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.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back to back to back

When I got up on Sunday morning to do my run, I couldn't find anyone to do it with. The previous day I'd run with Padraig "Smidge" O'Neill and Gareth Chantler, but Gareth was in the last hyper flight of the Grand Prix and Smidge was still sleeping. So I went to breakfast instead, and by the time I'd eaten that, Gareth had busted, so off we went. I told him we wouldn't go as far this morning, as I was hoping to have a long day at the tables. I wanted to get the oxygen flowing to the brain, not tire myself out before I even sat down.

Survival of the fittest

I'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 multitabling

I 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 gamble

By 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 tabling

I'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.

Back to back to back

After I final tabled UKIPT London I assumed that would be the live highpoint of my year. If you'd told me I'd final table my next two tournaments, one a Grand Prix with over 2000 runners and the other a WPT, both on the same day, I wouldn't have believed you. Obviously there was more than a small amount of luck involved, particularly in the GPPT where I got the needed double and treble ups to stay alive at the breaks. In that tournament, I blinded off over a million in chips due to my involvement in the WPT, which is over fifty starting stacks (and 5k in equity), so it's not something I'd ever attempt again. But it ended up giving me a day I will never forget, the day I went back to back to back and made two final tables.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Living life in seconds

After my last blog I couldn't help but reflect on the irony of the fact that a few days later I found myself walking into the Hippodrome, the PokerStars casino in Leicester Square. Under the circumstances I fully expected and received some frosty receptions, but only from some of the bit industry players I barely knew anyway. Everyone else was as welcoming as ever, and while obviously not everyone agreed with everything in the blog, they did seem to appreciate the spirit of constructive criticism in which it was intended.

I had a decent starting table which only got better with the removal of the best player there, Ben Morrison. I had almost tripled my stack to 70k late in the day when our table broke and I found myself at a new table with my friend (and landlady for the week) Daiva Barauskaite Byrne, Hippodrome pro Kelly Saxby, and a massive chipleader who was dominating the table. It turned out to be a pretty disastrous table move as I barely won a pot and Kelly was the main beneficiary. There was one rather sick spot where I bet top two on the river for value and was shoved on by Kelly for not much more. I don't make a habit of folding top two getting about 4 to 1 but I eventually persuaded myself it just couldn't be a bluff and folded (she told me at the end she had the nuts). I never used to make those folds, I used to just shrug "4 to 1, strong hand, gotta call" even though I knew I was nearly always beaten.

That meant coming back for the start of day 2 with less than 13 big blinds. Another short day 2 was on the cards, particularly after I followed Daiva onto the wrong train meaning we got there a few minutes late and the blinds had gone through me. After getting one shove through I was happy to pick up AQ. This time I was called by A4, and after I held found myself with a healthy stack.

I met my friend Sameer and his lovely wife Fran for dinner to catch up. Sami was running late and I was literally running (45 minute dinner breaks for the loss), so as much as I appreciated the catch up, I appreciated the Teutonic efficiency of Fran even more who went on ahead and had ordered and had the food waiting for us.

A lengthy period of card death meant I was one of the shortest stacks on the bubble and had no real choice but to fold into the money. Once I'd done that I managed to spin up until I got moved late in the day to one of the toughest tables I've ever been at anywhere, let alone a UKIPT. It included Felix Stephenson, Billy Chattaway, Ben Morrison, the chippy from my late day one table, and eventual winner Stien. It seemed prudent to tighten up until the 2 table redraw, and that was the plan, but I got some hands it would have been cowardly to fold and just played them strongly.

Some key hands from the table:

Hand 1:

Felix opens from early position and I elect to defend A8s because I know from past experience he opens super wide from there. It's not exactly the dream scenario defending a reprehensible ace against a world class aggressive player, but on the other hand I'm definitely being exploited if I fold a hand that strong, and I can bluffcatch a lot if I hit top pair. The suitedness gives me some other potentially profitable continuation plans on flops with one or two of my suit, and I can just check fold flops I whiff completely.

Flop comes AT4 with two clubs and a diamond. My suit is spades.

This is a flop that falls under the bluffcatch category so I check call and see a very interesting turn, the eight of clubs.

So I now have two pair but the flush got there. I felt like it's pretty close between leading, and check calling. The advantage of leading is I get value from some of his marginal hands that may check behind now, and charge his hands with a club to draw. The disadvantage is I'm in a pretty horrible spot if he raises (a very real consideration against this particular villain) out of position against a world class opponent with a lot of potentially ugly rivers. It also stops him from continuing to bluff his air. So against this specific opponent I decided to stick to a conservative check call. As it happens, he checked behind.

River is an offsuit j. I checked again figuring he'd bet a wider range of hands here (some bluffs and thin value bets) than he'd call if I suddenly lead here. As it was he had a hand strong enough to do both (jt) and I won a decent sized pot.

Hand 2:

Billy opens the cutoff and I find ace king in the big blind. We have played a ton online and have a very aggro history from there, but I don't know him personally so have no idea if he knows I am SlowDoke. Whether he does or not, ace king is strong enough to try to induce him to stick his 45 big blinds in with (I had slightly more) and online I'd be looking to get a lot weaker hands in preflop. My strategy against top class aggressive players is generally to tighten my preflop ranges but play the hands I do play less cautiously and look to push preflop edges and get in a wider range preflop (basic TAG strategy). So while I'm not loving getting almost the lot in pre at this point and letting the deck decide who advances, the TAG approach is the best way not to cede the battlefield and leak equity. So I 3 bet, he jams, I call, he has KQ, and I'm patting myself on the back thinking I love it when a plan comes together. Until the flop comes queen high at least. Ace on the turn though, so all was good in the world again.

There was an amusing aftermath to this hand as Ben declared "Dangerous man to give chips to. And I bet those poor kids don't even know, do they Dara? SlowDoke, online endboss, and they have no idea". I went on stacking chips trying to suppress a smile. His point was made immediately as the guy beside him started asking what he meant.

Hand 3:

Felix raises under the gun. Ben flats off a sub 30 big blind stack. My neighbour to the west squeezes. I have jacks on the button and have to think. Felix is super wide even from this position. Ben knows this and has already been 3 betting him quite liberally so the flat is a little suspicious. My neighbour is very tight and is unlikely to be making a move. Suddenly jacks don't seem like such a good hand any more and I pass them to the muck. My neighbour ends up getting queens in against Ben's trickily played aces. The flop was raggy so there are a lot of ways I could have lost a lot of chips in this spot, so was pretty happy together off scot free. A form of positive variance players don't recognise is spots like these where because of the way a hand plays out you lose less chips than you would if it played out differently.

Hand 4:

I open kjs utg. Normally at a tough table I would just chuck this hand, but by now we are down to two tables, the other table features Ben, Jake Cody and Matt Perrins so my table may not even be tougher than average at this point. Therefore my strategy has shifted to playing a wider range. The main reason I open is it is Albert Sapiano's big blind, he never folds to my raises, and I enjoy playing pots against Albert in position.

Albert is the only caller and he checks the j32 flop that gives me top pair and a flush draw. The turn is an offsuit 7 and he pots it as expected. I say as expected because he always seems to do this against me, putting me on ace king after I check the flop, and trying to barrel me off it. In discussions with Daiva about the other players about whom she has much more local knowledge than I have, she'd brought up this exact tendency as something that could be exploited.

So I call and watch him like a hawk as the river is dealt. He seems less than happy I've called and breathes heavily for a long time like a man steeling himself to shove a hand he's not convinced is good, so without knowing the river yet, I decide I'm most likely calling even if I haven't improved. After he overbet shoves, I glance at the river, see it paired the board but also made my flush, so I waste no time making the call. He has a lower flush, ten five, and treats us to the standard Albert "I never hit my flushes" speech, until he realised that he had this time, and added "and when I do the other guy either has a higher flush or a house".

Hand 5:

Chippy and eventual winner Stian opens in mid position. He's been opening close to any two. I find ace king just behind. With almost 70 big blinds, and maybe third or fourth overall in chips at this point, I don't really want to get it all in pre or even play a bloated pot against him right now. On the other hand, as I said before, my preferred strategy against players like him is to play tighter and more aggressively preflop, and calling just to give up when I miss seems pretty lame. This is my sixth UKIPT main event second last table, and I have not converted any of the previous five to a final table. I could just nit my way to the final table, but it's not just about making final tables, it's also about the stack you take to them.

Having taken all these considerations into account, I decided courage and a willingness to bust was called for, so I threebet with the intention of getting the lot in if necessary. The chippy from my day one table 4 bet shoved 19 big blinds behind, and Stian went deep into the tank. The longer I watched him the more I was convinced he either had a decent but not brilliant pair or a hand I dominated, so I already knew if he reshoved I was calling. As it was, he eventually folded, and I found myself racing against jacks.

As the flop came down I watched Stian rather than the board or my opponent in the hand, as going forward the most interesting point was what he had folded. He visibly winced when the flop was spread so I figured he had folded something which would have hit. The flop was AA9, I won the race, and asked him inquiringly what he had folded.

"Pocket nines"

So another nice pot for me, but one that could have been my exit hand if he had made a mistake and continued with nines. Again, that hidden positive variance.

That was pretty much the last hand I won that day. Mostly I was just card dead, but also lost a pretty big one to Stian. After I opened Aks utg, he threebet pretty big from the big blind. I didn't fancy four betting to get it in, as now I'm 2/12 and not really looking to flip against him of all people. Folding is obviously not an option, so that just leaves calling. I flop two overs and a gutter and a flush draw so now I pretty much have to call again. I pick up more outs in the form of a gutshot on the turn, so I called again. The river bricks out and I fold. In another time and place, raising on the flop or turn and praying he either folds or I hit if we get it in is a good alternative, but not here for the same reasons I don't want to get it in preflop.

This was a crucial pot in terms of my overall prospects as if I hit I almost certainly go to the final table as chipleader. But I didn't, and didn't.

Continued card death meant that by the time we were down to the official final table, I was 7/8. However, that was still almost 30 big blinds so not exactly short, and the stacks were very flat (nobody had less than twenty, and the chip leader had only slightly more than double my stack).

I legged it out of the Hippodrome just in time for the last tube back to Camden, where my obliging landlady ensured I dined like a poker God. If that poker God is a Lithuanian, at least. Husband John was not exactly fulsome in his praise of the attractions of cold beetroot soup ("Pretty sure I'd struggle to find anyone in Bury willing to eat it"), and I'm not the biggest fan of cold soups, or beetroot particularly, but it was surprisingly tasty.

As a Stars qualifier I was told I had to wear a patch on the final table, which I did, a little differently.

Daiva also ensured we got on the correct train the following day to get there in plenty of time, and that I had the best rail at kickoff. Unfortunately, that meant she just got to see me three bet fold 20% of my stack very first hand, relegating me instantly to 8/8 and a strategy lecture from Albert. No regrets about the hand though, it was clearly a very good spot for a light 3 bet, and I had the perfect hand to do it with it, even if it didn't work out. After Adam Maxwell opened in late position and I three bet the small blind, Albert folded his big blind in disgust. His disgust grew after Adam shoved and I snap folded.

"What's the point of that? Your name is Dara, right? Well, Dara, may I suggest in future that you don't raise if you're not willing to follow through".

Even though I immediately found myself 8/8, I was far from disconsolate. I felt like I'd been here before. It reminded me very much of my WSOP final table from last year. Me shortest, surveying a mix of some very good aggro players with stacks, and some very inexperienced players who I suspected would react to the pressure and novelty of the situation by punting in a misguided attempt to "play for the win". My read was confirmed when I saw one guy squeeze shove and show a three when he got the fold (why show?). Shortly afterwards, he bust with a kamikaze turn shove on a board (6789) that was particularly bad for his hand (ako).

So even as my stack withered, I saw my equity increase as the bustouts kept coming. I stayed alive getting it in and staying ahead twice versus the player who impressed me the most (Adam Maxwell). I went from 8/8 to 7/7, 6/6, 5/5 and 4/4 after Albert bust in fifth shoving a flush draw that he knew wouldn't get there. Big shoutout to my rail who stuck with it even though I'd already warned them that watching me play a final table short stacked is the poker equivalent of watching paint dry. For once I had by far the biggest, loudest, liveliest and loveliest rail.

The time to gamble and change gears was here, and I made progress shorthanded with my tight image allowing me to nick more pots with 9 high. As I prospered, my neighbour to the west dwindled, and when I eventually eliminated him, I was suddenly 2/3 going to dinner.

At dinner with Sameer and Daiva I told them my plan was to play tight smallball, stick to a limping strategy, and hope my more aggro opponents would clash and I could ladder to headsup risk free. I cut my teeth online in full ring one table sit n gos. There, I learned that three handed is one of the most interesting phases strategically. If both your opponents are too tight and too passive, it's clearly profitable to exploit this was playing hyper loose. If they are both too aggro, you can automatically profit by playing tight, knowing you'll generally ladder to headsup with second place locked up and roughly the same chance of winning still. The nightmare scenario is where one player is hell bent on playing too loose, and the other one too tight, when you just have two bad options (to be one of two tight players being exploited by a loose one, or one of two loose players being exploited by a tight one).

This three handed setup seemed like one where I could exploit two guys playing too loose: hence the tight limping strategy. It didn't take too long for it to pay off. After I limped my first button and folded to a big blind squeeze, I limped again next button. Another squeeze and I still didn't have a hand strong enough to continue, but after I folded the chip leader ripped, won a race, and I found myself headsup.

With less than 30 big blinds, I stuck to a smallball limping strategy, hoping to find edges post flop and gradually work my stack upwards without the need to flip. However, I quickly realised that Stian was a lot better than I expected a man with only 2k of lifetime cashes to be headsup, and there was little or no edge to be found postflop. As the blinds increased over the two hours or so we battled headsup I switched to an increasingly preflop strategy which at least provided some excitement to my rail. On the third allin and a call, I found myself flipping to get back to level stacks. It was not to be. Credit to Stian who thoroughly deserved the win with a commanding final table display from start to finish.

For my own part I was happy with my performance which I think was as close to the perfect game as I've had in my career. I almost gave up on live poker a couple of years ago when I skipped Vegas and stopped showing up religiously at UKIPTs and festivals in Ireland. Last year I decided to give it another go, and rather than just show up and see what happened started to put in a lot of work away from the table on my live game. That paid dividends as I hit the best patch of form of my career in the second half of last year, with two deep WSOP runs (a second and a ninth), three consecutive EPT main event cashes (and two EPT side event final tables), a deep run in Edinburgh UKIPT (and two UKIPT side event final tables including third in a high roller). A conversation I had with Calvin Anderson towards the end of Vegas last year where he expressed the opinion that online poker will gradually dry up as a source of income over the next few years and we will all be forced to play live more persuaded me to keep working hard at my online game this year.

Ironically, as I was doing this, I was going through the longest cashless streak of my career live stretching from the seniors event at EPT Dublin through the Irish Open, the Norwegian championships, UKIPT london, Unibet Malta and up to my mid WSOP break in New York. Thankfully I've been around long enough to know that the rewards of hard work are rarely seen in the short term and to recognise bad variance, so I kept plugging away confident I'd start to see some results. After returning to Vegas from New York, I cashed 3 of my last 5 events there (including another deepish run, 13th), cashed the FPS High Roller in Lille, the main event at EPT Barcelona, and now this latest result. One of the results of having studied days of live footage and watched a couple of dozen of Zach Elwood's excellent video series on tells is I'm much more engaged and less bored at the table as I have more to look for and think about.

I'm still grinding online and more than holding my own on that front, but I have a pretty packed live schedule for the rest of the year including Killarney, Winamax Open Dublin, Eureka Hamburg, UKIPT Birmingham, Estrellas/EPT Malta, WPT Dusk Til Dawn, MPN Morocco, Fitzwilliam Festival and EPT Prague. I want to keep working hard on my live game. On a related note, I had pretty much phased out my coaching work because, well, actually playing is a lot more fun (and more profitable still). This year however I've done some coaching with online players transitioning to live specifically focused on the aspects that make live poker different. I've found that a lot more fun than running through people's online hand histories looking for leaks so I'm looking to expand it, not just to other online players who want some coaching on live, but players who just play live who think they could benefit from my technical knowledge from online and my experience of going deep a lot live. So drop me a note at daraokearney@gmail.com if you are interested. I do mainly one on one coaching, but for recreational or other players on a budget I'm also looking at doing group sessions with 4 to 6 players at a lower cost.

Heading to Killarney on Thursday. looking forward to it as it's a lovely place and I don't think I've played there since the glory days of Ladbrokes.

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.


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