Monday, March 12, 2018

Comfort food in London

A fellow pro once asked me what my strategy was for dealing with serious tilt at the table. My answer was that I tried to figure out exactly what kind of mistake it would cause my opponent to make. When he clarified that he meant when I tilted, I said I had no strategy as I never seriously tilt at the table. I do however almost always seriously tilt as soon as I stand up from the table after busting. For the next 12 minutes, my mind is not a good place to be.

I guess I could invest some time effort and money into this, but if I'm honest I don't really see the point. I can't really do myself any damage in a tournament after I've already busted it, so I'm quite happy to write those 12 minutes off to antisocial grumpiness. I have however developed a strategy to ensure others don't have to endure my nonsense in those 12 minutes before I become a rational human being again. That strategy is to stand up, wish everyone good luck, and depart the scene room and building as fast as my 52 year old legs can carry me. I'm neither gracious nor graceful in defeat, but I at least attempt not to make a total disgrace of myself.

My bustout from the Unibet Open main event in London really put this to the test. It came at the end of one of those day 1s where almost nothing goes right. I posted a couple of the more interesting hands on ShareMyPair and I did get up to about 40k from exactly 30k starting stack early on, but then barely won another pot, meaning I went to dinner knowing I'd be coming back to 24 big blinds.

The restaurant in what used to be the Vic (now rebranded as The Poker Room) is unusually good by casino standards, but unfortunately my main course arrived just before we were due back at the table. So I carried it back and ate it quickly at the table. As I finished it, I heard my dessert arrive in the restaurant, and Simon Steedman kindly passed it out to me. Before I could even start eating it, I had picked up an ace and a king, after a player opening very wide had opened. So I pushed all my chips in and immediately started eating my tiramisu. When I got snap called I figured I wasn't in good shape, and wasn't. I failed to outdraw my opponents aces: I was dead by the turn and only two spoonfuls into my dessert. So I continued shovelling as fast as I could as the dealer called player gone ("But I'm still here") and the other players at the table talked about how unlucky that guy was to run into aces in his very first shove.

At the very least it was an interesting experiment to see how much of a comfort tiramisu is in such circumstances. The answer? A little at least, but not a lot.

Back home

Although I really enjoyed the Unibet Open in London, I couldn't wait to get home, because Unibet are finally licensed in Ireland. So the first thing I did when I got home was download the client and sign up.

Photograph by Tambet Kask

I'd obviously seen it on the Twitch streams of David Lappin, Ian Simpson, Espen Jorstad and David Vanderheyden, but my first big surprise was how aesthetically pleasing the interface is. Most poker clients looked like they were designed by a sadist who likes the same garish colours and raucous sounds that fast food restaurants use to draw you in then drive you away pretty quickly once you've eaten your slop. The Unibet interface reminds me more of a plush tastefully decorated restaurant with soft music and lights and a cultured attentive waiter. This might seem an odd thing to focus on but when you are spending a significant amount of your time playing poker at a site, it's a real plus if it's a pleasant experience. I wish the other sites I play on would take a leaf out of their book, stop with the loud unpleasant beeps and ugly screen designs and try to make their sites more pleasant to play on.

I'm also relieved that I don't keep having to have the same conversation over and over I've been having with Irish players since I signed as brand ambassador with Unibet.

"I can't seem to play on the site"
"They don't have an Irish license so you can't"
"What? Then why do they have an Irish ambassador?"
"Ummmm... They actually have two"
"Oh right, I forgot Ian Simpson"
"Simpson isn't Irish. He just turns up once a year at the Irish Open to drain the economy. I meant Lappin. But he lives in Malta now"

So I've really been enjoying finally playing on the site. It's also good timing with the UOS mtt series currently going on, with some great added money in leaderboard promotions. There's going to be four of these a year after each Unibet Open. There's also some great promotions coming this summer centred around the World Cup. For now I feel a bit newbish: will take me a while to get used to playing with no HUD and to pick up on population tendencies (I give my initial thoughts in these in the strategy segment of the latest Chip Race episode).

Another clear differentiator between Unibet and the other sites I play is recreational players are protected from pros (like me) who use HUDs to track and exploit their tendencies. Bad for me, but good for the recreational players who play on Unibet. Their ethos is very much to level the playing field as much as possible: cash game seating is also optimised to protect recreationals. And if you're still worried you can set up to five different aliases to protect yourself.

Related reading

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Damning revelations

So we (David Lappin, Daragh Davey and I) are in Rozvadov for the confusingly titled German Millions, and we have booked a cheap but odd little hotel (no reception, no employees, lots of signs saying when breakfast was but no actual breakfast place we can find: we got the keys from an unattended safe in a garage) a couple of miles away, but in a different country.

Daragh and I bust around the same time so we catch a cab back to the hotel. The triple room we booked turns out to be a double bed and a single. As the least comfortable among us with his own sexuality Daragh immediately calls dibs on the single, and encounters no opposition as myself and Lappin have often been forced to share a bed on away trips without any embarrassment.

That was, however, before Lappin's baby son was born. I was about to find out that Hunter's appearance into the world of Lappin had changed something in one of the best and most doting Dads I know.

Daragh and I drifted off to sleep confident that Lappin would find his own way to his side of the bed. Our confidence was not misplaced: I woke up in the middle of the night to find Lappin not only there, but looming over me with the friendliest smile I'd ever seen on his face. He was just staring at me, but seemed inordinately pleased to be doing so.

I'm not going to lie: I was a little creeped out.

"Um....everything ok Dave?"
Big beam.
"Ah yeah. How are you, you big pet?"
"I'm ok you ok?"
"Ah, aren't you just the cutest thing ever!"
He went on beaming down at me, then the smile turned to confusion.
"Oh. I thought you were Hunter. That's the side of the bed he sleeps on"

Me and Hunter: can you spot the difference? His Dad has trouble

As I drifted back to sleep I counted not sheep but lucky stars that I hadn't chose the other side to sleep on. Who knows what I'd have had to contend with if I woke up to find David mistaking me for his girlfriend Saron.

David had bust too, and after surveying our options in the little border village of Waidhaus, we decided there was no reason to hang around longer, so back to Prague with us for the day. We were scheduled to interview Griffin Benger for the Chip Race, and David was wondering if the Internet would be sufficiently reliable when he noticed that for a relatively modest fee we could upgrade and get premium wifi thrown in.

The girl looked at us a little warily, apparently more used to couples taking the upgrade as a romantic gesture.

"It's a double bed"
"Great. The wifi is good right?"
"Ok. Because we have a bit of recording to do"

The girl's face registered surprise, before deciding it was none of her business what consenting adults got up to or recorded in that double bed.

After dropping our bags we went for a quick walk around with Daragh and Sameer, before heading back alone to the hotel to interview Griffin. On the way, David decided to pop in to Aldi and buy as many boxes of powdered baby food as we both could carry, because it was a Euro cheaper than back in Malta.

As we staggered through hotel reception with the boxes of baby food and baby food only towards the lift to our room, I couldn't help but wonder what the girl at reception was thinking

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Batmania, an opportunity lost

Australia was "discovered" in 1606 by the Dutch, who gave it the name "New Holland". It was a very Eurocentric discovery, given that the place was already home to up to a million or so native people, who presumably felt their ancestors had a greater claim on the discovery than these European Johnny Come Latelies. The infamous Captain Cook got there in 1770, and did what any self respecting Briton of the time would do: immediately claimed the whole place for King and Country.

Not quite sure what to do with the newest part of their empire, the British decided to turn it into one big prison and started shipping convicts and Irish rebels there. When the Brits heard reports the French were sniffing around the south coast of the mainland looking to establish a colony there, they decided to beat them to the punch. A group led by John Batman sailed from Tasmania to what is now Melbourne to set up a colony. There's speculation that Melbourne almost wasn't Melbourne. Given the Aussie penchant for taking someone's name and adding some vowels (Tasmania was named after Abel Tasman, the first European to land there), the obvious name for the new colony would have been Batmania, but sadly sensible heads prevailed and it became Melbourne instead.

It's fairly safe to assume the early Melbourne was a pretty rough place. One of those early residents was one Elizabeth Callaghan, who was born in the town of my birth (Ennis in county Clare). Elizabeth was quite the character it seems. She got herself into trouble at age 17 for passing a counterfeit note, a crime which resulted in her shipment off to Tasmania. Her fortune or misfortune continued when she somehow ended up marrying Batman in Tasmania a few years before he set sail from Melbourne, with whom she had 8 kids. In 1839 she decided to sail back to the UK for a visit (no small undertaking in those days: next time you find yourself moaning about jetlag after flying to Australia try to bear in mind that it was a one year round trip two centuries ago). While she was gone, her husband took it upon himself to die of syphilis, a fact she only discovered on her return to Australia almost nine months after his death.

Apparently the spirited Elizabeth was less perturbed about her husband's death and considerably more concerned about how much, or rather how little, he had left her and the 8 kids they had together. She and her late husband's clerk with whom she now took up with sued to try to get the fiver she'd been left increased, but were unsuccessful. Elizabeth's eventful life eventually came to a premature end in 1852 when she was killed in a bar fight. But not before she had given her name to several streets and locations around Melbourne.

The golden era (literally) of Melbourne started shortly afterwards with the discovery of vast amounts of gold. Prospectors showed up from all over the world, and these tended to be somewhat better educated and disciplined than the early residents who founded the city. As the gold flowed, the transition from rough colony to prosperous modern city was completed. At the time there was no Australia: a new nation would be born a few decades later. On January 1st, 1901, the six British colonies that made up Australia at that point, met there and decided to band together in a new nation called Australia. It was essentially a safety in numbers strategy: the colonies felt that separately they would be unable to repel an invasion.

195 years after Elizabeth Callaghan cursed her fate and boarded a convict ship, another native of Ennis in the fine county of Clare boarded a flight to Melbourne, accompanied by another feisty woman who would have given Elizabeth a run or fight for her money. It was my first time in Australia, or indeed the Southern Hemisphere, and the same is true for Mrs Doke. We aren't getting any younger, we figured, so might as well go look at some water disappearing down the drain in the opposite direction to the one we have seen all our lives.

What's wrong with the shirt?

My Melbournian friend Adam met us at the airport and brought us to his place where we spent the first night. Adam was a great host all through the trip and was our guide for most of the most memorable days. He knows little or nothing about poker which is useful on those days you just want to switch off and not think about the great game.

I was up bright and early the next morning (jetlag? What jetlag?). Mrs Doke slept most of the day (ok, maybe jetlag is a thing) so Adam brought me to see some bats that live very near him (or flying foxes as the locals call them). From there we moved into an aparthotel in central Melbourne a five minute walk from the Crown casino.

The Crown is a great place to play poker, and the Aussie Millions is a great series. The atmosphere at the tables is unusually friendly, the staff are cheerful if a little eccentric (they do chip races on the fly one table at a time without halting play, and there's a glorious randomness to who gets moved from a table when necessary: it's rarely the standard "next big blind"), security is delightfully low key, and the casino itself is about as tasteful as it gets.

I had some success at the tables. Not much to write home (or even a blog) about, but I did satellite into the main, and went deep in the Accumulator side event. I posted a couple of hands from the latter on ShareMyPair, one I misplayed on day one against a French pro, and  an interesting spot against the chipleader from day 2. I ended up busting in 27th, when my aces got cracked by jacks (all in pre, jack on the turn). I would have been in good shape to press on to the final table if I had held, but it was not to be.

In the main event, a frustrating day one saw me bag up just under starting stack thinking maybe I should have just bought into day two. I got off to a great start the next day with a near double up early on, only for  the dream to come crashing down very next hand in a manner eerily reminiscent of my Accumulator bustout.

On my first table, Bertie Bayley said something I completely agree with:

"Melbourne is the one place you are guaranteed to have a good time irrespective of how the poker goes for you"

We had some great days away from the tables.

Anyone for tennis?

It seems most of the travelling pros availed of the opportunity to go watch the Australian Open, and we went along for a full day of quarter finals with Adam.

We also ran into the irrepressible Aseefo.

Parade of the penguins

On another day off, Adam drove us to Phillip Island, an unspoiled nature park featuring koalas, wallabies, and seals. Pride of place though goes to the fairy penguins, who come ashore every night and attract tourists from all over the world to witness their landing and slow trudge up the hill to their burrows.

These remarkable little creatures (about the size of a normal bird) spend 4 or 5 days at sea swimming up to 50 kilometres a day and diving hundreds of times a day for food, before returning to their burrows to rest. They know where to land, and trudge up the hill up to a couple of kilometres to their burrow.

It was a long cold wait before they arrived, but when they did it was one of the most spectacular sights I've ever witnessed. They first appear as little specks on the sea, as they size up their options. They bob there for a while, before the bravest among them comes in to land. On this occasion, he looked up the hill, then at the crowds gathered to witness the spectacle, decided he didn't fancy it and scooted back out to sea.

Next a party of three landed, and the leader repeated the sizing up process, before reaching the same "don't fancy it" conclusion and scurrying back out to sea. This was repeated a few times by other landing parties, before finally one landed, and their leader decided to go for it, waddling up the beach followed by the others. Groups of various sizes (three or more) continued to land and march up the hill. One of the last groups to land was the biggest: ten in all. As their leader went through the sizing up process at the front, one dissenter at the back remained face out to sea, as if exhorting his groupmates that they'd be much better off back out there. He was ignored by the others, and when the leader eventually decided to go for it followed by the other eight, the dissenter finally turned landwards only to see his buddies slowly disappearing from sight. He took off after them as fast as his little legs could waddle.

As we walked up the boardwalk back to the car park, penguins all round us waddled up to their burrows. For the most part, they seemed unperturbed by the humans, but it seemed all a bit much for one guy in the face of much flash photography. Turning his back on the crowds, he crouched apparently unwilling to go on until the crowd cleared. The ever softhearted Mrs Doke was so concerned she sought out a park ranger, who assured us he'd be fine and this was a frequent occurrence.

The penguins, it seems, don't mind the humans but don't like flash photography.

Big thank you to Adam's friend Tom, a park ranger there who acted as our personal guide for the day.

Wine tour

Another down day highlight was a tour of the Yarra Valley wine region, which went so well it transformed Mrs Doke from French wine snob to Australian wine fan.

Meet the Byrnes

My study buddy Daiva and her husband John were there for the series and it was great to get a chance to hang out with them. We went to see "Molly's Game" one night, and to a jazz club another.

Daiva and I also recorded a strategy segment for The Chip Race which should be available soon: it's our take on a hand between recent guest Phil Hellmuth and Liv Boeree, and Doug Polk's analysis of it).

Special shoutout to David Lappin, who threw caution and time differences to the wind to drag himself out of bed to record with us.

Daiva and I railed one of the three final tables Kenny Hallaert made. He lost a flip for the win, but went one better shipping the final turbo side event. Well done to him for keeping his amazing heater lit.

We also played a team event, where I maintained my impressive 100% record of busting us out of these events, and Daiva's table mate Aussie cricket legend Shane Warne seemed bemused by how unimpressed she was by his efforts to impress her.

All told, we had an amazing time in Melbourne (and we are already looking forward to next year). Big thank you to all those already mentioned who made it so memorable, and also online beast (and former Chip Race guest) Jesse McKenzie, Merv, Willie Shillibier, Christian weird-German-name, Hamish, Tom, Cass, Josh and everyone else I hung out with or chatted to.

I'll leave the final word to poker's most travelled recreational player, Asif "Poker Tourist" Warris. Aseefo trots the globe from event to event, mainly it sometimes seem so he can compile the definitive list of everything that's wrong with everywhere. So there is perhaps no bigger tribute I can pay than his answer when I asked him how his trip was.

"Brilliant. Melbourne is amazing. How could you not have a good time here?"

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.


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.....


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.


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 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


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.


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"

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"
"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.


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