Monday, April 9, 2018

Vulelek and Gandie (my costliest mistakes)

Last year as we walked on Brighton pier I told David Lappin a story from my childhood. He liked it so much he virtually insisted I base my next blog on it. Others didn't seem to like it as much, so maybe I should quit while I'm behind, but I did tell him another story and he did recommend I use it in this blog. So one last chance.

I started betting on horses when I was 7 or 8. This was possible because back then it wasn't unusual in small town Ireland for fathers to bring their young son to the bookies, or even send them in on their own with instructions which horses to back. Pocket money was not a thing in our house, but my father was a kind man and would give me a few pennies for myself and tell me to put them on whatever horse I fancied. So every Saturday afternoon found me in the local bookies filling out two dockets: a long one for my Dad, and a shorter one for myself. I ran well at the start by sticking to a strategy of never putting a horse that was on Dad's long docket on my shorter one. I had no idea why, but it was clear to me pretty quickly Dad was a really bad gambler. He couldn't seem to find a winner in a winnier's enclosure. Before long I had a decent bankroll, and my docket was no longer the short one.

I think I had a natural gift for pattern recognition. Initially I would only bet on horses that had won recently, but over time I noticed a different pattern that seemed to recur often (particularly at small courses in the UK and Ireland): the once in a blue moon winner. There were nags of low pedigree with a lot of 0's on their record who routinely went off at 66/1, but then once in a blue moon won at a much shorter price of 12/1 or whatever. Invariably under the guidance of some obscure trainer, they were often ridden to victory by a better class of jockey than they normally had on board. I don't remember where I heard or read it, but apparently these were referred to at the time by professional gamblers as "springers". The idea was that the advance odds predicted for them were something like 66/1, but the first sign that something unusual was afoot was a lot of money going onto them at the course driving down the price to 12 or 14/1, so they "spring" from the ranks of no hopers into those of contenders. Sometimes the flood of money and shortening of odds was accompanied by a highly rated jockey being hired for the day, but often it couldn't be put down to any known factor. But these horses won far more often than they should, particularly if you got on them before the price shortened.

The conspiracy theory used to explain this was that the fix was in. That a struggling training yard unable to make ends meet through legal methods would focus all their efforts on one horse in one race, lumping on it to win enough to get through the winter. When I started going to actual racecourses with my Dad, my main strategy was to try to identify springers.

I think my brother was 6 or 7 when he first accompanied us to the races, which makes me 11 or 12 at the time. He was my confidante and understudy: the only one I talked betting strat with. He was understandably excited. The meeting was Gowran Park, exactly the kind of backwoods place you'd expect a springer or two.

The first race went off without any irregular betting patterns, so no bet was placed. My brother was disappointed that we had no one to root for. The second race was the same. By now I was dealing with the distraction of fraternal disappointment, so once I realised there would also be no springer in the third, I caved and placed a small bet on the ten to one shot. My thinking was that since I had no inside knowledge or edge, all bets had roughly the same amount of negative EV, so pick a price that was long enough to be impressive if it came in, but not so long that it would almost never come in.

The horse trailed in a distant last. By now, I was in serious danger of losing the admiration of my younger brother, so redemption became the new priority. Springer or not, a bet had to be placed in the fourth. This time the strategy was to bet on a shorter price (presumably with a better chance of success), but long enough to move me healthily into profit. The five to one shot came fifth.

Desperate times. By now I'm no longer concerned whether there's a springer in the fifth or not, all I'm thinking about is getting ahead and back to being a hero to my brother. So I shortened the price but increased the stakes, lumping on the second favourite at 2/1. He came in second.

In the sixth, ten per cent of my net worth was staked on the evens favourite, and after a long look at the photo finish, the judges decided he had been pipped by a nose. Devastated, I gloomily checked out the field in the final race. Only four runners. Only one name I recognised. Clearly a class above the others, and a very strong favourite to win. Four to one on, to be precise. I realised that I could still get out of this debacle ahead if I lumped my entire roll on this dead cert.

The race was not a race. From the get go he seemed to be a horse racing donkeys. He eased into the lead, then away, then further away until there was no way he could be caught. As he was about to round the final bend and take the final hurdle, I prepared my brother to cheer him home, when a sickening groan from the crowd diverted my attention back to the track. The crackly loudspeaker announcer's pitch communicated that something terrible had just happened, but his actual words were lost in the noise.



I watched as my horse sailed by with no jockey.

"Is that our horse? Did we win?"

I spent the next few minutes trying to explain to my brother that it was not first horse home, it was first jockey essentially, as my brain tried to come to terms with having lost all the money I possessed.

The fact that forty years later I still remember the name of that horse that fell at the final hurdle that day in Gowran Park tells you what a memorable moment it was for me. I hereby immortalise him in the title of this blog, as he taught me three valuable lessons that day. There's nothing like a long silent drive home as a bust loser to make you reflect on your actions.

The first lesson Vulelek taught me (don't gamble without an edge) kept me out of trouble for the next thirty years.

The second (don't chase losses) served me in good stead these last ten years as a poker pro.

The third came into its own the night of July 4th 2007.

**********
As I've said before on this blog, I learned poker in May 2007, a few weeks before my 42nd birthday. By now the dynamic with my brother had shifted: he was living with us essentially as a lodger, but he already knew poker. He was a winning player. So I turned to him for instruction.

Not wanting me to lose enough money to make me want to increase his rent, he told me to stick to freerolls to start with. On my second night online, the imaginatively named DublinDara came 2nd in a freeroll on Ladbrokes for £150 and change.

My brother advised withdrawal. When I made it clear I wouldn't be doing that he suggested low stakes limit cash, presumably on the basis that I'd lose the money more slowly. It didn't work out like that.

I was a winning player from day one, or at least ran well, so that by the start of July my online roll was up to almost a grand. I had moved up the stakes and started to realise the importance of game selection. My strategy was pretty simple: sit in any game with a player called Gandie. Gandie liked to gamble. He didn't like to fold. He played every hand and potted every street. This ensured he won the most pots and lost the most money of anyone at the table almost every time.

So that night, I sat down and jumped in a game with Gandie. My strategy was pretty simple: I only played pairs above sevens and ace king. I only continued past the flop with top pair or better. Gandie kept betting, I kept calling, and usually I won.

This night the script got rewritten. Gandie won not just all the uncontested pots, but the contested ones too. He could best top pair every time. For the first in my poker life, I went on monkey tilt. I started playing every pot. I started raising and reraising. I had no clear strategy other than trying to out aggress Gandie. A sickening feeling in my stomach grew as the number under my name shrunk from 1000 to 900 to 600, but I couldn't stop myself. I had to get even. But I kept losing pot after pot.

At around 4 am I glanced at the number under my name. The number 200 triggered something in my memory. 200 was the amount I had bet on Vulelek thirty years earlier in my previous attempt to get out. I 
instantly flashed back to the feeling of despair as I'd watched the horse sail by with no jockey. I remembered the long drive home thinking what a loser I was. I was now that horse with no jockey losing to donkeys, and would become that loser in the car if I kept playing.

I moved my hand from my forehead to the computer, and turned it off.

The following day, I started rebuilding. From that 200 came every cent I have ever won and pulled offline. I now knew what tilt was, what it felt like, and from that day forward I responded to the feeling the same way whenever I felt it. 

I turned the computer off.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A couple of odd hands and lots of patches

Daily Quads

It's been a frustrating day at the tables, mostly looking at unsuited 6 gappers, and folding. Late in the day I win a flip, so I'm playing 21 big blinds when I pick up aces in the small blind. A very loose player who seems to be opening close to 100% when it is folded round to him opens again. The button folds.

So now I'm thinking almost anything I do other than shove is going to look super strong. I don't have a stack that should be flatting speculative hands, and if I go for a small threebet it feels like I might as well stand up and scream "ACES! I'VE GOT ACES EVERYONE! ACES HERE"

The problem with shoving though is the guy needs to have some kind of hand to call. And this guy usually has something not much better than the hands I've been folding. I have half the aces in the deck so the chances of him even having an ace are slimmer.

Another complication is the big blind is sitting there with eight and a half bigs. This makes me think the flat is the play. The dream is the big blind sees the loose open and my flat as a great spot to squeeze, the opener recognises this and rejams, and I get the full double and then some.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way. The big blind thinks about, and eventually flats. The flop comes AAT rainbow. My heart rises, then sinks, as I realise this flop is so good it's not. I have the deck crippled. Unless I miraculously find someone with specifically tens, I'll be doing well to get even one bet in.

I do however have the opener pegged as someone who likes to bluff, so I'm confident that if I check to him he will bet. So I do, and he does. Now I could raise and hope he doesn't believe me, or I could call and hope he keeps bluffing. My read on the villain is he prefers small cheap stabby bluffs to sophisticated high wire moves, so the second option is more appealing. Plus we still have the big blind in the mix. He might see a bluffer who always cbets when checked to, an old guy hanging on reluctantly, and shove thinking his pocket pair or ten is good, or his gutshot has enough equity and enough chance to make us both fold.

But he folds. The turn is a 4 bringing a heart flush draw. I'm more or less in the same situation as I was on the flop: up against a villain who likes to keep stabbing when he has the betting lead. So I check again, he bets again, I call again.

The river is an offsuit queen, so none of the things I'm hoping for has happened. In particular, the flush draw that he might have or choose to represent hasn't come in.  This is the first point in the hand where it seemed unclear to me what the best play was. Shove and rep a busted flush draw? Bet small repping a blocker with Kings hoping for the crying call or better yet the spaz bluff raise? Or check, and let him keep bluffing.

In the end I decided he'd value bet anything he was prepared to call a bet with, and triple barrel with some bluffs trying to fold what my hand looks like: a weak one pair. He thought about it fora long while and eventually sighed and checked.

There was much consternation and laughter at the table when I showed my quads.

I posted this hand on ShareMyPair for comment and analysis.

A new play, the Call/Raise

I didn't post the next hand on ShareMyPair for reasons that should become clear.

It happened a little while later I'm playing a bit more than thirty bigs at big blind 4k. Under the gun opens to 9k. I have him pegged as a very good loose aggro reg. I elect to call on the button with ace ten of spades, and the big blind comes along.

The flop is A96 with a spade so we have top pair mediocre kicker, backdoor nut flush draw, and a backdoor straight draw. The opener has been cbetting a lot, and using a small sizing so I'm expecting something in the region of 10k if he bets. He surprises me by throwing out four 5k chips and a 1k. The dealer says "Bet" and looks at me.

I'm squirming inside. I was perfectly happy to call 10k, but this is an unexpectedly big size and a lot of my stack. It won't commit me, but if I call things will most likely get even more uncomfortable on the turn. I might have to continue with the worst hand if I pick up some equity, or he might force me to fold the best hand. I want to fold, especially with the big blind to act, but I give myself a little while to think, and to listen to the small voice in my head.

"Don't worry about the big blind. He almost never has a hand, or decides to bluff here. He's nearly always folding. And if you fold a hand this strong to this bet the opener can exploit you by betting any two cards"

So I throw out the call. The dealer looks at the chips and announces

"Raise"

I sit there stony faced trying to work out what's happening. My eyes glance over at my opponent's bet and I realise what's happened.

Long term readers of this blog probably know I'm colour blind. It's led to a few misclicks live down the years, and that's what's happened here. Because my opponent has small chips in the back bigger ones in front I thought he'd pulled four 5k chips from the front and one 1k from the back. But it's actually the other way round: he bet one 5k and four 1k chips. So 9k, which I've now unintentionally raised to 21k.

The big blind quickly folds, and now it's the turn of my opponent to visibly squirm. He clearly doesn't want to fold, but eventually does.

As he does I can't help but wonder if this might be a better way to play this type of hand that my normal "call flop and pray he checks the turn" line.

Blue moon

Despite winning these two hands I did not end up winning the main event. I was very happy that Paul Romain did. Paul is a man who seems to recognise that tournament poker is a rollercoaster where the lows are mundane and the highs infrequent. Poker is a game that makes us blue a lot of the time, but ecstatic once every blue moon. It is those rare moments when it all goes right that keeps us plugging away and coming back when it always seems to be going wrong.


Well done to Scott McMillan who was the only Unibet ambassador to cash the main, and to Dean Clay who after final tabling the Irish Open last weekend went back to back final tabling this too. Despite the lack of success at the tables I think everyone had a great time. And David and I were not shy when it came to lashing new Chip Race patches on anyone who'd have one.


In the wry words of Simon Steedman:

"I'm so glad the Chip Race are now sponsoring Unibet".

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Irish Open? What Irish Open?

"There was no Irish Open this year. What there was was a 1k reentry sandwiched between a very badly run Party Poker Grand Prix, and a badly advertised Norwegian Poker festival with a pile of events we can't even play"

This was the summary of a recreational player I know a few days after the event, and I was weirdly glad and relieved to hear his unprompted words. I was starting to wonder if the underwhelming reaction I and my friends had to this year's event in Citywest was just a case of pro ennui (or worse yet, grumpy old man syndrome), but in fact most of my recreational friends seem similarly underwhelmed.

Every year since I started playing poker a decade ago, the most exciting day of my year has been the day I play the WSOP main event, followed pretty closely by the day I play the Irish Open. The fact that I've never cashed either were the two biggest blots on my record.

The Irish Open has always been a lot more fun than the WSOP. You see all the major Irish faces, and many of my favourite foreign ones. The atmosphere is always a little special.


I have no idea why, but this year I was a lot less excited going into the event, and once it got going it felt like "just another tournament". A little over 24 hours later I found myself on the bubble for the first time in my life, and having safely navigated it my feeling was one of mild relief.



"So this is cashing the Irish Open? Well done: you've just added another min cash to your long list of mediocre poker achievements".

That's more or less what my inner voice was saying. Having waited so long to cash the Irish Open, I was surprised I wasn't happier about finally having done so. I felt a bit more emotion when I busted shortly afterwards, failing to win a three way all (AK v AJ and 99) that would have given me a great chance to go deep, which I guess is what I really wanted a lot more than merely knocking the event off the list of events I've never cashed. But even there.....it was the least disappointed I'd ever felt after busting the Irish Open.

Don't get me wrong though: I still enjoyed the event. Even a C- Irish Open trumps most events at their best, but in comparison to last year and other great Irish Opens it all felt a bit meh. The side event structures left much to be desired, there were some organisational and personnel shortcomings, and some of the events definitely lacked atmosphere (the Ladies in particular seemed particularly bad: numbers were disappointing and most of my friends who played it said it was the most unpleasant and hostile event they'd ever played in), but these are minor quibbles. A more damning concern was raised by the sponsors Irish pro (and fair play to Padraig for calling a spade a spade rather than a company silver spoon), and his sentiments were echoed by several other prominent figures from the Irish poker scene.



I can't really say for sure why the atmosphere was lacking this year. It's a good venue, many of the familiar faces who can be relied on in the craic department were present and accounted for, and numbers were certainly good (in purely numerical terms, it was the biggest Irish Open ever counting reentries). Maybe it was the move from the traditional Easter weekend, which forced it into direct competition with Paddy's Day and Cheltenham. But it seemed to me that more could have been done to encourage and build a better atmosphere. As a Unibet ambassador I'm undoubtedly biased but I know for a fact that the Unibet live events staff leave no stone unturned when it comes to trying to improve the recreational player experience, and I know for a fact their players appreciate that and Unibet events are second to none in the craic department. To give them their due, Paddy Power did an amazing job for years creating a uniquely Irish party atmosphere. It's great that a major online site are now on board, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this event was very low on their list of priorities. If the sponsors are seeing it as the fifth (or whatever) biggest event they're involved with in the month before and after, this tends to trickle down and strip much of the prestige from the event.

It may have been the least atmosphere ever on an Irish Open final table day, but for our group it was pretty damn exciting (at least until they got five handed). My close friend Sameer Singh wasn't staying with me as he had done last year when he came 6th (he won a package that included a hotel room this time) but he was making the final table all over again. It says a lot that his rail (our group basically) made up over half the total rail.

David Lappin and I agreed to do some guest commentary with lead commentator Andrew Hedley, but we made it clear our interest in the event would die with Sami. Andrew was fun to commentate with and was commendably bubbly and enthusiastic after a long week. Most people agreed he did a wonderful job, although he did come in for some criticism on social media, at least some of it unfair. Several people just didn't seem to like the fact that the lead commentator wasn't Irish, but that's hardly his fault. We can't all be lucky enough to be born Irish: some of us have to make do with being Scottish.


In the end, Sami bust in 6th again, and we spent the rest of the day in celebration and consolation mode. Well done to both Ryan Mandara and Ferdia O'Connell who chopped. It was clear to me from watching the early going they were the ones to stop, unless Sami got a stack going. Also a big well done to my Chip Race cohost David Lappin, who followed up recent online successes (winning the Unibet Online Series overall leaderboard) with his biggest live score in quite a while when he was second in the JP Masters. David is a very busy man on many fronts these days: attentive Dad, Chip Race supremo, Twitcher, but he continues to work hard on his game and it's great to see him getting the results he deserves.

For years, I've been moaning about playing too much live, but gone on playing every event on the Irish calendar. This year I finally decided to vote with my feet and sit out the rest of the events in Citywest. I'm still enjoying live poker, the Aussie Million was brilliant, as were the Unibet events I've attended recently, and as I said, even a C- Irish Open is still going to be a lot of craic. I'm just hoping that maybe the organisers will have a hard look at this year's event and find ways to make it better again next year.

In the sad disillusioned blog I wrote after the worst ever Irish Open, I commented on the absence of Gary Clarke:

"Gary Clarke surprised me even more when he said he wasn't even trying to qualify. When you lose someone like Gary, a staunch supporter not only of Irish events but events all over Europe, you have to start asking yourself where it all went wrong. "

Well, Gary Clarke wasn't there this year either. In 2015 main sponsors Paddy Power had already made the decision to pull the plug on the Irish Open, and their lack of enthusiasm trickled down. You need sponsors who are genuinely committed to making an event great for recreational players (not just one that looks great on Instagram). Do whatever is needed to get the likes of Gary Clarke back for next year please.

Related content:

- Interview David and I did with Jason Glatzer


- Me on feature of High Roller, Lappin in commentary box

- Me commentating on the Main final table followed by Lappin (and at the end Espen)


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 but....um.......are 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?"
"Yes"
"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.


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