Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fairytale of Galway

Tis the season to be hearing schmaltz Christmas songs. The only perennial I welcome hearing is Shane McGowan's touching anti-Xmas song that reminds us that even the lowest of the low and the most disease wracked and flawed of human beings are capable of greatness at times.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon with Big Ian, and literally the first person we met was Parky, who asked if I'd run down from Dublin. First order of business was the first of the three IPR shows from the event. In the event, it consisted mostly of me scooting around badgering anyone I could find to give us a few minutes to get us towards the 45 minute target. Nicky Power gave a great interview as always even if it took him two goes at it. Dark horse Kieran Walsh gave probably the best interview of all. I say dark horse but it wasn't really that surprising: apart from being a great self taught player Kieran is an absolute gentleman, original thinker and class act on every level.

After the show and PokerStars party I somehow ended up playing the super satellite. Went semi deepish before getting kings busted by a small pocket pair. Not all in pre, but enough that small pocket pairs shouldn't have been in there.

Went back to the party, then up to my room. Ian came on with tales of a soft 220 STT getting going full of what he called local donks. Ian's donk radar can be a little off at times so I was naturally suspicious. To allay these concerns, I got him to confirm that the likes of Jude Ainsworth and Big Mick G were not among the entrants. When he confirmed that that there was only one place left, I told him to stick my name down.

When I got downstairs, the so called "local donks" all turned out to have English accents. Basically John Eames and his crew: Karl Mahrenholz, Christopher Brammer, another top young English lad whose names escapes me, the bookie (Mike Hill), JP Kelly, as well as Fintan Gavin and Paul Marrow. Everyone except Ian ponyed up an extra 100 for a last longer. I commented to John Eames that this was definitely a plus Ev decision by Ian, a comment that would come back to haunt me. I got sfa to play with and ended up losing a 40/60 and a 30/70 when John Eames correctly called my first two shoves to bubble. Ian, who had already pwned JP Kelly in JP's exit, went on to chop with Mahrenholz, afterwards remarking how those young English lads who he still thought were random Internet donk qualifiers hadn't a clue and were so easy to play against.

Great night overall, good craic with lots of old friends, as well as some I was meeting for the first time, most notably crazy psychotic Liz Moo-lally and Fergal Nealon (a great young Sligo player I've played with live a few times on online on Stars a lot).

Anyway, all that meant a much later night than originally planned, but I was still up early enough the next morning to get in a couple of runs, immediately before and immediately after breakfast. That put me in reasonably good mood for the main event. My starting table included Macau Classic winner Peter "Knuckles" Higgins, a very loose and unorthodox aggro Nordy kid, a very good LAG kid from Norway, Tony Rafter and Conor Ainsworth. I got almost no cards all day and just withered back to about 6K with even the occasional image plays with no cards getting snapped off. The one hand I got all day, near the end of play at 200/400, was QQ on the button. Knuckles opened utg for 1000, any raise pot committed me so I shipped to make it look like AK, hoping for the kind of loose call I've been getting of late in Ireland from something like 77, but Knuckles is far too good for that and folded his tens pretty fast.

Came back the next day with 14 big blinds, which at least made my decisions easy. I played the push/fold section optimally as ever and got a lucky treble up when I overshipped JJ over a raise and a call and was looked up by KTs. I then motored up to about 35K before I lost an annoying pot to Jaye Renehan. I flopped a pair and an openender and toyed with the check raise all in, but the stacks were a little too deep, I was sure I was behind and not sure I had enough fold equity to get Jaye to fold a better hand. Jaye's not as loose a cbetter as most and I wasn't sure there were enough marginal type hands he'd fold to a reship so I opted instead to check call the flop. The turn didn't improve my hand but his bet was small enough to give me the odds to call with my draw. I missed on the river and decided to give up. He confirmed that I was indeed beaten by showing me top pair. Apparently he had kicker problems though so a more aggressive line post flop might have won the pot. However, I'm reasonably okay with my play despite the result: Jaye comfortably covered me so could afford a loose call and I never like putting a tournament on the line with a draw.

After that, card death and an absence of profitable ships saw me wither down to 6 bigs, a point at which T8s became an autoship, I ran into Pat McFadden's queens and that was that. An anticlimactic end to an event where I just never really got going. I didn't feel too disappointed because I seriously doubt there's a player in Ireland who could have done better with the garbage I was dealt, and I believe most wouldn't even have got as far as day 2.

I was out just in time to buy in late to the 550 side event but decided not to. It's very hard to play your best straight after a main event exit, and to go back to playing small blinds. Instead, I played a little online to no great avail, chatted to a few friends online, periodically went back downstairs to see how the four players that I coach who were still in the main event were faring, and tried to chill out. If I'm truthful I was feeling a little sorry for myself, both pokerwise and because a friend told me something which she'd been subjected to which greatly upset and angered me.

While I spent most of day 2 endeavouring to play optimal short stack poker, the main talking point was the increasingly erratic behaviour of a very drunk Padraig Parkinson. At one point he was escorted from the tournament area, and word spread that he has been disqualified from the tournament after an altercation with TD Neill Kelly. It seemed unclear for a while whether he would be allowed to return, but eventually he was.

However, a big part of this game is picking yourself up and moving on from disappointments, so despite bugger all sleep I was up the next day ready to play the 350 event. First up I was called in at the last minute to do another IPR show with Liz and Ian, thanks to Manus being too lazy to get out of bed. Before that I hung out with mr swanky big parts sponsored pro Nicky Power. Working class boy made good etc. Nicky was focused and looking forward to the challenge ahead. An old hand at this stage, Nicky knows there's no point getting too worked up over any single tournament. All you can do is try to play well and hope to run good.

Highlights of the show included an interview with JP Kelly, a perfect representative of the new breed of young professional currently revolutionising both the game itself and the culture surrounding it. Meanwhile a big Omaha game was going on beside us featuring a very tired and cynical Dave "Halibut" Callaghan successfully pulling himself out of a hole and walking off with a mountain of cash chips. Dave teased us with a promise to do an interview with Keith McFadden but in the end slumped off to bed instead complaining of both tiredness and shyness. Given that Dave pretty much never does interviews, it would have been a real coup for us.

I got off to a slow start in the side event but then things started to click. In my early days in the Fitz, one of the Chinese dealers used to say to me "When you lun good you ween. You orways ween!" and this seemed to be one of those days. I got more big hands in two hours than I had in 2 days in the main, they mostly held, and I hit the final table as chipleader. The rush continued first hand when I got lucky. The short stack on the button shipped over a mid position raise, I reshipped jacks from the SB, the initial raiser tanked and thankfully folded queens face up, the button had sevens and I held. The final table was a high quality affair, including as it did Mick McCluskey, Chris Dowling, Fintan Gavin, Tom Hanlon (my first time playing with Tom, a real thrill), and Emmet Gough. Any table with Fintan at it is bound to be both lively and loud, and Fintan's use of speechplay to control table dynamics is always masterful. I've noted before I love being on tables where there's a master of tilt inducing speechplay as it always induces mistakes and sub optimal play. And it's great vicarious fun to see someone like Fintan, Dave Masters or Mark Dalimore pick at someone till they monkey tilt.

Unfortunately, Fintan more or less donated his stack to me early and exitted. After that the table was a more sedate affair, with Goughy impressing me the most (not for the first time), at one point making a great fold with jacks to a 3bet from my aces. Goughy has all the components to his game including technical understanding and the ability to make big folds as well as big calls to make a major impact on the poker world. At one stage 5 handed I had half the chips but then a standard small blind ship ran straight into Chris Dowling's queens and doubled up a very dangerous opponent. We more or less tread water thereafter until Goughy knocked out the short stack, and with 4 left and nobody having more than twice as much as anyone else negotiations broke out. Initially a deal was proposed which would give me 6K and the trophy, which I was happy with, but Chris Dowling felt 6K was too much and suggested 5750. With the others all in agreement, I quickly did the ICM calculations in my head and decided that my true equity at this point was 5800. As I was doing that, Goughy offered me an extra 50 and since that brought me up to the magic 5800 I immediately agreed, much to the amusement of the others and Neill Kelly who we kept up all night in sub zero temperatures (I think one of the reasons everyone was so eager to deal was the heating wasn't working).

By now it was 6 AM and I decided the best plan was to stay up till 7 and then go to breakfast. I went down with Rob and Cat and we ran into Goughy, the Bomber, and Daniel Rankin. Very good breakfast company, after which a kip was in order.

I got up to play the last side event and do the last IPR show we were doing. Mark Reilly was at my table two to my left and we had many enjoyable and challenging encounters. I was pretty much owned early on, but then got some of my own back. It's always fun playing against a genuine thinking player. There was one big hand where my willingness to talk abut the game backfired. Having explained my fondness for the squeeze inducer when there are active players yet to act to Mark in the bar the previous night, I went for one. He seemed to reach for chips as if he was about to raise, but then he looked at me and I could virtually see him recall that conversation before folding.

I reached the second last table with a decent stack well above average, but it all went in two hands. First I reshipped jacks over an utg raise and short stack button ship. I found myself in a race against AQ and stayed ahead till an ace on the river. That left me short and the next hand a standard ship presented itself, I got called in the BB by A4, pulled ahead when I hit a Q on the flop, but an ace on the river did for me.

Meanwhile the final table was in progress and I was obviously rooting for my three friends, Cat O'Neill, Big Mick G and Paul Marrow. Cat was first to go but had nothing to be ashamed of, having put together an amazing recent sequence of final tables. Rob was comical as ever to watch on the rail, a bundle of nervous enthusiastic energy. After Cat's exit I was rooting for Big Mick, a young lad with a great attitude and work ethic that I would love to see win a major title. He was very disappointed after his exit but did nothing wrong and his time will surely come.

At one stage I went over to see how Mick was getting on. Parky spotted me and came over. He offered his congratulations for my side event result which given that he was in the middle of winning a much bigger event was a nice gesture.

It's a shame the final table wasn't televised this year as it was an epic one with a bit of everything: the old guard spearheaded by Parky, a genuine character and gentleman enthusiast of the game (Paul Marrow), an attractive and charismatic young female player holding more than her own in a traditional male bastion, and the new guard of Internet players currently revolutionising the game. In the end, it was a victory on this occasion for the old (or in Nicky Power's words, the pensioners) over the new, with Parky cast in the role of King Canute holding back the tide of the new (for now). By the time he got heads up with Paul there were rumours flying around of backroom (or rather smoking room) deals to ensure the win for Parky so he could collect a 200 euro bet on himself, but as Parky said in his victory speech, Paul is far too honest a man to go for such skullduggery, and it was clear the fix was not in. Parky got it in racing at least once when Paul covered him. That's not how you fix a headsup match, no matter how drunk you are.

In the bar afterwards where Parky celebrated with enablers and assorted hangers on, Fintan arranged for me to get my side event trophy. Some slaphead (link to Nicky's blog) broke the lid, presumably in a jealous rage. Other highlights included schooling messers Kitt and Brown in headsup on Fintan's machine (after Bomber had schooled me) and taking some of their pocket money in revenge for the abuse they heaped on me from the rail the previous night while an amused and cynical as ever Hali watched horrified by everyone's play, and Paul Marrow thanking me for making him want to be a better player and take the game more seriously. He explained that after ensuring my exit from an event last year where he sucked out on me and asking who I was after I'd walked away, he was told I was one of the best tournament players around, and it suddenly struck him that that was something he wanted people to say about him when he left tables. As ever, a truly lovely thing by Paul to say. Having spent a fair bit of time in his company over the weekend, I can confirm that while he remains unorthodox, this guy can definitely play. After telling me about a hand where he laid down a bottom set of nines to a higher set and remarking that a year ago he couldn't have done that, I joked that a year ago he couldn't have put down a pair of nines let alone a set. Paul is a beautiful human being and I would love to see him win a big tournament.

I'll end with some well deserved congratulations. Apart from the final tableists, well done to Nicky "Min Cash" Power who ground out another result in adverse conditions, a great start to his new sponsorship deal. Well done to the three guys I coach who cashed (they shall remain nameless under coach/client confidentiality but they know who they are). Also well done to Chris Dowling who made two side event final tables. Well done to all the tds and dealers, especially the lovely Kasia who dealt the final hand and as ever illuminated the place with her presence. Well done to Fintan, Dave Curtis and all the Eglinton crew who ensure that every Galway occasion is a great one. And of course well done to Padraig Parkinson, the new IPC champion, who somehow managed to grab victory from the jaws of disqualification. As I look at the broken piece of fine glassware I got for the side event, I think that for now that perhaps is the best summation I can think of for this year's event.



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