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. 

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.



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


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 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 you ok?"
"Ah, aren't you just the cutest thing ever!"
He went on beaming down at me, then the smile turned to confusion.
"Oh. I thought you were Hunter. That's the side of the bed he sleeps on"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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