Monday, September 1, 2008

Waterford and me, we go back, lemme tell you

40 years ago, I arrived in Waterford in the middle of the night in the back of an ambulance charged with taking me from Wexford regional hospital to Ardkeen. The reasons for the sudden move are not clear even now: I suppose either it was felt in Wexford that there was a better class of equipment, specialist or drug in Waterford, or they thought a dead three year old boy would look bad on their books and decided to pass the buck. Sickly from birth or at least shortly thereafter, I'd spent most of my first three years of living apparently on the verge of dying from one respiratory illness or another. In retrospect it was probably a case of an immune system compromised by very bad asthma and allergies to just about everything I encountered or was ever likely to in my environment, but at the time it had the finest medical minds of Brownswood (nice hospital in Enniscorthy), Wexford (kip), Crumlin (bigger kip), Wexford again and finally Ardkeen baffled.
In Ardkeen they pumped me full of every antibiotic they could lay their hands on, took out my tonsils, and watched and waited over the course of several months during which I progressed from death's door to a neighbouring parish occupied by the still sickly but stable. Most of that watching was done by an angelic nurse I remember as Claire (or Clare maybe), who read me fairytales of Bean De Valera in the evenings and mopped my sweats away as I heaved and hacked through another night's dance with death. Cla(i)re showed me the kind of unconditional unquestioning devotion I'd never come across before, but have come to expect from all my women since. Yes, every last one is measured by the yardstick of Cla(i)re.
My parents came to visit me very occasionally (I think they'd more or less given up on me by now, but visited occasionally for fear of it looking bad otherwise), so that by the time the hospital decided they'd given me enough time to die and I was just abusing their hospitality at this stage, there was very little of whatever little parent-child bonds ever existed between us left. As I remember, I didn't even recognise my father and needed repeated assurances before I'd take their word for it that he was, and as for my mother, well, I believe I made it clear at the time that while I wished to thank her for bringing me into the world, I'd decided I was better off sticking with Cla(i)re, so she could be on her way with that guy claiming to be my father.
I was devastated when it emerged this wasn't an option, and I had to go with these people back to their damp thyphoid-inducing kip in Enniscorthy.
I bided my time and 15 years later got off the train in Waterford, and walked up the hill for an interview with Ernst and Young. As I remember it, the interview went glowingly and I was more or less offered the trainee accountantship on the spot, subject to satisfactory Leaving Cert results, which I knew wouldn't be a problem. But by the time I'd walked back down the hill to the train station the glow had worn off and suddenly the idea no longer appealed to me. Waterford wasn't the problem: it was and still is a charming place populated by gentle lovable eccentrics like Cla(i)re. No: it was simply the thought of 45 years of filling up tax forms and balancing credits and debits and producing PNL reports and balance sheets that made me shudder. So I got on the train knoing I'd never sarken the doorsteps of either Messrs Ernst and/or Young again.
So Waterford and me, well, there's a bit of history there.
Last week's trip was for a happier reason, or three. My mate Mark reckons you need three good reasons to do anything and mine were:(1) Family holiday(2) Somewhere nice to train and get out of my running rut(3) Poker.
(1) was a big success: anywhere in Ireland that isn't Dublin is always a pretty easy sell to Mireille, and by the end of the week she was sneakily checking house prices and dropping subtle hints about it being a nice place to retire to (well, as subtle as she gets: "We're retiring here").
(2) was a great success too: we were staying on a golf course (Faithlegg) within whiffing distance of the estuary which turned out to be a great place to run so long as you watched out for golfers on the 4th tee preparing to belt a golf ball across the road towards the 4th green.
(3) was, well, not such a great success personally.
We got there on Monday and spent a good hour trying to figure out which of the many number 13's was our place.
On Tuesday I scoped out a running route that took me out through the car park, a lane, past a football pitch, down a few boreens, back out onto the main(ish) road, and back into the golf course keeping a careful eye on the 4th tee, for a loop just shy of a mile and a half. Long enough not to be too boring to repeat on the longer runs, short enough that there was the constant reenforcement of solid progress. I did an easy hour in the morning, a tougher hour in the afternoon, and a two hour core training exercise programme in the evening, which left no time for poker.
I got my runs out of the way earlyish Wednesday, all the better to make my debut in the Blazin Aces, a very charming place to play poker. The locals were extrememly endearing and friendly, and the standard was way higher than I expected. My previous excursions into what my daughter calls culchieland had me pretty much convinced that people outside Dublin generally can't play poker (but Galwegians and Corkonians are tremendous pokerbingo players and card catchers), but on the evidence of two nights in the Blazin Aces, the overall standard is higher than any other club I've ever played in. It's a small pool of players, and I guess the influence of some local superstars like Nicky Power and Brian "The Fox" O'Keeffe is to raise all boats. At least that's Nicky's theory. There's also a very nice atmosphere and camaraderie in the club that you'd never get in, say, Dublin, which makes it possible for the good players to transmit knowledge to the new players, and I imagine the club will continue to be a breeding ground for good players.
Anyway, I don't remember too much about Wednesday's night's tournament except that The Fox took me out on the second last table in a he-thought-I-thought-he-was-at-it hand where his AK outrivered my queens. The Hilton sisters: my most hated hand. It was my first encounter with The Fox and I was an immediate fan. As Nicky said to me later at the weekend, they don't call him the Fox for nothing. He's a hard man to read or put on cards, with every gear and trick in the book, and the type of unorthodox LAG game I always enjoy seeing when it's done well. Like a lot of great players he has great presence at he table too.
On Thursday I got up early for my morning run, then we headed for Cork to meet an old flame of Mireille's, now a distinguished professor and anaesthologist in Germany. Notwithstanding the fact that he literally puts people to sleep for a living, Dr. Schubert is a very nice and very interesting guy. We got back in time for me to do my evening run and then head to the Aces for a super satellite to the weekend's Main event. I had a very up and down tournament that saw me down to fumes at several points but eventually I got one of the three tickets on offer (The Fox and a good young local lad taking the other two). I was very happy with how I played, I had the Fox to my immediate left pretty much for the whole tournament and having someone that good and that tricky sitting with position on you is the best way to keep you on your toes. I hit quad aces early on but didn't get paid much, then doubled up when I shoved with a flush draw and overs and hit, then drifted back until Laura was moved to my table. Laura's a lovely girl and a great player who was chipleader or close by this time but the chips started moving my way thanks to a couple of flopped sets. The hand that did her in was the most interesting one I was involved in all week: she limped on the button. I woke up with aces in the SB. With the Fox sitting behind me in the BB, I decided to make a rare excursion from ABC so I just completed. Every other time it had been limped to the Fox in the BB he'd raised big so I was hoping he would again, but this time he didn't. Oh well, my disappointment didn't last long: only as long as it took to see a flop of A1010. I instachecked expecting someone to stab, but this wasn't Limerick and it got checked around. A jack on the turn, I checked again, as did the Fox, and finally Laura bet 1600. I not much more than min raised, hoping the Fox might read the action as steal, resteal, but there's no fooling the Fox who folded after commenting that if I hadn't raised, he would have. Back round to Laura and I almost wet myself when I heard her say "All in". She had KQ for the straight and had therefore just been coolered, which she took with characteristic grace, while the Fox complimented me on my sneaky preflop play, noting it was impossible to put me on that hand.
Having qualified for the weekend's ME gave me Friday off pokerwise, so I decided to shift the killer run my coach had scheduled for Saturday forward a day as I couldn't see myself playing my best after several hours of alternating 2 miles at 6 minute pace with 2 at 7 minute pace, times 10. The run went very well, so I went for a walk with Mireille and Oisin afterwards, and that evening did another core training session. Originally designed by Peter Coe for his son Sebastian, it's a bit of a killer (1000 squats, 110 pressups, 160 stepups, 250 abdominal crunches, 120 situps etc.) that always leaves me thinking how much more suited it must have been to Seb's smaller leaner lighter body than mine.
I still felt fine after it but woke up early the next morning feeling very tired. I had to force myself out the door for my pre-breakfast one hour recovery run, and it was a real trudge/slog. After breakfast I went out for my second run of the day and it was much better, so I guess the recovery run did the trick. A quick bath and some more food and it was time to head for The Tower for the Main Event.
I started reasonably well, working the 10K starting stack up to about 14K. I then got moved to a table that featured Rob Taylor on my left and Rory Liffey on my right, and managed to lose two thirds of my stack in just two hands. First one I had aces, raised utg, got repopped by the SB, which I flatcalled. At this stage I think I'm most likely up against a picture card pair (or maybe ace king, or ace queen, but less likely since I have two aces) so I'm essentially trapping. The flop is horrible for me though: KJx, meaning two of the three hands I'm most likely facing have just hit a set, and the other one isn't paying me a penny. My opponent instachecks which also pretty much screams set. I check behind, the turn's a blank, and he leads out for 1800, just under half pot. At the time I thought I should probably have gone with my read and just folded but after some thought and discussion decided my call is ok here as it could be a probe bet with some hand I'm still beating (like queens). When a blank hit the river my opponent bet 3K and I was done with the hand. He showed his kings.
Next pot, I'm playing ace queen heads up against the BB and see a flop of Q10x. Check, bet, call. 9 on the turn, check, bet, raise, and I fold pretty much sure he hit a straight with KJ even if he didn't show. OTOH, he was a good enough player to know I could be bluffed off a hand having seen me just put down aces, so who knows. But I read him for strength and you have to trust your read.
I then drifted down until I was virtually killed off in a pot where I ran a flush into a slightly bigger one. With the blinds at 200/400 and me in the SB with just 1200 behind, I completed with 65s. No point in shoving I thought: Rob was just behind me and obviously good enough to call with any two cards. Flop is A62, I shove to protect and Rob folds. 2K now, still on life support, but with Rory Liffey raising more frequently than a flag-owning patriotic American I was hopeful of a good spot to double back up into the game, and it duly arrived when I picked up AJ. Rory raised early, I shoved, Rob folded 3's behind me, folded around to Rory, who dwells for ages even though it's only 1100 into a pot of 3500, so I know he has a sack of shit. Which he has: 75 off. Flop is Jack high (with a 3, phew, nice fold Rob) and I hold.
Shortly after the table breaks and I got moved to a table best described as messy. Birthday boy Nicky Power was in great form both pokerwise and spiritually, composing songs in the genre of ""There's only one Rory Liffey/Dara O'Kearney/He pisses...." and abusing big Al's decision to sell shares in his Vegas trip at 300% ("Phil Ivey's not worth that much"), and there were some other good players there. I seem to be incapable of playing well at the same table as Nicky but I got an early better than double up when my jacks outraced ace king, and then big Al doubled me up in a strange hand. He limped from mid position, small blind called, and I checked with A8s in the big blind. Flop is J102 with two of my suit (spades), and it goes check, check, pot, fold, call. 10 of spades completes my nut flush on the turn, I figure big Al will keep betting at it as long as I let him so I check, and he bets again. River's a blank and thinking he might smell a rat and check a hand behind, I bet about half my stack, less than half pot. He shoves, I call, he announces two pair (jack I suppose) and Nicky ribs him along the lines of "What else could the cockroach have had?"
Shortly after that we broke to the second last table, and I didn't win another pot. My exit hand was petty standard; down to 8200 with the blinds 400/800, I shoved utg with AQ and it was folded to the BB. Along the way there was some speech play by Nicky ("I fold my 10s") and Rory ("Queens no good") reenforcing my rock credentials so I was expecting the raise to get through until the BB went into the tank. More speechplay by Nicky ("Call if you beat KQ, fold otherwise" which it turns out is exactly right given my range), and Nicky called clock. My opponent had less of a read on my range because he called with 10's, which it turns out is a slight favourite against the bottom-of-my-range hand I have, but a 6 to 4 dog against the whole range. In any case, it turned out to be a good call since he won the race.
Afterwards I walked back to Faithlegg not particularly happy with my performance. I don't think I did anything particularly horrible but my play was pretty mechanical. It may be the after effects of the hard running training as I've noticed before that the day after a brutal run it's as if I sink into a kind of stupor at the table, playing like it was the Internet, by which I mean my hand selection and lines are reasonably okay if a little too predictable, but I miss out on the finer points of physical tells, table dynamics, mood shifts and so on that are normally my strong point live. Some of my play in the 10-20 big blinds stack range was weak at a time when I should have been looking to push on rather than simply survive or wait for the nuts to double up.
Just before I left, Rob got a very big stack on the other table with a beautiful shove with aces preflop, and Cat was in good shape too, so I was hopeful when I came back the next day they'd both be at the final table, but Rob unluckily bubbled. Cat was there but short but she showed her usual patience and discipline before doubling up with a cleverly played set. She then was unlucky enough to run kings into aces (and queens) but she's making a habit of outlasting Rob and 95% of the field and it's only a matter of time before she gets a really big result. She also has great table presence.
Nicky was there too looking a lot more contrite than the previous day. A whole night and I still hadn't come up with a suitable continuation to "There's only one Nicky Power/He pisses....".
Final day's side event never really got going for me. In fact I never got above starting stack and spent most of the tournament circling the drain until a mini recovery just after the dinner break when some ninja short-stacked short-handed pushbot poker saw me treble my stack back up to starting stack without showing a card. That saw me through to the second last table but card death continued and it ended in ignominy shoving with shit, sooted shit, on the button and running into a pair of 9's. I actually became favourite on a flop with two of my suit, some runner runner straight possibilities and an overcard, but I missed everything. Cat and Rob were both still in and I'd resolved to hang around and rail them, but it turns out I'm just a bad loser so instead I stormed off into the night as per usual.
Well done to Nicky who was involved in yet another chop. I still haven't come up with a suitable continuation bet to "There's only one Nicky Power/He pisses....".


brilliantly written as ever dara.
oh and ive finally updated my blog !

Thanks Rob. Well done again in Waterford, another great result for you. Keep the heater going in Bolton!

glad you enjoyed the holiday Dara and great read, jebus I really shouldn't drink that much.

Hi Dara, Happened to come accross this during the week when looking at other poker sites. I was one of the lads at Metallica the other week and met you in Citywest (thanks for the pints again, and thank mark too... an interesting character he was!)

The blog's a very interesting read anyway, I'd say I'll be checking it out every now and again. I think that night got me interested in poker again so thanks for that, just dont be suprised to see me cursing both you and mark when I'm losing!!



Thanks for the comment, Ayman, great to hear from you! Yourself and your buddy were great sports in Citywest, thanks again.

Mark's in Bolton this week and Barcelona next but he'll be back in Ireland for Killarney at the start of October.

Give the poker a try. It's great fun and is the kind of thing that rewards intelligent application.

Great write up! I was cringing reading the gruelling squats/sit-ups scheduke you put yourself thru! That Nicky Power... sure he's got no class! Don't be lowering yourself to his level!!!! LOL! ;-D

Thanks queen. Nicky's a bit of an animal when he gets drink inside of him, but a good natured and lovable one :)


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