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, January 15, 2018

More adventures in Uber in Vegas

******
Ricardo picked me up from the Gold Coast. Within thirty seconds, he was pulling up his shirt to show me the bullet wound he got in Salvador, and I was starting to wonder where this was going.

"I saw things man. Horrible things. Was fucked up man. Kids raped and tortured. Nuns. Old ladies. So many man. They don't take the bullet out because they say no harm. So I carry it man. And I carry the memory. Was fucked up. So fucked up I become junkie man. 7 kids and 17 grandkids now. I tell them man, you work hard, you don't do drugs, you learn man. But they don't know. They have it easy man. But I try to tell them man. But they can't understand man. But I try man. They work hard man. You gotta work man. Stay away from drugs and crime man. What's the gate code man?"

*****
My next car pool driver was Juan. I was first into the car, and then we picked up a well dressed reasonably good looking lady in, I'd guess, her early to mid 20s.

I greeted her from the front passenger seat as she climbed into the back, on her phone. She looked at me, her face somewhere on the spectrum between disinterest and disdain, and decided I was not someone whose greeting needed to be returned.

She spoke on her phone for the next ten minutes, endlessly repeating herself
"I think he knows. Who could have told him? Only you and me knew right? But I feel like he knows. I'm almost certain he knows. But who would have told him? But yeah, I think he knows. I'm not sure but I feel like he knows"

We pulled up outside a very big house, and she hung up and climbed out looking tense and sheepish.

Hopefully, he did know.

***********
My last Pool driver was Ramon. It quickly became clear Ramon had almost no English, which to be honest I didn't feel would be an issue until we stopped in the middle of who knows where and he said

"Get out!"
"Huh? Why?"
"You live here!"
"No I don't"

He tried to continue the conversation but had apparently exhausted his vocabulary of English. Instead he pointed at the GPS which had directed him to this address.

"I do not live here"

He referred me to Exhibit A, the GPS. I pulled out Exhibit B, my IPad with the address 5631 White Dune St.

He looked at it (then me) suspiciously, then the GPS. After looking at all three of us several times, he apparently concluded the GPS was the culprit, and started punching it. When he calmed down, he looked again at the IPad, then said "I don't know"

I had never used a GPS before, but it seemed that of my three options here, it might be the most feasible (I didn't fancy my chances of learning Spanish on such short notice, or teaching him English). So I gave it a lash and before I knew we were on the road again, heading in the right direction.

At least until Ramon got a call. He pulled up. He spoke in Spanish. I got the gist. Back where he'd tried to convince me I lived, there was another passenger waiting to be picked up. So back we went.

We spent a few minutes outside a gate while Ramon tried to get the client on the phone to get the gate code. A very menacing and clearly frustrated male voice barked it at him. It didn't work. He tried ringing again. Before Mr Personality could pick up, the gate opened to let someone out and we were in.

We circled a maze several times before the GPS and Ramon agreed they had the right house, out of which tottered an almost naked lady. She climbed in to the back seat, and seemed alarmed by the sight of me in the front. It's hard to know what one should say in these situations other than "Pool", so I went with that. She smiled blankly, her pupils the size of saucers, and then closed her eyes and possibly passed out.

Meanwhile we are driving around the maze because Ramon and the GPS can't agree on the best route out of here. We stop in front of a locked gate. I direct him back to the gate we came in, which would have been helpful if either of us knew the code, which we didn't. Mr Personality declined Ramon's calls. Ramon suggested waking the hooker in the back seat in case she knew. I thought it was far more likely she'd freak out if we even touched her, so I shot that one down. As Ramon tried to phone Mr Personality for the umpteenth time, another car sped out and we tailgated.

What should have been a ten minute ride lasted over two hours. I decided there and then I was done with Uber Pool.

*******
Mellow Winnie picked me up from the house and brought me to the Gold Coast. She was listening to Satie. She asked me a few questions, the usual where who what's, but seemed unconcerned by the answers. She spoke in a hushed tone that suggested she'd never been excited in her whole life. It's all good, man.

As she dropped me off, she told me the buffet there was sensational.

A couple of weeks later, she picked me up again. This time Mrs Doke was with me, but other than that, same soundtrack same questions. She apparently didn't remember me. As she dropped us off at the Gold Coast, she told us the buffet there was sensational.

It isn't.

**********
Another repeat offender told me his name was Frank. Maybe this really was his name, or maybe only because his night job was Sinatra impersonator. He looked enough like Sinatra that I could believe this, even before he belted out Take Me To The Moon.

I liked Frank. He chatted away happily about Sinatra, canoeing (his other passion), and it was through him that I learned our neighbours in the next house were Rumanian poker players. I never saw them, but my friend Traian confirmed they were there.

Frank was full of the joys of life, although less so the second time he picked me up. His hands were cut up: canoeing accident he told me, and he was in a lot of pain. But it would pass, and his natural bonhomie would return. Of that, I had no doubt.

********
Winston had dreadlocks, played reggae non stop and was almost certainly Jamaican, or very much wanted to be. He was a listener (to the reggae) not a talker, so not a single word passed between us. The reggae soundtrack made that ok: I came out of his car outside the Wynn the most chilled I'd felt all Vegas, despite being late for a meeting with two impatient ladies, one of whom was sending me "Where are you?" messages every 30 seconds or so.

**********
Earl was a mine of information. Through Earl I learned quite a few facts about the elevation and topography of Vegas. It turns out it's a lot higher than you might think, or at least I did, and that the Strip is more or less the low point in the valley.

That topic exhausted, he asked me what I did. When I said poker he looked disappointed. Not wishing to be a disappointment I told him I used to be an ultra runner, expecting to have to follow it up with the usual answer as to what the Hell that was. But no. Earl knew exactly what it was. In fact, he was almost as knowledgeable as me.

Turns out Earl's brother used to be the number four ranked marathoner in the US. That's the cruelest ranking, because in running everything comes in threes. Medals for the first three. Three competitors maximum per country in the Olympics. You get the idea. Earl certainly did.

Earl's brother, like me, tried to move up to ultras after his marathon career wound down. Unfortunately, unlike me, he didn't get the distance. Like me, he never made it to the Olympics either, regardless of what Tony Cascarino might have you believe.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2017: The Good, the Bad, and the Chip Race

Well, it's here again. That time of year when I sit down to review the year just gone and set some goals and make some plans for the year ahead.

Online

Over the course of my poker career, I have seen myself primarily as an online player who also plays live on the side. Don't get me wrong: with more cashes on my Hendon Mob than any other Irish player, with almost $1 million in live cashes and between winning a European Deepstack, and coming within a few flips of winning a bracelet, a UKIPT and an EMOP, it's not like I haven't done ok live. But 90% of my income from poker over the course of my career has come from online.

The arc of my online career is a decent start playing limit cash and sit n gos, which kicked into overdrive a few years in when I switched to online mtts with a particular emphasis on satellites, followed by a few very profitable years, followed by a decline (which reflects the general decline in profitability of online poker: I wouldn't go quite so far as Vanessa Selbst did recently when she suggested it wasn't beatable any more, but it's certainly a lot tougher and less beatable than it was).

Once I realised this general decline was happening, I figured it would end one of two ways. Either I would continue to make less and less every year until it reached a point it wasn't worth doing any more full time, or (I hoped) it would bottom out at some acceptable level. This year I decided to shift my focus away from low variance satellites to higher variance and higher margin mtts with thousands of runners. The results have been encouraging: I managed to reverse the decline in profitability of recent years to record my most profitable year since 2014. Highlights include a fourth place finish in the WCOOP event for 40K, a Powerfest win, the seventh PocketFives Triple Crown of my career, and regaining the top slot in the PocketFives rankings for Ireland for the first time in several years.



I start 2018 at #1 in the Irish rankings and holding my highest ever world ranking. Part of me has always wondered how high I could go if I really devoted myself full time to online, and Mrs Doke petitions me every year to quit live poker, but 2018 won't be the year that finally happens.

Which leads on to.....

Live

2017 was a very lacklustre year for me on the live front. On the consistency front I think I did OK: over the course of my career I've averaged 13 live cashes a year, exactly the number I achieved last year. But with no five figure score I cashed only for a total of $31795, making it my worst year since 2013 (and the third worst of my career). I think this was mostly down to variance over the 40 tournament sample or whatever it was: in particular I ran bad at the death in all my deepest runs which ensured no big score this year. That said, I don't want to be one of those guys who unquestioningly blames variance, so I want to put more work into my live game in 2018.

I also want to shift the focus of this a bit. In the past most of my efforts away from the table directed at improving my live game has focussed mostly on studying the area of live tells and reads, with a little bit directed at maximising my focus, concentration and performance at the table. This year I want to spend more time thinking about the differences between ranges and other aspects of what people do live compared to run online, and running sims to develop exploitative strategies to take advantage.

I will start my live 2018 campaign in earnest later this month with my first ever visit to the Aussie Millions. In February I'll be in London for the first Unibet Open of the year. March will see me trying to finally break my duck in the Irish Open main event. I then will take it as easy as I can on the live front before Vegas. My plans for this year's WSOP are to get there later to make it less of a marathon and go into the main event fresher. The schedule has more stuff at the end than ever before so I won't miss too much (I will miss the Seniors, but I'm not a massive fan of Seniors tournaments anyway), and getting there later will allow me to take advantage more of the softest time of the year online.

Apart from that, I want to be more selective about the live events I play this year. I have ended most recent years thinking I played too much live and not enough online, and 2017 was no exception.

Brand ambassador

In March of 2017 I joined the Unibet team as a brand ambassador alongside with my friends Daiva, David and Ian. I have very much enjoyed working with a great operation that provides I believe the best player experience at live events. With Unibet reentering the Irish market in 2018 I look forward to continuing to champion them.

I also signed with ShareMyPair towards the end of the year, a great app which allows players to share their live hands with other players to get feedback and discussion. If you do use it and want my input on a hand, send me a link to the hand.

I remained active on the social media in 2017, primarily Facebook and Twitter, but also added Instagram about half way through the year. Instastories seems the best way to communicate what I'm up to on a day to day basis, so if you're into that sort of thing, follow me there.

Coaching

I did more coaching in 2017 than any previous year. It's a bit of a running joke in the poker world that the first sign that a player isn't winning any more is when he starts advertising his coaching services, so I'm glad to be coming off the back of a very good year online :)

In addition to coaching my private students, I joined BRS as a headline coach and have greatly enjoyed working with the best staking stable in the business. I recently agreed to increase my hours to include some one on one coaching.

In the first half of the year I finally got around to producing my first webinar, on advanced satellite strategy. I'd held off for years on spilling the secrets to all but a select group of friends and stakees as spilling seemed like screwing the pooch of my own profitability. But with my own move away from satellites it seemed like time.

I was surprised first at how much work and time was involved, and second by how much demand there was for it. I thought I'd run the webinar once or twice, but ended up running it five times. I didn't want to go on repeating myself every Thursday so I decided to make a two hour video of the material available (still available for $75: email me at dokepokercoaching@gmail.com for details). I hope to produce another webinar or two in 2018 and recently ran a poll on Twitter to see what people wanted next. The result was a dead heat between "practical satellite hand history reviews" and "General ICM theory".

This year I started a free strategy newsletter for recreational and aspiring players who can't afford my exorbitant coaching rate. This is available (for free) too from dokepokercoaching@gmail.com

Study

I am reasonably satisfied with the amount of study and work on my own game I put in away from the tables in 2017. I'd like in particular to thank my study buddy Daiva for making this more pleasurable than it would otherwise be, and for forcing my mind into areas it might not have wandered alone.

Plan for 2018 is more of the same, plus rather than studying in binges and bursts I want to put in at least 15 minutes every day this year, and at least one hour most days, in addition to longer study sessions.


Health and fitness

I was very lucky in 2017 with my health, with no major illnesses or injuries to report, and very few minor ones. I don't think I caught even one cold all year. Maybe lucky isn't the right word: I do put a lot of work and effort into stuff like diet and exercise to help tilt the odds in my favour. In the run up to Vegas last year I was running over 60 miles a week including one 30 mile long run every Wednesday. I got to Vegas feeling in top physical and mental shape, and hope to do the same this year.

The second half of the year was more of a struggle to keep up my fitness and diet regimen. In particular, when I'm away for live poker, it's hard to get out for a run every day, hard not to drink too much socially, and hard to stay out of late night chicken establishments. I got back from my last live trip feeling positively run down. Good home cooking and exercise over the holidays has me in better shape, but there's still a way to go before I'll be back to running 30 miles every Wednesday.

Writing

This year I was unusually productive on the blog front. In recent years I've dropped down to 10 or 12 a year, but in 2017 I wrote 32 blogs. Part of it was for once I wasn't stuck for stuff to write about, and part of it was wanting to keep engaging with my readers. There's no doubt that the heyday of poker blogs has gone, as evidenced by the fact that a few years ago over a dozen Irish players blogged regularly, and now (as far as I know) only three: myself, Lappin, and recent entrant Keith Cummins. The arc of my blog is that when I started it, only a handful of people were reading (unknown to me as I didn't even publicise it). That gradually climbed into the hundreds, then the thousands, and at the peak of the popularity of blogs a few years ago I was typically hitting 3000 readers per blog. This year, my least read blogs hit 1000, the average was roughly 1800, and five of my blogs (Tragedy In Rozvadov, Bunny Boilers, A Tale Of Two Dokes, Life In The Old Doke Yet and my most read of the year, The Poker Wife)  hit the kind of numbers I used to get back in the heyday. When contrasted with other poker blogs, most of which have fallen by the wayside, I think I'm doing pretty well, which is encouraging me to keep writing.

I also contributed a number of articles to Bluff Europe, and wrote some exclusive content for my strategy newsletter. For years I've been kicking around the idea of writing a poker book without actually doing it, and to be honest 2018 is unlikely to be the year I do as I'm too busy on other fronts. But at some point.


The Chip Race

As great as it has been to arrest the decline of my profitability online, for me the personal highlight of 2017 was the return of the Chip Race. I was worried when we came back that it might all end in tears, and even more worried three episodes in when we were still struggling with our new recording setup and equipment, sub par sound quality, and dwindling listening numbers, wondering what we could do to arrest the decline (35% over the first three episodes). From there we found our feet and our voice and over the rest of the year increased our audience 300%. If you had told me three episodes in that by the end of the year we would have done that and interviewed Jake Cody, KevMath, Kassouf, Kara Scott, Kenny Hallaert, Patrick Leonard, John Hesp, Jennifer Tilly, Barny Boatman, Chris Moorman, Phil Laak, Tom Hall, Andrew Neeme, Jared Tendler, and Charlie Carrel, and that we'd be featuring on the front page of PokerNews, I would definitely have thought you were at the blue cheese. If you had added that we'd be interviewing Phil Hellmuth as our first guest for 2018.....

A massive thank you to my cohost Lappin who deserves most of the credit for his vision and tireless work on the show, strategy contributor Daiva and since I'm in a generous mood I'll even thank Iany for the news, all our wonderful guests (most especially Jennifer Tilly who kicked us up a notch and gave up her lunch break on a very busy media day in London), and to Unibet. They say that a great government can't do much to help the economy, but a bad one can sure as Hell screw it up, and I kind of feel that the same can be said for podcasts and sponsors. Apart from bankrolling the whole operation and helping us book some of the guests and source the technical resources needed, Unibet have helped by just keeping out of our way and not turning it into a bland corporate propaganda piece.

So that about wraps up my review for this year. Final shoutouts to everyone who helped, and helped keep my spirits up throughout the year. Too numerous to mention, but I trust you all know who you are.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Her name was not Sheila

Manchester. My last live trip of the year. After a few days after Bucharest back home, I found myself in Manchester airport trying to follow Lappin's (very good) directions to the coffee shop where Saron David and Hunter were waiting for me. One cab ride later, we were all checking into the hotel.



I played Day 1a with most of the other Unibet ambassadors (Daiva and Davitsche were missing: Daiva on her way to Australia for the Aussie Millions and Davitsche pestering Satu to give birth to their daughter already). As pictured above (courtesy of phenomenally talented Tambet Kask), I had Rauno for company on my first table, as well as Moh Tidjani (a mate of Aseefo's). Unibet put a bounty on our head's worth almost half a buyin, so people were adjusting to that making looser calls (Moh in particular), which meant having to adjust and playing even tighter than normal.

I peaked at over 100k on my second table (which featured Lappin and Iany) before the only really close hand of the day late on at my third table cut me back.



I posted the hand on ShareMyPair as it was the only remotely interesting one I played all day, but to be honest I didn't really think it was that close. Even if the villain is playing GTO tens is just far too strong to fold in that spot, and having seen him shove jack ten offsuit earlier in a similar spot (and get there against aces) I strongly suspected he was playing a lot wider than GTO. The great thing about posting on ShareMyPair is you get a mix of responses from players at all levels, and I did get some strongly held opinions of the "YOU THOUGHT TENS WEREN'T STRONG ENOUGH TO RAISE BUT THEN YOU CALLED A SHOVE ANYWAY?????" variety. The key to spots like these is understanding how strong your hand is in relation to different ranges. If I threebet the early position raiser, I tighten his continuing range to hands I'm not in good shape against. If he fourbets I have three bad options: I can fold a strong hand that really wanted to see a flop, call basically setmining without the right odds, or get in far more big blinds than is wise against a range I'm almost certainly in bad shape against.

If the opener hadn't folded to the squeeze I would have folded as I'm in bad shape against his range, but once he does fold it's a clear call against a range I'm ahead of and with an overlay of dead money in the pot.

Anyway that setback meant getting through to day two with one of the shorter stacks. Ian bust to Espen last hand of the night meaning Espen had chunks. I asked them if they wanted to walk back to the hotel but they said they were waiting for a lift. It's only a ten minute walk so I decided to take the exercise, a decision I regretted about seven minutes later.

As I powerwalked down the street, three guys suddenly rounded a corner and unable to take evasive action in time, there was a clash off shoulders. A very minor one, one I was more than happy to shrug off and keep walking, but it seemed the three guys felt differently. Before I knew it they had me surrounded and there was a bit of "You should look where you're going mate" in progress. That escalated into some pushing (by which I mean one of them pushing me: I didn't return in kind). A quick glance around revealed absolutely nobody else in sight (not unusual at 5 am) so I was on my own here.

I also observed that the three gentlemen I found myself surrounded by did not have accents typical to Manchester. They sounded and dressed what I would describe as toff. The fact that they didn't appear to have grown up on mean streets made me less fearful of their ability to administer a beating if they elected to go that route, but also less confident in my ability to talk my way out of this. Maybe it's a class prejudice, but as a working class lad myself I've always found other working class types more amenable to reasoned "come on lads, no need for a fight here" arguments than the entitled "we are better than you because our Dads are rich" types who went to posh schools. I've also noticed expressing anything in a blatantly Irish accent can be a bit of a red rag to a bull to these types, so I elected to keep my mouth shut.

My lack of reaction or even speech seemed to confuse them, and after another half hearted shoulder push they started looking at each other as if not clear on how to proceed. As soon as I registered their eyes no longer on me, I ducked between two of them and scarpered across the street. They didn't follow.

*******
Getting through day 1a meant a much needed day off while most of my fellow ambassadors navigated their way through 1b. Despite my late night finish and fright on the walk home I managed to drag myself out of bed for breakfast (hate to miss a free meal). Simon from Unibet was the only familiar face so I joined him, something he seemed far from thrilled about. I quickly realised why he was so unusually unhappy to see me: he was in the process of chatting up an Aussie girl on her own at the next table. She was looking for some sights to see in Manchester. Simon recommended an industrial museum or something equally appalling, then mused aloud that maybe somebody with some free time might accompany her. He looked pointedly at me, while I studiously ate my egg thinking there was no way I was walking some random Aussie around industrial Manchester keeping her warm for whenever Simon was freed up from work. No sir: back to bed for some much needed kip for the Dokester.

After she left, Simon bemoaned my lack of wingman skills, and her departure.

"It was so perfect. She's leaving tonight and I'd never have to see her again. I'll never forget you........um......hmmmm"

I couldn't remember her name either. But it wasn't Sheila.

******
That evening I joined Lappin, Espen and Aseefo for a nightcap. We were having a nice chat when two ladies and one guy joined us uninvited. It quickly became clear the reason: Espen. The blond (apparently local) lady immediately launched into a very direct attempt at seduction. Aseefo tried to make conversation with the brunette, who it turns out was Welsh. Lappin commiserated with her. Aseefo told her we were professional poker players, something she loudly disbelieved. She said she knew we weren't because she was friends with one. We asked her what his name was. Her inability to provide a name in no way hampered her ability to loudly assert we were not what we claimed we were, or rather what Aseefo claimed we were.

Meanwhile the blond is getting more and more direct in her attempts to seduce the Rising Star, and the rest of us are wondering how on Earth we rid ourselves of these horrible rude people. When she tells him in no uncertain crass vulgar terms exactly what she's looking for, Espen finds the GTO line, or rather the GAY one. Within a second of being told he was gay, the loud obnoxious ones had upped and left without a goodbye, and Rising Star had risen several notches in my estimation.

******

Day 1b was a happier hunting ground for my fellow ambassadors and they all got through with sizable stacks, leaving me the shortest going back. I never get too hung up on these things: the job is simply to play whatever stack size you currently have as best you can. Ian, David and Rauno all fell short of the cash but myself and Espen survived the bubble at the same table. After a big double (aces holding against kings) I found myself in great shape as the final table bubble looked. Then a big turning point when I called an NMPFan shove, was dominating his hand, but did not hold. That meant the even though I still made the final table, I was short 8/9. I've gotten headsup and even won from there before, but not to be this time. After 9/9 doubled early, I called another NMPFan shove from the small blind after finding AJ in the big blind. I stayed ahead til the river. Still, at least my chips went to a good home. Adrian is someone I have massive respect for both as a player and as a person, I like how he approaches poker and how he carries himself. He did nothing wrong in n the two hands he got lucky: with his stack he was supposed to shove. Making two UKPT final tables in a few months is quite an achievement.


For my own part, I had the consolation of having gone back to back to back in cashes in Unibet events.

*******
After a brisk walk back to the hotel with Lappin and Espen I fired up the laptop in the lobby and started an online grind. I was joined and railed at various points by Lappin, Iany (who kept trying to persuade me to open king ten off under the gun), Jonny, NMPFan, Espen and Rauno. Espen won a 2k satellite, and during his victory polka kicked out the power supply. I was not too impressed as I scrambled to reboot, hoping my 4 big blinds in my Milly would be gone by the time I got back. I got back in time, and managed to spin up to 6/17 at one point. With 190k up top I was hoping for a dream finish to the weekend, but it was not to be as I fell short of the final table yet again.

As the night became morning, my rail slimmed down to NMPFan and Jonny. One of the nicest things about poker in general, and Unibet in particular, is the unlikely friendships. As I one tabled the Milly making mostly routine push/fold decisions, it was amusing to eavesdrop on the conversation between two unlikely buddies from very different backgrounds and times. NMPFan pointed out that when they first met they couldn't even understand each other's accents. He had to run off to get his flight. Special shoutout to Jonny for railing me to the end. And to all the wonderful people I met in Manchester: Chris who introduced himself in the casino, stalwarts Donna and April, blogger Josh and Simon. Sorry I ruined your chances with whatshername.

The Chip Race

My next blog will be a full review of 2017, but I can already say the highlight of the year for me has been the return of the Chip Race. Not only did we return, but we have gone from strength to strength, trebling our listenership over the course of the eight months. A friend of mine in the content industry told me that most content of this nature (be it podcasts, vlogs, blogs or whatever) peaks with episode one, then the numbers drop to near zero, or an acceptable plateau (this makes sense as most people will tune in for novelty, but not all will stay). So we are bucking the trend bigly. There have been a couple of big leaps along the way: getting Jake Cody was huge, getting Patrick Leonard, and Jennifer Tilly was a quantum leap. This allowed us to effectively get a snowball effect going which allowed us to get our biggest name yet to kick off the next season.

Without further ado, the first guest of 2018 is....





Saturday, December 16, 2017

Back to Back-arest

The day after bubbling the final table of the High Roller, I was trying to drag myself out of bed for day 1b of the main event after a sleepless night.

Day 1b

As most of you probably know already, I recently signed with ShareMyPair as a brand ambassador, and I shared the first hand of note I was unsure about to get reactions and feedback (I strongly recommend anyone interested in improving their game do to same and get Sharing, and if you join the Unibet group there and send me any hands you share I promise to get back with my thoughts). My overall strategy in soft slow structured tournaments with hundreds of runners is to avoid marginal spots for lots of chips and play as low variance a style as possible. In keeping with that I made a very nitty fold preflop.


I got off to a decent start without too much drama before I got moved to what I can only describe as the strangest table I've played on in years, and after a few dramatic orbits I suddenly found myself with eight starting stacks and one of the chipleaders in the whole tournament.

An older Romanian gentleman seemed to have most of the chips, and he was playing virtually every hand. The first hand I witnessed was an indicator of things to come. A short stack opened into my big blind from mid position, and was promptly threebet by the cutoff. The button flat called, and I threw away nines in the big blind. Somehow 88 and ace ten got in about two hundred big blinds on a Q82r flop with 88 and ATo.

I quickly found myself wishing I understood Romanian as the older gentleman babbled away and the other Romanians at the table were literally falling out of their seats laughing.

Then this hand happened:


After the hand, he was visibly tilted, so cue the tirade in Romanian. I still didn't speak Romanian but got the gist. When he realised I wasn't local he switched his complaints to broken English (no point berating someone if they can't understand you, right?). He didn't have many words but had the important ones: flop, call, two. After his neighbour pointed out I already had the nut flush draw on the flop, he added the words just and draw to that list. Don't you just hate it when some fish hits a fourteen outer on you?

I had already reached the conclusion this was one of the most bizarre tables I'd ever sat at when things got even weirder. The crazy old guy (as I had mentally tagged him) limped and that set off a chain of limps. One guy at the far end of the table rocking a twenty big blind stack seemed visibly excited at the prospect of limping along and seeing a flop, but found that prospect ruined when the guy just before him raised to 6x. He reacted to this frustration by flinging his cards across the table, one of which zinged Chris Ferguson style across the table, struck me on the shoulder and hit the ground. He then stormed off. On his return, TD Glenn Keogh told him he had incurred a one round penalty.

So a few hands later, it's his big blind, he still away on a penalty when another odd hand happened. The main villain had arrived a little while earlier and seemed inordinately happy to see me. I have literally never seen anyone smile as much, and after every hand he engaged in eye contact and more smiling. My memory for faces is as bad as any other old guy slipping into senility, so I assumed we must have played together before, and maybe even spoken. But it quickly became clear when I tried conversation that he didn't speak even a single word of English, or any other language I know. So we just went on smiling at each other.


Before this hand he hadn't played a single hand. Why he suddenly decided Q2o was good enough to commit almost 40% of his stack will remain a mystery to me until we find a language we both speak, but what surprised me even more when I made the call and we saw each other's hands was how happy he seemed to be for me. So much so that he hung around afterwards not just to congratulate me, but also to help me stack the chips that used to be his.

Shortly afterwards, our table became the feature, and can be seen here (from 2 hours 14):




For once I bagged up one of the chipleading stacks, so was pretty happy with my day 1.

Day 2 - Are you SlowDoke?

Day 2 got off to a decent start as I increased my stack about 25% without any major incident. Unfortunately the table broke pretty quickly.

Before it did, Tom Vogelsang got in aces against tens of another big stack to become chipleader in the whole tournament. As he stacked his chips, he looked across the table and asked the question I have been asked many times in my career:

"Are you SlowDoke?"
"Yes. You expected someone younger?"
"You still play a lot"
"Yes"
"That's awesome. I want to be like you when I grow up"






This hand at my new table did a bit of damage to my prospects of attacking the bubble as table chipleader:



Here's a crucial hand eight from the bubble that polarised opinion among those I asked afterwards:



After running the hand through HRC and PIO, I'm ok with how I played the hand. Bubble proximity makes it okay to sacrifice some chip Ev for lower variance.

I was card dead for the rest of the tournament but at least safely navigated the bubble. I did eventually pick up a hand, AQ, and shoved, only to run into AK. A disappointing end, but I was glad to have gone back to back in cashes on the trip.

Ladies main event

For the first time, the Unibet Open featured a Ladies side event, though from the atmosphere you would be forgiven for thinking it was the main event. The final table featured Unibet ambassador Daiva, Christin Maschmann and Dehlia de Jong. 




The rail featured a variety of boyfriends, husbands and friends, including mini Lappin, who had never looked as much like his old man.




Daiva has done a great job promoting Unibet to Ladies: her Unibet Ladies Facebook group goes from strength to strength and the weekly freeroll she runs on a Sunday is the biggest weekly online ladies tournament in terms of numbers.

You will always find us in the comms booth at parties

Unfortunately we weren't able to rail til the end as Lappin and I were wanted for commentary duty while the others headed to the party. It's always fun with Lappin in the commentary box, we have the chemistry of an old married couple at this stage, and there were lots of interesting hands, some of which were uploaded to the Chip Race YouTube channel afterwards:









We were very ably assisted by the world's most productive blogger Christian Zetzsche who as well as churning out a one man blog of all the key action for PokerNews was also tipping us off to incoming big hands, and keeping us informed of major developments on the outer table. The man is a machine. The action was pretty hectic and the bustouts thick and fast, so much so we even had time to make a late appearance at the Players Party. We walked into quite a scene with everyone well advanced on us in terms of drunkenness, but it was clear it was another epic Unibet party.

On the flight home I was lucky enough to have the company of blogger Josh Barker and Unibet ambassador wrangler Simon Steedman. I always enjoy the opportunity to bore new victims who haven't heard them before with my stories. I literally bored poor Josh to sleep, but Simon showed commendable professionalism staying awake and even feigning interest. Good times, even if Simon's choice of plane attire is a little on the eccentric side.





Monday, December 4, 2017

Back to Bucharest

This time last year I travelled to Bucharest  at the invitation of Unibet to play the Unibet Open. They also invited my friends Daiva Byrne, David Lappin and Ian Simpson . When I got to the hotel, Daiva was about to win the Ladies Invitational Sit and Go, besting a field that including Luciana Manolea (probably the best female online player in the world) and Kat Arnsby (probably the mouthiest). We were already talking to Unibet about the possibility of representing them as brand ambassadors, and having seen at first hand Unibet's unparalleled commitment to providing players with a great live experience, we all left Bucharest clear in our minds that Unibet was the site we wanted to represent (there was interest in all of us from elsewhere).

The deals were finalised at the next Open in London, and although this wasn't the first time for me to represent a site, it has been uniquely rewarding and special to do so alongside my old friends and new (David Vanderheyden, Espen Jorstad and later addition Rauno Tahvonnen) and to get to know some amazing people who work for Unibet, and see familiar friendly player faces at all the stops. So going back to Bucharest one year on as an ambassador felt special, not least because I love the city and the people there.

This year I arrived in time to late register the High Roller hoping to bring the title back to Ireland for a second year running (my friend Keith Cummins won it last year). Day one was an uneventful one for me: I barely played a hand and bagged up less than starting stack.

I came back and managed to spin it up, mostly by holding in 70/30 spots with the occasional flip thrown in. Having dipped as low as six big blinds, it was pretty sweet to find myself on the bubble and the feature table late in the day, albeit as one of the short stacks. I was railed loyally by Daiva and Ian, and Djarii, Simon Steedman and Josh Barker also dropped by to offer words of encouragement as the bubble dragged on tortuously. Special shoutout to Daiva who came straight from a very tilting bust in the main to the rail, and fed me vital info from the stream as well as keeping me informed of the shorter stacks on the other table.


I got lucky on the bubble when I shoved queens from the small blind over a button raise and ran straight into the big blind's aces. I flopped a queen but had to fade a flush draw on small club board. My opponent picked up a gutshot on the turn to give him too many outs, and the river bricked out.




My mind immediately switched from "lock up the min cash" to "ramp up the pressure on the bubble and get to the final table with a commanding stack". That lasted all of one hand. Folded to me on the button with two shorter stacks behind who should be calling off super tight due to the bubble and the shortness of one of the stacks on the other table, I decided that meant 65s on the button was a profitable shove. It's a hand with very good equity against anything other than a pair, or a dominating hand. It's hard to have a pair (we get dealt one only 6% of the time, and I'm in good shape against the lower ones so I really only run into trouble 10% of the time with two players behind), I should never be dominated because no unpaired hand with a five or a six should call, and even if I run into ace king I'll get there over 41% of the time.

As it was, the small blind made a very light call with ace nine offsuit, perhaps tilted by having his aces just cracked. It was my turn to flop the world and turn the universe, but again too many outs led to a bricked river. That put me back in bubble survival mode, which thankfully I did. I then eliminated a shorty, Elvis Petcu, when my bad ace held against his king queen, to have grounds for optimism that I could press on to the final table.

At a break I scampered off to take part in a Secret Santa organised between the ambassadors and Unibet staff. That dragged on a bit longer than the break which meant I didn't get to open my present, but also lost my rail of Daiva and Ian.

Early in my career I developed a superstition about not racing back from breaks after I busted a few big tournaments first hand back. I believe it's unlucky to be superstitious (if you focus too much on superstition or even luck in general, you waste valuable brain cycles that would be better spent thinking about what you can control rather than the random vicissitudes of chance and patterns our monkey brains find in the randomness), but once again it was such a hand that did the damage. The big blind hadn't made it back to the table, so with his hand dead the Japanese gentleman under the gun correctly decided ace eight offsuit was a profitable shove for roughly eleven big blinds. Knowing the dead big blind made his range wider I had an easy call with ace queen, but an eight on the flop left me with less than two big blinds. I managed to hang around for a few more orbits but eventually bust in tenth, bubbling the final table. That was obviously a disappointment, but I'd run well to get that far so can't really complain.

While all this was happening, my friend (and recently announced Unibet ambassador) Fredrik Bergmann was taking advantage of winning a flip against my homey Alan "hotted" Widmann for most of the chips to win the Esports Sit n Go. He was thrilled with himself, and rightly so. Bergie is already an accomplished online player who works hard at his game and as he turns his focus more and more to poker, I expect him to keep improving.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Uber drivers of Vegas

Once I'd cleared customs and security I caught my only cab of the summer to the Rio, left my luggage (or what little of it had arrived: hand luggage only) at the bell desk, and went to play my first event.

After busting that a few hours later, i reclaimed my luggage and caught my first Uber of the summer to 5631 White Dune street, where I would spend 6 happy weeks with an eclectic mix of Americans. Offered three options, I of course chose the cheapest without knowing what it was, something called Pool. Richard was my first Uber driver of the summer, and immediately I was getting flashbacks to 25 years ago when I trotted the globe as a highly sought after and paid technology consultant. More often than not whenever I landed wherever my latest gig was, I was generally met by one of the executives. Generally an American (back then even more so than now, Americans ruled the technological world no matter where the physical location was. Dubai, Lagos, Singapore, Zurich or Hong Kong, it didn't matter: Americans were in charge of the technology).

Richard was almost a composite of the different American executives who would pick me at the airport back in the day. Affable, loquacious, well educated and travelled, tech savvy and able to talk intelligently about almost anything, and well equipped and willing to dispense nuggets of life wisdom acquired over the decades, they always made for the most pleasing introduction to a new project.

We chatted a bit, and he asked me what I did. When I told him, an unexpected Indian voice behind me exclaimed "Wow, you're a poker player". It turns out Pool means you share your Uber with another client. Until he was dropped off, most of the conversation was me answering the five most frequently asked questions people who know little or nothing about poker ask when they meet a pro.

After he was dropped off and I started talking to Richard, it became clear why the flashbacks. He actually was a technology executive, albeit retired. After selling his company he moved to Vegas to enjoy his retirement. A few months in he found lying by the pool all day a little dull, so he started Ubering. We chatted mainly about the practicalities of travelling, and he expressed sympathy when I explained my bags hadn't arrived. He had horror stories of weeks in Kuala Lumpur waiting for bags to arrive. When I told him I was arriving at the house for the first time, he insisted on waiting to make sure I got in. After punching in the 12 numbers required to open the door, I turned to wave goodbye.

This wasn't the end of it. He got out of his car and approached me with some final words of wisdom.

"Make sure the airline knows the gate code and communicates it to the delivery company. Otherwise you could be waiting a while for those bags"
In my mind, Richard encapsulated almost everything I like about Americans. Efficient, friendly, open and sympathetic, without even a hint of bullshit.

******
Roberto brought me from the house to the Gold Coast (where I almost got arrested but that's another story). I hadn't had my morning coffee yet which meant I was still kinda asleep. This and the fact that Roberto seemed the quiet efficient type meant that very little words passed between us.

He asked me if I had any musical preferences. I hadn't.

He asked me if I needed water. I said I didn't.

He seemed a little relieved I wasn't in a chatty mood.

**********
Carlota was my second Pool driver. I wasn't in a hurry that morning and the pool option was a good five buckaroos cheaper so I decided what the Heck, let's scrimp a little.

By now I understood that the gate code had to be texted to the driver immediately to eliminate any gate related delays. I saw Carlota approach the gate, stop, and then stay stopped for a few minutes. She had the code but clearly something was up. So I hurried from the house to the gate.

Carlota, who it turned out was what I think is referred to as a BBW, was pounding on the keypad with the vigour of a lady who had just learned that the deadbeat Dad to her kids was cheating on her with her younger sister live on the Jerry Springer show. When she saw me on the other side of the gate, she volleyed a bunch of words in my direction, only a couple of which I deciphered.

Foo. Nummer.

I responded by shouting her numbers. She responded by looking at me like I was talking Martian.

I signed the digits with the digits on my own hands. Her face grew angry, and I was suddenly scared I'd accidentally semaphored her something truly offensive.

Then a trace of enlightenment crossed her face, she looked down at her own hands, repeated my signing, and then punched the four numbers in. The gate opened and i sheepishly climbed in the passenger seat.

It was already clear that communication with Carlota was going to prove difficult. She let fly a string of words, not even one of which I caught. But I got the gist: she was still frustrated over the keypad. Unsure of how much blame I should take, I stayed quiet and sheepish until she let outa few hearty guffaws that made clear she was over it or at least starting to see the funny side.

I was relieved, but also alarmed to realise we were driving in the opposite direction to the Rio. After a while she started hollering at her phone. Apparently she was having trouble locating the guy I was supposed to be pooling with who, it turned out, was Indian.

"Don' no whay you be foo"
The answer came back in very precise but heavily accented English. To my uneducated ear she seemed to be talking to Apoo from the Simpsons.

"I do not understand a single word of what you are saying"
Confused grunt from Carlota. Then she went again.

Same response.

Another confused grunt, then a hopeful look at me.

"He says he doesn't understand what you are saying"
That didn't help. It was clear her ability to decipher Irish accents was no better than Indian ones.

I figure this wasn't vital information anyway.

"She doesn't understand you either. We are outside the Gekko building. Where are you?"
"Not there"
"That seems clear. But where?"
"I see a building with GFH across the road"


I start to tell Carlota, then think what am I thinking and type GFH building on my iPad.

"The driver has no idea what that is. What else do you see?"
"Mountains"
"What else? Please don't say road"
"Other buildings"


By now Carlota had decided to take matters into her own hands, realising that these two foreign foos ain't gonna get it done, and we drive around a few random parking lots. As we exit one, I see an Indian looking shape standing on the edge of the road, and direct Carlota towards him. It's our man.

He's exceedingly grateful at not having been abandoned this wasteland of mountains and office blocks.

"Ah wooden leave ya stranded"
He looks at me.

"She said she wouldn't leave you stranded"
Ravi is heading to the Trump. Something he's not at all happy about.

"It's an obvious terrorist target. I mean, the idiot has his name in giant letters on top of the building. It might as well say Come Blow Me Up. Most obvious terrorist target ever. They know that, and still my company books me in. I'm not crazy right? It's an obvious terrorist target, right?"


I agreed, while Carlota mumbled something under her breath about Trump.

As she dropped me off, I waved goodbye to Ravi. He waved back sadly, with the demoralised look of a man who had been dropped off at his doom.

I'm glad you made it home alive Ravi.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Broan

A few years ago, a few years into my career, I found myself sharing a cab from East Midlands airport to Nottingham with Liam Flood. Liam asked me that most common of Irish poker questions: how's your luck? I answered truthfully that I was going well online but not live. He seemed dissatisfied with the answer, like he expected more, so after an awkward silence I added that even at this early stage of my career, that seemed to be the most you could hope for. Running well at both simultaneously seemed not only greedy but elusive.

Liam's follow up was a bit more unexpected:

"Is that how you'd prefer it or the other way round?"

I'd never even been asked this before much less considered it so it took me about thirty seconds to answer Yes.

"Why?"
"Because online is more reliable both as a source of income and an indicator of playing ability"


At the time I had recently transitioned to online mtts from stts and was reaping the rewards. I didn't know it at the time, but the next four years would be the most profitable of my online career. I also didn't know that I was the top ranked Irish player on PocketFives at the time. I was blissfully unaware of PocketFives and its ranking system, but Lappin (who I hadn't yet met) was, and he remembers us both being in the Irish top five, which really wasn't that difficult as I think there were only four Irish full time online mtt players at the time.

A few years later increased competition and other changes in the online ecology saw the profit margins of pretty much every mtt player dwindle, myself included. Many dwindled to the point they got shaken out completely. Thankfully I wasn't one of them. I realised in time that the decline was a trend rather than a blip, and to avoid the flat line I had to work harder and get to grips with the brave new world of study sessions, simulations and solvers. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never again make as much from poker in a year as I had routinely in the early years of this decade, and would need to work harder than ever.

In fact, I was kind of wrong. But only kind of. I did have such a year again, in 2015, but only because I chopped a WSOP event for almost 300k. Online, the decline continued, and that remained no less worrying despite that one big live outlier. That same year, an industry friend warned us that Stars (and possibly other major onilne sites) had effectively decided to try to rid themselves of pros, who they saw as direct competition for the money of the losing players. Within a few years if all went to plan, we were told, online poker pros would no longer be a thing.

The downward trend of profitability of online continued, but to be honest it didn't bother me greatly. Even if I was making a lot less than half a decade ago, it was still a very good living by any objective measure, and more than enough to sustain me and mine. As more and more of my peers either dropped out completely or switched over to play predominantly live, I took some consolation from the fact that many who had flown well above me in the golden years had dropped way below me on the way down.


This year has seen the dial turn one more time. At time of writing it's one of the most lacklustre years of my live career, without a big result or final table of note. But on the other side of the coin, I'm having my best most profitable year online since the glory days, to the point that having started the year ranked outside the top 15 on the PocketFives Irish rankings I have steadily climbed all the way to number one recently. I'm not kidding myself on the magnitude of this achievement: it arose largely as a result of my main competitors downswinging simultaneously. But it was still unexpected and pleasing to find myself topping the charts again at the age of 52, in a much more competitive era than that which prevailed the last time I sat there. These days I'd guess there are close to 100 professional players in Ireland, many of them playing either exclusively online or at very least playing much less live (and therefore much more online) than myself as I go on trying to balance the two as I have for all my career.


Facing into the second ten years of my poker career, I have few regrets and many sources of pride. While its undoubtedly true that I've almost won more than I've actually won (a bracelet, a UKIPT, an EMOP, a Grand Prix and a WPT) and almost done more than I've actually done (four times runner up in the Live Irish Rankings), I take pride in the fact that I ended my first ten years in the game as the number one ranked Irish online player with the most PocketFives Triple Crowns, and the number one most cashed live Irish player of all time. Mostly I take pride in my consistency and my longevity, both of which I see as a much truer indicator of poker class than any one bink or outlier result, no matter how big. Of the peers I jostled with at the start of the decade, only Lappin remains standing (or sitting, drinking gin for a Twitch audience) as a full time pro.


As I start into the second ten years of my career, I feel much more confident than I did two or three years ago. Back then my sense was the whole thing was winding down, but as I continue to work harder than I ever have before, for the first time in my career I don't feel there to be any massive unbridgeable gulf in class between myself and the very best in the world. I've crammed a lot into the first ten years and can't expect to cram quite as much into the next ten (major announcement coming on that front soon: watch this space), but that won't stop me from trying.

Share

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More