decided to go back to Vegas last year for the WSOP, I didn't want to just show up in mediocre shape and see what happened. So I returned to training with an intensity I hadn't seen since I retired from competive running over 5 years earlier. My weekly running schedule went from 4 or 5 miles at an easy pace 3 or 4 times a week to 6 runs a week, nothing shorter than 7 miles, one or two speed runs, and one 30 mile run every Wednesday. I felt this enhanced fitness was a major advantage, particularly towards the end of long live sessions.
The problem with this is it's virtually impossible to maintain on live poker trips away. With the best will in the world, there generally isn't the time or the facilities to stick to the training regime. I lost a lot of fitness in Vegas and haven't really got it back since. The day before we headed to Killarney I did my longest run since Vegas (18 miles) with Gareth, and for the first time ever got destroyed by a poker player on my run. But at least I got through it.
Live multitablingI first tried live multitabling a few years ago, and didn't like it much. I was chasing live ranking points at the time and decided to give myself two shots at the scoreboard. I quickly learned it was a miserable experience of sprinting between two tables missing hands on both, so I decided never to attempt such a thing again. I stuck to that even when I had a shot at the UKIPT leaderboard with a significant prize a couple of years ago.
Nevertheless I found myself inadvertently multitabling in Prague late last year after I regged all the flipouts and won the first two. This meant overlapping final tables. Again, this was an experience not to be repeated.
When I played an online leg of GPPT Killarney on my last night in London I was aware of a potential clash with day 3 of the WPT. But it seemed like such a long shot as to not being worth worrying about. I'd have to make day 2 of the GPPT (which was playing to the money on day one) and day 3 of WPT (which would be near to final table). Making the last five to ten per cent of the field of one tournament is tough enough: it didn't seem very likely I'd do the double.
The online leg I played only got 19 runners, so I ended with 19 starting stacks. When I then made day 3 of WPT I was under the impression I could try to multitable, but this was cleared up the following morning: I had to choose one or the other but couldn't jump between the two. I was allowed to play the GPPT only on breaks from the WPT, meaning my stack in the GPPT would blind off in the meantime. Annoying to think I might have to relinquish a lot of equity in the GPPT (which at 19 starting stacks was worth over 2 grand at that time), but rules are rules so I just had to get on with it. I decided to concentrate on the WPT and put the GPPT from my mind until my work there was done, and only worry about the GPPT on breaks. The only minor strategic readjustment I had to make was I had to take closer spots in the WPT. For example, if I judged a spot to have an expectation of minus 500 euro, I'd normally pass, but here I'd take it knowing that if I bust I got to realise my full 2k in GPPT equity. I'd also need to adopt a more gambley high variance approach as I had to acquire chips to stave off blinding out completely.
Gamble gambleBy the time I got to my GPPT stack (thanks to Marc McDonnell for finding it for me so I could get to it as quickly as possible) I'd blinded off about a quarter of it, down to just under 300k. I did some gorilla maths and figured I needed to get to at least half a million to have any chance of surviving to the next break. What's the best way to double your stack in twenty minutes when everyone is playing cautiously? I could open shove every hand, but even if they all folded every time, that wouldn't get me there. And obviously if I got called I'd almost always be in wretched shape. So I decided to just play a lot of hands keeping the pots small and try to win a big one postflop.
With just over 2 minutes left on my WPT break, I had nudged my way back towards my starting stack, but I knew that still wasn't enough. It was touch and go as to whether it was worth sticking around to play another hand and risk missing one in the WPT, particularly since I was utg, but I decided to stick around. I also decided to split my range between raises (anything reasonable) and limps (everything else). Folding wasn't an option. As it happens I pick up tens and raise. I watch in horror as everyone folds to the blinds, and now I'm sorry I didn't limp.
Thankfully both blinds call. The flop comes t76 and they both check. Top set, but how to get paid? Check. Turn is a 3, small blind checks, big blind bets, I call, small blind calls. River is a 3 and the small blind unexpectedly leads. Big blind calls, I shove, small blind tank calls. I can't stack the chips fast enough to race back to the WPT.
Back on the WPT final table, I make a close call I wouldn't have made if I didn't have a stack of almost a million in the GPPT (about 5k in equity now) blinding off about 25 euro a minute in equity. Larry Ryan has just been crippled, I open aq, get shoved on by the second shortest stack, and after running the mental maths I decide I'm not quite getting the right price to call (his range has to be much tighter than normal with Larry so short) but it's close enough than when I factor in my equity in the GPPT I think it becomes a call. He has a monster as expected but I get there against his kings. Doubly unlucky on my opponent not just to get sucked out on, but also I wouldn't have made the call if I wasn't still in the GPPT.
I get back to that stack to find I've blinded off slightly more than the half a million I estimated. Once again I'm in a spot where I have to gamble or face the prospect of blinding out when I disappear off back to the WPT final table. My stack has been moved to a new table, but thanks to Ian Simpson finding it in advance for me, I get there just in time to defend my big blind. I make a loose and normally bad call with 44 versus an utg open, not so much set mining as set gambling. I am rewarded with a qt4 flop. After check calling the flop, my opponent decides to protect his overpair on the turn by shoving and I double. I win a few other small pots to nudge my stack up past the million mark before I have to go back to the WPT.
I bust that in fourth reshoving kq over a Richie Lawlor button raise and not getting there against ace king. No time to feel sorry for myself, straight back to the GPPT to find I've blinded off another half a million or so.
Back to one tablingI'd spun up a bit when I was moved to the feature table. I was a little apprehensive for once about exposing my game to a livestream audience as I was aware I was as tired as I ever have been at a poker table (and starving: with no breaks I hadn't eaten since breakfast other than some fruit Ian and Gareth kindly brought me),
Since the rest of the tournament is captured on livestream, I won't go into a detailed description. Some great commentary and banter from Padraig Parkinson, Jesse May, my driver and roommate for the trip Nick Newport, Paul Zimbler, Fergal Nealon and Richie Lawlor. I appear around the 1 hour 38 minute mark.
What I will do here is answer the most frequent questions I was asked afterwards.
Why were you not excited when you tripled up?A spectacular hand for sure, but similar to my hand in the main against Bob Tait the day before where my aces hit a runner runner royal flush against his set of kings, and the blog noted I seemed the least excited person in the place, I focus all my energy on getting decisions right. I don't waste any emotional energy on outcomes or runouts. Getting aces in against Bob's Kings was a routine decision, as was getting my ace king suited against two other ace kings. Obviously I'm happy I won, but there's nothing to be gained from celebrating good fortune or bemoaning bad luck while you're at the table. No matter what happens, any time spent thinking about the last hand is time wasted that would be better spent thinking about the next one.
On commentary Nick joked he wouldn't hear about anything but that hand on the drive home. Parky nailed it though when he said he didn't think so, as it was just a standard hand.
I was particularly conscious of the need to conserve energy on this occasion with no proper meals since breakfast and very few breaks, so on the few breaks I got I scampered off back to the room. Lots of people wanted a word on the way, which is great (I'm a social animal and the main thing I like about live poker is the chance to catch up with people) but on this occasion I was keen to maximise down time so if I was a little curt with anyone, I apologise.
Why did you fold an ace in the small blind to a limp and a call?This surprised almost everyone who knows me as it's clearly a profitable call and an obvious squeeze spot. I considered both options before deciding to fold.
My overall strategy in tournaments like this (late on, fast structure, shallow stacks and I feel I have a decent edge over the field) is to keep out of murky spots and preserve as much fold equity as possible. Software tools like Holdem Resources Calculator have revolutionised how wide people defend their blinds. It's now relatively easy to plug in a spot, click a button, and have the computer tell you exactly what range can be profitably defended.
Once I'd played around a bit with HRC and got a sense of profitable defend ranges I started defending as wide as everyone else until I heard Doug Polk suggest on a livestream that people tended to obsess over tiny edges preflop that pale into significance compared to the big mistakes you can make post flop out of position with crap holdings. This caused me to go back and review my online database. I quickly found out that while defending the bottom of the range might be slightly profitable in theory, in practise I ended up leaking some chips post flop. So while defending a6o (which is the very worst ace really) might make you 0.03 big blinds or whatever in theory, in practise you stand to lose a lot of big blinds in unclear post flop spots, and when you factor in ICM and the advantages of fold equity, these trump the theoretical 0.03 big blinds you give up by folding pre. Not all equity is created equal: fold equity is always better than any other kind, particularly when ICM is a factor.
Another small factor is the big blind had a reshove stack. Having ruled out the call for these reasons, I also ruled out the raise. With recent history and table dynamics I didn't think the squeeze would get through very often, and more often than not I'd be sat with a horrible hand out of position to one or more players.
It's definitely a close one though, and I think I'd have defended almost any other ace (except maybe a2o), and a6s.
Why are you always on your IPad?A lot of people give out to me for being on my iPad constantly, suggesting I'm distracted and missing action. First thing to say to that is I can assure you I'm not crushing candy or faffing about on Facebook. What I am doing is being fed information by what Parky calls my bench on what they can pick up from the livestream, dissecting hands after the event, and taking notes. I've found when I don't do this I actually miss more at the table as it's a lot easier to lose focus.
I know some people who can maintain 100% focus while staring intently at everything, but my mind tends to wander unless I force myself to take notes. I also think that people are much more likely to give away physical information if you don't make it blindingly obvious you're watching them.
Parky alluded to the fact that having what he called a strong bench could be seen as an unfair advantage. I can definitely see the argument there: it's undoubtedly an advantage to be able to call on top class professional players who know what to look for and communicate back to me. I'm fortunate enough to have several such guys on my bench (big thank you on this occasion to David Lappin in particular), and as long as it's not against the rules it's an edge I feel I have to take. I guess it could also be argued that in the same way we are rewarded for hours of study and hard work away from the table with an edge over our less hardworking opponents, one of the rewards for a lot of time and effort spent cultivating friendships with other players is they can be called on to pitch in on these occasions.
On the subject of the rules, I was told at one point that I couldn't actually be on the iPad at the table, so from that point forward in the livestream you'll see me stepping away from the table a lot to check.
Are you ever folding nines against Eoin Starr's jacks?No. In those seats at those stacks we are both always getting it in with those hands. The only way it can play out differently is against a tighter big blind I might just shove hoping to fold out some flips. Knowing as I did from the bench that Eoin had ace seven off in the hand where he shoved over my late position raise (with king queen), and given our history stretching back years, leaving Eoin room to shove a wide range of hands that nines dominates is a much bigger consideration than folding out a handful of flips.
Pretty sickening beat for Eoin obviously, but one he took with great grace. As Nick noted on comms, Eoin was a bit of a raw diamond when he first appeared on the scene a few years ago but after a few years in the online mines he's a much more accomplished player technically these days. He didn't put a foot wrong all day and had his jacks held there would probably have gone favourite to win.
Did you lose your mind when you shoved ten eight suited?No. While my preferred strategy headsup was to keep pots small preflop to maximise play postflop, to his credit Peter wasn't really allowing me to do this. He was opening and threebetting a very wide range that stretched all the way down to 53o and using a big sizing preflop. He wasn't going to allow me to grind him down and we'd already been all in three times preflop. So I've got him down to 15 big blinds and I'm looking to either whittle him down more or deliver the knockout blow.
When he again raises to 2.5x (he didn't seem to adjust his sizing as his stack dwindled) and I find ten eight suited, I figure folding isn't an option (given he's raising down to 53o) so I just have to decide whether to call or shove. If I call, I'm usually going to have ten high and have to give up on the flop, so we need to make done assumptions and do some gorilla maths to see if the shove is good:
(1) Judging from his opening frequency and the fact that the range goes all the way down to 53o, it looks like Peter is opening at least 90% of hands
(2) Even if we assume he will call a shove super wide, say any ace, k6 or better, q9 or better, all pairs, jto and some suited connectors, this is still only 30% of the hands he opens, so he folds to the shove 70% of the time
(3) Our equity against that calling range with T8s is 40%
So when we shove, there are three possibilities:
(1) He folds (70% of the time) and we pick up his 2.5x open and the big blind. This is a net gain of .7 times 3.5 = +2.45 big blinds
(2) He calls (30%) and we lose (60% of that 30% so 18% of the time) the 14 big blinds we shove. Net loss is 0.18*14 = -2.52 big blinds
(3) He calls (30%) and we win (40% of that 30% so 12% of the time) his 15 big blinds plus the one we posted. Net gain is 0.12*16 = +1.92 big blinds
So if our assumptions are correct, shoving is a plus Ev play of 1.85 big blinds. It's difficult to imagine calling wins us this much on average.
Were you playing to win, or ladder? How important was the trophy?This came up in the commentary too. Nick obviously knows me very well as he nailed it when he said that I'm primarily a professional poker player, so the money is the main motivation. But he added that I'm one of the most competitive people he knows (a fact I underlined when I saw him after listening back to the stream and the first thing out of my mouth wasn't "Thanks for the nice words Nick" but "You said I don't have many wins on my Hendon mob! I have eight! More than any other Irish player!") and therefore wanted to win.
And that's definitely true: I did want to win. Not for the trophy (lots of those at home already), but not just because first pays more than second either. But the main thing that gives me satisfaction from poker is coming away with the feeling that whether I won or I lost I gave my best and made the best decisions I could make. In terms of results, I have always valued long term consistency and endurance over short term form. Had I hit my eight or nine to win, I wouldn't have played any better or worse overall.
Paul Marrow sent me a congratulatory message afterwards. When I said I'd have preferred to win, he hit the nail on the head.
"Cash is Cash mate, after a week trophies only become clutter....."
But enough about me
This was easily the most fun event I've attended in Ireland since the legendary UKIPT Galway in 2013. Credit to that goes to everyone involved. To Fintan Gavin and Parky who travelled the length and breadth of the country spreading the word. To Rob Yong and Party Poker for setting aggressive guarantees and pulling a large crowd from overseas. Party's staff and ambassadors did everything they could to add to the craic. In particular, shoutout to Natalia Breviglieri who I'd only met once before briefly in Vegas when railing Daiva in the ladies (which Natalia final tabled) and who charmed everyone she interacted with in Killarney. To the bloggers Paul and Marc who provided top quality work as ever, and to everyone already named involved in the livestream. And to all the recreational players who turned up and provided that friendly atmosphere unique to Ireland. It was great to see so many faces I hadn't seen in years who I feared might be gone from poker forever. And on a personal level, thanks to my study buddy and constant poker confidante Daiva. I don't think it's a coincidence that I'm playing a lot better and have a more positive mindset since I teamed up with Daiva as study buddies.
Well done to Richie and Peter, the winners of the two events. I've known Richie from the start, and it was great to see a class player and a great guy finally get the score he deserved. I'd never seen Peter before but as was noted on the commentary, he was the one guy on the final table who went for it. Some players freeze on the big stage but Peter stepped up to the plate and deserved his victory. Also a special mention to father and son Ray and Dave Masters who final tabled the WPT.