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, 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?"
"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


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.

"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.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tragedy in Rozvadov

"A glorified truck stop in the middle of nowhere, a bunch of petrol stations, three brothels, a McDonalds and a giant casino. The whole area is so grim they start telling you there's a McDonalds over 50 kilometres away".

That's how I described Rozvadov, where I'd never been before, to a friend who has also never been (and presumably never will after that description). To be fair, that's a very harsh assessment. People come to Rozvadov for the poker, but they stay for the.....well, they don't really stay. Apart from one Israeli billionaire that various people told me came a few years ago and liked it so much (or his dormant gambling addiction became undormant) that he never left. I didn't see the gentleman in question myself so the stories may be apocryphal, but it is said he haunts the halls of the casino by day, and the parking lot in a camper van by night.

Once you've cleared security and the grimness of the rest of Rozvadov has started to recede in your memory, the casino itself is actually one of the nicest I've been in. The only big thing that could be done to improve it would be to outlaw smoking indoors. The decor is classy, the slot machines silent and most of the space is devoted to the poker. The buffet is also not only free and open all day but the quality is exceptional by casino standards. Until last week the best casino dining experience I'd had was at the Wynn, but for 40 bucks less than the 40 bucks you pay in the Wynn buffet you get much fresher higher quality food all day. Maybe crazy camper van man isn't so crazy after all.

When I planned this trip originally, and realised there wasn't an airport within a hundred kilometres of the place so I probably needed a driver, I twisted Mrs Doke's arm and persuaded her to accompany me. Normally she wants either sun or culture and preferably both in a place before she agrees to tag along. Rozvadov scores a big fat null points on both those fronts so I was careful not to oversell it.

"I hear it's a kip but it's near Nurnberg so we can always head there after I bust".

She was living for almost a decade in Nurnberg when I met her and pulled off the most successful resteal of my life, it's where I first visited her, so we both have happy memories of the place. As it happened Keith Cummins was heading over on the same flight and volunteered to hire a car and split costs. By now flights were booked so Mrs Doke gamely tagged along anyway.

We had to go to the casino to find out which partner hotel we were in. Thankfully this turned out to be the Park Inn in historic city of Pilsen (birthplace of the world famous Pilsner beer, and European Capital of Culture 2015). Annoyingly we had already passed Pilsen on our way to Rozvadov, so we essentially had to drive half way back to Prague. Easier said than done in a fog that reduced visibility to a few metres.

Like most people Keith drives the same way he plays poker (fearlessly, with his foot on the accelerator) and it's fair to say there were some hair raising moments (I assume this is why he's bald) like the one where he decided to pass some trucks just before the road narrowed to one lane. To be fair, we made it with almost two inches to spare. Mrs Doke still hadn't fully recovered at breakfast the following morning so she took Keith to task again about his driving but he was having none of it. He pointed out he'd never had a major accident, a point he immediately undermined with a story that involved him flipping a jeep into a ditch and which he concluded with the words "it's a miracle we weren't all killed".

Keith is great fun to be around though so despite the palpable risk everyone takes whenever they get into a car with him, I decided it was a risk worth taking tagging along with him on the drive back to the casino. But not before tweeting the following, only partly in jest:

On the trip to the casino I learned that when a Corkman abroad rings his Dad at home while speeding down a motorway, they will spend almost the entire conversation talking about how much the call is costing them both.

Before I started I was chatting to the legendary KevMath, who told me this was his first time in Europe. I commiserated and assured him Rozvadov was not very representative. Hopefully his next visit will be to somewhere like Paris, London, Berlin, Rome or even Dublin.

My WSOPE main event campaign was pretty dull for the most part, and the excellent PokerNews team seemed to catch all the major hands I played on the blog, so I won't repeat them here. My exit was one of those comedy of errors where one player's lack of focus has a Butterfly effect that causes another's demise at the hands of a third party who shouldn't even have been in the hand. After a tough but ultimately prosperous day one that saw me bag up over 90k, I had a miserable day 2 where I couldn't seem to win a pot. That's generally fatal on a day 2 even in a structure as good as this, and a few minutes before the end I was looking down miserably at 8 big blinds. A few uncalled shoves later I was no longer feeling as low and with 17 big blinds, no longer just shoving or folding. My happiness grew even more when I looked down at Kings under the gun and opened, feeling better about my prospects of getting action than normal having only recently been moved to a table that just seen me open shoving a lot since I got there.  I started to think this wasn't going to work out when it folded round to the small blind, who attempted to limp. When it was pointed out that I'd already raised he elected to put more chips in to make the call, which of course meant the big blind was priced in with any two cards, so he called too. Anyone who has been around the game long enough knows what seems to happen often in these spots. Mike Leah who had just been moved to the table certainly did, joking "Gg Dara" before the flop was dealt.

The flop was 986 with two spades, and after the unfocused small band checked, the big blind led tiny. With a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach I decided to think about what this could mean. I concluded that I have the best hand far too often to consider folding, and with so many draws on board had to try to protect my hand against two players with almost random ranges, so I shoved. When the big blind snapped I got the bad news that I was up against 75o (no spade) drawing to various runner runners. None of these materialised, so that was that.

I was obviously disappointed not to cash my biggest buyin of the year, continuing a pretty lackluster year for me live. However, I always try to focus on the big picture, and think that as long as I keep myself in the game to the point I can go on showing up at these events, it'll click for me some day. The fact that I'm having my most profitable year online in several is also heartening evidence that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with m game a few crucial won flips wouldn't fix I have a few more live outings this year so I will be attempting to end on a high. Next up is a 5k in Punta Cana in a couple of weeks, and then Unibet Open Bucharest (my favourite trip of last year) and another Unibet UKPT stop in Manchester. It's fair to say I'm a much bigger fan of Bucharest than I am of Manchester, but at least it's in the nicest casino by far, Manchester235.

Unfortunately this blog has to conclude on a genuinely tragic note. At breakfast the first morning, we had been told that one of the other players staying at the hotel, Emma Fryer, was in hospital for reasons unspecified. Later that day we heard the terrible news that Emma had died after the car she was travelling in crashed on the same route Keith had driven us the previous night. I didn't really know Emma but several of my friends did and by all accounts she was a great person and poker player so my thoughts and best wishes go out to her family and friends, and as a more fitting tribute to her allow me to reproduce the beautiful heartfelt words of our mutual close friend Daiva Byrne who was quoted in the PokerNews piece reporting her death:

My heart breaks to hear the tragic news regarding Emma Fryer 💔 She was such a wonderful person and an amazing player xxx

Monday, October 30, 2017

Incompetent travellers

In the early years of my career my constant travel buddy was Rob Taylor. Rob was a great friend, mentor and companion with only one flaw: he has the worst sense of direction in the world. Normally you'd need a bigger sample size to make such a big claim, but I feel in this case there's no need for such diligence, because on every single occasion Rob has a chance to pick a direction, he always chooses wrong. If he could only have chosen to always do the opposite of what his brain said, he'd have had the best sense of direction.

This was rarely an issue except when he was designated driver, which unfortunately was quite often given I can't drive. At my first EPT in San Remo I shared lodgings with Rob and a bunch of other Irish hopefuls. We flew in to Nice, and the other lads all left before us so Rob drove them to the airport, and somehow found his way back. Despite this dress rehearsal, it still went badly wrong when the time came for him to drive us to the airport. As we drove out of San Remo with the sea to our left, I made the fatal mistake of assuming the obviousness of wanting to keep the sea right there, to our left, and the multitude of signs indicating left for France absolved me of any need to tell Rob to keep left. As we approached the all important fork to the motorway I was lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that Rob was keeping to the left. Which he did, until the last possible second when his internal GPS kicked in and we veered right before I had time to react.

"Rob, we should have gone left"
"Huh? Are you sure?"
"Yes Rob. I'm sure"
"I think you're wrong"
"Rob, we want to drive from Italy to France. France is to the west of Italy. The sea is to the south. So which side should the sea be on?"
"The right?"
"No Rob. The sea should be on our left not our right"
"Are you sure? That can't be right"
"It is.  So which side is the sea actually on Rob?"
"The left?"
"No Rob. It's on our right"
"Are you sure? I think this is the right way?"
"Rob, every sign we pass is to somewhere deeper in Italy"
"So what do we do?"
"Get off the next exit. To the right"

We finally did this about an hour later, and more than an hour later we had snaked our way through some country roads back to and through San Remo, and we were approaching the fork where it had all gone wrong.

As we did so, my first thought was "Surely there's no need to tell him". My second was "This is Rob. There might be". So I watched him like a hawk. True to form, he veered right as I screamed. "LEFT! LEFT! OTHER WAY ROB!!!!"

We made our plane with seconds to spare.

I was reminded of this story in Brighton this week. The wonderful Donna Morton kindly offered me a lift back to hotel after I bust the main, with her travelling companion April. As we passed the exit we should have taken April said "We should have taken that exit" with the dignified resignation of someone who has witnessed many's the missed exit. Donna, with the dignified acceptance of someone experience has taught that her own sense of direction is not as good as that of her travelling companion, gamely accepted this and one full circuit of the roundabout later we were back on track.

That lasted all of thirty seconds when I again made the assumption that "the sea should be on our left" made it unnecessary to tell Donna which direction to take, because I basically never learn. Before we knew it we were back rounding the roundabout as Donna laughed raucously. So I basically learned that Donna is April's Rob Taylor, and April is her Doke.

Apart from going round roundabouts with Donna and April, the other most memorable thing about my trip was my starting table in the main. Initially I was sandwiched between Fredrik Bergmann to my right and my study buddy Daiva "Baltic Maniac" Byrne to my left, which if not great for my EV was at least great for my spirits as both are great company.

Then Daiva got moved and her place was taken by Will Kassouf, which caused a bit of a giggle as I'd been chatting with another table mate, Jerome O'Shea, about my recent piece about Will in Bluff Europe. David and I also interviewed Will for The Chip Race. It wasn't exactly a hostile interview but we also didn't hold back asking him about some of the criticisms that were raised about his behaviour at the table.

As a former barrister Will is well able to defend his corner and not to take it personally, and as I said in my Bluff piece I actually like Will a lot and enjoy having him at the table. Mrs Doke, not so much.

No cash for me this time but the trip was one of the most enjoyable and I think the tournament was the biggest success of the UKPT to date, so a big well done to all the other Unibet ambassadors and staff, especially Simon Steedman. Some people say the only reason Simon is in the job is because his Dad is rich and owns Unibet, but.......well, yeah, that's what people say.

Next up for me is a week at home on the online grind, before heading to Rozvadov next Saturday for the WSOPE main event. I have another week at home after that before Punta Cana, which will be quickly followed by the Unibet Open in Bucharest (my favourite event of last year) and UKPT Manchester.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A tale of two airports

When it comes to designing beautiful furniture, or a stylish scarf, you'd back the French to pull it off. But when it comes to designing an efficient hub airport, not so much. That's when you look to the Germans or the Dutch with their frumpy scarves and their functional furniture.

True to type, Charles De Gaulle has to be the most poorly designed airport in the world. There are a number of ways and shapes you can go when faced with the problem of putting a lot of gates in one airport and minimising the distance between any two random gates. The obvious solution is the cartwheel where the gates sprong out different spokes of the same wheel. You can also go for something more crablike like the Dutch:

Image result for amsterdam airport terminal map

The feckless child who designed CDG dispensed with all that in favour of:

I didn't realise how much of a pain this could be until I landed there last year with an hour and five minutes to make a connection to Tallinn. Lots of time, I was thinking. How wrong was that thinking. 25 minutes later the bus they downloaded us onto from the plane finally started snaking towards the terminal. 25 minutes later, it pulled up at a door that said NON SCHENGEN in big judgemental letters. 25 minutes later I was arguing with a security guy that I needed to be allowed to skip a long passport control queue to have any chance of making my delayed but taking off imminently flight. He was having none of me and directed me to the back of the line. We glared at each other both clearly thinking exactly the same thought ("in my country, they shoot people like you") before I surrendered faster than you can say Maginot Line.

25 minutes later, I'm weaving my way towards the Air France information desk to tell them I missed my connection. It's manned, or rather womanned, by an attractive example of French womanhood. There is no such thing as a poorly designed French female in my experience: they are the most attractive nation on Earth in that regard. But they can also be a little difficult at times.

After looking at me like someone who hadn't a word of English as I explained my situation, she snapped her fingers and said "Passport!"

I like a woman who can take charge, all the more so when she does so in a sexy French accent, so I happily obliged and watched approvingly as she scrutinised my passport and typed on a keyboard. Her beautiful face moved through disapproval, annoyance, confusion before returning to me suspiciously.

"It appears you made your connection"
"What....but....I......clearly I did not. I stand before you. You have my passport"

She looked back at my passport. Then the computer screen. Then me.

"You made your connection"
"I strongly disagree. Is there some other way you can check that doesn't involve the computer?"

She thought about it. Then some more. Then some more. Then she looked at her phone and nodded. With one hand she put the phone to her well designed ear, and with the other punched some numbers before lifting a solitary well designed finger to me.

She spoke in hushed French tones. I pretended not to eavesdrop.

"Seat 24D. Can you check it?"

She glared at me while we waited.

"D'accord. Merci"

I looked at her hopefully.

"It appears you missed your connection"
"I am aware of this"
"You had more than an hour"

Her tone was accusatory.
One thing three decades of marriage to a well designed French woman has taught me is that there is an art to arguing with them. That art involves not actually arguing (they love a good argument and will indulge and run rings around you just for fun), but rather self deprecating and deflecting without actually conceding.

I smiled confidently, thinking "She's French, I got this".

"Yes, but I am the world's stupidest Irishman in the world's stupidest airport"

I could see her almost smiling before she shrugged and started punching keys again. The world's slowest printer churned out a boarding pass which she handed to me. I looked at it gratefully.

"Um....this flight closes in 15 minutes and I have to go back through security"
"We may find ourselves back here within the hour arguing about whether I'm on another flight or not"

She finally cracked and smiled.

"We may"


This year I came via Frankfurt. I discovered to my horror I had less than an hour to make the connection. I'm screwed I thought, and less familiar and comfortable with the ways of the German Frau than I am with the quirks of the French Femme. All I could think of was getting shouted at and being called an untermensch.

As soon as the plane landed I got a text message telling me which gate I had to go to. Five minutes later they'd downloaded us onto a bus and I'd got a text saying the bus would take 13 minutes to get to the terminal. There were screens on the bus with gate numbers, and multilingual announcements directing us to look at them. Thirteen minutes later, I was walking through a sea of Lufthansa staff there to direct people to their gates. 10 minutes later I'm at the gate glaring at those fools who insist on queueing before boarding commences. 15 minutes later I'm in my seat on the plane looking up at James Walsh, who has just made a tight connection from Manchester. I don't even mind the fact that I'm on a plane full of Germans laughing at stuff I don't find remotely funny (the funniest joke by far was the guy who observed us all shuffling in and out of our seats to let people in before declaring "We are all playing plane dominoes" to raucous Germanic laughter).

At that moment I was simply in awe of and grateful for German efficiency.


The trip itself was a blast, with a great crew of people in a great little city. Clodagh Hansen and her staff excelled themselves again.

I bust last hand of day one after a frustrating day where I started well but didn't then kick on. I decided to reenter at the start of day 2 with 10.4 big blinds, one of a handful of what Mark Spurr called the crazies to do so. In most worlds I'm going to bust pretty quick, but I back myself to play that kind of stack optimally, and as I explained to my gracious host Hanno, most of the equity in tournaments comes from playing the latter stages well when you run well enough to get there.

It wasn't looking good as I dipped as low as 4 big blinds at one point, but I stuck to the game plane and notched up my first cash on Estonian soil. I continued to linger on sub twenty bigs the whole way. With 19 left I looked up at the clock to confirm we were on the first significant pay jump. I had 16 big blinds but felt like I might be the shortest, which Lappin quickly confirmed after a scout round the other tables. Then a loose young Russian min raises to 32k, an even more maniacal young Scandi makes it 100k in the small blind, and I have tens and 200k in the big blind. I know my hand is too strong to fold even with the pay jump, but I'm professionally compelled to do everything I can to lock up the pay jump. So I sit there looking tortured waiting for someone to call clock, at which point I'll run down the minute before min raising. I figure the "What on Earth is he doing? How much have you behind?" confusion will buy me some more time before I have clock called on me again, and we might get the ladder.

It doesn't come to that. Lappin pipes up:

"All in and a call on the other table"

As my table mates continue to humour my tank (I think the fact this was my first made them more forgiving) the guy on the other table busted. I waited a few more seconds to give them a chance to start processing his payout (I didn't want any ambiguity as to who busted first if I did bust), then moved all in. A minute later I'd won a flip and was feeling like I was in the tournament for the first time.

It's been a frustrating year live, with only one live final table all year. With almost an average stack now and a good seat I was feeling good about doubling my final table count for the year, but it was not to be.

After the maniacal Scandi raised I look down at Kings and threebet. He shoves and I snap. I very surprised to be behind and quite sad to be out in 17th, but happy with my performance and accepting of the fact that I'd run well to get this far, winning two flips and holding two 70/30s on the other occasions I was allin.

That left me free to fill my last full day in Tallinn as I pleased. I did some Chip Race recordings with David, and we were interviewed by Jason Glatzer for PokerNews about our podcast. Jennifer Tilly started a tradition of people asking "And do you play poker too David?"  when we interviewed her, one Jason continued much to my amusement.

David and I then did a stint in the commentary box where I got to see my vanquisher raise K2 utg, confirming my read of him as looser than Kat Arnsby's.......um...purse strings. After our stint in the box David scurried off to brick another side event (yes he does play a bit of poker) while I met his beautiful girlfriend Saron and their adorable son Hunter for dinner at Olde Hansa, a restaurant she fancied. The theme is medieval, with a menu of 15th century dishes, and nothing but candlelight as illumination. Saron is great fun to be with so this and the stroll back to the hotel through the old town was a real highlight.

Hanno very kindly brought me and James Walsh to the airport the following morning and we talked some hands (he also cashed, and on one bullet). We ran into the delightful delinquent Kat Arnsby fresh from her side event second place. She'd already spent much of the windfall on perfume (€650) and a kilogram bag of M&M's, which didn't stop her from loftily proclaiming "I'm thrifty. I spend very little money" as we boarded.

Next up live for me is the Brighton leg of the Unibet UK Poker Tour, where I'm looking forward to catching up with many familiar faces. I always seem to plan to end the year playing mostly blind but actually end up cramming in lots of live poker. After Brighton I have the WSOPE main event (my first trip to Rozvadov), Punta Cana, Bucharest and Manchester all before I head to the Aussie Millions in January.

Finally, massive shoutout of thanks to my host and sponsor Hanno Liiva for his generosity and hospitality in Tallinn, and everyone else who made it such a fun trip.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Intense and emotional in Vegas

After my close shave with US border security in Dublin airport, I was pretty relieved to touch down on US soil in Atlanta. I was hoping to hook up with local resident Breyer who I house shared with at the WSOP this summer. He had very kindly offered to pick me up at the airport and give me a whistlestop tour, but as it happened we arrived late and I had barely enough time to get between planes, as I bobbed and weaved my way through the airport, a runner in a race of moseyers.

I was the last to board, and as my eyes scanned the plane to locate my window seat the plane seemed full already. Then I realised my seat was obscured from view by two substantial ladies: I never learned their names so let's call them Waynetta and Waynetta's Mom (copyright the lovely Saron). They were mother and daughter (though I never figured out which was which). They were at least as disappointed to see me as I was to see them. Once we'd all gotten over our collective disappointment it took a few minutes for them to unwedge and hoist themselves out of their seats, and shimmy out into the aisle so I could gain access. Once I had I realised I was going to have to content myself with a lot less room than normal as the teo ladies overflowed from their seats.

So first world problems, which soon got worse. Waynetta and her Mom seemed to have a less than idyllic Mom daughter relationship, sniping at each other verbally almost non stop, until a full scale elbow battle broke out between them that had me assuming the crash position.

While I've been coming to Vegas for a decade, this was my first time there in a month without a J in its name. Noticeably cooler and less crowded, I checked in at the Encore, and met the rest of the Unibet team for some foods and drinks.

The poker followed pretty much the same script I've been working off live this year. Slow steady start, build a bit of a stack, then lose a couple of big pots to be in shove or fold mode, lose the first shove. I managed to stick pretty religiously to this script not once but twice (day 1a and 1b). Most of the pots and spots were very standard, and the few that were in any way interesting will be covered in the strategy segments of The Chip Race and my free strategy newsletter so I won't bore you with repetition. I will admit that by the end of both days I was as tired as I ever have been at a poker table, with the jetlag really biting hard. My podcast compadre David Lappin got here earlier but was in a similar boat as Rauno discovered when he went to join him in the commentary booth.


On Sunday David and I interviewed Andrew Neeme and my WSOP buddy Alan Widmann. I love Alan to bits, he's one of the nicest people I've met, and it will be very interesting to follow his transition into poker. After the interviews concluded, everyone left while I started my online Sunday grind, but Alan hung around a while to hang and rail. By now it was near the bubble of the main event, so I was getting texts from David while Alan was railing MethodSco. Sco was very short so Alan was relaying just how tight he needed to be on the bubble. Both got into the money.

After my Sunday grind was complete I went for food with David, Saron and Rauno, and then headed to the commentary booth with David. This weekend in Vegas will not be remembered for anything that happened in the Wynn or at the poker table but for something that happened at the other end of the strip. While we were starting our commentary stint, the horrific Mandalay Bay mass shooting was taking place. As news filtered through to us, we were unsure how much we could say but did our best (we come in at 7 hours 53 minutes): 

The upside of this heavily social media dominated world we live in is that information on events like this travels much faster than it used to. The downside is that it's not always reliable information and we see feedback loops fuelled by paranoia and embellishment spread like viruses on the social media. As reports of multiple shooters and locations spread, panic gripped the entire strip and all the major resorts including the Wynn were put on lockdown. Play in the tournament was suspended and the collective opinion was the optimal lime was for everyone to go back to their room.

Simon from Unibet trolled us back down to the lobby with reports of free drink being dispensed by the Wynn, a Sasanach ploy guaranteed to work with the Irish. It would have been a nice gesture by the Wynn but they were still charging $18 a Corona. We somehow ended up in a cash game with Alan, Sco and Djarii, which I believe was my first live cash session in several years (on an aside I played three short cash sessions this trip, three more than I have in most recent yeas, and achieved a decent hourly). I booked a decent win before heading back to the room to watch further coverage of the carnage. Even though it was happening about a mile away I might as well have been back home in the sense that my entire experience of the event was watching CNN and checking the social media. In the world we live in, it's not real until we see it on a screen and tweet about it, even if you know you could see the scene you're watching on your screen if you looked out your window.

My last full day in Vegas was mostly about the Chip Race. We recorded an amazing interview with Jennifer Tilly's lesser half Phil Laak, we also interviewed Sco and Djarii, and some strategy segments with Daiva who bossed a feature table that included Chris Moorman and Henrik Larsen with some interesting hands. Look for those in future episodes.

Daiva showed up for the session with what looked like cranberry juice and Perrier but was actually cranberry juice and vodka. The evening progressed with the lovely Saron and John  through Endless Pours at the buffet to cocktails at a cash table where I got to see Daiva's ditsy blonde impersonation (at one point she shamelessly asked the totally buying it guy to her left if an ace was a better card than a queen) and a hair raising check raise all in river bluff. She turned middle pair with two blockers to the nut straight into a bluff which unfortunately didn't work for her on this occasion (despite her blockers the guy had the nut straight anyway) but her ability to recognise the spot and her willingness to go for it indicates why she's a formidable force at any table these days. It was reminiscent of Fedor Holz turning tens into a bluff three handed in the finale of the Poker Masters against his German compatriots (which also didn't work in this sample).

A couple of hours sleep later I was very hungover and packing for my Uber to the airport. Unable to face breakfast I gave my poker son Rauno my breakfast voucher. 30 minutes later I'm waiting for him to turn up to share the Uber. It got there before he did so I went outside to stall. As I came back in to look for him, my bags were searched, a sad reminder of how the atmosphere in Vegas had changed over the weekend. An even sadder eerier one presented itself as I rode past the now ghostly empty Mandalay Bay, still officially a crime scene.

My thoughts and best wishes are with the loved ones of the victims, who will never leave our minds when we look back on this intense and emotional week in Vegas.


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