Wednesday, October 17, 2018

High Rollers, Brighton and Millions

As many of my readers know, before I was a poker player, I was an international ultra runner. I won the New York ultramarathon, a 6 hour indoor race in the Czech Republic, a 100 km race in the Netherlands, and the Irish 24 hour running championship. Before that I was a decent marathon runner who won one in Cornwall. For almost a decade before that, I was a very average recreational marathon runner.

One conversation I had with a work colleague proved crucial in my transformation from recreational to competitive runner. It started innocently enough with me bragging (yes, even back then I was a braggart) about my endurance and how fresh I always felt after a race. My colleague, who had been a serious rugby player before a snapped Achilles' tendon put a literal halt to his gallop, was less than impressed.

"That's because you never push yourself outside your comfort zone"

He went on to lecture me that anybody hoping to achieve their full potential in any field of human endeavour needed to constantly challenge themselves and push past comfortable. I took his words to heart and started pushing harder in training and races, up to the point of exhaustion.

For some reason I found myself flashing back to that conversation half a lifetime ago as the dust cleared after my return from Vegas this summer. As I've already written in a recent blog, I didn't feel like my preparation thus year was the best, but was happy with my performance over there, and philosophical about the fact that it hadn't worked out this time. This was made easier by being at a point in my career where a losing Vegas makes no significant difference to my life. I was comfortable with whatever happened. Then I thought of this old conversation, and also the words of my old running coach.

"Losing is supposed to hurt"

My career in poker has not been without its periods of discomfort. I started online as a limit cash player, but quickly eschewed the easy regular profits from that to master a new format (sit n gos). When I reached the point I was making a more than comfortable living from that I left sit n gos behind. At the start of this decade I was barely rolled for $50 games online, but was playing higher online and much higher live (EPTs).

But the last few years have been undeniably comfortable. I've reached a point in my career where money can no longer be the only motivation. A new challenge is needed. I need to play games again where losing hurts, just to see what that feels like. I need to challenge myself to learn more so I can compete with the very best.

Two weeks ago I played my highest ever buyin, and bust eight from the money. Afterwards, as I remarked to Gareth James in a strategy video we made two days later, I felt physically sick. Once that cleared, I wondered if the experience would take a while to recover from before I could go back to grinding my regular games. The following day I got up and had my answer: I went straight back on the grind with all my customary enthusiasm.

So the plan for the next while is to try to kick things up a notch and compete at the highest level against the very best players. As such, my recent foray into the world of High Rollers was not a one time experiment: there will be other shots. If I fail I fail but will at least have the consolation that I at least tried. Because in my book, in all my books off all the different things I've done, not giving it my all is the only true failure.

Somehow We Always End Up In Brighton

Before I became a Unibet ambassador 18 months ago, I'd never been to Brighton in my life. Since signing, I've been there to play poker more often than anywhere else, including my home town of Dublin. Every trip there has been memorable in its own way. The first trip there witnessed the rebirth of the Chip Race. The second was memorable because I witnessed at first hand Donna Morton's ability to get lost at roundabouts. On the third trip I told Lappin a story from my childhood that proved unexpectedly popular when I blogged about it.

This latest trip was memorable too, mainly for the company as I met up with some old faces (Richard and ) and new ( and ), and the fact that Daiva made it all the way to the final table.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for the full FT as my lift to Nottingham (Jamie Nixon) was leaving. Daiva nursed a short stack from a long way out: one thing we have common to both our games is that we don't panic or get impatient when we find ourselves short stacked. There may not be much perceived glory in getting the maximum out of a short stack as it won't win you many tournaments but it is a vital skill if you want to make money in tournaments in the long term. Daiva certainly did that nursing it all the way to seventh place.

(Photo credit: Tambet Kask)

DTD Millions

I arrived in Nottingham for the DTD Millions committed to staying for the full thing and intending to play a High Roller or two. Having built up a war chest of PPL from satellites over the previous few weeks, I even toyed with the idea of playing the 25K.....until I saw the field. I had decided pretty much to play the 10k High Roller unless I was still in the main event. As it happened, that unlikely event transpired.

I was sharing a room with Espen in the Holiday Inn (walking distance from DTD). It seemed the hotel was filled with poker players, which made for good company in the bar every evening (including Sam Grafton, Ryan Riess, Lithuanians Cimbolas and Merfinis, Niels, Kenny Hallaert, Aaron McBride and Shirley Ang). Special shoutout to Shirley who kept me amused, entertained and informed throughout the week.

Day 1 of the main was atypical (for me at least) in that it was all plain sailing. I got off to a good start when I got lucky against a short stacked Jack Salter, and bagged up 3 million (starting stack was 1 million) without major incident or setback.

Day 2 was a lot choppier. I dropped all the way back to starting stack before a double up late in the day got me back to 2 million.

I came back short on day 3 but an early double with jacks got me off to a good start, and I kicked on to be above average as the bubble loomed. I posted the most interesting bubble hand on ShareMyPair, and it generated quite a bit of discussion and disagreement on social media and beyond. A few people thought the hand was completely standard and uninteresting, which is clearly not the case as some absolute beasts disagreed majorly about how I should have played my hand. I think the reason for this was some top notch players don't understand how big a factor ICM plays in these spots and how much it changes optimal strategy. In earlier years I used to get frustrated over these spots where great played disagreed, and there was no way of knowing who was right.

These days, thankfully, we have solvers that can help, and after a few days playing around with it I had a clearer idea of how the hand should have been played, and why. I won't spoiler the results here as the hand will feature in the strategy segment of the next episode of the Chip Race (season 7 episode 5).

I got through the bubble safely and bagged up in or around average. Day 4 was a grim struggle for survival. I dropped as low as 6 big blinds several times, being forced to play even tighter than normal because of a 100K Last Longer promotion I was in. I played a crucial hand against Alex Foxen when I was short that I will look at in detail in next month's Bluff magazine.

Photo courtesy of Daiva

I clung on grimly and managed to avoid going bust with two pair on the feature table to make the unofficial final table. I came back 9/9 and managed to ladder one spot when Ryan Riess bust before me, but the miracle spin never realised. I was card dead for the two hours I survived and eventually busted shoving 87s on the button. As I said my goodbyes I gave Tom "Jabracada" Hall a hug and told him I was rooting for him now (which I genuinely was).

Although I was disappointed not to get a proper run at the final table, I was satisfied I'd got the maximum out of my tournament. I was very grateful to my boisterous rail that featured Daiva (who despite feeling poorly dragged herself out of bed to catch an early morning train from London, which for her is the equivalent of most people climbing Mount Everest :)), Barry and Gina Carter who travelled from Nottingham, Bergie, Espen and Jack Sinclair. Thanks to them and all who railed virtually: after a lacklustre 18 months life it's nice to put a couple of results together recently and prove there's life in the old Doke yet.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Dids and didn'ts in Vegas

Let's start with the things I didn't do in Vegas this year. 

I didn't get there in as good a shape physically as last year. I went into last year's WSOP running 40 miles every Wednesday and finishing it feeling as fresh as a daisy. This year a few weeks out, I was struggling through 20 milers and as I stumbled in the door hearing Mrs Doke say "That's the worst I've ever seen you: you look like you're going to die". I managed to get through a couple of 30 milers before getting on the plane to Vegas, but there's no doubt I should try to get in better shape for next year if I do go back. It's gotten harder with my other commitments and travel, but I have to try harder to get back my former fitness and lose some of my current fatness. 

I didn't schedule days off this year. At the end of the series last year, I found Andy Hills grinding a daily deepstack having just bust the main. When I expressed surprise at this, Andy said that he didn't really enjoy days off because he loved the grind. That made me think "I used to love the grind. What happened?

What happened is this. For the first few years of my career, I played very single day and didn't take a day off. If I was at home I played every night, and when I was away I played live every day. People started telling me I couldn't do this, that I'd burn out. I started believing these people. I started scheduling days off. Now I do accept that grinding 365 days a year probably isn't a good idea and I do need to take some days off: just not in Vegas. My best Vegas campaigns in terms of my overall play and state of mind have been the ones where I just grinded every day. It gets me into a rhythm, and stops me getting depressed about being away from home in a place I don't even like. When I take days off in Vegas, I'm just unhappy in a place I don't want to be not even doing the one thing I'm there to do. Both Daiva and Smidge told me this year was the happiest ever they saw me in Vegas, with Smidge adding "I don't know what you're doing different but whatever it is keep doing it". After giving the matter much thought I really think the difference was no days off. 

Despite not being in peak shape and not taking days off, I didn't feel like I ran out of steam during the WSOP. I didn't even feel tired. I made a concerted effort to eat better than previous years and to drink less. I got out for a few runs. While I played every day I did make an effort to socialise with people I like and don't get to see much if at all for the rest of the year. Apart from the usual crew I was lucky enough to hang with KevMath, Jen Shahade, Maria Konnikova, Liam O'Donoghue, Jamie Flynn, Andrew Brokos, Kenny Shei, Carlos Welch, Elena Stover, Dehlia de Yong, Alan Widmann, Eugene Katchalov, George Danzer, Tom Ward, Gareth James, Robbie Strazinsky, Shirley Ang, Mike Hill, Richard Pearson, Ben Morrison, Neil Channing and Jared Tendler. 

Ok now let's look at what I did do in Vegas this year. 

I did manage to build stacks early in a lot of events, something that has long been a weakness in my game. With no background in deep stacked cash, I've tended in the past just to nit it up in the early stages of tournaments when stacks are deep and focus on avoiding major mistakes, confident in my ability to play the later stages when the stacks are shallower well. While it is undoubtedly true in tournaments that it's far more important to play shallow stacks well, it's a bit of a cop out not to try to chase EV in the early stages.  So this year most of my theoretical preparation revolved around using the simulators to improve my deepstacked play. This seemed to pay off: as I said I built stacks early a lot and in most of my events I got to double starting stack in the early going. 

I did manage to keep playing my A game while running atrociously. I took on board the advice of Jared Tendler on this front, I ran constant line checks with my study buddies, and I posted a hand most days on ShareMyPair to get more general feedback on how I was playing (I strongly recommend you do this and solicit feedback any time you have concerns about your game). 

I did notch up 5 cashes in the series so I felt like I was consistently giving myself a shot to go deep. I got down to the last 100 twice, and the last 50 once, so I had a shot to run well and make another final table. Unfortunately I ran badly at the death, but all you can do is keep getting into position to give yourself those shots. 

I did get sick at the end of the series. After busting my last event I went back to the Big Brokos house and experienced tiredness and dejection for the first time all summer. I don't mind that: it was always similar after big races and if anything I always took it as a sign of having given my all and emptying the tank, so to speak. 

In the airport I struck up a friendly conversation with the Afro-American gentlemen at the check in desk who appeared to be a big fan of Conor McGregor. He asked me if Conor was a big deal in Ireland and seemed happy when I said yes. He said he had some issues but he was a real person which he liked. He asked if he gave back to the local community in Ireland. As I took my leave, he took my boarding pass back and replaced it with another. I flashed back to my arrival in Vegas this summer and Beatriz surreptitiously consigning me to a couple of lost hours in additional security.

This time however, the outcome was a lot happier. When I got to the plane I found I'd been upgraded. 

Thank you Conor. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Sunglasses, Smidge and Uber

A lot of poker players these days look the same, dress the same, talk the same, play the same and act the same. But then there are the exceptions: the free spirits unaffected by peer pressure who are happy to plot their own course. One such player is Padraig O'Neill, known affectionately to his friends as Smidge (although Mrs Doke for a long time insisted on calling him Smudge, and it almost caught on). 

So I'm sitting in the Brasilia room of the Amazon playing the WSOP marathon and in the distance I see the familiar and distinctive shape of Smidge. His characteristic stillness and silence at the table, his distinctive stare down and facial expressions. But something is different: he's wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses! I know he's been mainly grinding online cash this past year and may feel a little out of touch with live tournament, but..... Sunglasses?!?!?  The trademark of the inexperienced recreational terrified he's giving off tells. 

I start looking forward to the break so I can take the piss out of his sunglasses. However, I get sucked into the last hand before the break and it extends well into the break. Smidge walks by and I nod at him. No acknowledgement from Smidge. He just keeps walking with that distinctive Smidgey trudge of his. Smidge is not an unfriendly man, so either he didn't see me through those stupid sunglasses, or he's so ashamed to be wearing them he's hoping I won't recognise him. 

I get back from the toilet race at the break barely in time for the first hand, so decide taking the piss out of Smidge and his sunglasses will have to wait til the next break. This time, I fold preflop so I'm able to get up and walk over to Smidge's table. It's his turn to be embroiled in the last game so I stand watching him play out the hand with all his customary betting motions, facial expressions and checking action. 

I remain convinced I'm watching Smidge until he takes off his sunglasses and starts talking Korean to another spectator. 

This year I took a lot less Ubers in Vegas than last year. There also seems to be a new culture where drivers are less keen to converse. Maybe this comes from most passengers not wanting to talk but whatever the reason, it meant I didn't gather enough material this summer to write another Uber blog. 

The one notable exception was that I got picked up one morning by Frank, who had picked me up twice last year and was one of my favourites with his natural enthusiasm and apparent joie de vivre. He remembered me, and  seemed a lot more muted this year, less happy with his situation, but we got off to a good start talking about water sports. Turns out his wife is American champion in one of the more obscure ones ("It's not as big a deal as it sounds. Only about 100 in the whole country do it". I told him the same was true of my ultrarunning accomplishments). 

At this point an ambulance sped by, siren blazing. 
"There goes the roofie patrol"
I had nothing to say so I said nothing 
"Man if girls would just watch their drinks better there'd be a lot less of it"
Growing increasingly uncomfortable at how the conversation had apparently turned to victim blaming for date drug rape, I remained silent. 
"I pick them up most days from the hospital near you. Good looking girls. They really should be more careful"
My desire to talk to Frank had by now entirely evaporated. I was afraid we might get on to mass shootings next, and find out it was mostly down to people not being vigilant enough looking out for bullets. 

I got out of Frank's car a little sadder. It was like seeing your favourite uncle for the first time in ages, but he's wearing a MAGA cap. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Girl power and Queen Rules

"It was very inspiring having Molly Bloom there for the Queen Rules. She talked a lot about empowering women and supporting each other and believing in ourselves" 
~ Daiva Byrne (Unibet ambassador)

The idea that we control our destiny is a dangerous childish notion parents sometimes plant early in the heads of their kids. As we mature and realise just how little control we actually have over all but the most minor details of our lives, it's easy to despair. Acceptance that we can't control what happens but can control our reactions and responses is an idea central to existentialism, Buddhism and sports psychology.

Molly Bloom is sometimes touted as a successful female role model in the poker world, and a poster girl for empowering women. At first glance it's difficult to see how. She is not a poker player. Her major role was to identify and attract rich successful men to play in a private (and ultimately illegal) high stakes game she ran day to day. She may talk a good game about empowering women and supporting each other, but there were no women in the game which made her name. At her trial, her (male) lawyer told the (male) judge that she deserved leniency because she had been ordered to run the game by her (male) boss. In the course of running the game, she ran afoul of (male) mobsters, one of whom broke into her home and put a gun in her mouth. She was ultimately brought down by a (male) US State Attorney. This was no poker queen, but a poker pawn moved by powerful sinister male fingers. This is not the kind of empowerment I (or any father) would wish for his daughter. Her story to the point she leaves poker puts the POW in empowerment.

She left the poker world deep in debt, her reputation and life in ruins, and a (suspended) prison sentence and community service. Her sentence would have been much harsher had the judge not accepted her lawyer's argument that she was but a pawn, a bit player, a powerless minion of powerful sinister men.

Poker has a desperate need for heroes and heroines. Maligned by the mainstream as degenerate gambling, it does itself no favours however in many of the heroes it chooses. It seems all a villain or a cheat has to do is go on a heater or win a big tournament to jump straight into the heroes camp. Past indiscretions and dodgy ethics get swept under the carpet in the rush to acclaim financial success. A seventeen second half-assed apology can be all it takes to wipe away past financial indiscretions. Having met Molly, I had mixed feelings. She is undoubtedly a formidable character but I just don’t see why she should be lauded in poker.

Molly's subsequent success really has nothing to do with poker or the unsavoury illegal underground branch of it in which she operated. She ultimately triumphed through her dogged response to abject failure and personal ruin. She spurned offers to write a sensational name-all book, and eventually found a publisher willing to let her tell her own story on her own terms. When we interviewed her in Bucharest for The Chip Race, my cohost David Lappin asked her how long it took after she published  the book for Hollywood to come knocking. Her honest and refreshing reply was that they didn't: she was the one who knocked. She chose Aaron Sorkin to transpose her story to the big screen because "his numbers were good". His proven track record to deliver at the box office and award shows sealed the deal for Molly. It was her journey and decisions after poker that promoted Molly from a poker pawn to a Hollywood queen.

Her transformation from poker pawn and spectacular failure to writing and movie success is an inspiration to many women and more than a few men. David and I were tickled to discover just how big a fan the normally inscrutable world class tournament director Nick O'Hara is: he was literally breathless at the sight and sound of Molly (okay, the poor guy had bad asthma but that simply added to the amusement). When Molly told the gun in the mouth story to a shocked press conference, the stunned silence in the room was broken only by an "Ah Jaysus" from Nick. At the end when Unibet Live events manager Nataly asked if anyone wanted a selfie with Molly, Nick bounded forward shouting "ME ME ME".

(Photo courtesy of Tambet Kask)

During the press conference, David asked her if she had been sent to prison for ten years (as she would have been had the judge not been lenient), would she have felt she deserved it. She turned the question around asking David what he thought. In the interview we did for The Chip Race, David asked if her whole career in poker could be seen as a sort of entitlement tilt response to have her dreams of being an Olympic skier crushed. She downcast her eyes and gave a very interesting response (which I won't spoiler here: you'll just have to listen to the interview).

On The Chip Race, David and I are always keen to promote gender equality in the game in any way we can. One way we do this is by positively discriminating towards female guests who are genuine role models. We will forever be grateful to Jennifer Tilly not just for being our first genuinely world famous guest (which afforded us enough credibility to attract other world famous guests) but also helping us behind the scenes get several other big (male) names. To my mind Jennifer is a supreme example of an empowered woman, not just directed by but also directing the actions of powerful men. We also recently interviewed the fiercely intelligent Jennifer Shahade, and as I told Jason Glatzer from PokerNews recently that one of my favourite guests ever is poker sensation and best selling author Maria Konnikova. Other firm favourites include influential industry insiders Kara Scott, my crazy wonderful friend Clodagh Hansen, the indomitable Kat Arnsby, Unibet's Nataly Sopacuaperu and Rebecca McAdam.

If my daughter were interested in poker, and asked me for a role model to aspire to, I personally would look no further than Daiva Byrne. Daiva works tirelessly to promote women in the game and the game to women. At every ladies event she hosts she pulls out all the stops to make everyone feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible. A uniquely friendly atmosphere characterises all her events. It may have been Molly giving the speech at the start, but it was Daiva who hung around afterwards to talk to every single participant after they busted. In less than a year she built a Ladies Facebook group from scratch to over 2000 members. She combines this with a successful marriage to John, and a dedication to working hard at her own game to continue to compete at the top level. In so doing she earns the admiration and respect of her male peers not just for her supermodel looks but also her technical ability. She often provides expert analysis on livestream commentaries (as she did this weekend on a couple of occasions alongside me).  She frequently contributes to the strategy section of The Chip Race (usually to discuss some hand where she outplayed David Lappin), and is someone I run hands I'm unsure about by.

That, to me, is real girl power that should be recognised and celebrated. In chess, the most powerful piece is not the king but the queen (the king is essentially a weakling not much stronger than a pawn whose strategic role is to be protected by the queen and other pieces). Unibet are trying to transpose this to poker with the Queen Rules where the queen outranks the king. They have found the perfect ambassador to promote this initiative in Daiva, a queen who rules.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Day You Bust The Main

The most interesting question I was asked during my time in Vegas this year was how I react to deal with busting the really big tournaments, like the WSOP main event. The answer is that it's changed quite a bit down the years. 

There's a cliche that the day you bust the main is the worst day of the year if you're a serious poker player. This was certainly true of me in the early years of my career, and was true as recently as 2016 when for the only time in my career I didn't make it out of day one. 

But it's changed. My bust last year had a lower intensity to it, and this year my day 2 bust didn't feel very different from any other live tournament bust. I don't know why that is,even if I can think of some possible reasons. 

Maybe I'm just getting better and more philosophical with experience. At the end of the day, as unique as the main is and as good as its structure is, it is a tournament, and as such your result will be almost entirely determined by how you run. Over a sample size of one you could play flawlessly and bust on day one, or play horribly and win (if you don't believe me, google Jamie Gold). Even over a sample size of ten, you could play really well and never cash. I'm not saying that's what's happened to me, I'm pretty sure some bad mistakes were made in the early years, but I do genuinely feel I've run pretty horribly over my ten main events. 

Maybe it's the fact that I went into this year's WSOP off the back of my best six months online of my career. In the early years the buyin represented a big enough portion of my bankroll to hurt but these days that is no longer the case. 

Lappin advanced the interesting theory is that it's because I've reached a point of my career where I'm happy with what I've already accomplished and my legacy, and I no longer feel like I have much to prove. There may be something to that: while I'd still love a deep run and a big score and I work harder than ever to give myself the best chance of that happening, well it's more a case of if it happens it happens and that would be great, rather than of it never happens that would be terrible. 

We interviewed Jared Tendler for the Chip Race during the WSOP and in response to our question of how to deal with things when they're not going well in a long series, Jared said its about focusing on the process and the decisions rather than the results, about treating it as a puzzle. I'm definitely on board with that thinking, so as long as I haven't messed up, I can accept the outcome. Daiva bust shortly before me, and confirmed she felt no real upset as she felt she had played as well as she could. 

Up until recently, the day you bust the main was also the day your WSOP ended. Then they introduced the Little One Drop. The first year I played it, it felt like the equivalent of the World Cup third/fourth place playoff (surely the most pointless "contest" in all of sport). The second year I played it felt like a welcome low stress way to move on and get back on the horse. This year there were a number of events after the main, so in my case the main came a little over half way through my schedule rather than right at the end. The fact you have to power through snd play another four or five bracelet events leaves little room for feeling sorry for yourself. My surprise at how little I felt was matched by my surprise at my emotional crash when my series did come to an end when I got one outered on the river in the last event, The Closer. So perhaps the fact that the main isn't the last event on the schedule is a big part of the reason it doesn't feel quite so devastating to bust the main, and at least some of the pain is postponed til you bust your last event. 

One final factor I'm pretty sure is big is having a good support network. In my first year in Vegas I hung out exclusively with my brother. In my next few I did the typically Irish thing of just hanging out with other Irish (many of whom I didn't even like if I'm honest), but over the years my social circle has grown wider and more international, and I only feel the need to hang with people I do like. 

After busting the main this year, Daiva and I decided to blow off some steam with her husband John with a night on the town. After an In and Out burger we ended up in Bally's where Daiva decided that the cheapest way to achieve her new goal of consuming her own body weight in vodka was to enter their nightly tournament and survive long enough to avail of the necessary number of $1 cocktails. In previous years I've alternatively marvelled and ridiculed people who jump straight into a tiny tournament after busting the main, but in the company of my friends getting utterly sloshed I found myself instead ridiculing and marvelling at the fact that even in this $150 event with a horrific structure (beyond a certain point the blinds just seemed to double every twenty minutes) I was still unable to do anything other than give it my all. As drunk as I was, when we hit the final table I found myself studying all the stacks and the payout structure to figure out what my ranges should be. Daiva similarly grinded out a result in the Aria nightly in her last night in Vegas. 

One thing John said to both of us that night also resonated:
"Getting to come back every year and play this event is a victory in itself. You see all these other players talking a big game all year, but then you don't see them here". 

Poker may not be a sport that hands out participation prizes, it may not even be a sport at all, but if it is the WSOP is unquestionably our Olympics. And as any athlete will tell you about the Olympics, it's not just about winning for most, it's about getting there at all. Athletic careers can be defined by whether Olympic qualification was achieved or not. The same can be said of the WSOP main: getting there in June is usually only possible with a consistent level of success in the other eleven months of the year, which in itself is an achievement. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lappin does Vegas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are you family?"
We looked at each other before Lappin said "Kinda"

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

"No pens on the...."
She threw a pen at me. 

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

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

(Pic courtesy of ArtySmokes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Scammer alert!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, it never did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More