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, May 29, 2017

My new Danish pen pal (Unibet Open Copenhagen 2017)

In 2010 I spent some time with the late great Liam Flood at the Villamoura EPT, one of my first EPTs. Suitably depressed after getting knocked out a bit before the bubble by eventual winner Toby Lewis, I decided to spend the rest of the trip sulking in my room clicking buttons. Liam lured me out telling me he had swapped 10% with an inexperienced player who was running deep.  He said he was a bit worried that this guy might play a bit too tight in the latter stages, and asked me if I could have breakfast with them and give the newb some pointers. I reluctantly agreed to postpone clicking buttons that day and joined them for a late breakfast. The newb in question turned out to be Teddy Sheringham (the footballer). Shortly after I got there, Liam made his excuses and left us to it. I felt the notion of me dispensing advice to Teddy was slightly ridiculous, so I didn't bother. Instead I enjoyed a very pleasant breakfast talking about football, golf, sport and life in general. He asked me who I supported and when I outed myself as a Gooner grinned "you must have hurled abuse at me down the years then". No point in lying to the man: given that he played for Spurs, United and Engerland, he pretty much ticked all the boxes in that department. Hopefully cheering for him on the final table was some sort of amends (he ended up coming fifth).

As we were finishing our breakfast, we were joined by Tony Cascarino (the footballer). Teddy didn't hang around, and I decided just leaving Cas on his own might be perceived as a little rude, so I postponed clicking buttons a little longer. I decided to make the minimum of conversation that would satisfy politeness standard while he wolfed down his bacon, but not get dragged into another heart to heart that might go on until another ex footballer appeared out of the woodwork. Well, you can never be too careful, can you?

It turned out Cas was vaguely aware of me not just as a poker player, but as an ex runner. But only vaguely. Very vaguely.

"You're the former runner, right?"
"Yeah yeah. I remember you running in the Olympics".

My mind started evaluating the two possible lines I could now take. I could check raise him by pointing out that I never ran in the Olympics. In my experience though, people tend to get a bit upset when you check raise them, and they rarely just fold quickly and leave it at that. I anticipated being asked for clarification, which would lead to me having to explain that ultra running wasn't in the Olympics (and possibly why not, and maybe even a lengthy discussion about what ultra running even was). So I decided it was safer to just Call, and hope that ended the conversation.

"Yeah, yeah, I remember it well. Moscow, right?"
"Um.....well.....Moscow, yeah"
"So what was it like? Moscow?"

Suddenly, with no real idea as to why, I found myself backed into a tough conversational spot, having to describe what the Moscow Olympics were like. Despite never having been to the Olympics. Or even Moscow. But here I was having to talk about the weather there, the food, the women, the sights.

I had a somewhat similar experience on my flight to Unibet Open Copenhagen. As we were taking off, my seat neighbour turned to me and said something in Danish. Instead of doing what any normal person would do (make it immediately clear I don't understand a word of Danish), for some reason I smiled and nodded before returning my attention to my IPad. A few minutes later I became aware my neighbour was talking Danish at me again. Figuring nodding and smiling had worked so well last time, I decided to stick with a proven strategy. A few smiles and nods later, the IPad had my undivided attention again. At least for a few minutes. As I turned my face to Danish again, I started to question the effectiveness of this whole smiling and nodding strategy. But I figured I was now pot committed to the pretence that I understood Danish in much the same way as I had been to Cascarino's belief he had seen me in the Moscow Olympics. So I spent quite a lot of the rest of the flight smiling and nodding at my new friend.

This wasn't the most pleasurable in flight experiences ever, at least from my perspective. As we disembarked he insisted we swap email addresses. I fully expect an email in my inbox when I get home saying he actually realised I have no Danish and the whole thing was a windup.

On my first full day in Copenhagen, I walked with Daiva and Ian to the world famous street food market. Food trip reports are more a Daiva thing, so I'll leave the full details to her blog, but the food and company was excellent. On the way we passed a wishing tree. I rather selfishly wished for a WSOP bracelet, while my friends proved to be more selfless.

The following day was day 1a. I made a decent start for once adding 50% to my starting stack over the first few levels, before a combination of card death, escalating blinds and a light threebet that didn't work saw me dip below 20k. A much needed double up was secured when my jacks held all in on the turn against A4dd on a TT8hhd3d board. Our table broke shortly afterwards and I was moved to the feature table for the rest of the day. If you want to see what happened it's available here:

I come in around the 7 hour 34 minute mark. It wasn't particularly eventful for me personally but after a tough grind of a day I was reasonably satisfied to bag up just under 35k. Afterwards I stayed at the bar a while celebrating with Daiva's husband John and my future son in law Tim Davie both of whom I hadn't seen in a good while. Honourable mentions for bloggers Tom and Josh who I was meeting for the first time, voucher supremo Simon Steedman and Gerry and Louise from Scotland.

The evening culminated with a 3 am walk to the petrol station for late night food. The hot dogs there are surprisingly good, and unsurprisingly sold out at that hour. I decided to go with Nacho crisps to ease my hunger pangs, but John was keen on something hot. A poor crop at best was on display, so John sought the local knowledge of the guy behind the counter:

"What would you recommend from this lot?"
"I can't decide for you, mate"
"But imagine you were trapped in a petrol station at 3 am"
"I am"

Turns out Danish wit can be dryer than any Danish pastry you might find in a petrol station at 3 am.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Could be a stress fracture

Every time I find myself in Dublin airport on my way to a poker tournament with Mrs Doke, my mind flashes back a decade to when we would find ourselves on the way to an ultramarathon. As crazy as I am now, she had to contend with even more crazy during my days as an international runner. As my unpaid helper handler guru masseuse nutritionist psychologist, she was basically charged with everything from booking the flights, getting us to the airport on time, packing my bags, to dealing with my various neuroses and psychosis that always came to the fore as the stress of a very long run approached. 

She also had to deal with me whining and embellishing every little twinge I felt.
"I think my foot is broken"
"It can't be. You're walking fine on it"
"But it's sore"
"You always feel this way during your taper"
"It could be a stress fracture"

As a runner I was trained to nip injury in the bud by actively seeking out every twinge and RICEing the bejesus out of it before it became a proper injury. At least during training. On race day, I switched to completely ignoring all the pain and discomfort before it tried to nag me into stopping.

Looking back now, I feel that weirdly neurotic state I found myself in the days before a race was a vital part of the mental preparation. Running a 24 hour race is tough, no matter what anyone tells you. There's no point trying to kid yourself: your inner bullshit detector just won't let you. My coach used to say you needed to feel real and present dread when you stood at the starting line. That dread that swamped over you stopped you from charging off like a muppet because you have lots of nervous energy, at a pace you can't sustain for an hour much less 24. That dread sucks the pep from your step, pep that might cause you to pound the road a little too hard in hour one of the race causing you to pull up in hour eleven injured. That dread stops you getting into dumb "I'm in front for now" games when there are still 23 hours and 58 minutes to go.

My coach also used to say that best approach was to start as slow as you possibly could, and then try not to slow down too much during the race. Because no matter how slow you go at the start, you will slow down. I sometimes wonder if a similar approach to poker tournaments might be GTO. After all, more than 99% of the time it will end, if not in tears, then at least in mini death and disappointment. So maybe going in thinking positive thoughts is just setting yourself up for a fall.

James Stockdale ended his life as the seemingly senile vice presidential candidate to the positively nuts Ross Perot, starting his VP debate with words which did little to dispel his image as a bewildered old man ("Who am I? Why am I here?") But several decades earlier, he was a US war hero, whose experiences as a POW in Vietnam gave birth to what is known as the Stockdale paradox. 

Stockdale was one of eleven U.S. military prisoners known as the "Alcatraz Gang". Because they had been resistance leaders they were separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement in a special facility in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, located about one mile away from Hoa Lo Prison. Each of the prisoners was kept in an individual windowless and concrete cell measuring 3 by 9 feet with a light bulb kept on around the clock, and locked in leg irons each night.

When author James Collins asked who didn't make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

This is a sobering message as we live in a time when a lot of nonsense is written and talked about the "power of positive thinking", with little concrete evidence offered as to its benefits other than giving us an unrealistic sense of well being. Yes, if you go into a poker tournament thinking positively that you're going to win, you might feel great. If nothing goes wrong and you do end up winning you'll go on feeling great. But in terms of preparing mentally for the battle ahead, how useful really is getting into a mindset that only works if nothing goes wrong?

Many poker mind game gurus recognise the power of pessimism. Jared Tendler has written about it. Dr Tricia Cardner talks about the power of the pre mortem. A pre mortem is like a post mortem (where you think about everything that went wrong after the event to try to learn from it), except you do it before, visualising everything that could possibly go wrong. By visualising problems and setbacks in advance, you can mentally rehearse your response to them, rather than fall to pieces in game because you expected nothing to go wrong.

I used to just turn up to a poker tournament (or turn my computer on) and play. That was fine when poker was new and fresh and less of a routine. These days I feel the need to do some mental warm ups. These generally take the form of meditation after I wake up, then a run to get the blood flowing while I listen to a poker podcast to start my brain thinking about poker, then some study, and I go on thinking about poker until I sit down to play. I try to imagine all sorts of horrible things. What if I take a bunch of bad beats right out of the gate? What if my internet or PC dies? What if there's a power cut and every alarm in the estate screeches to distracting life? What if I misclick early in my session? What if....

If you're going to have a lot of What ifs in your life, I feel it's best to have them before rather than after. Pessimism is a bit like Clonsilla, on the periphery of Dublin, where I live now. I hated it when we moved here first, but once I got used to it, it's not a bad place to live. The same is true of Clonsilla.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

LaDeborah, Staples v Perkins, Twitch, WSOP

On my last night in Brighton at the Unibet UK tour, Ian Simpson made the rather laughable (I thought at least) claim that while I might have more live cashes than him, he had more final tables. Of course, rather than just laughing off this outlandish claim like any sane person would, I immediately set about disproving it. Which I did by Hendon Mobbing us both on my phone, which revealed our respective live final table counts as 15 for Ian and 68 for me. So kinda  close then. The fact that Iany took this surprisingly well led me to suspect the whole point of the claim was to make me count 83 individual entries across our two Hendon mobs on my ancient Iphone.


Our final table waving contest attracted the reasonable derision of Mad Harper and Deborah Worley Roberts. Debs, who had final tabled the Brighton event, then switched tack unexpectedly from how pathetic our discussion was to "why haven't you ever mentioned me in your blogs, unlike the rest of your honeys?"

Firstly I would like to register my approval of the idea that I have "honeys" in poker, irrespective of how ironically it was intended. Secondly this was definitely not a deliberate snub, even if the course of affairs between myself and LaDeborah has not always run smoothly. She first attracted my attention by berating me at length over bad beats I'd put on her online (I never have any memory of these bad beats but have no problem accepting responsibility for them as the type of thing I do). Next, she set fracked a friend of mine out of a tournament while I was at the table (drew to and hit a set on the river with half the stacks in after the turn). On the other hand, she does hang around with the wonderful Kelly Saxby, and the absence of a Saxby restraining order must mean something. She pointed out that her record (two UKIPT final tables and a deep run in WSOP Ladies event) was worthy of recognition. It was at that moment I recalled that she was on the final table of UKIPT Cork. The fact that that event was a double disappointment to me presumably meant I was less than magniminious in my blog of the event in handing out congrats. I took a particularly bad one early in the main to be crippled but recovered into contention only to bust three tables out, and Nick Newport (who was staked by myself and the other Firm lads at the time) dangled the prospect of a big score in front of us but was devastated to bust first from the final table. So devastated he not only endangered us all on the tilt drive home, but also took this awful photo of me passed out in the passenger seat (and made it his Stars avatar meaning I saw it nightly for the next few years).

If it's any consolation Debs, I seem to remember there was much discussion of you and your play in the car before I passed out, and hopefully this overdue shoutout on the blog makes amends.

Staples bros v Perkins

This prop bet has generated a lot of polarized opinions since it was announced that the Staples boys are going to try to get to the same weight (give or take a pound) in the next year. If they manage to do so, they will relieve Bill Perkins of a drop (150k) in the ocean of his wealth, while if they fail to do so they have to add a droplet (3k) to Perkins ocean. Most of the views I've heard are either "piece of cake" or "not a hope". I'm somewhere in the middle: I think it's going to be tough for Jaime to shed enough pounds to get within Matt's ballpark, and even tougher for weedy little Matt to gain enough weight to give Jamie a decent target to shoot for (there's a reason why lightweights in boxing don't bulk up to heavyweight in chase of the big dollars). Tough, but not impossible.

I'm particularly surprised to see numerous people suggest that the "within a pound" stipulation is the toughest part of the deal. The idea seems to be that even if the two lads manage to meet in the middle somewhere, manipulating their weights to within a pound or less would be the toughest part. I personally don't see it. Fighters make weight at weigh ins by dehydrating themselves. This means that on fight night boxers often weigh up to a stone heavier than they did at the weigh in the night before. So if the lads are within a stone or two of each other this time next year, then I humbly suggest it will be relatively easy to calibrate their weights by manipilating their liquid intake. Just dehydrate Jaime while Matt glugs down a gallon or two of water.

Feeling Twitchy

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is "When are you going to start Twitching?" Early this year I used to answer "Soon", because I expected to sign with Unibet and start Twitching for them as part of the deal. I did indeed sign as an ambassador, but unfortunately it turned out I couldn't start Twitching for legal licensing reasons (Unibet is not yet licensed in the Republic of Ireland). I'm hoping it will be sorted out later this year or early next year, but in the meantime I suggest you get yourself over and watch the streams of my Chip Race cohorts Ian Simpson and David Lappin. They work well as a duo as they love to take the piss out of each other, and Lappin's anti-Iany rants are the funniest things I've seen on Twitch.

I predicted in advance that Lappin would be perfect for Twitch, so if you want to watch someone who plays very similarly to me but is way more entertaining, tune in. It hasn't all been plain sailing though: his first stream was a memorable shambles as I explained to Jake Cody before we interviewed him for the Chip Race.

In Brighton, David and Ian were kind enough to help me out on commentary on the Irish Open Online event. It's fair to say copious amounts of wine were consumed and we perhaps weren't taking our commentary duties as seriously as we generally do, but the fact that we still managed to get over 1000 hits on Youtube for an online event that attracted 48 runners suggests people may have enjoyed it more than they should have. On the night we struggled to maintain our meagre live viewership in the face of direct competition from the Hall-Dentale grudge match. Our cause wasn't helped by David constantly reminding people what was on on the other channel. Every time he did so our viewing figures dipped, but hopefully he learned a lesson from that. Not sure though: the last time I tuned in to his Twitch channel he was talking up the appeal of the DTD Million final table and recommending people go watch it.

Vegas plans

With my WSOP plans now finalised (I'll be there June 6 to July 17) the plan for May is to prepare as intensely as I can. Physically I feel I'm back in peak shape (this blog is being written after I completed a 30 mile long run), I've put a lot of work and study into my game this year, and the plan is to keep the foot on the gas on that front throughout May. Just fun live poker trips planned before Vegas: MPN Malta this weekend, and Unibet Open Copenhagen at the end of May. Then it's off to Vegas to try to give myself another shot at a bracelet. As in previous years, I will be selling some action to reduce my exposure and variance, so if you're interested in a Vegas sweat, watch this space (or rather Twitter) in the coming week or two.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fresh Open memories

Sam Grafton bouncing around the place in dungarees like a man whose cultural research on how to dress in Ireland only got as far as a viewing of a Dexy's Midnight Runners video. 

George Devine bringing me a thoughtful present (David Bowie commemorative stamps). 

Feeling relief that "Norwegian Donald Trump" Espen behaved himself in our place and so didn't get killed by Mrs Doke. So relieved I give him a free run through a satellite hand history of mine. Enjoying his consternation when I fold kings preflop.

Sameer arriving the next day and instantly making a more favourable impression with a very well chosen bottle of French wine. Doing some PIO work to prepare for the next day. Playing my first bullet at a table that includes Griffin Benger. Enjoying the reaction at the table when an angelic blonde dealer smiles at me and says "I remember you from Prague". Busting shortly after Griffin does in a flip against Espen.

Sitting in reception recharging my phone and my spirits hoping the hotel staff leave me in peace without trying to sell me a beverage. Looking blankly at the face of the hotel girl trying to work out what she is trying to sell me. Realising eventually it's not a hotel huckster but my friend Elena "The Groupie" Stover who has flown in to play and is about to late register.

Having more luck on my second bullet and bagging up a bit more than average and a day off. Celebrating a bit too long in the bar with Sameer, Elena, Fintan Hand, John Keown and Keith Cummins. As we finally leave hearing Griffin Benger (who everyone would be talking about by the end) say "Everyone is talking about The Dokester and there he is". Crawling out of bed the next morning and persuading a very ill Sameer to come with me for a three hour walk around Phoenix Park. Filming how unimpressed he is by the herds of deer.

Making a good start to day 2 getting up to close to 100k.  Changing tables 7 times in the day as it slowly goes pear shaped. Shoving queen jack over a small blind limp about 70 from the bubble and losing at showdown to ace ten. Late regging the JP Masters while keeping an eye on my swaps Sameer and Smidge as they navigate through the main event bubble. Bagging up a little more than starting stack. Spending a little too long at the bar with Sameer and Smidge making day 3. Depositing the proceeds of my satellite winnings in my green bag. Paul Carr joking that he was going to rob the bag. Settling a bet between him and Weesh as to whether his exit in the main was a shove on the bubble. Meeting Bridie Gribbin and Barry Foley and getting their feedback on the return of The Chip Race. Discussing six big blind shoving ranges with Sameer in the cab home. Grabbing a few hours sleep and running some simulations over breakfast with Sameer.

Busting the first hand of day 2 JP Masters to confirmed nemesis Espen. 

Getting the rubdown photograph taken as I slunk away. Finally getting to see Alex (Daragh Davey's baby son). 

Getting a brain teaser from Emma Simpson (both the brains and beauty of the Simpson marriage which was famously proposed at another Irish Open).

Getting a free hotel room from Paul H who won a package but is going home early (thanks Paul, was a lifesaver). Late regging the Liam Flood Memorial (appropriately enough a 6 max turbo). Mick McCluskey asking me how much I had with 18 left.

"14 big blinds"
"Not really. I'm chipleader"

Losing a flip with ten left for a lot of the chips. Railing Sameer who has survived in the main on fumes all day and is now closing in on an improbable final table, and Fintan who is proper beasting. Being joined on the rail by Elena, Christin, Espen and Canadian "Energiser Bunny" Giancarlo. Buying Elena a Cute Hoor because she feels self conscious about asking for one. Walking out after Sameer has made the unofficial final table telling him to smell the roses as we don't get them very often in life. Him taking it rather literally and asking me to take a photo.

Talking 9 big blind strategy with an understandably excited Sameer before catching a couple of hours sleep. Running some more simulations after we wake (What if it's folded round to me first hand? What if Griffin opens first hand? What if the first spot I get is over a Griffin button open? How much are ranges affected by ICM and how does it change them?) meant skipping breakfast and heading straight down to the commentary box. Commentating on the full final table alongside Parky, which was an item ticked off the bucket list. Feeling nervous given how dog tired I was after a few nights of sleep deprivation, but feeling reasonably happy afterwards with how I acquitted myself. Thoroughly enjoying spending 7 hours alongside Parky (nine, counting the dinner break). Feeling very proud of Sameer who short stacked ninjaed his way to sixth, and another player I coach who also performed brilliantly on the final table.

Seeing Chris Dowling walk away from the table as I went into the commentary booth (we were in a thirty minute delay).  Feeling very sad for him as I know how much he would have loved to win. I've known Chris for my entire poker career and we've had our ups and downs but there's nobody I'd root for more in an event like this.

Having a celebration drink with Sameer. Meeting lots of my favourite people I haven't seen in ages, and boring some of them to sleep. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was my talk on optimal three betting frequencies, who can tell.

Looking forward to next year's event already.

Related viewing

  • The full final table (commentary by me and Parky) 
  • Highlights on TV3 - available only in Ireland (commentary by me and Parky) 
  • Irish Open online livestream (commentary by me, Ian Simpson and Ian Simpson) 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Born on a school bus

The world's oldest continuous foot race is the London to Brighton ultra. When I moved from "normal" marathons to ultras, I therefore always assumed I'd one day get to Brighton on foot from London by whatever route the race took that year (it changes for some reason). My career as an ultrarunner ended up being more successful than I could ever have imagined, but also briefer. Two years into it, a new obsession was taking control of my soul: one which involved late nights and long periods of sitting (not conducive to the ultrarunning life and training regimen).

It's perhaps fitting then that when I finally did arrive in Brighton, it was on a train quaffing coffee with a pudgy poker player rather than pouring isotonic drink down my throat with other ultrarunners. I was there for the Unibet UK poker tour leg. The aforementioned pudgy poker player Lappin was looking a little less pudgy than when I last saw him in London, a result of a disciplined regimen of exercise and diet.....wait, that's not it. He'd lost weight because he followed up a bout of food poisoning with the unusual step of licking ant poison he found on the window sill of his bathroom back in Malta. It's a measure of how well I know Lappin that when he told me this the night before, I was neither surprised nor incredulous. Lappin gonna Lappin.

After checking into the studio where we intended to start recording for our new podcast, and the hotel, we went for a wander on Brighton Pier. It felt like a trip back in time (a motif reenforced by this Unibet clip) to when I was a kid and school educational trips took the form of trips to place like Tramore or Bray where the kids in my class learned to operate slot machines while eating their body weight in candy floss and rock.

It's a testament to how well Lappin knows me that our relationship has moved through three stages of anecdotage:
(1) I told him all mine, until he'd heard them all several times
(2) his patience with the Doke rerun channel broke and every time I cleared my throat to ask "did I tell you about the time..." he shouted yes
(3) after a period of moody silences during which I sulked about having nobody to tell my stories to while he tried to develop an appetite to stomach my reruns (he never got there) he came up with the novel idea of telling my stories back to me, presumably in the belief that I might not remember them any more, or the view that anything was better than having to listen to me telling them again, followed by a short review: "that's not one of your better stories" or "you should put that one in your blog".

After I remarked it felt like a trip back in time, he seized on the opportunity to tell me the story of how I used to become the most unpopular kid in the whole school by the end of each trip. He followed it with a "one for the blog" comment so if the rest of this blog bores you, send your complaint to Malta.

School trips were a big deal when you grew up in a small town in Ireland and the only other excitement was wondering how many slaps of the leather strap the Christian brother would give you for displaying intellectual independence. Kids saved up their money for these trips, or tapped up their parents. I saved up my money too, but had a very different approach to spending it.

Ok, first let's talk about what every other kid who had been given spending money by their parents did. Knowing that once they got to Tramore or Bray every remaining penny would disappear into a slot machine, they'd spend some of the money on presents for their family, and themselves. The idea was to prevent themselves from blowing all their dough in the slots and returning home empty handed to angry parents and siblings. A solid plan theoretically, but I saw an exploitative strategy.

When the bus pulled up outside whatever shop had been designated as the one where gifts would be purchased, all but one of the kids piled off. I alone remained behind on the bus, ignoring the looks of disapproval and comments like "O'Kearney is such an asshole he doesn't even buy a present for his little brother". Even at age 8, I had realised that most games are the long game.

Eventually they all returned to the bus laden down with goods feeling morally superior to Scrooge O'Kearney, and the bus headed on to the slot machine arcade. When it got there, the kids would pile out with indecent haste to lose every last remaining penny. While they did so, I wandered about the arcade keeping all of my money in a prissy little purse, guarding it like the Crown Jewels. Wind forward an hour or two and by now most of my classmates had gone full slot machine addict, and burned through their entire roll. This was the point at which O'Kearney slithered into action. Sidling up to a classmate looking hungrily at a slot for which he no longer possessed the pennies needed to keep playing, negotiations would start. What can you sell me to get more money to play? How desperate are you? How little will you accept just to hear that sweet sweet whirring noise of the slot machine wheel one more time?

Sufficeth to say the terms I offered were never generous. That nice 5 pound watch you bought for your mother? I'll give you 20p for it. That chemistry set for your brother worth 8 quid? Mine now, for 20p.

I sat alone at the front on the long ride home, fully aware of the pure hatred being beamed at me from almost every other seat on the bus. I didn't care if nobody wanted to sit beside me. It meant there was more room for the bag of cheaply purchased goods I had recently acquired. I was the poorest kid on that bus, from the most indebted family, and my little brother and I may have been born to stressed out parents who didn't love or even like us, but for at least one day in our year, we were no longer losers, and we had more toys and trendy trinkets than all the rich kids.

I may not have learned the rules of Holdem for another 35 years or so, but looking back I realise now that the mind of Doke the poker player was born on a school bus.

Monday, March 20, 2017

But it better not be shite, David

Two years ago to the day before I flew out to Brighton for the Unibet UK tour, the first episode of the Chip Race launched. Lappin, Daragh and I felt we had given it our best and hoped it would be well received, but nothing could have prepared us for the reaction over the course of its short run. For the next two months, everywhere we went people told us how much they loved the show. The reaction in Ireland was overwhelming and heartening: the reaction abroad was astonishing. Everyone I spoke to in the UK when I played there seemed to be listening and loving. When I went to Vegas that summer people recognised my voice and told me how much they loved the show. Genuinely baffling for a podcast that was intended for the Irish market.

We recorded only seven episodes over seven Monday afternoons. Given that Sunday is the busiest and often most tilting day for online players, Monday is not necessarily the best of days to be dragging yourself into a studio in Clonskeagh hoping to speak intelligently about poker. One day on our walk from Lappin's pad in Portobello, a total stranger stopped us on the street to tell us how much he loved the show. That's the only time in either of our lives someone has stopped us in the street because poker.

We wrapped our first season (or what we thought was our first season) just before I flew to Vegas for the WSOP. The plan was the company who commissioned the podcast would line up a sponsor over the summer to make it worth everybody's while to go on dragging our tired tilted Monday asses to the studio in Clonskeagh.

Vegas went well, and when I chopped event 45 headsup for almost 300k, one of my first thoughts was this should make it easier to get a sponsor for the Chip Race. My profile had never been higher. The first season went on getting downloads and rave reviews. Some big players in poker expressed interest. Even random Americans in Vegas were talking about the show.

It didn't happen. The company who owned the Chip Race had gone into liquidation, leaving us in a legal limbo. We put the relaunch on hold until the legal situation was clarified. By the time it had, it seemed the moment had passed.

When I go abroad to play live, and a total stranger at the table looks me in the eye and clears his throat in such a manner as to suggest conversation is about to break out, I can generally predict the opening line as one of the following:
(1) You're such a luckbox/fish/donk online (followed by some bad beat they expect me to remember)
(2) I read/like/love your blog
(3) Is your study partner Daiva as beautiful as she looks in photos?
(4) Is Lappin really that much of an idiot/gobshite/dickhead? (Or if I'm in the US, "Does this Lappin guy actually exist, or did you just invent him to make your blog more interesting?")
(5) Will the Chip Race ever come back?

With trademark arrogance I no longer get surprised that people read the blog. It's been the one constant throughout my career. This is my 460th entry, I've written close to a million words as I went through my poker career here, and have been seen by over a million eyeballs (the traffic counter on the front page only tracks the last few years). Add in the fact that most blogs fizzle out after a dozen entries and it's not too surprising most people see me as "blog dude".

It's more surprising that two years on people still ask about something we only made seven short episodes of. It's a testament to the incredible work David Lappin put into designing the concept and the format, writing scripts (seriously, who scripts a poker podcast? Lappin, that's who), and painstakingly editing my jumbled verbal Grampa Simpson ad hocs (we quickly realised I'm not a person who can stick to or even read a script) into coherence.

So when David came to me and said Unibet wanted us to make a comeback, I felt a bit like Ewan McGregor when Danny Boyle asked him to do Trainspotting 2. I of course immediately agreed, as did Ewan, who reportedly added "But It better not be shite, Danny". It's fair to say I feel a certain trepidation that we run the risk of tarnishing the memory of something that was pretty good if we are not careful. I guess it's up to us to work our balls off to make sure that that doesn't happen. That it isn't shite.

Actually, come to think of it, it's David's balls that will be doing all the work. They say you shouldn't mess with a winning formula, so I'll just keep showing up, saying whatever random stuff passes through my head, leaving David the hair pulling task of extracting some pearls of wisdom from my verbal dung pile. Good luck with that, David.

One of our first guests is Ian Simpson, and it's fair to say the interview was not without its contentious moments, as this picture of David literally taking it on the chins from Ian immediately afterwards implies. So tune in to see what got Iany so riled up.

Monday, March 13, 2017

No friends at the poker table

Irish Open Online championship

Before I wind up my Unibet London trip report, first the Irish Open (which is always one of my favourite events of the year) is just around the corner, and for the first time ever there's an online event. If you fancy becoming the first ever Irish Open online champion, it's a two day event starting next Sunday at 8 PM GMT and concluding the following day. It's on Micrograming skin Guts and there's an Irish Open main event package (€1150 seat to the Open and 5 night accommodation) added to the prize pool! Unfortunately I won't be able to play it myself as I'll be in Brighton (fortunately having a great time at the Unibet UK tour event there) but I will be doing commentary live on Facebook and Youtube on day 2.

OK, back to London...

After busting the main, I went with Lappin and Daiva for some food. Afterwards we all regged the 300 buyin side event together, which meant we were all put on the same late reg table. A bit of a rookie mistake as these kinds of tables tend to be much tougher than random ones. I had Daiva to my immediate left, Lappin next to her, and the table also included two other ambassadors, Espen and Dan Murariu, as well as Stuart from Glasgow who ended up chopping the event. So in Ev terms, the table from Hell, but at least the banter was considerable.

I decided I'd better tread lightly out of position to the two pros who best know my game, my current study partner Daiva, and previous study partner David. As it happens, I got off to a good start, winning a big pot first hand. Second hand, Daiva min raised utg, and after everyone else folded I defended pocket fours. The flop was pretty good for my hand, j32r, meaning I can beat second pair and have a back door straight draw, so I called a small bet. The turn was an inconsequential low card, and we both checked. The river looked ok too, a queen, so I checked figuring whoever was ahead on the flop was still ahead, and there was no point betting my hand as Daiva won't call with worse. So I checked and she bet quickly. The bet seemed fishy as she has very few queens in her range (I didn't think she'd bet ace queen for example on the flop), and she looked unusually nervous as I considered the call, but again I figured this might be her cunningly trying to reverse tell me, so I let her have it. This is an exploitative divergence from game theory (otherwise known as a mistake), as it's hard to make a pair and I'm so far up my range on the river if I fold this hand I'm folding too much and Daiva can profitably bluff any two cards.

Daiva mischievously showed a nine as she raked in the chips, an odd card as I didn't think she'd value bet pocket nines. She admitted it was 98s. I happily laughed this off, I have no problem acknowledging when I've been outplayed, even by a close friend, so well played Daiva. I jokingly tweeted that I needed a new study partner. Daiva twisted the knife being quick to point out the lack of immediate applications for the position :)

I recovered my composure to make day 2, as did Lappin (who took out Daiva with his underpair to her overpair to prove he doesn't just run well against me).  After another sleepless night under duck feathers I hung on grimly with my short stack until I got a full double up through Renee Xie (my ace king held against her ace queen). Unfortunately that was as good as it got, and I exited four from the bubble in a standard blind on blind spot.

An Irishman, an American, a Lithuanian, and some lads from Oop North

The High Roller was starting and my original intention was to jump in, but I was really feeling the effects of the sleepless nights by now so decided to skip it. Instead I rested up for the Players party, which is always a highlight at Unibet events. I started with some predrinking Chez Daiva where I had the pleasure of meeting her husband John's Bury crew, a truly great bunch of blokes. They do that particularly Blokey thing of relentlessly taking the piss out of one of their number, then as soon as he leaves the room going to considerable lengths to point out the many great qualities he has. That continues until Best Bloke Ever comes back into the room and immediately becomes Bloke We Take Piss Out Of Nonstop.

The only other invited guest going on to the Player party was the ever charming Kelly Saxby, which meant that I got to walk in with the two most beautiful ladies at the party. Or at least behind them filming them walking in on one of their phones.

Ain't no party like a Unibet party

The party was truly epic and the personal highlight for me was emulating my friend Mick McCloskey who got to hang out and have his picture taken with Viktor Blom a few years ago in Galway. Viktor is easily the nicest and most down to earth poker God I've ever met.

We stayed until the end, at which point Lappin did what he always does in these spots: tried to assemble a crew to join him in his pursuit of late night chicken. We made a half hearted effort to find him a Chicken Cottage until we were reliably informed that they were all shut.

He took the news with profound sadness.

Estonian Jesus

The following day I played my last event, the turbo deepstack and never really got going. As I played that, news from the main event was that a player the media was dubbing Estonian Jesus was performing miracles. I quickly realised this was Estonian Ben, with whom I shared commentary duties in the last 12 months in Tallinn and Mazagan.

Around this time I was also getting trolled on Twitter by my fellow ambassador Lappin who had spotted a statue on his London walkaround he felt bore a certain resemblance to a certain someone.

Ben ended up busting his final table around the same time I bust the turbo. Unibet's livestream commentary A team of Marc Convey and David Vanderheyden were in the market for someone who could come in for a couple of hours to let them grab some dinner, so Ben and I jumped in. After Ben's stint, Lappin joined me for the next hour. Two pretty enjoyable hours for me personal with two very different commentators. My stint starts at around the 5 hour 9 minute mark:

Really feeling the effect of sleepless nights under duck feathers now, I was intending an early night, but the hospitality of Unibet at their events makes a quick getaway almost impossible to execute. I got waylaid to the bar, and then the staff tournament, which was great fun despite the fact I was so tired I could barely see the cards and I got outrageously nit rolled by eventual winner Marc Convey (just kidding Marc: well done and I certainly don't hope you fall off the new bike you bought with your winnings).

The following day Mrs Doke flew in to chill out for a few days. We went to dinner with Daiva, John, Sameer and his lovely wife Fran, and hung out quite a bit with Daiva. Whatever her downsides as a study partner, she can't be faulted as a hostess.

Roll on Brighton!


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