Leading from the front, getting it in behind

Experience has taught me at least one thing: it always take me a while to re-adjust to playing live in Ireland after Vegas.

Doke's PocketFives Poker Player Profile

Click image above to check out my PocketFives player profile

Do you wanna be in my gang, my gang?

As you may have read elsewhere, I've been appointed the new Team Irish Eyes Poker captain. Click image above to find out more.

The end of the dream.....for now

Maybe I should stop writing mid tournament blogs as it never seems to end well.

Friday, October 14, 2016

UKIPT Memories

Season 1

December 2009. Galway. Nobody is really too sure what this UKIPT thing is. As far as we are concerned, we are playing the IPC (Irish Poker championship). The first ever UKIPT is won by an Irishman (Parky) and I chop the very first UKIPT cup and collect my first and only UKIPT trophy.

February 2010. Over 500 runners in Manchester. Looking like this new tour is taking off. Rooming with Nicky Power and finding out he snores, but nothing like Mick McCluskey (but then who does?). Getting peer pressured into credit card roulette and maintaining my perfect Losing record (one which continued afterwards to this day). My excuse to Mrs Doke ("Nicky made me do it") resulted in her somehow locating Nicky Power's number within minutes and texting him a piece of her mind.  I brick everything. Jogging laps around a big ghoulish Victorian building. Being told later it was Strangeways. Wondering what any watching guards made of me lapping the joint.

April 2010. Less than 400 runners in Coventry. Maybe this tour isn't taking off after all. One of the worst trips of my poker life: I brick the main, the sides are ridiculously withered, I'm stuck at the venue between a motorway and an industrial estate all week waiting for a roommate who never shows up, living on pizza, and to top it all I almost get stabbed one night coming back with my pizza. Sharing a cab to the airport with Toby Stone and telling him better side events needed after he asks what needs to be done to get the tour off the ground.

May 2010. Enjoyed Coventry and Manchester so little I decided to kick my new UKIPT habit, at least the UK legs. But I relented and ended up going to Nottingham. Judging from the blog I wrote back then, I was still hating this new tour. A fact not helped by bricking everything, and sharing a room with world champion snorer Mick McCluskey.

June 2010. Killarney. I wasn't there. I was in Vegas, in a room in the Gold Coast with Rob Taylor, watching as his then girlfriend (and now wife) Cat went deep yet again (she'd already final tabled Galway). There was another Irish winner, Femi Fakinle, sadly no longer with us. RIP Femi.

I stuck to my guns this time and didn't travel for the next two legs, Brighton and Edinburgh.  So Dublin in September was my next stop. My abysmal UKIPT record continued as I bricked everything. Meeting Tom "Jabracada" Hall for the first time and getting knocked out of the main by him. Some lad that nobody seemed to know anything about other than that he worked for Full Tilt ended up winning the main event. Max Silver, that was his name. Wonder what ever happened to him.

I skip the last leg of the first year in London.

Season 2

I finally break my main event duck with a 13th in the first main event of Season 2, in Galway. Inclement weather conditions mean Stars have to delay the start by a whole day. To prevent rioting among those who had made it there, they put on a 10k freeroll. I get knocked out of this again by Jabra, who asks "Are you SlowDoke?" before he shoves. Stars have decided the best way to get this fledgeling tour off the ground is to start televising it, so the TV cameras are there 2 tables out as I tell Andy Grimasson on my right that the lad who 4 bet shoved against the polite Canadian on my left (some lad called Nick Abou Risk who also worked for Full Tilt: what ever happened to him?) had done so blind. Nick ends up winning. Another Nick (Wealthall) ends up making a lifelong enemy of Mrs Doke when he compares my appearance to that of a badger on national TV. 

With my first main event cash under my belt, I was encouraged to travel to Nottingham a couple of months later for the next leg. By now both the tour and my record in main events was getting into its stride. I notched up my second main event cash, as records were broken with over 1000 runners.

I failed to make it three cashes in a row in Manchester, but did final table the cup. At the next stop in Cork I not only bricked everything but managed to bust up my ribs (the result of a rather ungraceful attempt at a swan dive down the ramp in the hotel.

Cashing the first events put me in contention for the new UKIPT leaderboard. Bricking Cork made chasing that a forlorn hope, so I skipped the rest of the season except for Dublin. Having breakfast on day 2 with one of the overnight chipleaders Breifne. Giving him some tips on how to play his stack, then discovering to my horror he was on my table. Bricking everything again.

Season 3

Returning to Galway for the first stop of the season. Bricking everything again. Railing the blog reports of an all Irish headsup battle between Mully and Gilly on the train back to Dublin.

Skipping the next one in Nottingham. To Citywest next for Dublin. Bricking everything again but railing Smidge who we'd recently started staking on the final table. Fergal telling me there was a Online qualifier leaderboard with a prize for whoever won the most UKIPT seats this season (first I'd heard of it). Given that I hadn't bothered playing any satellites for Nottingham, I'd effectively given Fergal a headstart, but I had a whole season to try to catch him so...

Deciding to go to Newcastle because it was always my favourite GUKPT stop and I now have the additional Online Qualifier leaderboard incentive. Bricking everything again. Listening to Lappin complain when the steakhouse refused to do his steak blue. Watching Lappin wheeze and whine his way up the hills when we went running. Chatting to Martin Mulsow about long barren live spells on the walk back to the hotel. Getting messages from Lappin entreating me to come rail him on the final table of a turbo side event. Eventually relenting and walking back up the hill, only to find him sulking after busting. Trying to cheer him up. Quickly shutting up when it became apparent that anything I might say would be seen as deeply unhelpful.

Being pleasantly surprised at how pleasant Bristol (somewhere I'd never been before) was in November. Ending the longest barren cashless spell of my career by final tabling the cup yet again, and getting a tweet from Lappin that read "Congrats to @daraokearney! Your Henson mob no longer looks like that of someone who died in July."

Finally making it to Edinburgh for a UKIPT in January 2013. Visiting Camera Obscura with Lappin and Rob. 

Late night dining with Jabra, Kevin Williams, Jamie Burland and Hefs. Trudging around in the snow on the last day with a very unimpressed Lappin.

Notching up my third main event cash the following month in Cork. Recovering from being crippled early to make a deep run, before busting in 27th.

Railing another Firm final table in the form of Nick Newport.

Heading to London for the last stop of the season, and getting my fourth main event cash (18th this time). Eating in a Greek resturant with Lappin, Chris Dowling and Mark Smyth. Attending the opening of the Hippodrome.

Almost not making it there after we made the mistake of assuming the London born Daragh Davey would be a good man to rely on for navigation. Plotting with Lappin to wrestle control of the map back from him after it became clear he hadn't a notion. Eating with Chihao while Lappin complained about how long it took to cook my well done steak. Watching Daragh, David and Chi play Open Face Chinese with Jesse May. Getting my UKIPT Online Qualifier of the Year trophy from Kirsty.

Season 4 (also known as the Neverending Season)

Heading to Spain for a UKIPT (this makes sense how?). Marbella to be exact. Getting my 5th main event cash (19th). Meeting Ludovic Geilich (who won) for the first time. Thinking he was Northern Irish at first because of the accent and the fact he seemed to know me. Hearing someone at the party  was talking about me as "never shutting up at the table" (turns out they were mixing me up with Dave Masters). Realising for the first time that Willie and Dode Eliot who I knew independently were brothers, and hanging out with them. Complaining to Nick O'Hara how bad the local dealers were and being told they would do everything they could to use EPT dealers the next time. Driving around the hills on the last day there with Willie Eliot and Ian LeBruce.

Heading to Galway to play the so-called "Ireland v England" headsup challenge, a nebulous Fintan Gavin concept, along with Daragh Davey and David Lappin, lured there in part by Fintan offering us free accommodation.

Being told by Fintan when we get there "now it's not 5 Star, lads" and discovering what he meant by that was a place in Galway where they stick refugees. Losing my match to Jake Cody and heading back to Dublin rather than spending any more time in the hostel. Being driven back a week later dog tired after no sleep having spent the previous night playing and chopping Super Tuesday. Busting the biggest ever UKIPT in Ireland on day one but railing Daragh Davey all the way to the final table. Commentating on the livestream with Jesse May and Emmet Kennedy. Mick McCluskey befriending Isildur. Falling asleep in the passenger seat on the drive home, giving driver Nick Newport a sneaky photo op that became his Stars avatar.

Heading to London two months later for UKIPT/EPT. Staying in the pricey but kinda rubbish Russell hotel with all the lads.

Railing Clayton Mooney on the final table of the London Cup. And railing late night drunken Open Faced Chinese with the lads back at the hotel.

Sunday grinding in a hotel room so crowded that Lappin went off to grind sitting in the actual bath in the bathroom.

Later that month heading to the Isle of Man. Playing a turbo side event with a chatty Canadian reg who went around the table asking everyone their screen name, except me, presumably skipped on the basis that old guys don't play online (after I bust, he heard someone refer to me as Doke and the penny dropped, as he told me "You play....." and after a long pause "quite well"). Having a really bad start in the main and fearing the worst when I got moved to a table from Hell with firaldo, Nitsche, and Daniel Tighe. Realising Firaldo thought I was some random local businessman and then taking three large chunks from his stack to end the day as chipleader. Laughing my ass off when I got back to the hotel to find that he tweeted me to say "did not realise this was you....  Oh dear lol". Securing another main event cash (39th).

Securing another main event cash later that month in Nottingham (66th this time). Pleasantly chatting with my neighbour, an affable Cockney geezer. Phil Baker commenting on this photo that Russell looks like he is going to prison bitch me.

Heading to Edinburgh a couple of months later and coming away with only my smallest UKIPT cash ever (a min cash in a 100 quid side). The main event had a considerable overlay (this was the season of the overlays, I think this might have been the fourth in a row). Stars staff joking it was all my fault (by now I was runaway leader defending my Online Qualifier of the Year crown). Going for dinner with various Firmies, Dermot Blain and Liv Boeree.

Playing in the Mansion House a month later in what I guess is my favourite ever UKIPT. Great venue, great atmosphere, great banter. Tim Davie attempting to woo my daughter Fiona on Twitter.  Making two side event final tables and cashing the main. Being railed by Bucko and Cookie Jar on one of them while Cookie Jar played the Sunday Million on my phone (which he was convinced had superluck powers). Sending Dave Curtis a message to say one of the lads (Kevin Killeen) would be in late because his Mammy was making him do chores, so please put his stack out at the last possible minute. Railing Kevin Killeen all the way to the title surrounded by some rowdy lads in onesies.

Mammy Torino proudly shouting "Go on my son". All hell breaking lose and pints being flung into the air as Kevin sealed the win.

Bricking everything in Nottingham in May and spending 48 hours in bed as ill as I have ever been. Crawling out of my sick bed to go do some livestream commentary with Nick Wealthall as Willie Eliot went into the final table with a commanding chiplead. Getting there just in time to see Willie bust and then not letting on as I went back in time to the (time delayed) livestream.

Heading to Marbella the following month. Bricking the main but cashing two side events. Having a double birthday party with Nick Newport.

Going back to the Isle of Man (this really felt like two seasons rolled into one) with the Online Qualifier leaderboard wrapped up and in contention for the UKIPT leaderboard. Dropping out of contention in the latter as I bricked everything and Daragh Davey, Max Silver and TomasRa picked up points. Playing the first ever mixed chess/poker event with my friend Almira.

Heading straight from the Isle of Man to London for the last stop of the neverending season. Lappin finding us an amazing gaffe in Hackney which acted as our base for the last two weeks. Kevin complaining about the length of the walk ("Ah me legs..."). Daragh Davey clinching the UKIPT leaderboard. The three of us cursing Dave Curtis for extending the UKIPT side events into a second week, forcing us leaderboard chasers into a sick grind. Staying up all night with Lappin trying to work out fundamental Deuces Wild strategy (the only event I managed to cash). Going for dinner with Daiva and Marc Convey.

Contrasting that classy dining experience with Lappin's late night raids to Chicken Cottage...

....and being on hand to record his Elvis Presley late night dining.

Railing Daragh to his leaderboard win and Daiva to her Ladies event final table.

Collecting my second UKIPT Online Qualifier trophy and being told by Stars staff there wouldn't be a third ("We don't see the point if you are going to just win it every year"). The trip lasting so long that Daragh was turning into a Cockney geezer by the end of it, confusing us with talk of razzers. Spending the last night eating steak with Ian Simpson in the Hippodrome before walking to Liverpool Street for our train to the airport. Trying to convince Lappin on the walk that Tommy Lee really does have a Starbucks in his house. Announcing my retirement from UKIPTs after I got home.

Season 5

Skipping the first five stops before coming out of retirement to play Bristol as I like the place and my prize for winning Qualifier of the Year was one package so I chose Bristol. Trying to keep a straight face as Bertie Bayley asks another young guy at the table if he is SlowDoke online (he figured it out eventually). Cracking up laughing as Marc Convey wound Lappin up more than he had ever been wound up before by referring to him on the blog as my sidekick. Bricking everything so lots of bustout icecreams with the lads.

Gareth Chantler exploiting my kindly nature in getting me to agree to bring a bag of his back to Dublin. Almost fainting when I saw the size of it after he wheeled it into the hotel. Cursing him loudly as I spent a couple of hours and 55 quid in surcharges at the airport to get it on the plane.

Heading back to the Isle of Man for the last ever UKIPT there. Christin driving us around the island.

Getting three handed in a side event with two German lads who didn't realise I could speak German or understand ICM. Making the final table of the High Roller that included Liv Boeree and Chris Moneymaker, and getting three handed with Adam Owen and Daragh.

Lappin claiming the fact that he knocked Miss Finland out of the main event meant he was the new Miss Finland, but becoming alarmed to find that meant having to fob off male groupies like dawhiteninja.

Skipping the next stop (in London) but heading back to Edinburgh in November. Walking from the airport to the hotel (which turned out a lot longer than we thought) before following Daragh to the casino (or so we thought: Daragh awful navigational abilities meant we circled for ages before finding it, despite him having been there the previous night chasing leaderboard points). Going closer than ever before to making a main event final table (bubbling it in 10th), and later the same day cashing the last side event to become the first Irish player to have a century of cashes on the Hendon mob.

Skipping the next stop (another UKIPT Series event in London) before finishing the season in Dublin. Cashing the main (76th) and final table bubbling the Seniors event.

Season 6 (the curtain comes down)

Heading to London in low spirits in the middle of a barren live spell. Staying and hanging and brunching with Daiva for the week to revive those spirits. Going for some morning runs up Primrose Hill.

Going for ice cream with Aseefo, Sam and Fran.

Railing Daiva as she wins the Ladies event.

Going sightseeing and visiting the Tate Modern with Daiva on my last day. Almost missing my plane as a result.

After skipping Marbella, I played Lille (yes folks, in the weirdness that was the last UKIPT season, two of the 5 stops were outside the UK and Ireland, and two were in London). Bricking the main event but cashing the High Roller. Next up London, expecting a frosty or heated reaction after I'd blasted Stars on my Barcelona blog. Scraping through day one with 13 big blinds, which were whittled down further when I followed Daiva onto the wrong train on day 2. Eating lots of beetroot.

Finally making a UKIPT final table. Laddering to headsup with a big chip deficit which I was unable to overcome.

And last and sadly least, a rather whimpering end to the UKIPT in Birmingham, with record low numbers and side events that didn't even get enough runners to start. Having seen the tour grow from a shaky start into something special, it was sad to see it die so meekly. It was sad to see some great people who worked to build this tour up ultimately defeated by the negative sentiment Amaya Stars has engendered. Eating in Pizza Hut with Richie Lawlor and an unimpressed Gary Clarke. "The Big Cheese.....but that's just cheese". Gary packing up in the middle of the night, changing his flight, and departing with the words "There's only so much Star City Birmingham a man can take". Busting the main event early on day 2 and ending the stop on the last ever side event final table. Adam Owen joking from the rail that I'd just ladder to headsup and then lose. Pretty much what happened as I laddered from 9/9 to 2/2. Watching Dave Curtis having a moment as he snapped the room before the UKIPT banners came down for the last time.

All these memories will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Marc Convey asked me for a UKIPT memory for the Stars blog. After running through most of the memories described above, I settled on this one as my ultimate UKIPT memory:

"Edinburgh 2015. I've made the 5th last two tables of a UKIPT main event of my career and it's looking good for me to finally convert one to my first final table. Unfortunately things go pear shaped fast and on the FT bubble, with ten left I find myself sub ten blinds, a very distant 10/10. A5s in the cutoff is a shove in that spot, so I don't hesitate. My friend Dode Eliot hesitates a little in the big blind before making the call with pocket eights. I turn a gutshot and a flush draw but after bricking the river I shake hands with Dode and depart for the rail, where I am consoled by Dode's brother Willie. Part and parcel of poker is the fact that we often deal pain or at least disappointment on our friends, and as he whisks me away for consolatory ice cream, Willie remarks that Dode will be feeling worse about my knockout than I am. I fully believe this. The fact that Willie was willing to take time off from railing his brother on the FT to console me says it all. What made the UKIPT unique down the seasons was the incredible camaraderie and friendships it fostered between players. It broke down all the barriers between Brits and Irish, recreational players and pro, old and young, male and female."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Duck bars


So there's this luxury pool aboard a cruise ship. It's a great pool, the best pool even, a pool that would impress Donald Trump bigly. Pretty much everyone who uses the pool has nothing but good things to say about the pool. The attendant facilities are top notch, as are the attendant staff.

Yet for reasons unknown, the numbers using the pool are declining. The staff have no idea what those reasons unknown might be. All they can do is keep on providing top class service to the (fewer and fewer) people who do turn up to use the pool.


After a night spent watching the first US Presidential debate between Clinton and Trump (which saw the Donald implode so bigly he must have wished he was at that pool on the cruise ship casting aspersions on the body shapes of beauty queens in bikinis), I head to the airport with another man who enjoys a good spectacle (when he's not making one of himself).

When we get to our hotel in Hamburg a few hours later, we are far too dog tired to shrug off the news that our room won't be ready for a few hours with "let's go for a coffee" insouciance. I watch Lappin start to bristle until we remember that all he has to do is point out the booking was for yesterday, not today. That allows us to grab a few hours much needed kip before day one of the High Roller.

I get through to day 2 with my customary sub 20 big blinds. Still feeling sleep deprived (my Sunday grind stretched into a nineteenth hour and was followed by less than three hours sleep, and as I already said, the next night was spent watching Trump sniff like a man who craved many lines of coke bigly), I tried to grab as much kip as I could before day 2.


In the early hours of the morning I made my fourth consecutive live full ring final table, but still hadn't cashed. Given the fact that we were on the exact bubble, and it was quite a significant one, and there were three sub ten big blind stacks, I was pretty much in an ICM coffin, unable to make any moves or play anything other than premiums until someone busted.

Unfortunately the bubble dragged on way longer than it should have, and the fact that I was dealt nothing better than ace Jack while it did so, meant that by the time it finally went two thirds of my stack had withered away. After laddering one more spot I got it in blind on blind in a standard spot and was out. Triple bracelet winner, Team Pro and all round great guy George Danzer put his chiplead, skills and Mohawk to good use crushing his way to the win (he came close to a truly remarkable back to back double when he also chiplead for much of the main event before ultimately coming ninth).


By now I'd finally caught up with my sleep to the point that I allowed Gareth Chantler to twist my arm into a run before we went to play day 1b of the main event. I struggled bigly on the run for reasons that would become clear later that day.

In the main event, I got off to a flyer, racing up to over two starting stacks before the first break. Unfortunately the rest of the day was a bit of a grind, and to make matters worse a cold I expected finally started to make itself known. When Lappin had turned up at our house a few days earlier sniffing like an ill prepared Presidential candidate I resigned myself to catching whatever he had, given how many hours we would spend in close proximity in the coming days.

By the end of play, I was just glad to be making another day 2, mainly because that meant I could take Friday off to struggle unmanfully with my illness.


I did just that, sleeping most of the day.


Both Lappin and Gareth had reentered on 1c, and both made it through. Gareth with exactly the same chip count as me, David with a little less. With three short stacks still a long way from the bubble, the most likely outcome was that only one of us would make it to the money.

Gareth got off to an unlikely flyer when his queen Jack hit running jacks to dog queens all in pre. I'd also folded a jack, but no bother to him. David hung on gamely before losing a race, and I doubled in a race. About a dozen from the bubble I found myself short enough to have only one move, and when I executed it with king eight suited in late position, I ran into Herr Danzer's dominating king queen. He told me later he felt bad knocking me out, a nice thing to say, but if someone had to do it, I was happy it was the best player in the field and my favourite Team Pro.

So my back to back sequence stopped at four, and I suddenly had a day to kill. Lappin and I decided to recreate our stroll around the centre from last year, and photo (a couple of rats outside the Rathaus):


We both had all of our remaining equity in the main event wrapped up in Gareth Chantler, so we kept an eye on the blog updates. It proved to be quite the rollercoaster as he moved into the chiplead near the bubble, before stone cold bubbling in memorable fashion with an ace high triple barrel call down for all the bread.


Lappin and I played our last event, the 550 Deepstack turbo. Neither of us cashed, and we decided to skip the last side event the following day in favour of some more sightseeing.


At breakfast, Gareth tried to persuade me to take some luggage of his back to Dublin. Remembering the last time I agreed to do this, I didn't entertain the idea for very long.

George had suggested St Michaels church as a sight worth seeing, so we walked into town to do so. George met us there and was our most gracious guide. Faced with a choice between a tour of the crypt or the tower, we went the tower route. First, we looked around the main church. I think this was only the second Protestant church I'd ever been inside in my life (the first was for my bridge partner's wedding over 25 years ago). What immediately struck me was how much brighter and less gloomy it was than your typical Catholic church. And how much bread was on display. There was bread everywhere, in the pews, on the altar, hanging from the lights.

As we started the ascent to the tower, George asked "Elevator or stairs?"  I saw that David was distracted by a phone call, so seized the opportunity to have some fun at his expense, nominating stairs. David was already pretty tired from the walk into town, and huffed and puffed his way up what seemed like at least thirty flights of stairs, stalling every so often to declare a profound interest in whatever we came across ("oh, look at that fire extinguisher. What a marvellous fire extinguisher that is. Let's stop and look at it for a while. What year do you think it's from?"). He struggled to the top in such a funk he didn't even notice the elevator stops at several points.

The view from the tower is pretty amazing, and we had a pretty surreal encounter with a couple of nice Southern boys from the US who turned out to be Mormon missionaries before George offered a variety of dining suggestions. The first suggestion, Portuguese, seemed like the GTO play, given that George's upbringing in Portugal has given him a fine appreciation of all things Portuguese.

At the restaurant David went in whining about his poor calfsies which were still seized up from the stair climb, and George asked him why he hadn't taken the elevator. Cue the anticipated Lappin apoplexy.


Miguel and Lisa Marie from Stars came sauntering by and joined us for one of the most awesome meals I've ever eaten in my life. A meal so reinvigorating that David recovered enough for a short stroll around the harbour before it was time to head back to the hotel for a cab to the airport.


David and I headed to Hamburg last year not really sure what to expect. We ended up very pleasantly surprised by how good the casino, the staff and everything around the event was. So we came back this year expecting more of the same, and were not disappointed. Dave Curtis, Miguel, Lisa Marie and everyone else involved did sterling work to make the event fun. If anything, this year was a little better than last year (more chilled security staff, better hotel, better free food options).

While I was very critical of another recent Stars event, I'm more than willing to give credit where it's due, even when it comes to Stars (to whom there is a lot of bad will right now as they seem to have tipped over into unashamed profit gouging). There are still a lot of great people working for Stars, some of the people who made them the best in the business, and it's to the credit of those people that even when faced with all the negativity and hostility being directed at Stars from poker players, they go on doing their jobs as best they can, and delivering top notch events within the confines of what their new corporate masters allow. The only disappointment (apart from the wifi) I took from Hamburg was that despite the greatness of the event last year and this, and the great overall player experience, player numbers were way down.

As tempting as it is to gloat that Stars may finally be reaping the fruits of the bad will they have sown so flippantly in the past year, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for the front line staff. They're like the pool attendants on that cruise ship, who go on doing a great job against the demoralising backdrop of diminishing numbers. Like the rest of us, they can but speculate without actually knowing why the numbers are in free fall. Maybe the cruise ship is sinking and people are too busy scrambling for the lifeboats to go for a dip in the pool. Maybe global warming has caused water levels to rise to the point that the last thing people want to spend their vacations in is a boat. Maybe the boat's new owner Bavid Dazzof always intended to scuttle the boat and collect the insurance (insider trading profits). Or maybe the foul mouthed captain Rick Tollreiser has pissed everyone off to the point that they are all looking at other boats. The first three people I asked if they were going to the last ever UKIPT in Birmingham later this week gave the same two word answer.

It rhymes with Duck Bars.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back to back to back

When I got up on Sunday morning to do my run, I couldn't find anyone to do it with. The previous day I'd run with Padraig "Smidge" O'Neill and Gareth Chantler, but Gareth was in the last hyper flight of the Grand Prix and Smidge was still sleeping. So I went to breakfast instead, and by the time I'd eaten that, Gareth had busted, so off we went. I told him we wouldn't go as far this morning, as I was hoping to have a long day at the tables. I wanted to get the oxygen flowing to the brain, not tire myself out before I even sat down.

Survival of the fittest

I've spoken before on the blog about how much emphasis I put on fitness since my return to live poker 15 months ago. When I decided to go back to Vegas last year for the WSOP, I didn't want to just show up in mediocre shape and see what happened. So I returned to training with an intensity I hadn't seen since I retired from competive running over 5 years earlier. My weekly running schedule went from 4 or 5 miles at an easy pace 3 or 4 times a week to 6 runs a week, nothing shorter than 7 miles, one or two speed runs, and one 30 mile run every Wednesday. I felt this enhanced fitness was a major advantage, particularly towards the end of long live sessions.

The problem with this is it's virtually impossible to maintain on live poker trips away. With the best will in the world, there generally isn't the time or the facilities to stick to the training regime. I lost a lot of fitness in Vegas and haven't really got it back since. The day before we headed to Killarney I did my longest run since Vegas (18 miles) with Gareth, and for the first time ever got destroyed by a poker player on my run. But at least I got through it.

Live multitabling

I first tried live multitabling a few years ago, and didn't like it much. I was chasing live ranking points at the time and decided to give myself two shots at the scoreboard. I quickly learned it was a miserable experience of sprinting between two tables missing hands on both, so I decided never to attempt such a thing again. I stuck to that even when I had a shot at the UKIPT leaderboard with a significant prize a couple of years ago.

Nevertheless I found myself inadvertently multitabling in Prague late last year after I regged all the flipouts and won the first two. This meant overlapping final tables. Again, this was an experience not to be repeated.

When I played an online leg of GPPT Killarney on my last night in London I was aware of a potential clash with day 3 of the WPT. But it seemed like such a long shot as to not being worth worrying about. I'd have to make day 2 of the GPPT (which was playing to the money on day one) and day 3 of WPT (which would be near to final table). Making the last five to ten per cent of the field of one tournament is tough enough: it didn't seem very likely I'd do the double.

The online leg I played only got 19 runners, so I ended with 19 starting stacks. When I then made day 3 of WPT I was under the impression I could try to multitable, but this was cleared up the following morning: I had to choose one or the other but couldn't jump between the two. I was allowed to play the GPPT only on breaks from the WPT, meaning my stack in the GPPT would blind off in the meantime. Annoying to think I might have to relinquish a lot of equity in the GPPT (which at 19 starting stacks was worth over 2 grand at that time), but rules are rules so I just had to get on with it. I decided to concentrate on the WPT and put the GPPT from my mind until my work there was done, and only worry about the GPPT on breaks. The only minor strategic readjustment I had to make was I had to take closer spots in the WPT. For example, if I judged a spot to have an expectation of minus 500 euro, I'd normally pass, but here I'd take it knowing that if I bust I got to realise my full 2k in GPPT equity. I'd also need to adopt a more gambley high variance approach as I had to acquire chips to stave off blinding out completely.

Gamble gamble

By the time I got to my GPPT stack (thanks to Marc McDonnell for finding it for me so I could get to it as quickly as possible) I'd blinded off about a quarter of it, down to just under 300k. I did some gorilla maths and figured I needed to get to at least half a million to have any chance of surviving to the next break. What's the best way to double your stack in twenty minutes when everyone is playing cautiously? I could open shove every hand, but even if they all folded every time, that wouldn't get me there. And obviously if I got called I'd almost always be in wretched shape. So I decided to just play a lot of hands keeping the pots small and try to win a big one postflop.

With just over 2 minutes left on my WPT break, I had nudged my way back towards my starting stack, but I knew that still wasn't enough. It was touch and go as to whether it was worth sticking around to play another hand and risk missing one in the WPT, particularly since I was utg, but I decided to stick around. I also decided to split my range between raises (anything reasonable) and limps (everything else). Folding wasn't an option. As it happens I pick up tens and raise. I watch in horror as everyone folds to the blinds, and now I'm sorry I didn't limp.

Thankfully both blinds call. The flop comes t76 and they both check. Top set, but how to get paid? Check. Turn is a 3, small blind checks, big blind bets, I call, small blind calls. River is a 3 and the small blind unexpectedly leads. Big blind calls, I shove, small blind tank calls. I can't stack the chips fast enough to race back to the WPT.

Back on the WPT final table, I make a close call I wouldn't have made if I didn't have a stack of almost a million in the GPPT (about 5k in equity now) blinding off about 25 euro a minute in equity. Larry Ryan has just been crippled, I open aq, get shoved on by the second shortest stack, and after running the mental maths I decide I'm not quite getting the right price to call (his range has to be much tighter than normal with Larry so short) but it's close enough than when I factor in my equity in the GPPT I think it becomes a call. He has a monster as expected but I get there against his kings. Doubly unlucky on my opponent not just to get sucked out on, but also I wouldn't have made the call if I wasn't still in the GPPT.

I get back to that stack to find I've blinded off slightly more than the half a million I estimated. Once again I'm in a spot where I have to gamble or face the prospect of blinding out when I disappear off back to the WPT final table. My stack has been moved to a new table, but thanks to Ian Simpson finding it in advance for me, I get there just in time to defend my big blind. I make a loose and normally bad call with 44 versus an utg open, not so much set mining as set gambling. I am rewarded with a qt4 flop. After check calling the flop, my opponent decides to protect his overpair on the turn by shoving and I double. I win a few other small pots to nudge my stack up past the million mark before I have to go back to the WPT.

I bust that in fourth reshoving kq over a Richie Lawlor button raise and not getting there against ace king. No time to feel sorry for myself, straight back to the GPPT to find I've blinded off another half a million or so.

Back to one tabling

I'd spun up a bit when I was moved to the feature table. I was a little apprehensive for once about exposing my game to a livestream audience as I was aware I was as tired as I ever have been at a poker table (and starving: with no breaks I hadn't eaten since breakfast other than some fruit Ian and Gareth kindly brought me),

Since the rest of the tournament is captured on livestream, I won't go into a detailed description. Some great commentary and banter from Padraig Parkinson, Jesse May, my driver and roommate for the trip Nick Newport, Paul Zimbler, Fergal Nealon and Richie Lawlor. I appear around the 1 hour 38 minute mark.

What I will do here is answer the most frequent questions I was asked afterwards.

Why were you not excited when you tripled up?

A spectacular hand for sure, but similar to my hand in the main against Bob Tait the day before where my aces hit a runner runner royal flush against his set of kings, and the blog noted I seemed the least excited person in the place, I focus all my energy on getting decisions right. I don't waste any emotional energy on outcomes or runouts. Getting aces in against Bob's Kings was a routine decision, as was getting my ace king suited against two other ace kings. Obviously I'm happy I won, but there's nothing to be gained from celebrating good fortune or bemoaning bad luck while you're at the table. No matter what happens, any time spent thinking about the last hand is time wasted that would be better spent thinking about the next one.

On commentary Nick joked he wouldn't hear about anything but that hand on the drive home. Parky nailed it though when he said he didn't think so, as it was just a standard hand.

I was particularly conscious of the need to conserve energy on this occasion with no proper meals since breakfast and very few breaks, so on the few breaks I got I scampered off back to the room. Lots of people wanted a word on the way, which is great (I'm a social animal and the main thing I like about live poker is the chance to catch up with people) but on this occasion I was keen to maximise down time so if I was a little curt with anyone, I apologise.

Why did you fold an ace in the small blind to a limp and a call?

This surprised almost everyone who knows me as it's clearly a profitable call and an obvious squeeze spot. I considered both options before deciding to fold.

My overall strategy in tournaments like this (late on, fast structure, shallow stacks and I feel I have a decent edge over the field) is to keep out of murky spots and preserve as much fold equity as possible. Software tools like Holdem Resources Calculator have revolutionised how wide people defend their blinds. It's now relatively easy to plug in a spot, click a button, and have the computer tell you exactly what range can be profitably defended.

Once I'd played around a bit with HRC and got a sense of profitable defend ranges I started defending as wide as everyone else until I heard Doug Polk suggest on a livestream that people tended to obsess over tiny edges preflop that pale into significance compared to the big mistakes you can make post flop out of position with crap holdings. This caused me to go back and review my online database. I quickly found out that while defending the bottom of the range might be slightly profitable in theory, in practise I ended up leaking some chips post flop. So while defending a6o (which is the very worst ace really) might make you 0.03 big blinds or whatever in theory, in practise you stand to lose a lot of big blinds in unclear post flop spots,  and when you factor in ICM and the advantages of fold equity, these trump the theoretical 0.03 big blinds you give up by folding pre. Not all equity is created equal: fold equity is always better than any other kind, particularly when ICM is a factor.

Another small factor is the big blind had a reshove stack. Having ruled out the call for these reasons, I also ruled out the raise. With recent history and table dynamics I didn't think the squeeze would get through very often, and more often than not I'd be sat with a horrible hand out of position to one or more players.

It's definitely a close one though, and I think I'd have defended almost any other ace (except maybe a2o), and a6s.

Why are you always on your IPad?

A lot of people give out to me for being on my iPad constantly, suggesting I'm distracted and missing action. First thing to say to that is I can assure you I'm not crushing candy or faffing about on Facebook. What I am doing is being fed information by what Parky calls my bench on what they can pick up from the livestream, dissecting hands after the event, and taking notes. I've found when I don't do this I actually miss more at the table as it's a lot easier to lose focus.

I know some people who can maintain 100% focus while staring intently at everything, but my mind tends to wander unless I force myself to take notes. I also think that people are much more likely to give away physical information if you don't make it blindingly obvious you're watching them.

Parky alluded to the fact that having what he called a strong bench could be seen as an unfair advantage. I can definitely see the argument there: it's undoubtedly an advantage to be able to call on top class professional players who know what to look for and communicate back to me. I'm fortunate enough to have several such guys on my bench (big thank you on this occasion to David Lappin in particular), and as long as it's not against the rules it's an edge I feel I have to take. I guess it could also be argued that in the same way we are rewarded for hours of study and hard work away from the table with an edge over our less hardworking opponents, one of the rewards for a lot of time and effort spent cultivating friendships with other players is they can be called on to pitch in on these occasions.

On the subject of the rules, I was told at one point that I couldn't actually be on the iPad at the table, so from that point forward in the livestream you'll see me stepping away from the table a lot to check.

Are you ever folding nines against Eoin Starr's jacks?

No. In those seats at those stacks we are both always getting it in with those hands. The only way it can play out differently is against a tighter big blind I might just shove hoping to fold out some flips. Knowing as I did from the bench that Eoin had ace seven off in the hand where he shoved over my late position raise (with king queen), and given our history stretching back years, leaving Eoin room to shove a wide range of hands that nines dominates is a much bigger consideration than folding out a handful of flips.

Pretty sickening beat for Eoin obviously, but one he took with great grace. As Nick noted on comms, Eoin was a bit of a raw diamond when he first appeared on the scene a few years ago but after a few years in the online mines he's a much more accomplished player technically these days. He didn't put a foot wrong all day and had his jacks held there would probably have gone favourite to win.

Did you lose your mind when you shoved ten eight suited?

No. While my preferred strategy headsup was to keep pots small preflop to maximise play postflop, to his credit Peter wasn't really allowing me to do this. He was opening and threebetting a very wide range that stretched all the way down to 53o and using a big sizing preflop. He wasn't going to allow me to grind him down and we'd already been all in three times preflop. So I've got him down to 15 big blinds and I'm looking to either whittle him down more or deliver the knockout blow.

When he again raises to 2.5x (he didn't seem to adjust his sizing as his stack dwindled) and I find ten eight suited, I figure folding isn't an option (given he's raising down to 53o) so I just have to decide whether to call or shove. If I call, I'm usually going to have ten high and have to give up on the flop, so we need to make done assumptions and do some gorilla maths to see if the shove is good:
(1) Judging from his opening frequency and the fact that the range goes all the way down to 53o, it looks like Peter is opening at least 90% of hands
(2) Even if we assume he will call a shove super wide, say any ace, k6 or better, q9 or better, all pairs, jto and some suited connectors, this is still only 30% of the hands he opens, so he folds to the shove 70% of the time
(3) Our equity against that calling range with T8s is 40%

So when we shove, there are three possibilities:
(1) He folds (70% of the time) and we pick up his 2.5x open and the big blind. This is a net gain of .7 times 3.5 = +2.45 big blinds
(2) He calls (30%) and we lose (60% of that 30% so 18% of the time) the 14 big blinds we shove. Net loss is 0.18*14 = -2.52 big blinds
(3) He calls (30%) and we win (40% of that 30% so 12% of the time) his 15 big blinds plus the one we posted. Net gain is 0.12*16 = +1.92 big blinds

So if our assumptions are correct, shoving is a plus Ev play of 1.85 big blinds. It's difficult to imagine calling wins us this much on average.

Were you playing to win, or ladder? How important was the trophy?

This came up in the commentary too. Nick obviously knows me very well as he nailed it when he said that I'm primarily a professional poker player, so the money is the main motivation. But he added that I'm one of the most competitive people he knows (a fact I underlined when I saw him after listening back to the stream and the first thing out of my mouth wasn't "Thanks for the nice words Nick" but "You said I don't have many wins on my Hendon mob! I have eight! More than any other Irish player!") and therefore wanted to win.

And that's definitely true: I did want to win. Not for the trophy (lots of those at home already), but not just because first pays more than second either. But the main thing that gives me satisfaction from poker is coming away with the feeling that whether I won or I lost I gave my best and made the best decisions I could make. In terms of results, I have always valued long term consistency and endurance over short term form. Had I hit my eight or nine to win, I wouldn't have played any better or worse overall.

Paul Marrow sent me a congratulatory message afterwards. When I said I'd have preferred to win, he hit the nail on the head.

"Cash is Cash mate, after a week trophies only become clutter....."

But enough about me

This was easily the most fun event I've attended in Ireland since the legendary UKIPT Galway in 2013. Credit to that goes to everyone involved. To Fintan Gavin and Parky who travelled the length and breadth of the country spreading the word. To Rob Yong and Party Poker for setting aggressive guarantees and pulling a large crowd from overseas. Party's staff and ambassadors did everything they could to add to the craic. In particular, shoutout to Natalia Breviglieri who I'd only met once before briefly in Vegas when railing Daiva in the ladies (which Natalia final tabled) and who charmed everyone she interacted with in Killarney. To the bloggers Paul and Marc who provided top quality work as ever, and to everyone already named involved in the livestream. And to all the recreational players who turned up and provided that friendly atmosphere unique to Ireland. It was great to see so many faces I hadn't seen in years who I feared might be gone from poker forever. And on a personal level, thanks to my study buddy and constant poker confidante Daiva. I don't think it's a coincidence that I'm playing a lot better and have a more positive mindset since I teamed up with Daiva as study buddies.

Well done to Richie and Peter, the winners of the two events. I've known Richie from the start, and it was great to see a class player and a great guy finally get the score he deserved. I'd never seen Peter before but as was noted on the commentary, he was the one guy on the final table who went for it. Some players freeze on the big stage but Peter stepped up to the plate and deserved his victory. Also a special mention to father and son Ray and Dave Masters who final tabled the WPT.

Back to back to back

After I final tabled UKIPT London I assumed that would be the live highpoint of my year. If you'd told me I'd final table my next two tournaments, one a Grand Prix with over 2000 runners and the other a WPT, both on the same day, I wouldn't have believed you. Obviously there was more than a small amount of luck involved, particularly in the GPPT where I got the needed double and treble ups to stay alive at the breaks. In that tournament, I blinded off over a million in chips due to my involvement in the WPT, which is over fifty starting stacks (and 5k in equity), so it's not something I'd ever attempt again. But it ended up giving me a day I will never forget, the day I went back to back to back and made two final tables.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Living life in seconds

After my last blog I couldn't help but reflect on the irony of the fact that a few days later I found myself walking into the Hippodrome, the PokerStars casino in Leicester Square. Under the circumstances I fully expected and received some frosty receptions, but only from some of the bit industry players I barely knew anyway. Everyone else was as welcoming as ever, and while obviously not everyone agreed with everything in the blog, they did seem to appreciate the spirit of constructive criticism in which it was intended.

I had a decent starting table which only got better with the removal of the best player there, Ben Morrison. I had almost tripled my stack to 70k late in the day when our table broke and I found myself at a new table with my friend (and landlady for the week) Daiva Barauskaite Byrne, Hippodrome pro Kelly Saxby, and a massive chipleader who was dominating the table. It turned out to be a pretty disastrous table move as I barely won a pot and Kelly was the main beneficiary. There was one rather sick spot where I bet top two on the river for value and was shoved on by Kelly for not much more. I don't make a habit of folding top two getting about 4 to 1 but I eventually persuaded myself it just couldn't be a bluff and folded (she told me at the end she had the nuts). I never used to make those folds, I used to just shrug "4 to 1, strong hand, gotta call" even though I knew I was nearly always beaten.

That meant coming back for the start of day 2 with less than 13 big blinds. Another short day 2 was on the cards, particularly after I followed Daiva onto the wrong train meaning we got there a few minutes late and the blinds had gone through me. After getting one shove through I was happy to pick up AQ. This time I was called by A4, and after I held found myself with a healthy stack.

I met my friend Sameer and his lovely wife Fran for dinner to catch up. Sami was running late and I was literally running (45 minute dinner breaks for the loss), so as much as I appreciated the catch up, I appreciated the Teutonic efficiency of Fran even more who went on ahead and had ordered and had the food waiting for us.

A lengthy period of card death meant I was one of the shortest stacks on the bubble and had no real choice but to fold into the money. Once I'd done that I managed to spin up until I got moved late in the day to one of the toughest tables I've ever been at anywhere, let alone a UKIPT. It included Felix Stephenson, Billy Chattaway, Ben Morrison, the chippy from my late day one table, and eventual winner Stien. It seemed prudent to tighten up until the 2 table redraw, and that was the plan, but I got some hands it would have been cowardly to fold and just played them strongly.

Some key hands from the table:

Hand 1:

Felix opens from early position and I elect to defend A8s because I know from past experience he opens super wide from there. It's not exactly the dream scenario defending a reprehensible ace against a world class aggressive player, but on the other hand I'm definitely being exploited if I fold a hand that strong, and I can bluffcatch a lot if I hit top pair. The suitedness gives me some other potentially profitable continuation plans on flops with one or two of my suit, and I can just check fold flops I whiff completely.

Flop comes AT4 with two clubs and a diamond. My suit is spades.

This is a flop that falls under the bluffcatch category so I check call and see a very interesting turn, the eight of clubs.

So I now have two pair but the flush got there. I felt like it's pretty close between leading, and check calling. The advantage of leading is I get value from some of his marginal hands that may check behind now, and charge his hands with a club to draw. The disadvantage is I'm in a pretty horrible spot if he raises (a very real consideration against this particular villain) out of position against a world class opponent with a lot of potentially ugly rivers. It also stops him from continuing to bluff his air. So against this specific opponent I decided to stick to a conservative check call. As it happens, he checked behind.

River is an offsuit j. I checked again figuring he'd bet a wider range of hands here (some bluffs and thin value bets) than he'd call if I suddenly lead here. As it was he had a hand strong enough to do both (jt) and I won a decent sized pot.

Hand 2:

Billy opens the cutoff and I find ace king in the big blind. We have played a ton online and have a very aggro history from there, but I don't know him personally so have no idea if he knows I am SlowDoke. Whether he does or not, ace king is strong enough to try to induce him to stick his 45 big blinds in with (I had slightly more) and online I'd be looking to get a lot weaker hands in preflop. My strategy against top class aggressive players is generally to tighten my preflop ranges but play the hands I do play less cautiously and look to push preflop edges and get in a wider range preflop (basic TAG strategy). So while I'm not loving getting almost the lot in pre at this point and letting the deck decide who advances, the TAG approach is the best way not to cede the battlefield and leak equity. So I 3 bet, he jams, I call, he has KQ, and I'm patting myself on the back thinking I love it when a plan comes together. Until the flop comes queen high at least. Ace on the turn though, so all was good in the world again.

There was an amusing aftermath to this hand as Ben declared "Dangerous man to give chips to. And I bet those poor kids don't even know, do they Dara? SlowDoke, online endboss, and they have no idea". I went on stacking chips trying to suppress a smile. His point was made immediately as the guy beside him started asking what he meant.

Hand 3:

Felix raises under the gun. Ben flats off a sub 30 big blind stack. My neighbour to the west squeezes. I have jacks on the button and have to think. Felix is super wide even from this position. Ben knows this and has already been 3 betting him quite liberally so the flat is a little suspicious. My neighbour is very tight and is unlikely to be making a move. Suddenly jacks don't seem like such a good hand any more and I pass them to the muck. My neighbour ends up getting queens in against Ben's trickily played aces. The flop was raggy so there are a lot of ways I could have lost a lot of chips in this spot, so was pretty happy together off scot free. A form of positive variance players don't recognise is spots like these where because of the way a hand plays out you lose less chips than you would if it played out differently.

Hand 4:

I open kjs utg. Normally at a tough table I would just chuck this hand, but by now we are down to two tables, the other table features Ben, Jake Cody and Matt Perrins so my table may not even be tougher than average at this point. Therefore my strategy has shifted to playing a wider range. The main reason I open is it is Albert Sapiano's big blind, he never folds to my raises, and I enjoy playing pots against Albert in position.

Albert is the only caller and he checks the j32 flop that gives me top pair and a flush draw. The turn is an offsuit 7 and he pots it as expected. I say as expected because he always seems to do this against me, putting me on ace king after I check the flop, and trying to barrel me off it. In discussions with Daiva about the other players about whom she has much more local knowledge than I have, she'd brought up this exact tendency as something that could be exploited.

So I call and watch him like a hawk as the river is dealt. He seems less than happy I've called and breathes heavily for a long time like a man steeling himself to shove a hand he's not convinced is good, so without knowing the river yet, I decide I'm most likely calling even if I haven't improved. After he overbet shoves, I glance at the river, see it paired the board but also made my flush, so I waste no time making the call. He has a lower flush, ten five, and treats us to the standard Albert "I never hit my flushes" speech, until he realised that he had this time, and added "and when I do the other guy either has a higher flush or a house".

Hand 5:

Chippy and eventual winner Stian opens in mid position. He's been opening close to any two. I find ace king just behind. With almost 70 big blinds, and maybe third or fourth overall in chips at this point, I don't really want to get it all in pre or even play a bloated pot against him right now. On the other hand, as I said before, my preferred strategy against players like him is to play tighter and more aggressively preflop, and calling just to give up when I miss seems pretty lame. This is my sixth UKIPT main event second last table, and I have not converted any of the previous five to a final table. I could just nit my way to the final table, but it's not just about making final tables, it's also about the stack you take to them.

Having taken all these considerations into account, I decided courage and a willingness to bust was called for, so I threebet with the intention of getting the lot in if necessary. The chippy from my day one table 4 bet shoved 19 big blinds behind, and Stian went deep into the tank. The longer I watched him the more I was convinced he either had a decent but not brilliant pair or a hand I dominated, so I already knew if he reshoved I was calling. As it was, he eventually folded, and I found myself racing against jacks.

As the flop came down I watched Stian rather than the board or my opponent in the hand, as going forward the most interesting point was what he had folded. He visibly winced when the flop was spread so I figured he had folded something which would have hit. The flop was AA9, I won the race, and asked him inquiringly what he had folded.

"Pocket nines"

So another nice pot for me, but one that could have been my exit hand if he had made a mistake and continued with nines. Again, that hidden positive variance.

That was pretty much the last hand I won that day. Mostly I was just card dead, but also lost a pretty big one to Stian. After I opened Aks utg, he threebet pretty big from the big blind. I didn't fancy four betting to get it in, as now I'm 2/12 and not really looking to flip against him of all people. Folding is obviously not an option, so that just leaves calling. I flop two overs and a gutter and a flush draw so now I pretty much have to call again. I pick up more outs in the form of a gutshot on the turn, so I called again. The river bricks out and I fold. In another time and place, raising on the flop or turn and praying he either folds or I hit if we get it in is a good alternative, but not here for the same reasons I don't want to get it in preflop.

This was a crucial pot in terms of my overall prospects as if I hit I almost certainly go to the final table as chipleader. But I didn't, and didn't.

Continued card death meant that by the time we were down to the official final table, I was 7/8. However, that was still almost 30 big blinds so not exactly short, and the stacks were very flat (nobody had less than twenty, and the chip leader had only slightly more than double my stack).

I legged it out of the Hippodrome just in time for the last tube back to Camden, where my obliging landlady ensured I dined like a poker God. If that poker God is a Lithuanian, at least. Husband John was not exactly fulsome in his praise of the attractions of cold beetroot soup ("Pretty sure I'd struggle to find anyone in Bury willing to eat it"), and I'm not the biggest fan of cold soups, or beetroot particularly, but it was surprisingly tasty.

As a Stars qualifier I was told I had to wear a patch on the final table, which I did, a little differently.

Daiva also ensured we got on the correct train the following day to get there in plenty of time, and that I had the best rail at kickoff. Unfortunately, that meant she just got to see me three bet fold 20% of my stack very first hand, relegating me instantly to 8/8 and a strategy lecture from Albert. No regrets about the hand though, it was clearly a very good spot for a light 3 bet, and I had the perfect hand to do it with it, even if it didn't work out. After Adam Maxwell opened in late position and I three bet the small blind, Albert folded his big blind in disgust. His disgust grew after Adam shoved and I snap folded.

"What's the point of that? Your name is Dara, right? Well, Dara, may I suggest in future that you don't raise if you're not willing to follow through".

Even though I immediately found myself 8/8, I was far from disconsolate. I felt like I'd been here before. It reminded me very much of my WSOP final table from last year. Me shortest, surveying a mix of some very good aggro players with stacks, and some very inexperienced players who I suspected would react to the pressure and novelty of the situation by punting in a misguided attempt to "play for the win". My read was confirmed when I saw one guy squeeze shove and show a three when he got the fold (why show?). Shortly afterwards, he bust with a kamikaze turn shove on a board (6789) that was particularly bad for his hand (ako).

So even as my stack withered, I saw my equity increase as the bustouts kept coming. I stayed alive getting it in and staying ahead twice versus the player who impressed me the most (Adam Maxwell). I went from 8/8 to 7/7, 6/6, 5/5 and 4/4 after Albert bust in fifth shoving a flush draw that he knew wouldn't get there. Big shoutout to my rail who stuck with it even though I'd already warned them that watching me play a final table short stacked is the poker equivalent of watching paint dry. For once I had by far the biggest, loudest, liveliest and loveliest rail.

The time to gamble and change gears was here, and I made progress shorthanded with my tight image allowing me to nick more pots with 9 high. As I prospered, my neighbour to the west dwindled, and when I eventually eliminated him, I was suddenly 2/3 going to dinner.

At dinner with Sameer and Daiva I told them my plan was to play tight smallball, stick to a limping strategy, and hope my more aggro opponents would clash and I could ladder to headsup risk free. I cut my teeth online in full ring one table sit n gos. There, I learned that three handed is one of the most interesting phases strategically. If both your opponents are too tight and too passive, it's clearly profitable to exploit this was playing hyper loose. If they are both too aggro, you can automatically profit by playing tight, knowing you'll generally ladder to headsup with second place locked up and roughly the same chance of winning still. The nightmare scenario is where one player is hell bent on playing too loose, and the other one too tight, when you just have two bad options (to be one of two tight players being exploited by a loose one, or one of two loose players being exploited by a tight one).

This three handed setup seemed like one where I could exploit two guys playing too loose: hence the tight limping strategy. It didn't take too long for it to pay off. After I limped my first button and folded to a big blind squeeze, I limped again next button. Another squeeze and I still didn't have a hand strong enough to continue, but after I folded the chip leader ripped, won a race, and I found myself headsup.

With less than 30 big blinds, I stuck to a smallball limping strategy, hoping to find edges post flop and gradually work my stack upwards without the need to flip. However, I quickly realised that Stian was a lot better than I expected a man with only 2k of lifetime cashes to be headsup, and there was little or no edge to be found postflop. As the blinds increased over the two hours or so we battled headsup I switched to an increasingly preflop strategy which at least provided some excitement to my rail. On the third allin and a call, I found myself flipping to get back to level stacks. It was not to be. Credit to Stian who thoroughly deserved the win with a commanding final table display from start to finish.

For my own part I was happy with my performance which I think was as close to the perfect game as I've had in my career. I almost gave up on live poker a couple of years ago when I skipped Vegas and stopped showing up religiously at UKIPTs and festivals in Ireland. Last year I decided to give it another go, and rather than just show up and see what happened started to put in a lot of work away from the table on my live game. That paid dividends as I hit the best patch of form of my career in the second half of last year, with two deep WSOP runs (a second and a ninth), three consecutive EPT main event cashes (and two EPT side event final tables), a deep run in Edinburgh UKIPT (and two UKIPT side event final tables including third in a high roller). A conversation I had with Calvin Anderson towards the end of Vegas last year where he expressed the opinion that online poker will gradually dry up as a source of income over the next few years and we will all be forced to play live more persuaded me to keep working hard at my online game this year.

Ironically, as I was doing this, I was going through the longest cashless streak of my career live stretching from the seniors event at EPT Dublin through the Irish Open, the Norwegian championships, UKIPT london, Unibet Malta and up to my mid WSOP break in New York. Thankfully I've been around long enough to know that the rewards of hard work are rarely seen in the short term and to recognise bad variance, so I kept plugging away confident I'd start to see some results. After returning to Vegas from New York, I cashed 3 of my last 5 events there (including another deepish run, 13th), cashed the FPS High Roller in Lille, the main event at EPT Barcelona, and now this latest result. One of the results of having studied days of live footage and watched a couple of dozen of Zach Elwood's excellent video series on tells is I'm much more engaged and less bored at the table as I have more to look for and think about.

I'm still grinding online and more than holding my own on that front, but I have a pretty packed live schedule for the rest of the year including Killarney, Winamax Open Dublin, Eureka Hamburg, UKIPT Birmingham, Estrellas/EPT Malta, WPT Dusk Til Dawn, MPN Morocco, Fitzwilliam Festival and EPT Prague. I want to keep working hard on my live game. On a related note, I had pretty much phased out my coaching work because, well, actually playing is a lot more fun (and more profitable still). This year however I've done some coaching with online players transitioning to live specifically focused on the aspects that make live poker different. I've found that a lot more fun than running through people's online hand histories looking for leaks so I'm looking to expand it, not just to other online players who want some coaching on live, but players who just play live who think they could benefit from my technical knowledge from online and my experience of going deep a lot live. So drop me a note at daraokearney@gmail.com if you are interested. I do mainly one on one coaching, but for recreational or other players on a budget I'm also looking at doing group sessions with 4 to 6 players at a lower cost.

Heading to Killarney on Thursday. looking forward to it as it's a lovely place and I don't think I've played there since the glory days of Ladbrokes.


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