Tuesday, September 7, 2010


This blog is being written on the plane home from another profitable poker trip. I seem at last to be getting the knack of simultaneously enjoying myself and not losing my nuts on these trips away.

I arrived in Vilamoura just in time for the end of the Poker Stars party where I hooked up with my amigo Feargal and his better half Sinead. Quality food (veal) and company set the tone for what was undoubtedly my most enjoyable poker trip away to date.

Feargal played day 1A the following day while I pretty much just lazed around and railed him intermittently. I'm not the greatest railer in the world it has to be said: I see poker as right up there with golf when it comes to "dull stuff to watch no matter how much fun it might be to play".

I played 1B and for once got off to a good start. First big pot of note was against a really friendly Iranian guy to my right who was playing very tight. A loose older spewy Norwegian guy limped utg at 75/150, I called in the cutoff with 7d5d, and my neighbour bumped it up to 600 on the button. The Norwegian folded, and I decided we were deep enough that I could call here against a tight opponent who clearly has a hand and is therefore more likely to pay me off if I flop big. Flop was Qd7x5x giving me bottom two and a backdoor flishdraw and I led at it for 1200. My opponent called looking a little perplexed. Turn is 3d adding the flush draw to my portfolio and I led again for 2500, quickly called. River was a Kd completing my flush. I fired for another 6k and was almost immediately minned to 12k. Fearing the bigger flush I elected to just call and my opponent turned over KK. On reflection my call on the end is a mistake that lost me some value. With both the king and queen of diamonds on the board my opponent pretty much never has the flush as I don't think he raises pre with any other Axs or continues past the flop.

Apart from that my hands were all pretty standard. After getting up to almost 60K at a tough table, I took a few hits with expensive second best hands to drop back to 30k before finishing with 38k. The table featured Luca Pagano, Danny Neess and Carlos Mortensen. One interesting hand against Pagano: I raised utg with QQ. The table fish called, as did Pagano on the button. Flop came 772r, I led, the fish folded, and Pagano flatted. Turn was a 9, I check for pot control if I'm beat and to get value from one pair hands that I beat but will fold if I lead the turn. Pagano bets, and I call. River is a ten which I'm not all that happy about since it means another one pair hand in his range just setted up, so I check. He fires reasonably big again and after some thought I decide I can't fold as played and call. He turns over 88. Pagano played very well all day and ended up cashing but his bet on the end is a bit of a headscratcher as it works neither as a value bet or a bluff (I won't call with anything he beats and I won't fold anything he doesn't).

Day 2 falls under the category of so very standard. I drifted back into the 20s before a timely double up with kings v AQ all in pre, and pretty much jogged up and down on the spot (40-50K) for a few hours until my exit. At 1k/2k, JP Kelly opened to 5K in the hijack. I slid in one third of my stack with tens, committing myself to the hand. Eventual winner Toby Lewis made it 32K on the button. Hating my life after JP folds but knowing I can't fold tens in this spot at this point and praying for 88/99 or at least a race I slid the rest of the stack in, only to have my worst fears confirmed when Toby turned over jacks, a hand that was good to him all day (earlier he'd been all in for his tournament life against queens).

At that stage there were just over 100 left with 56 paid so I think it possibly qualifies as my deepest EPT run. I've now played 5 EPT main events, made 4 day 2's, but never cashed. I was one of the overnight chipleaders in Deauville but got setted over setted early on day 2. In Austria and Vilamoura I finished on just over starting stack, while in Berlin I came back short. This record obviously lead to a bit of personal reflection as to why I've never managed to cash. To be honest I don't think I've done much wrong, at least in the last three I've played: I just haven't got the necessary breaks on day 2 yet. But it also must be said that these EPT fields are getting tougher with less and less amateur players. I think my strategy is optimal: playing looser than normal early when we're deep and targeting the amateurs while they still have chips. The fact that I've made day 2 in my last four attempts indicates this. Day 2 is a totally different day though with far fewer weak players and less big blinds to speculate with, but I think my record in turbos both online and live proves I can play optimally under these conditions too: it's just you're never going to have much of an edge and it inevitably comes down to winning the crucial allins. That said, there's no excuse for complacency and the goal should always be to eliminate all mistakes. I think my only mistake in the tournament was my weak river call against the Iranian but that mistake cost me 7k in chips which translates to about €1500 in equity.

After going for a run to clear my head and grabbing a quick dinner with Sinead and Fergal (cataplana, at Sinead's recommendation) it was straight back onto the horse in that evening's bounty turbo. If you want to play poker for a living it's very important to be able to shake off disappointment quickly, and I was rewarded by running hot. I got to the final table with no major scares. An example of how good I was running: the button ships on the FT, I'm short in the SB so my calling range includes any ace, I look at first card, it's an ace, so I slide the chips in. He flips over Q5o, I show him the ace and say "only one I looked at", then flip the other one over and it's another ace. Then five handed the blinds made any ace a ship in the cutoff, Pieter de Korver calls on the button asking "do you have an ace?". When I confirm I have, he enquires after my kicker. I tell him I don't know yet: he turns over A6 and I flip the other card over: a king.

I moved into the chiplead before losing a massive non-flip. The rather wild German in the SB shipped big, I saw an ace and slid the chips in as I looked at the second card. It was AQs v 94o and the lowly 4 won the day for Deutschland. At this stage I was short again, the German was overwhelming chipleader, and the others were all around average. De Korver then lost a big one to drop to 60k and immediately suggested a chop. I'm sitting there looking at my stack, 30k, also known as 3 bigs, thinking no way the boys will agree to this but to my considerable surprise the force of De Korver's personality got it through. We took 3500 each and played on for the other 1300. Shortly after, I doubled up through De Korver with a dominating ace blind on blind, the German took out the next biggest stack with an amazing call (the other guy, playing tight, shoved almost 20 bigs on the button with AQ and the German found the call with KJo). I then finished De Korver off when he shipped utg and I called in the BB with A7. He had KT and I held. I then trapped the other guy into shipping T6o in the BB after I limped JJ in the SB to get headsup. The German had an overwhelming lead but I chipped away at it a little. Eventually he looked like he might be in a mood to chop the headsup portion so I offered him 700 and took the other 600.

I played another turbo the next day and was at the same table as Fergal and Nick Heather. I outlasted both without going particularly deep.

Next up was the 1K side event. I got off to an absolute flyer. By the end of level 2 (50/100) I'd chipped up steadily to 28k without winning any one big pot or all in. An incredibly drunk (and therefore loud and obnoxious) Carter Philips was at my table, and in between him telling us how much money he had, how many females he'd had intimate knowledge of and how retarded we all were for taking a 1K event so seriously, we played some interesting hands. He three bet me a few times and showed trash before I decided to pull out the light four bet shove. Bad timing as this time he had jacks and my T9s did not suck out. He gleefully told me that that's what happens when you three bet trash, which is undoubtedly true, but I wasn't exactly overflowing with gratitude for the impromptu poker lesson from one of the greats. A short while later I opened QTs, he threebet again on the button and I went through all the options none of which seemed particularly appealling. I couldn't really just keep folding to his three bets, but we were now deep enough that the light 4 bet didn't appeal either as he was certainly well capable of 5 bet shoving junk as well as the goods there. In the end I decided the peel was the lesser of 3 evils as it was a min raise. Although even very drunk Carter was playing very well post flop I felt I had a reasonable enough read on him at this stage not to be too intimidated about playing a pot out of position. Flop came KJT giving me bottom pair and an open ended straight draw. I check called and the checked the turn, another ten. Carter checked behind and then fired reasonably big on the blank river. After I called, he turned over 52o.

The turning point of that tournament for me saw me get it all in with AQ on an ace high flop against a bare flush draw that got there. The loss of that 20k pot left me with a stack with no real room for speculative splashing around any more so it was back to disciplined <30 big blind poker, and I went out in 14th shoving an ace over a loose late position raise into a bigger ace in the BB. There was one earlier spot I probably should have taken in hindsight. Playing 19k at 400/800 with a 100 ante, I min raised ATs utg, primarily as a blind steal. A young German pro made it 3900 on the button. He was 3 betting his button and blinds a lot and had already squeezed me with 65o very early in the tourney so I considered the shove. In the end I folded but on reflection I think that while it's a clear fold against a solid player, it's probably a shove against that type of opponent. I think ATs is ahead of most of his range and I can even get called by worse (KQ/KJ).

Next up was the 1K turbo the next day. I got knocked back from 20k starting to 12k in the early going before Christer Johnanneson doubled me up. I raised KK in late position, the fish on the button called, as did Christer in the BB. Flop was Q42r, he checked, I bet, fish folds, and Christer raised. After I flatted and we saw a king hit the turn, he check raised me all in with JTo and I held. I then doubled up again through him after he squeezed with AQ, I called with tens and held. At this stage I was chipleader and it was looking good, but it all fell apart in one of the worst hands I've ever played. With 100K with 12 players left and the average 40K, I should have been looking to stay out of trouble, but somehow played a 160K pot against an aggro Scandi who flopped a set in a battle of the blinds (I just had bottom pair but attempted to hero call him down). That meant I got to the final table with 4 big blinds, which eventually went in with 76s v KTs. I flopped a 7 but he rivered the ten to send me packing in 7th (only 3 paid: these late side events really struggle for numbers) still cursing my stupidity over the hand that gifted the Scandi kid the chiplead.

The last 330 turbo went no better and I was an early casualty, unable to survive my first "the blinds made me do it" all in, KJ on the button v A7 in the SB. An unhappy and unsatisfactory last day's play in a week where I give myself maybe 7 or 8 out of 10 overall on the report card with an additional "must try harder to eradicate mistakes" note.

No such doubts over the non-poker aspect of the week, which gets a resounding 10 out of 10. Great place, great weather, great people and great company. There was a very good relaxed atmosphere among the Irish players out there with none of the usual tensions that can arise when a bunch of big egos come into close proximity. I had breakfast most mornings with my partner in crime Feargal and his lovely better half Sinead, who enlivened proceedings considerably by turning the tables when Liam Flood tried to take the piss out of her. Official score card: Sinead 3, Liam 0. I also had breakfast with Teddy Sheringham (one of Liam's poker proteges) who was also very sound. He asked me who I supported and when I outed myself as a Gooner grinned "you must have hurled abuse at me down the years then". No point in lying to the man: given that he played for Spurs, United and Engerland, he pretty much ticked all the boxes in that department. Hopefully cheering for him on the final table was some sort of amends.

Also went for dinner with messrs O'Shea, G (Big Mick), Heather and Blaine, and ran into Mark Spelman, Ciaran Burke and Bobby Willis. Bobby cashed in the main event for the second year running, and John showed his resilience and mental strength after a challenging time of late by cashing in the NLH/PLO mixed event and the super satellite. While it's disappointing that none of us went deep in the main event, I think it's only a matter of time before an Irish player final tables one of these and hopefully takes it down.

Socializing highlight of the week was a trip to the waterpark with Fergal, Sinead, Andy Black and his partner Nicoline, and Andy's son Zack who is a barrel of laughs. Some of his one liners had us in stitches but are not really for repeating on a family blog (or anywhere else for that matter). I resisted peer pressure to go on any of the slides but still managed to get drenched much to the other's amusement.

Despite playing a lot of live poker, the week had a very holiday feeling to it. When I'm at home my days are essentially spent sleeping and my nights grinding online, so it was refreshing to be getting up with the sun, going for a run, eating at normal times and generally living like a normal human being again.

Next up is the UKIPT which should be a good occasion. I do think Stars are taking liberties with the reg (12%) and the hotel room rates for satellite qualifiers. They clearly view these regional tours as additional money making ventures rather than giving something back or promotional, so it would be nice to see them doing more to foster grassroots poker in Ireland rather than merely being the biggest beneficiary.

Before then it's back to the online grind for me for a few days (or nights rather). I recorded another vlog in Vilamoura which is now up at www.irishpokerlounge.com. Thanks to all who told me they enjoyed the first one, which encourages me to go to the effort of doing a few more at least.



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