Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Instead of Durr there's Doke

Who needs the Monte Carlo EPT Grand Final when there's the Carlow CPT Grand Final?

This tournament has been called the best value big buyin tournament in Ireland and it's not hard to see why. A 20K starting stack, superb structure, and a field with a high proportion of players not used to deepstack slow structure events.

The usual Doke approach to live 3 day events in Ireland is SAD. Survival (day one), Accumulation (day 2), Drive on (day 3), but with such a mix of some of the best players in the land and some easy chips, I felt it was important to try to get some of the easy chips before they fell into the hands of the better players. I got off to a flyer getting up to 50K and apparently the chiplead in early going before I lost a big one. I opened to 525 at 100/200 with aces utg. Brian from Fermanagh made it 2200 just behind. A lady playing very solidly flat called in the blinds. After checking the two stack sizes (both in the region of 20k), I reraised to 7500 to commit against their stacks. Brian called and the lady folded. I check raised all in on a KJx flop and when I was called, I was hoping to see AK but fearing KK. As it happened, it was the jacks, and the flopped set held.

To make matters worse, I got moved to a tougher table with Jason Tompkins and Marc McDonnell both chipped up already and in full flow. Prolonged card death and a lack of good spots saw me wither back to 11K early on day 2, before I got an effective double up in a four way pot that I'd opened. Jason led out from the blinds on the flop and folded to my shove. Even better I got moved to a new table (Jason said "Good riddance" as I left which I took as a compliment). I made steady progress up to 45k there before my next big decision. At 400/800 the button opened to 3300. I made it 10600 in the SB with eights. Back round to him and he instantly shoved. I took a lot of time to make the call, something Noel Hayes expressed surprise at the time and Chris Dowling and Donal O'Connor in the bar later. Getting 6 to 4 on the call, I'm obviously priced in to making the call against any normal 4 bet shoving range there. However, even getting 6 to 4 I'd be happy enough to fold in this specific instance if I thought it was almost certainly a race or 50/50. The reason for this is that in a slow structure with a relatively soft field I think there are much better and safer ways to accumulate chips than taking 50/50s for most of your stack. I'd moved from 20k to 45k on the new table with no risk or major scares. So why did I call in the end? I got a strong physical read from my opponent that he was not strong, and table talk had indicated he was losing patience, so in the end I decided that there were a lot of hands in his ranges that I crushed (lower pairs, ace rags etc.). As it happened, he was even lighter than I could have imagined with 64s and although there was a bit of a sweat after a flop that brought a 7 and a 5 and a turn that was a 4, I held. That helped me finish the day around average just under 100k.

I went for a drink with Donal O'Connor and Sean Prenderville who were both still in and well chipped up. Donal remarked that table draw was going to be huge the following day. When we came back and redrew, I only recognised four faces at my table, Kevin Fitzpatrick (who was very short and didn't last long, reshipping Q7s over my aces), Alan McLean (Stephen's dad), Brian from Fermanagh and legendary Tipp hurler Pat Fox (who I'd played with for much of day 2). Alan commented "you probably think this is an easy table", a little unkind on the unknowns perhaps, but I will concede I was glad to have avoided the likes of Jason, Sean, Donal and Marc for now. It was time to put phase 3 (Drive On) into action, and I moved from just under 100K to 550K by the time the final table formed without major incident. I played a lot of pots with Pat Fox after I commented that my father (from Tipp and an avid hurling fan) would never forgive me if I knocked him out. Pat's a great character who was clearly there to enjoy himself. Using table talk to draw others into playing pots against you is something I've seen others like Keith McFadden and Nicky Power to par excellence but never really done myself before, but it's always a good idea to try to add more weapons to the arsenal.

My table draw for the final table was a mixed bag: Donal O'Connor was across from me, I had position most of the time on Sean, but Jason had position on me. Most of the rest of the table were good solid players, and seat 1 was a real wild card. The tone was set third or fourth hand in when I opened tens under the guns for a small ball raise (13k), Jason flatted just behind (nines he said later), and seat 1 shipped in for 500k or so. I found some hands early on and got them to hold and moved into a commanding chiplead. I held this until we got five handed when the momentum swung away from me to Benny Carroll in three hands.

Hand 1 didn't involve me, but I'll mention it since I believe it was crucial to the next one. Jason opened the cutoff for a smallball raise (22k), Benny flatted on the button playing about 220K, and the self confessed wild man in seat 1 shipped the lot in for the umpteenth time. Jason didn't think too long before folding his small pair, Benny tanked it a bit longer before folding AQ. When he told us what he had, both Jason and I said we'd have happily called in that spot against that player. Benny's mood wasn't lifted when seat 1 threw over his hand: 23o.

Next hand, Jason passes, and Benny opens for 25k in the CO. Folded to me in the BB and I find AK. Benny's been playing very cautiously so far but is visibly tilted after the last hand so after a quick peak at his stack to see how much he has, I raise to 70k, sized to induce a tilty ship from a weaker ace or king. Benny ships in, I snap, and he has KQ. A queen on the turn drives the supporters from Mayo into wild celebration which is fair enough, outdraws are part of the game, although I could have done without being told my call with AK was donkey stuff ("it's a raising hand, not a calling one", the book apparently says).

Very next hand, Benny finds aces and gets it in against seat 1's kings and Sean's queens and holds to knock seat 1 out and have nearly half the chips in play. I'm now the shortie and the real disadvantage of having Jason to my immediate left quickly becomes apparent: he simply won't let me get away with opening light and three bets me every time I put a chip into the pot. Perfect strategy as it prevents me from getting back into the tournament without finding a hand or being willing to take a flip, so I switch to push/fold. 4 handed with antes you can blind out pretty quick so there was no ducking races or marginal ships at this point. I won a blind on blind flip against Jason (I shipped in with sixes, he eventually called with A7) and then took a few more small pots to move back into it with about 450k when the exit happened. I saw a flop of Td8d7c with Sean holding 98o. Sean checked, I fired in 45k, he raised to 110K, I shipped, and he sighed and then said "yeah, I call", turning over Kd7d. I'm technically ahead but it's essentially a flip, very marginally in my favour, 51/49. That margin increased when a non diamond 6 hit the turn to give me a straight, but the story of my year to date has been "flush gets there on the river", and so it proved again. I was obviously gutted as had I held I'd have been back to almost a million in chips. I felt at the time that whoever won that pot would go on to chop the tournament with Jason, and so it proved.

Most of the hands on the final table were pretty standard. There was one hand against Sean I played a little unusually that generated a bit of discussion. Jason felt at the time I should have bet the flop but I felt I had good reasons to play it differently from the way I normally would. I'd opened with T9s, Sean defended in the BB (which he does with a very wide range), and the flop came down A76 with two of my suit, so I have a very strong draw (flush draw and a gutter). When Sean checks, there's a very strong case for me betting to represent the ace, and build the pot, since even if I get check raised all in it's not a disaster in theory as I have enough equity to call. However, I decided instead to take the free card for a number of reasons:

(1) If Sean has the ace he will check raise me all in and if I call I'm essentially flipping for my tournament life with 6 left. In this specific case, I hate to have to do that as I was picking up a lot of risk free chips using a smallball approach. Barring coolers, I felt I was likely to get down to the last two or three without having to flip for it. Given those factors, I'd have to seriously consider folding if Sean does check raise me all in despite clearly having the price I need to call. If I do decide to fold, I surrender a lot of equity. Either way, I can avoid this nasty spot simply by checking behind. If Sean was the most dangerous opponent left in the tournament, I'd be much more willing to take a flip here on the basis that if I win it my expectation increases greatly with the most dangerous opponent gone, but with Jason waiting in the wings, I felt he'd be by far the biggest beneficiary of myself and Sean flipping at this point.

(2) Even if Sean doesn't have the ace, he's perfectly capable of check raising me all in here with air, as he'd already done earlier against Nicky Power in a hand Nicky mentioned on his blog. This puts me in a horrible spot again of either flipping for my tournament (assuming his air is marginally better than mine) or surrendering a ton of equity if I decide the fold is more prudent. In his book, Daniel Negreanu makes the point that while you should nearly always bet a strong draw in position when you're the preflop raiser, the one exception is when you're up against a very tricky opponent capable of check raising with air, as you surrender a ton of equity if forced to fold your draw. I agree with this, and this was by far the biggest factor in my decision to check behind.

(3) Sean's hyper aggro style is such that if the flush or the straight comes, he will almost certainly try to represent it and I can expect to win a big pot (therefore there's less incentive to build a bigger pot until I actually have something better than ten high). He's going to find it difficult to put me on the draw after I check behind on the flop. Sean has a lot of low connectors in his range too so it's also possible that if I hit gin with the 8, it makes him a worse straight or two pair and we get it in on the turn.

In the event, the turn was a brick and Sean fired in a small bet which I called. The river was another brick, Sean checked, and I gave up on the basis that he's not going to suddenly believe I have a hand if I bet. As it happened, he had one of the very few hands that beats me that he might fold to a river bet (JT) so I was kicking myself for not firing a small bet designed to look like a thin value bet.

Other than that, the hands were pretty standard and as is generally the case when everyone is playing close to optimally, the cards ultimately determined the outcome. There was a great atmosphere in the place added to greatly by my good friend Andrew Yates who ran a book on the final table. That meant he was on hand to give boisterous support in his inimical style which I greatly appreciated (particularly since the way it worked out he stood to gain more financially if anyone other than me won). If ever there's a man who could outshout a horde from Mayo, it's Andrew. My wife Mireille came down to keep me company, watered and massaged. At one stage she came back with a bottle of water, went to open it, and sprayed my hair and shirt in the process to much general amusement. It looked like a premature champagne celebration done on the cheap. I used to wonder why places like the Fitz have waterproof gear in their poker clothing line: now I know.

Although I was disappointed after the exit, Andrew who was on hand to give me a much appreciated man hug also pointed out that driving home with 12 grand in the car is never to be sneezed at, and he's obviously right. The other positives are that I was very happy with the way I played over the three days, it was good to be able to prove that I'm not just a 10 big blind shove it in online turbo merchant but can still do it in a slow structure, and I'm very happy with my live form as I face into my third WSOP campaign in Vegas. I ended last year on a high winning an IPC side event and notching up a number of other results late in the year to give Wally a run for his money in the rankings, and this year has been even better so far, winning the headsup event in Killarney, making a second last table in Deauville, chopping a number of Dublin monthlies (JP's WSOP game, and the Westbury one), a fourth in the Loft monthly and now this latest result. I'm also having a phenomenal year online across a number of different sites since I switched my focus to mtts, so I have every reason to believe my mtt game is in great shape to stage a serious WSOP challenge.

A big well done to all responsible for making the CPT final such a great event, especially Liam and Fionn who have done a great job revitalising the CPT, and the dealers (especially my friends Laura (who did a brilliant job on the final table) and Liz (always a source of entertainment)). I'd also like to thank Mireille for driving down on Sunday to keep me accompanied and watered. She hates watching poker and isn't a great fan of what goes on around it so I know it's a bit of a chore. I'd also like to thank Bruce for extending my sponsorship deal: I'm delighted to continue representing them and also glad to have got a result in my first event under the extension. Lucky Bruce shirts ftw.

Next up for me is the JP Masters, my last major outing in Ireland before Vegas. JP and Christine always run a great tournament, and I particularly love this tournament. I final tabled it two years ago to shake off the "Jamie Gold of Irish poker" tag, and make the second last table last year. Hopefully I'll give it a good old rattle again this year.

In case anyone is wondering about the title of this blog entry, it's something Jason and Marc were saying in jest when I came to their table first. Jest or not, I have to say I quite liked it as a slogan, and I'm hoping it might catch on


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