Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life goes on

The first time I came to Vegas was two years ago. I was the reigning European Deepstack champion. I'd also spun up a decent online roll from absolutely nothing (literally, I never made a real money deposit: everything came from a $171 seed I got for coming second in a freeroll) and had just "turned pro".

I hit Vegas with my brother with not just dreams but expectations of taking it by storm. A few draining weeks later (both bankroll and energy draining), myself and the brother found ourselves on our last day of Vegas with so little of the $20K we'd brought over that we weren't certain we had enough to cover cab fare to the airport. So we walked, from our hotel (Circus Circus, way up at the top of the strip) to the airport, a 2 hour ignominious walk of shame through one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the world in scorching heat. My brother more or less retired from poker that day, and who can blame him?

One year later, a more pragmatic version of me arrived for my second tilt at the WSOP, under some considerable financial pressure not to have a losing trip. The previous year's trip had been the first speed bump in my poker career, my first personal experience of that fact that you can't always win at poker, that you can actually lose at this game. Responding to this I took what I thought was the prudent decision to take a chunk of my online winnings offline and put them into "safe" bank shares. My first major online downswing and the subsequent Anglo Irish bank share collapse saw my roll dwindle to the point where simply generating enough to cover my family's monthly living expenses became a major feat, or ordeal. All of which meant I simply couldn't afford to have another big losing trip. I did anyway (I again drew a blank in the official WSOP events), but instead of grinding smaller live tourneys I bailed myself out by grinding online so that what I won online covered what I lost live. All of which made for a rather strange and isolated Vegas experience, most of it spent grinding 45 mans in my box room in the Imperial Palace.

This year I arrived in Vegas under no such pressure. As I said before both here and on the Irish Poker Lounge, I committed a portion of my regenerated bankroll to the trip: buyins, expenses and staking, and was mentally prepared to write the lot off in pursuit of a bracelet, or at least a deep run. For the third successive year, things didn't exactly go to plan. Once again, I've come to Vegas and achieved absolutely nothing that I really wanted to achieve. No deep WSOP runs, not even one min cash. On the other hand, I did win a couple of tournaments (nightlies in the Rio), I did well in the live stts. I'm happy with the poker I played for the most part, and I'm going home with more money than I realistically expected most of the time. The money I dropped on the trip can be entirely accounted for by expenses and staking others: I essentially broke even myself on my poker playing despite not cashing in any event with a buyin over $500. So the nightlies and the stts essentially allowed me to freeroll that once-a-year WSOP shot that all serious mtt players with aspirations or pretensions of greatness must take.

As I walked through the long Rio corridors towards my room after my exit from the WSOP late on day 3, I felt pretty devastated. I made two unsuccessful attempts to psyche myself up and go down and socialise with the other Irish hanging round the bar but my heart wasn't in it, so I went back upstairs and curled up in bed feeling as miserable as I ever have. I figured it might take a few days, maybe even weeks, to shake the depression, but I got up the next morning and felt fine. Life goes on. Maybe the memory of that ignominious loser's walk with my brother two years ago and the realisation that I'd gone as far as I could in the tourney without ever catching more than one decent break made the disappointment easier to overcome.

The general mood in the Irish camp seems understandably downbeat. There have been a few success stories: Nick Heather, Sean Prendiville and Jim Fennell in particular, but most of us have lost money on this trip, and I believe collectively we're also down. For a nation that genuinely believes that we punch above our weight in the poker world, that's disappointing. Some top players are now questioning whether they have any real edge over the field any more. My own feeling is that the number of top class players is rising to the point that in the bigger tournaments there's less and less dead money, but that the edge of those players over recreational players is increasing. But the bottom line is that there are now literally thousands of players out there who know how to play optimal mtt poker, and that number will continue to increase. It's no longer particularly difficult to become a top class mtt player with the myriad of training sites, books and forums so the number of top class players is just going to go on rising. The writing is on the wall long time for mtt professionals in my opinion.

The day after my exit I got up, and by evening felt like playing again so I headed over to the Venetian for the nightly there. As I walked back afterwards, it occurred to me that players probably never know it's their last Vegas at the time. We all assume we'll be back next year, but we can't be complacent. It's time to reflect on WSOP 2010, see what lessons can be learned from it, and begin the preparations for WSOP 2011. On the poker front, I think I need to get away from my over specialisation on NLH. On the personal front, I need to reduce the effort I put in to minor or non-essential poker activities. This Vegas campaign was threatened by personal distractions and political diversions. A falling out with someone I used to consider a very good friend got very ugly and very public. I don't think any of these affected my play or the outcome in the end, but I could certainly have made things easier for myself without them. My biggest personal weakness has always been a tendency to overstretch in every area of my life, and I need to remind myself that I'm first and foremost a professional poker player and that everything else is just dressing. I probably make more mistakes than the average person, but rarely the same ones.

The other positives I take from this trip is I played a lot of live poker in 5 weeks without ever getting jaded. I did not allow the attendant circus of Vegas suck me in: I rarely ventured outside the Rio. I did not allow the fact that I was getting no breaks in the ones that really mattered to me affect me. I wagered not a single cent on table games or slots. I socialised enough to feel comfortable and gravitated towards people who I had most in common with and could socialise with constructively rather than destructively (I particularly enjoyed the regular company of Feargal Nealon, Paddy O'Connor and his lovely wife Tanya, Paul Carr, Rob and Cat, my poker soul brother Mark Dalimore begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, Sean Prendiville, Theos Rippis, Wally and a few others whose names escape me right now as I type this blog in McCarron airport).

Next up for me is the Waterford Masters in Tramore next week, sponsored by Bruce. I'm also looking forward to getting back into my regular nightly mtt routine on Bruce. Life goes on until it doesn't.


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