Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lappin does Vegas!

Ok I'm going to let you in on a secret. When I first encountered David Lappin after he moved back from Connecticut to Dublin at the start of this decade, I wasn't sure whether I actually liked him or not. In fact, I was pretty sure I didn't. He initially came across as snobbish, arrogant, pretentious and dismissive, but as I got to know him better I realised he was also domineering, brash, sanctimonious, obnoxious and self important. The only things he had going for him were his spiky hair and his spikier sense of humour: he was tremendously entertaining at both the best and worst of times. Whether he was picking fights with other players at the table, berating dealers, insulting floor staff, dismissing would be conversationalists  as unworthy of his time or sniffily asking barmen in working class pubs to put the cricket on the TV, he was never dull. I guess this came across in my earliest accounts of him in this blog as people started asking me about him when I travelled in Europe as if he was some exotic species, the almost extinct perhaps even mythical Lappinus Dickus. When I came to the WSOP that year I was not just asked about him but frequently accused of having invented him to spice up my blog ("Nobody could be that big a dickhead"). 

I'm not sure how long it was before I actually started liking him as opposed to just enjoying his company. I'm similarly unclear as to whether that was a result of him mellowing with age (something which has certainly happened which I give a lot of the credit to his long term girlfriend Saron who was unquestionably a mellowing influence), whether I simply became more tolerant of his excesses and his intensity, or whether I realised that behind the brash facade lurked a teddy bear who just wanted to be understood. The rock on which our friendship was built was we both saw past each other's facade and realised we had way more in common than appearances suggested (our senses of humour are particularly in sync: away from others with just each other for company we indulge an outlandish escalationist humour that would shock anyone else). I realised this at a UKIPT in Edinburgh when Dave told a group of English pros that contrary to popular belief I was not an easy person to be friends with, as I demanded very high standards of my friends and had no problem moving on at the drop of a hat if they proved unable to live up to them. Knowing when to fold has always one of my strengths: whether it's a hand faced with a bad runout or a relationship that has gone toxic. Neither of us suffer fools gladly: we differ only in the way we deal with them (Dave will eviscerate them in an argument before moving on, whereas I tend to skip straight to the moving on part). We are both brutally honest in our communications with those closest to us: if you make us angry, we won't leave you in any doubt about the how and the why. Our early arguments were quite epic: others who witnessed them often thought they were witnessing the end rather than the forging of a friendship as we attempted to rip holes in each other's viewpoints and challenged each other on every point. But this was one of the keys to the friendship; the fact that we could rip the other to shreds, survey the wreckage, and come to a joint conclusion on what we could agree on and what we would have to agree to disagree on. In Edinburgh Dave explained this saying he didn't want friends who agree with him on every point: he wants friends who will continually challenge him, and try to convince him he's wrong. This is equally true of me: to onlookers one of our arguments might look like two egomaniacs trying to convince the other he's right, and in a sense that's exactly what is happening, but the point is what not who is right. We are both looking to be convinced by the arguments of the other, and once the argument has been settled, it matters not the slightest who initially held the position we both ended up in. All that matters is that we are now both convinced of it. 

This makes us natural collaborators and explains why the Chip Race has worked. We share a lot of beliefs and motivations, even if we work in very different ways. In this, we are lucky that our differences complement each other. Dave plans and prepares everything meticulously down to the last detail, not just scripting the entire show but also agonising over the exact sequence and wording of everything. I'm an improviser: I just want the broad strokes of what we are trying to do with each piece we record, and I prefer to wing it from there rather than stick to Dave's script word for word (which he insists on writing anyway). Dave's meticulous approach means we generally stay on point and rarely meander into the woolly half assed musings you get with a lot of poker content, while my ability to improvise on the spot helps to keep the interviews fresh and flowing (Dave frequently acknowledges that the best question of a lot of interviews come when I improvise and diverge from script) and also means that if an interviewee is uncomfortable or declines to answer a question I'm invariably the one who comes up with an alternative on the spot. And the bottom line is that when it comes to the finished product we both have such high standards that we would almost certainly drive anyone else who tried to collaborate with us insane. 

*********
Every year since I got to know Dave I left for Vegas, and found myself vaguely wondering what a Lappin in Vegas would look like. The more I got to know him the easier it was to imagine, to the point that even in his absence he brightened my Vegas experience more than many who were present, because I could imagine and laugh at how he would react to different absurd circumstances as they arose. 

This year I didn't have to imagine. Having enjoyed himself in Vegas late last year at the Unibet Open there, he decided to give the WSOP a try at last. For the first ten days of my trip we shared a small room in the Gold Coast. People who know us both predicted disaster but I wasn't worried, I've shared small rooms with David before and we can entertain each other without getting on each other's nerves, a kind of rapport we both share with very few others. 

We met up in Munich and got to the US border together. Half way through the queue we realised we hadn't filled our Customs Declarations form (no pens on the plane) so Dave scooted off to fill them up while I held our position. He came back with a few minor details he couldn't have known missing from mine. No biggie I thought, I'll just borrow a pen from the nice friendly Border agent and fill them in quickly. 

When we got to the head of the queue, the Border lady Beatriz seemed a little stressed out. 

"Are you family?"
We looked at each other before Lappin said "Kinda"
"So no. BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE SIR!"


Lappin didn't argue the point leaving me to deal with Beatriz. Her mood worsened when she saw my incomplete customs form. 

"WHY IS THIS INCOMPLETE?"
"No pens on the...."
She threw a pen at me. 
"BACK BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE!!!!"


As I filled up the form behind the safety of the yellow line I hoped that Lappin would find some way to charm this tough lady before I had to deal with her again. Whether he did or not, she seemed over the worst of it when I was summoned forward again, and when she wished me a nice stay in her country I felt all was right between us again. Our bags were waiting for us, and I was suddenly feeling good about my quickest entry into Vegas ever. But Beatriz would have the last laugh. She had clearly stamped or marked our forms in some way that ensured that when we presented them we were ushered aside and back, and told to follow a blue line that meandered its way into a hidden hall for more rigorous searches and interrogations. We found ourselves the only Caucasians in a line of Mexicans and Chinese (when a security guy went down the line to make sure everyone understood what was expected of them Lappin responded characteristically with a Trump impression that involved a derisive hand gesture and a "Take them away"). 

The Mexicans were travelling light: the Chinese not so much. Each of them seemed to have several hundred boxes containing the entire contents of a village, during the next two hours I found myself grateful for how good company Dave is. 

(Pic courtesy of ArtySmokes)

*******
Lappin is a man of many contradictions. One is that while he sees himself as a cultured cosmopolitan, a literary man who will cram his blogs with obscure Ancient Greek references, Beckett and a few words that will send you to a dictionary, he deals with everyone and anyone he meets irrespective of age gender or cultural background like they grew up in inner city Dublin. He uses the street language of the Liberties like it's the form of English the world understands. He will never have anything from the menu, he would never like something in a shop, he will always do it. He'll do a few of your eggs, he'll do a sausage, and he'll do your creamy chocolate buns. He's impervious to the looks of confusion this generates, and if you ask him whether he likes something, he'll tell you it's either deadly or brutal. 

The first time we went to TGIs, he decided to do a skillet, but not to do a drink. Skillets are a thirsty undertaking, so every time the lovely waitress came to check whether the skillet was deadly or brutal, she'd ask if she could bring him a drink, only to be told he had no desire to do a drink. When she finally brought the bill and asked us if everything was satisfactory, Lappin looked her square in the eye and did the deadest of pans telling her 
"Yeah but I can't believe you never brought me a drink". 

She didn't get the joke, but it was still funny as fuck. 

****
Lappin did his stack in his first bracelet event within an hour, but built a monster in the Monster. Unfortunately he did most of that 80 or so from the bubble, which left him no alternative but to stall into the money. This would upset a lot of people, but not Lappin. Nobody loves a good stall as much as our Liberties barrow boy, and he's better at it than anyone else will ever be. On this occasion though, third hand in, a Frenchman at the table was onto him and determined to thwart it. 

"You..you are stalling!!!"
A more faint hearted man might be upset by this turn of events, but not our Lappin. He saw it for what it was: the opportunity to stall even more in entertaining fashion.  He fixed our French foe with a baleful stare. 
"I don't know what you mean"
"You are stalling for the money"
"What is this word stalling? Is it a French word?"
"You are.....you are...."

More seconds wasted as our French villain struggled for alternative phrasing. 
"You are....fake tanking. You are a fake tanker"
"I can assure you I have a tricky decision. I have a big hand"
"I do not believe you. You are fake tanking"
"Dealer, can you show him my hand to show him I'm not faking?"

As an aside, Lappin had a jack and a four of different suits, but more importantly had the knowledge that the dealer couldn't show his hand to the French devil. After another good minute had been lost verifying this, Dave resumed his deliberations over what to do with Jack four off before deciding it was probably a fold. 

A few minutes later the Frenchman is in the horrors facing an all in from the only stack that covers him after a click war. A few seconds into his deliberations, Lappin is shaking his head in exasperation and pointing at his imaginary wrist watch. 

"What are you doing???"
Lappin now accuses the Frenchman of fake tanking, with predictably hilarious results that have the rest of the table in stitches. By the time the Frenchman has recovered his composure to be able to think straight again, the bubble is a lot nearer. 

The Gallic complaints continue long after he's folded his hand. Lappin eventually shoots him a grin:
"Look I was obviously joking. Everyone else at the table can see that. They were all laughing. I guess when God was handing out senses of humour you were in the line for nice teeth". 

******
These are but three of many of the tales I could tell you how Lappin brightened my first ten days in Vegas. I could tell you the one about Puggy Pearson's resemblance to a small boy and what his cigar looked like to Lappin in his banner in the Rio, and how Amarillo Slim fits into all of this, but it's probably for the best if I leave it to your imagination.  I will point out that by the end of the ten days all the waitresses in TGIs sounded like they were from the Liberties, they were keen exponents of deadpan humour, and every time I went in there after he had departed to do foods and people and a wedding in Italy, they asked me where that other Chip Race guy was. 

Say what you like about Lappin he does leave his mark every where he goes. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Scammer alert!


I'd only been playing full time about a year the first time I got scammed. A year of online poker is more than enough time to realize that no matter how much you love the game, long hours spent every day clicking buttons on a screen is an isolating experience. So professional players almost invariably end up cultivating the company of peers to chat idly with as they click, the virtual equivalent  of office coworkers to shoot the breeze with at the water cooler. Back then MSN was the virtual water cooler of choice (nowadays the market is split between Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to name but a few).   

My MSN contacts list consisted mainly of other full time players who grinded the same hours as me. It gradually grew, and one addition was a young Irish player Dan who had an impressive resume of online scores, a large presence on the Irish poker forum at Boards.ie, and something of a cult following among Irish poker fans as "the next big thing". As such, I was somewhat flattered that he thought I was "worthy" of a contact request. 

Our early chats were nothing out of the ordinary. Some strategy discussion, a lot of complaining about bad beats (such behaviour was tolerated more back in the day), and other forms of idle breeze shooting. He was (he said) chasing supernova and racking up considerable volume to get there (he was on at all hours of the day and night). For those who don't know what that is, it's a rewards programme that confers (or did back then) substantial monetary rewards at the end of the year for high levels of volume played over the year. It was basically an all or nothing deal where you get a significant lump sum for playing a certain volume, and nothing if you come up just short. 

It wasn't unusual for guys in the final sprint towards the supernova finish line to lose money faster than they could deposit it on Stars. This was the situation Dan said he was in, so on a day where he bust his account having deposited the maximum for the day, he started asking if I could send him a few hundred bucks to tide him over. I started doing so on the understanding that once the year was over and he hit Supernova, it would all be sent back. His "tab" mounted to several thousand dollars by year end, but all was well when he not only sent it all back but with a small amount of vig as thanks. 

It wasn't long before the requests for relatively small amounts to tide him over to the next deposit period started again. While the previous sweat of having a significant chunk of my operating capital resting in another person's account had not been without worry, the fact that it had all been repaid and more made it seem churlish to deny these new requests. Once again the tab grew to a considerable portion of my bankroll at the time (roughly 30%). 

The first third party indication that all was not as it seemed came when I was playing live in the Sporting Emporium one night. Another player at the table took a call, then made one to a friend instructing him "Transfer 5k to Dan on Stars, but first make sure he has sent us 5250 on the other site". After striking up a conversation in which I admitted to having overheard this exchange, the other player confirmed to me that we were speaking about the same Dan. He also indicated he had strong reason to believe Dan was operating some sort of pyramid scheme or scam given his frequent pressing need to move money from one site to another bypassing the normal methods of so doing, but that given Dan's willingness to pay a 5% transaction fee and in the absence of any clear proof of his suspicions, he figured it best to look the other way. When I admitted that Dan owed me a significant portion of my bankroll, he advised doing everything I could to recover it, short of exposing him publicly. He made the very convincing argument that once a guy is exposed, he has nothing further to fear or lose, and thus loses any incentive to make good on his debts. 

I set about pressing Dan on the matter. He started to be more elusive online, and when I did get him there were various assurances that he was waiting for a cheque to clear and then would pay. He finally admitted to having financial issues, but had secured a job with Full Tilt to steady the ship. This in itself seemed reassuring for reasons beyond a mere regular pay cheque. A major site would surely have done some sort of security background checks before taking someone on to investigate other players for fraud, right? (This view seemed more credible back then pre Black Friday, before Full Tilt itself was shut down by the FBI and denounced as a massive Ponzi scheme). 

Needless to say, Dan didn't last long at Full Tilt, he was exposed online as a scammer, disappeared, leaving me and several other hapless debtors on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars collectively. For the next year I struggled through my first major online downswing and the banking share collapse, and came perilously close to bust. I spent the next year under rolled desperately grinding sit n goes barely making ends meet. Beyond the money Dan took from me, he also took away much of my future earnings potential at a time when my skill edge over the average opponent was at a peak, by forcing me to grind lower to avoid going bust. All I got in return was massively elevated stress levels, and the fear that the last day of the month when I would have to tell Mrs Doke there wasn't enough money to pay the bills would come. 

Thankfully, it never did. 

******
The second time I got scammed, it was someone I considered a close friend. Max Heinzelmann was already one of the best known online players in the world when he flew to Vegas on his 21st birthday. A few days later he played one of the most famous hands of all time against Shaun Deeb. That night we laughed about the hand.



Max came second in back to back EPTs. Not just any old EPT either: Berlin and San Remo, two of the biggest and most prestigious. He was to all appearances a massively successful player. He was also a very nice guy, and I enjoyed my time in his company. I was also a little flattered that someone of his stature less than half my age seemed to enjoy mine. 

He bought pieces of me in tournaments, we swapped when we played the same events, we sometimes talked hands. We went to dinner, we drank beer together, I considered him a pretty close friend. He often sought advice on general life issues, and he often railed me on online final tables. He railed me the night I chopped Super Tuesday, and seemed thrilled for me. We chatted for over an hour after it was over. He asked if I was going to a forthcoming EPT. I was. He said he would be there too, but had too much sterling so maybe I'd take some if I needed some. I said I'd take 3k and shipped him the money on Stars there and then. 

He wasn't at the next EPT. When I contacted him a little annoyed saying I was basically cashless in London, he apologised profusely saying he had a last minute health issue and offered to try to get one of the other Germans give me the cash. After hearing no more from him I managed to get an English friend to give me a loan til I got home. 

Max said he'd see me at the next UKIPT, which was a little odd as he had stopped travelling for them since getting a bit too big for UKIPTs. But I thought maybe he just wanted to socialise with his many UK friends. I saw him next in Vienna at an EPT, and we went out to dinner with two English pros. Not wanting to embarrass him in front of mutual friends, I was hoping to ask him about the money in private if we got a minute alone. We didn't. What we did end up doing, at his suggestion, was credit card roulette for the bill. I obviously lost (as I have on all eight other occasions I've degenned) but I couldn't help but notice two things. When Max pulled out his wallet, there was a whole lot of credit cards but not a single note, and he seemed to be sweating the outcome a lot more than you'd expect. For the first time I started to wonder if Max even had the money. 

I tried to catch him at tournament breaks but he proved elusive. When I got home I sent him some private messages. He eventually responded saying he was having problems withdrawing from Stars. When I told him I was fine with him just transferring the money back, he said he had transfer limit issues. I continued to press him on and off until I was contacted by a close English friend who told me Max was about to be publicly exposed as a scammer. My friend had managed to get back the money he was owed by threatening to expose him, but had been tipped off that another friend was about to go public. 

Once poker players recognise a scammer, they know it's only a matter of time before that person is exposed as such. They also know that as soon as that happens the chances of ever retrieving any money owed dramatically diminishes and often disappears. So they are incentivised not to expose that person at least until they are repaid themselves. But most poker players have enough integrity to want to limit the prospects of anyone else being scammed. So what tends to happen is that word spreads through the grapevine not to lend money to so and so, until inevitably someone does go public. 

Most scammers simply disappear into the cyber ether once exposed. Max didn't. He responded to a thread on 2+2 with what looked like full disclosure, with a full list of the people he owed, and assurances that he would repay everyone, but needed time. He contacted me privately admitting to gambling addiction but assuring me he would find some way to repay me. 

He remained in contact every few weeks saying he was still working on it. In his final message to me, he assured me the matter would be resolved within a few weeks. For once, he was true to his word: the matter was resolved, but not in the way any of us would have wanted. I woke up in Vegas to reports that Max's life had ended in tragedy

*******
The only good thing about being scammed is you are more likely to recognise the warning signs if and when they arise in future. At an EPT in Berlin, I met a young Canadian online phenom when I went to dinner with an American friend. I knew he'd won the Sunday Millions and generally beasted online, and I'd heard he crushed high stakes live PLO. He was charming and engaging, and seemed genuinely happy to meet SlowDoke. He told me a great Phil Hellmuth story that I retold in a Bluff column. We hung out again at EPT Prague, where he was charming and complimentary. 

He contacted me online shortly afterwards selling for the Aussie Millions High Roller. I bought a piece and sent him the money on Stars. He didn't cash. 

A few weeks later he contacted me again saying he was coming to Dublin for the EPT and would be selling again for High Rollers. I offered to buy a piece. He asked for the money online. I told him I'd send nearer the date. He came back saying he would need cash in Dublin. I said I could pay him that way. He said he needed more than what I would owe him. A lot more. I said we could do that if he sent me the money on Stars. 

He never showed up in Dublin, saying he had changed his mind and was grinding high stakes live cash in Canada. He asked if I could give the high roller buyin to a horse of his. I said I could do that if he sent Stars first. He said he would but never did. By now alarm bells had gone off in my head as I replayed our encounters in my mind. His clear interest when he was told who I was when we were first introduced in Berlin. The compliments about my game that flowed easily when we hung out in Prague. The constant stroking of my ego when we chatted online. The casual name dropping of ballers he was supposedly friends with and supposedly swapped with in high rollers. There was now sufficient doubt in my mind that I resolved never to lend or transfer a cent to him unless he transferred first.

Shortly after EPT Dublin he was exposed as a scammer. When I told a friend who had hung out with us in Prague, he expressed zero surprise. 

"I felt like he was grooming you in Prague". 

*******

Non poker friends find it impossible to fathom that poker players (who in their minds make their lives from deception) are so willing to lend and transfer each other vast sums on trust. Poker players, and in particular online poker players, understand it a lot better. Money is more than just currency to a poker player: it's a tool of the trade. Lose all your money and you also lose your ability to win more. You lose your livelihood. Even short term cash flow issues can basically render you unemployed. All too familiar with downswings and deposit limits, they are naturally sympathetic to a fellow pro who needs a temporary transfer to stay in the game. Every time they do such a transfer, or hand over cash to a travelling pro with most of his net worth online (as my friend did to me in London when Max didn't show), they understand there's a risk greater than zero they'll never see that money again. They take that risk out of sympathy. 

That sympathy often continues even past the point the scammer is exposed. Poker is a form of plus Ev gambling surrounded by a world of degenerate gambling. Poker players are exposed to temptation all the time and even if they rarely or never succumb themselves they often feel sympathy for those who do. Scammers in poker almost never set out deliberately to be one, in the same way that very few people shoot up heroin for the first time already resolved to become a junkie. One bad decision leads to another and it just kinda ends up that way. Even now, I feel a lot of sympathy for Max and a palpable sadness at the tragic end to his story, and I even feel a tinge of sympathy for Dan, sentenced to hide in the shadows from the many people he wronged. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Twenty thousand pairs of appalled eyeballs

Malta and me

I often get asked how so much of what used to be called The Firm in Irish poker circles ended up living in Malta. The answer is a banal chain of events leading to a strange outcome. It started with David Lappin who had been living with Daragh Davey deciding to move out to move in with his girlfriend Saron. Needing a new flat mate, Daragh turned to another Firmy Jaymo who wanted to move out of his parents down the country in a place called Drumlish, the existence of which has never been satisfactorily proven (to me at least). Jaymo jumped at the chance, but not before he went to Malta on a lads' holiday. He liked the place so much he decided to stay. When he informed Daragh, he decided it would be easier just to move in with Jaymo in Malta, so he did that. Some time later David and Saron visited on holiday, and also liked the place so much they decided to stay. 

All of which means that whenever I visit Malta these days I feel more at home at least in a poker sense than I do in Ireland since so many of my closest friends moved. I had a little over a week at home after my Montreal trip, but made pretty good use of it winning a Powerfest, my 8th PocketFives Triple Crown, and having my most profitable week online in quite a while. So I went to Malta in high spirits. 

72o and me

I arrived in the Intercontinental Hotel shortly after midnight on the Monday. A cash game featuring other Unibet ambassadors was in full flow. Having only got out of bed at 4 pm after a long Sunday grind, I was wide awake and hopped in. I only remember playing a total of three hands in three hours (live cash is fun!) but escaped with a small profit, mainly as a result of winning one of those hands with 72o (the 72 game was in effect). 

Veni and me

Tuesday kicked off with a team meeting and a drawing of partners for the tag team event. The concept was to pair a poker ambassador with an Esports player. The draw was random and I have to admit I don't know enough about the world of Esports to know who my partner Veni was, but my close buddy from that world and fellow ambassador Alan Widmann (who I was quite open about wanting to be paired with: I may have even asked to rig the draw) assured me he was a very big deal. He may also have had a word with Veni about me, as Veni was noticeably more upbeat about our prospects after I saw him chatting to Alan :)

As it happened, we were the second team eliminated. A considerable consolation was that for the first time in quite a while in a team event I wasn't the one to bust our team, meaning Veni was the one with the sad guilty face in the photo afterwards. 


The event was won by my study buddy Daiva and her partner STPeach. Diligent as ever, Daiva made the effort to bond with and coach her partner (a total newb to poker), and was rewarded by an unexpectedly competent performance by her teammate. Their victory was both popular and deserved. 




DSO and Vendetta in Valletta

I jumped straight into the DSO, and busted with AKs (losing to KJs) three from the money to finish a long day feeling pretty tired. I therefore decided to take Thursday off and play 1B instead. I did rail the "grudge" headsup match between Ian Simpson and David Lappin for the full ninety minutes, and got to witness a couple of very interesting hands we may look at more closely on the Chip Race. It was a best of three which Ian ended up winning conclusively two nil. Ian is often accused of being a luckbox but on this occasion he brought a well thought out game plan which he executed with his A game and thoroughly deserved his victory. David had the edge early on deep stacked in both matches, which encouraged him to stick to a smallball strategy, which Ian countered with a strategy that included bloating pots with a depolarised threebet range that then allowed him to proceed as the preflop aggressor postflop more often than not. David made one significant postflop mistake which probably cost him the first game (and maybe the match) which we will be analysing in a forthcoming Chip Race strategy segment with former headsup specialist Sameer Singh. 
After he'd lost the first game, I couldn't resist the temptation to be a backseat driver and advised David to start four betting more. He immediately pulled out his first four bet of the match (albeit with aces) but also his last. He may have made one smallish postflop error in the second game, but overall played very well too even if I didn't fully agree with the preflop strategy he chose to stick with. 



I went to the Welcome Party that night and had fun chatting with some of the qualifiers that included a charming Belgian lady Ann-Roos who was there with her mother, and Steve Dunnett. There was also time for a catchup with other friends from home who relocated to Malta, Tony and Gillian Baitson. 

Main Event and Queen Rules

Late on Friday in the main event I was moved to the feature table short stacked. An early double (tens versus nines) left me healthier, and then I played a strange hand against Jamie Munro where I was sufficiently bamboozled by Jamie's unorthodox sizing on all the streets that I almost talked myself into a hero river call that would have ended my tournament there and then. I did eventually find the fold after turning away from the dark site back to game theory and reminding myself I was at the bottom of my range facing an overbet. 

After bagging for the night, I railed Daiva in the Ladies event which she obviously final tabled and cashed (when does she not in Ladies events?), and my new Belgian friend Ann Roos. They both made four handed, alongside that other Ladies perennial form horse Dehlia De Jong, and Daiva's partner from the team event Lisa (STPeach) who completed a remarkable double by cashing this too. In the end Ann Roos was thrilled to beat Dehlia headsup (Daiva finishing third) to top off another enormously successful Ladies event played in an atmosphere of maximum fun.
 

Day 2

By now the late nights of drinking and socialising were catching up on me and I almost overslept. I made it to my seat for day 2 with seconds to spare.  Day twos when you come back sub 20 bigs boil down to patiently waiting for good shove spots, and hoping you win the first all in. I executed the first part perfectly but not the second: my tens had only to fade an ace or a jack and did so until the river, meaning I was eliminated about twenty from the money.  I decided that was it for me on the live poker front this trip, volunteering to relieve David Vanderheyden in the commentary box so he could go to the players party. I got to commentate with Kat Arnsby (which is always fun), Jack Sinclair (a new thrill for me: his analysis was top notch and I strongly advise anyone wanting to improve their late stage tourney game to give it a listen) and of course Lappin. We all made a late appearance at the party where I was chatting to Spanish based Irish exile Darren McCarthy (who I'd previously run into at the headsup and who decided to stay on and play the main event after coming second in the DSO), Chap In A Chair and his lovely wife Gudrun, and streaming and casting giants like my buddy Alan and Koolein kept bringing me whiskey (at one point I was holding three). 

Dirty Dancing

The night ended rather surreally with me deciding to catch the 3 am bus with Kat. She went to say her goodbyes to Lappin. It turns out Lappin has a very different way of saying goodbye to any non deviant, as the short two second video I serendipitously shot proves. To be honest I was so drunk and tired I barely remember shooting it, but when I met David for brunch the next day he said Kat warned him I'd filmed something. 

Once I'd found it on my phone I couldn't but tweet it (be rude not to) and by the time we finished brunch it had racked up its first thousand views. It continued to garner attention, most of it decidedly horrified, so that by the following morning as I left for the airport it had been witnessed by 7k traumatised eyeball pairs. As I was getting ready to board, STPeach retweeted to her 150k followers, and it really took off, so that by the time I touched down back home in Dublin it had gyrated its borrow past twenty thousand pairs of appalled eyeballs. If only it was that easy to promote the Chip Race. 


As ever at Unibet events, I had so much fun I was drained by the end, so I'm looking forward to four weeks at home finalising my preparation for this year's WSOP. As usual I will be putting together a package that people can invest in if they so wish (look for it soon on my Twitter). The plan for those four weeks is to put in decent volume online, do a lot of study, and get myself into as good a physical shape as possible for Vegas. 

There's a decent chance this will be my last ever WSOP campaign, so I'd like to go out with a bang. Or better yet, a bracelet. 

If you fancy a sweat in my WSOP this year, I'm selling 30% of myself in selected events. Full details here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Uber and out

******** 

Leroy was a large gentleman of colour in more ways than one. His language and his stream of consciousness added much colour to our ride from the Gold Coast to the house in the wee small hours. 

"Man the crazies are out tonight. A 350 pound guy in a G string and nothing else tried to get in my car. Not happening buddy I told him. He wasn't happy. A G string. Dude was fat fat and fat. Have some self respect buddy. That's what wrong with this country. Everyone thinks they can just do whatever the hell they like. And maybe they can. But not in my car. No way buddy. Move that G string along buddy. Where you from? Ireland? Where's that? Is it near Poland? Had a Polish guy in the car earlier. He seemed normal but who knows. Dude could be a serial killer for all I know. Didn't say much"


*********
Al was the oldest driver I had in Vegas this summer. At first he seemed little reticent to talk about himself but once he got going it was clear he had lived a rich tapestry. Born to a small farm in a red state, he said his options there were farming, tobacco or furniture, and he didn't fancy any of them. So he did what any poor boy in the States who wanted to better himself did back then: joined the military.  He was clear in his objective: minimum service for maximum education. A couple of Vietnam tours later his vision was more muddled. 

"I didn't believe in the war. It was BS. We had no business being there. But I had so many friends there, and I was one of their best communications guys, so they kept wanting me to go back. They offered more. They'd teach me computing which was just starting and seemed like the future to me. In the end I did 4 tours and trained some guys back here. I became a computing expert. I wanted to leave but they really wanted me to stay. I ended up staying for 20 years I finally left to start my own tech start up. We sold that in 2004 for retiring money. I moved back home but it was no place for my wife. She's Chinese and they just would never accept her there. So we moved here. I got bored doing nothing so I started doing this. I'm still kinda bored though so I'm probably buying into a new startup. "

When I complimented him on his drive and work ethic he shrugged. 

"My Dad is 97 and still works the farm. My Grandad lived to 103 and worked til the day he died.  In my family, we die with our boots on"

********
Chi collected me from Harrahs after some confusion. I refuse to go the Asian driver stereotype route: I accept the app misdirected him to the Venetian. His mission was to get me to the airport to collect Mrs Doke. He didn't talk much, we didn't talk much, but once he learned the mission he offered above and beyond, volunteering to stay and wait while I collected her. As luck would have I spotted her distinctive shouty shape the instant I entered the terminal, and she had already collected her bags, so I was able to whisk her straight to the waiting car, something which seemed to impress her more then anything else I've done in three decades of marriage. She's a lady who appreciates a good whisking. 

*******
Clay told me straight out of the gate that he was a Mormon. I immediately feared a conversion was about to be attempted, but it seems more of a Let's Just Get It Out There admission. He told me he went back to Salt Lake City one week out of every month. He told me how long it took to drive (way less than I'd have guessed: my American geography is hazy). He said it was very different there. 

I believed hm.

*********
Kolo told us he was from Africa originally. He talked like an African, in wild swoops of pidgin brilliance. 

"Oh Ya I am from Africa. It is great but I cannot be there. That's Andre Agassi's house. He play the tennis but no more. They get nothing. I think wrong gate. And now we have Donald Trump. Oh my God. What is this? Who is this man? My friends say he is joke when they see him. He is no joke I say. The people they are stupid. He will win because they are stupid and they like stupid. They don't want the woman in charge. The smart woman. They want the stupid. So stupid. He just want his name in big letters on buildings. His big stupid face on the poster and the TV. Nothing else in his brain like an African leader. I am the Muslim. But I don't tell people here. They don't understand. And I am not the serious Muslim. But Trump. He is the serious clown nightmare"

****
German was my last Uber driver n Vegas this summer. His name confused me. He didn't look like a German (he was an Eddie Murphy lookalike). 

He seemed stressed. No small talk with German, all business. Which terminal? How should I know? Which airline? Virgin Atlantic. 

His stress levels grew when he brought me to the Virgin America terminal, which as it happens is different from the Virgin Atlantic one.  I wasn't stressed, I told him I had lots of time. But he was still stressed. How were they different terminals? I know I said, it's Virgin on the ridiculous. Don't think he got that pun, or if he did, didn't appreciate it. 

I repeated I had loads of time as he zigzagged lanes. I complimented his driving. That seemed to help. He almost smiled. Then he remembered he was German, and Germans don't smile on the job. He got me there with plenty of time to spare.

Obviously. 

German. 

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".

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