Monday, February 2, 2009


KP's comment after the supersatellite summarising the fact that none of us who had travelled down managed to secure a ticket in the supersat, and in hindsight seemed to foretell how my weekend would go.
I like to think of myself as one of the most rational people around but luck plays such a huge part in poker, particularly tournament poker, that it would drive a Vulcan to superstition. Poker players quickly develop rituals and divide their wardrobes into lucky and unlucky garments in an effort to appease Zephyr (the Greek God of running good, I think). And after 7 solid months of seeming to run bad, I thought I'd turned a corner recently when my overpairs started holding up and I even won the occasional race.
Travelled down on the train on Thursday afternoon, typing up some notes for the coaching I've started to pass the time. Met KP in Killarney and shared a cab Connie had sent to the hotel. Whiled away a few hours before the supersat in the company of a few of the Dublin degens: Tom Kitt, KP, Harold, Vera, and Brian. Tom told me about his new play, the squeeze inducer.
Supersat started very badly and I lost two thirds of my stack over the first few hands I played but pushed my way back in to just over starting stack. The tournament being a rebuy, I more or less decided to batten down the hatches and just take the topup, and did so until I was standing up to go for the break advertised on the tournament clock. Then the dealer announced there would be one more hand, I sat down again, and played one of the most bizarre hands I've ever been involved in. Folded round to me in the cutoff and looking down at Jacks, I decided I might as well retire if I wasn't going to play this so I made a standard raise and got one caller in the BB, a very good very wild Welsh player called Jay. He check raised allin on a KQx flop after asking the dealer if he could both rebuy and topup if he lost the hand. Normally I'd have to think about folding here but against this opponent (he'd already called a reraise of mine with 43o and shoved a ten high flop when I had jacks) with so much air in his range at the best of times and even more so given the rebuy/topup situation, I made the call, after clarifying that if I did and lost, I could also rebuy as I'd have dropped below half starting stack. Jay had J2o for nothing and I held.
After that, my stack grew steadily until we reached the shovefest. I got myself into a great position with almost enough chips to lock down a ticket, but the two hands I did play knocked me back to where I needed to either double up or get a few shoves through to stay afloat. The first was when two shorties shoved my BB and with the first guy having less than 1 BB and the second (Vera) less than 2, it was less than a BB to call so I pretty much had to call atc. In the event, I had a pair of 2's, was up against QT and 87, they both hit so I managed to lose both main pot and side pot. The second one I raised AKs, a shortie shoved, a guy who covered me reshoved in the BB, and after a spell in the tank I decided I had to fold here. It turned out to be the correct decision as the other hands were JJ and AK (JJ held).
That knocked me back to where I either needed to double up or get some shoves through to keep afloat, and eventually with 6 BBs shoved KJs from the button into Zuroph's AQs in the BB. A K high flop briefly continued the illusion of running well, but a justice card ace on the river gave Zuroph the pot and the ticket.
Nevertheless, I was very happy with my game. I seemed to get all the marginal decisions correct, playedc the shoving section well, and overall felt it was one of my best ever performances in a crapshoot.
I got up early the next morning to do a 10 mile run before breakfast, and another in the afternoon as I wasn't sure I'd be able to run for the rest of the weekend.
In the main event, I got quite a rough table draw with Brian, Tom Kitt and Mick Mccloskey all at my table and with position on me. I made one of my best laydowns ever early on against Tom when I had a set but correctly read him for AK and a straight, and another pre against Brian when I raised with jacks in the CO and he made a big raise with Aces in the BB.
The most interesting player at the table was the guy to my immediate left. When he sat down I initially pegged him as a potential local donkey, and the very first hand seemed to reenforce this when he raised utg with KQo and played a double Q flop quite slowly (he even checked behind on the river). However, after observing his play over a number of hands, I quickly realised this guy was absolutely top class. We struck up a conversation which revealed him as a huge winner online in MTTs and a final tableist in a Venetian deepstack event. Talking to Mick at the break, I find out that this is none other than 2007 IPC champion John Clancy. It was a real privilege to watch John at work: he made some tremendous plays and laydowns and even though it ultimately came to nothing as he had one of those days where you can't catch a break, he gave himself every chance to catch one. Bad players can get incredibly lucky and still lose, good players need just a little bit of luck, while the truly great ones just have to avoid bad luck to win, and it wasn't difficult to see why John's a big winner overall.
I oscillated between 15K and 20K for the whole day, enduring card death for most of it. I hit 20K at the end after a hand where I flopped bottom set with a pair of ducks. Mick McCloskey had top pair (ace) but called only 1 bet before grumbling about going soft in his old age and folding. Mick's capable of some very light calls (including a great one with queen high in an online sat last week) but he's also good enough to make those kind of folds against someone like me. A lot of the younger guys seem to scoff at what they call the old timers and it's true that the play (and online records) of some of the big names is frankly laughable, but Mick has a game that stands up to the best, is a consistent winner online, and you have to respect a guy who has had a winning year every year for over two decades. Needless to say, when Mick offered to swap 10% with me before the event, I jumped at the chance.
I hung around after play in the bar for a while, mainly to abuse Tom about his scarf, the boots he'd clearly borrowed from his sister and the fact that he kept raising to isolate John Clancy who he had pegged as a local donkey. Tom's not just developing into a really good player but is a lovely guy and very funny to be with. He got in a few good digs of his own too, including a good impersonation of the Doke staredown, and one about how I clearly got my suit from a guy selling slates.
John Clancy was there too and told me about how he made a great call against Paul Morrow en route to the IPC. Since this was the same IPC where Rob Taylor legendarily folded KK pre to Morrow's K4o, I guess you could say Rob's chips ultimately ended up in John's capable hands.
I was sharing a room with Mick who had warned me he was a snorer and he was already in full song when I got back to the room with something that sounds straight out of the Exorcist: a chainsaw noise on the way up followed by demonic possession mumbles on the way down. Luckily I'm a very sound sleeper and once I got used to the noise (and the fact that the demonic mumbles weren't Mick trying to tell me something), I slept like a log.
I came back for Day 2 very pleased with myself at how I was playing, having dodged a few bullets and worked my stack up steadily. I was partly hoping our table would break soon or I'd get moved as there seemed to be a lot more value elsewhere, but also felt that with the structure and my table image and the way I was playing I wasn't necessarily reliant on having to catch cards or hands.
Ultimately though, it was not to be. My exit hand was kind of ironic given my earlier discussion with Tom about squeeze induction. A tight local limped utg, another local who was a lovely lad and a decent player but seemed to be tilting after a few hands that had gone awry made a standard raise in the hijack, and I looked down at jacks. Jacks are always a nightmare to play (as someone said to me in Vegas, there are three ways you can play Jacks, all of them wrong) and in this specific instance with the suspicious utg limp and a number of other factors including the raiser, the stack sizes and a few players behind me, I decided to play them the same way I would early in an STT, and simply flatcalled. Martin Silk, who had recently arrived at the table and impressed me as one of the best practioners of the loose Galway style, shipped from the SB. Folded back round to me, it's a pretty standard call in my book and I made it more or less instantly (I'd factored in that Martin was likely to squeeze pretty light when I flatted initially). A few people at the table said it was a brilliant call, but to be honest against someone like Martin, I can pretty safely discount QQ+ from his range, which means I'm on the good side of a race at worst, and in the 80/20 overpair/underpair situation a lot. As it happened, I'm thrilled to see he has 99, and even more thrilled when the first card out on the flop is a J. The next two cards are decidedly less thrilling: a queen and a king give him 4 gutter outs and the ten duly arrives on the river to send me to the rail. I seem to specialise in getting it in good not needing to hit, hitting anyway, but in so doing making my opponent's hand an even better one.
If you have to take beats like that, and you do in poker again and again particularly with my style, they're a lot easier to take if your chips end up going to someone who is not only a gentleman but also a good player like Martin likely to put them to good use, rather than some donkey banging the table with his fist celebrating the suck out who you know will just spew them away. Martin was obviously lucky to suck out there, but unlucky to run into a caller with JJ as I had underrepped the strength of my hand with the initial flatcall.
I played a single table satellite for the side event. If Martin Silk is an example of a good Galway style player and an absolute gentleman, Christy Morkan is at the other end of the scale. He donked away half his stack first few hands but a succession of outrageous suckouts and doggings saw him hoover up most of the chips on the table by the time we got three handed playing for 2 tickets.
I went for something to eat and an interesting chat with Donal Norton and decided to give the side event a lash. While we were waiting, Donal, Tom and I played some Chinese poker in the lobby. In the side event, I took a few hits early on and got into some good tussles with a very good player. Very good, but also seemingly very impatient to get off to the cash games. Why do cash game specialists insist on playing tournaments? Yes, their pure poker skills easily outgun just about everyone else in the field, but ultimately winning tournaments is more about things like patience and discipline and correct application of tournament strategy rather than simply recognising and seizing on every plus Ev play. Having position on my opoponent I felt I was starting to get the better of our exchanges by mixing up my play and lines, and he ultimately ended up donating his stack to me. His rising frustration and impatience more evident by the minute, he raised in the CO as I was looking down at AQ in the SB. Rather than the default play of a standard raise, I decided to shove feeling I could get called very light, which I did: T5. Scarily enough a 5 hit the flop, but I sucked out with a Q on the river.
That put me in great shape. I got moved to another table where my stack grew steadily to 33k before the last hand of the night. The HJ limped for 1K, the CO raised to 6K, the button flatted, as did Sideshow Bob in the SB, and I have KK in the BB and shoved. The initial limper went into the tank and eventually folded (JJ apparently). The CO also went into the tank, and folded (AQs apparently). Then it was the button's turn in the tank, and when he folded, I assumed Sideshow would fold pretty quickly too as I doubted he could have a hand to call with given the action. However, he also went into the tank, wandered away from the table, before returning and counting out the chips. At this stage I know I'm ahead so I'm not too pushed whether he calls or not, as I'm assuming he has something like QQ. In the end, he makes the call with TT. The flop comes three rags with two hearts, but then another heart hits the turn and Bob has the ten of hearts while I'm missing the king. Just as I'm thinking the king of hearts would be the ultimate sick river card, the dealer flips over....the king of hearts, and yet again I'm undone by an out not needed. This was a hard one to take and I think I literally slumped in my seat for a few seconds before I managed to stand up and shake hands with Bob. Bob's an absolute gentleman and complimented me afterwards for taking it so well. As I said before, when you get sucked out on by a good player who has the decency not to do a jig on the table, it's a lot easier to take than some braying donkey.
Discussing the hand later with a few good players, most felt it was a marginal enough call in the situation, although it certainly wasn't unanimous (Gary Clarke said he'd happily have called, while Donal Norton said he'd make the call against a lot of players although not against me). In Bob's defence, he had never played with me before and told me at breakfast the next day he was putting AK and AQ and possible squeezes into my range so in those circumstances, getting 2 to 1, it's certainly not the worst call ever. Also, at the end of the day, I can't really complain about calls like this as the fact that no matter how much I nit it up, the fact that people will still think I'm possibly at it and make these kind of calls accounts for a lot of my positive expectation in tournaments in Ireland.
I've been thinking a lot recently about how you have to play different games in different places. It's incredibly easy to crush tournaments in Ireland with simple ABC poker, because no matter how tight you play, you'll still get action. You can play 3 hands in 6 hours and show down a premium pair every time and you'll still get someone willing to shove AT over the top of your utg raise. This works to a certain extent online too, although my online game has evolved into something a lot looser. It's decidedly sub optimal in the UK where I play a lot looser, and it absolutely doesn't work against the pros in Vegas, where I believe Negreanu's smallball style may be the best.
Anyway, kudos as ever to Connie, Matt and the rest of the Cue Club crew for a great job. The hotel went the extra mile too with late breakfasts and bars.
It was also interesting to see at first hand the continuing evolution of Paul Coyle as one of the finest and scariest players in the country. From the moment I first played with him in the Irish Masters, I could see he had a unique exploitive game. At the time his Achilles heel was he had only one gear and he tried too hard against good players. By the time I played with hi again in Blinkers the aggression was more well focused and directed, and while he continued to have a great exploitive game against the poor players, he had developed a lss exploitable one when dealing with better players. Now he has more or less the complete package and is one of the most difficult players to play against you'll find anywhere. It won't surprise me if he's winning EPT's and bracelets in a few years. Actually, it will surprise me if he isn't.
Great to see both KP and Mick final tabling too.
Plan for this week is to play a bit online but not as much as normal. Nicky Power gave me some helpful advice on the importance of avoiding burnout and being fresh going into events. Mick McCloskey also gave me a useful tip on something he spotted playing with me all day: guys like Nicky and Mick are very generous with their advice it's always greatly appreciated. I had my first $10K+ week online in ages last week despite only playing until Wednesday, so I feel my online game is in great shape again after some teething problems when I made some adjustments to it. Live, I'll probably just play in Malahide on Tuesday before the Deepstack. I'm undecided on the supersat: on the one hand these tournaments do represent the opportunity of as big an edge live as you'll ever get, but on the other, I may not be as motivated given that I've already qualified so it might be best to just rest up for the main event. In any case, I look forward to defending (or relinquishing) my title. People have been asking me how I feel about returning to the scene of my first major success and while it certainly won't be "just another tournament" and there are bound to be a lot of associated happy memories, I'll be trying to approach it as I would any other tournament, taking each hand and decision one at a time and doing everything within my power to win it. I've been toying with the idea of employing a radically different strategy from the one I employed last year, but on the evidence of this weekend in Killarney, it seems that would be unneccessary and maybe even foolish. So I'll be doing my best to step back a year in time and become the nit who walked in from nowhere to take on the highest quality field pound for pound ever assembled for a tournament in Ireland. I may even bring the sunglasses out of retirement.


Was good to see the sunglasses return this wkend! Well done on the cash. Excellent defense of the title

Thanks Gar. Very unlucky you were, I heard, but you also made a very creditable attempt


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