Wednesday, December 14, 2011


On paper, it looked easy enough: Dublin to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Manila. I knew from past experience that Amsterdam airport is big and can be tricky to connect through, but it was Hong Kong where I almost came a cropper.

Proof that I shouldn't be allowed out of the house alone, part one
Having been warned that Hong Kong doesn't do gate PA announcements, I located the Cathay Pacific flight to Manila on the screens and installed myself at the indicated gate. While I waited there in the eery silence, I availed of the free Wifi to chat to some friends. The spell and silence was eventually broken by a PA announcement warning Dara O'Kearney that his flight was now closing. I strolled over to the official. He strolled away. Another passenger looked at my ticket and pointed out it was not for this flight to Manila, but another one just leaving from some other gate. A quick look at the screens confirmed there were two Cathay Pacific flights to Manila, and the one I was supposed to be on was departing. As I checked the gate, the flight literally disappeared from the screen. A panicked run through the terminal and I zoned in on an empty gate with no display but two security guards. Good news: this was the gate. Bad news: the flight had departed. As I was processing this piece of info, a female Cathay Pacific hostess emerged pointing at the shute and shouting "run! run!" Having no reason to believe that this was anything other than sound advice, I ran ran. Down the shute, round the corner, and I literally hurdled into the plane as the door was sliding shut. The air hostesses on the plane found this incredibly amusing.

This is Manila
My first impression of Manila was that it was a symphony of praise to chaos theory. On the cab ride in from the airport, I observed that motorists paid little heed to lanes or the like, but liked to beep their horns every few seconds. The cab weaved in and out and around to a constant cacophony of beeps. Took a bit of getting used to, but once I did it seemed to me that as lawless and chaotic as it appeared, traffic was flowing much faster than it would anywhere people respected lane rules and traffic lights.

The hotel where the tournament was taking place was booked out for the first night, so I scooted round the corner and found another. Scooting is probably not a good verb here: although the hotels were only a few hundred metres apart, every time I walked it it felt a bit like obstacle course with the beggars, the hustlers, the street kids, the working girls, the street traders and the unreliable pavement. The kids were probably the saddest aspect: I read in the local paper that there are an estimated quarter of a million of them here. Kids as young as four trained to trot along beside you, one hand outstretched to beg, the other tapping you gently on the belly or side to get your attention. I find it very hard to see such visible desperate poverty, and not feel a bit guilty and worthless when I reflect that I make a small fortune from exploiting a superior knowledge of game theory and probability.

Day 1c
I'd originally planned to play 1b (Friday, the day after I got there) of the Manny Pacquiao World Poker Open (which despite the name was an APT event rather than a WPT one) but my friend Mark Dalimore who had arranged this entire trip was delayed and didn't arrive in time to play it, so we both registered that evening to play 1c, the last day. A few pool tables had been set up in the poker room. Manila is infamous for its pool hustlers and Mark willingly donated. I decided an early night was in order for me. Surprisingly I was having no jetlag problems but a good night's kip before a major tournament is never a bad idea.

I didn't get too much to play with all day but managed to work my way up to double stack near the end of play by making the most of what I did get. It wasn't the kind of field where you could do anything fancy without cards, so I stuck to value betting much bigger than I normally would. A series of minor setbacks late in the day saw me drift back from 30k to finish with 21k, 21 bbs when we came back for day 2. We'd lost two thirds of the field so I was well below average but still reasonably optimistic.

Mark got knocked out early and turned up late in the day with legendary Welsh wizard Dave "El Blondie" Colclough, who lives out here now. Dave had played 1A and got through as one of the chipleaders.

Day 2 - Take 1
Day 1 ended early, around 9.30 PM, a pleasant change from tournaments back home where you play til 4 AM and have to be back less than 12 hours later. I was in bed by 10, keen to stick to the plan to get enough sleep as possible. When I moved from marathon running to ultra running, I hooked up with Norrie Williamson as my coach. Nobody has studied ultra running as scientifically in the world as Norrie: he literally wrote the book on how to train, eat and live for optimal performance. Nobody has yet done anything like that for poker, and it remains a matter of conjecture rather than scientific method as to how much things like good diet, general fitness and rest affect poker performance. One thing I've noticed from observing most of the top players who are consistent performers is that they sleep far more than I do, and far more than the average person. Given that the key skill that top poker players have (particularly online players who multitable) is the ability to identify and process relevant information at lightning speed and make decisions, it is not surprising that an activity which places such high demands on the brain requires that the brain be given ample recovery in the form of sleep. I've never been very good at sleeping. This flaw was a major advantage when I was running 24 hour races but may not be when it comes to playing poker (although mental stamina and the ability to make good decisions when tired is important in tournaments with long days), so that recently I've been trying to improve my sleeping (or at least do more of it).

I slept straight through until almost 7 AM. When I woke and saw the time, I decided to try for another hour or two's kip, since we weren't due to start back until 1 PM. Next time I opened my eyes, I read 1.46 on the clock. I hurled myself out of the bed and into my clothes, and on the sprint to the Pan Pacific, I frantically tried to work out how much of my stack if any I likely had left. Up 5 flights of stairs and into an empty casino except for cleaning staff. I figured I must have blinded out but where was everyone else? Checking the time on my mobile phone (which was still on Irish time), I found it was almost midnight back home. Subtract 8 hours, so it's 4 PM? No, wait, that's Vegas that you subtract 8 hours from GMT, here you add 8, so.......8 AM. I slunk back to the hotel cursing the clock in my room which I was convinced had malfunctioned. But when I got there, it read 8.15 AM. Somehow I'd read 7.46 as 1.46. The following photo taken at 7.59 illustrates that this is easier than it sounds.

Day 2 - Take 2
If someone had told me that I'd be gone within a couple of orbits, I'd have assumed it meant I waited for a standard reshove spot, got called, and lost. But while I was indeed gone in a couple of orbits, in that time I got myself into a spot where I was more than a 4 to 1 favourite to move into the chiplead in the tournament. So, quite an eventful half hour.

Hand 1: I raised an ace in late position and get the blinds and antes to move to 23k.
Hand 2: I'm not in this hand, but it was hugely significant in hindsight given what followed. El Blondie opened in early position, called by a loose local just behind, and an elderly guy in the blinds. Flop was 744, it's checked to the local who fires in a chunky bet, the elderly guy raises, El Blondie flats, and the local folds. The turn is an 8 and the old guy shoves and gets snapped by Dave Colclough. The hands are 33 and A4s. The old guy catches his 2 outer on the river to cripple Dave and become table chipleader.
Hand 3: After 2 more blind steals that see me move up to 27k, I flat a late position raise from a loose aggro French guy I barely cover with kings in the big blind. I check call an ace high flop, and a blank turn. When a second ace hits the river, it gets checked down and my kings are good. I'm now up to 40k.
Hand 4: The French guy limps utg playing 15k. I find AQ on the cutoff and raise to 3K, happy to get it in if he shoves. The local on the button flats, as does the French guy, The flop comes AT4 with 2 spades, I cbet 5k, the local raises to 13500, the French guy folds, and I shove. The local folds. I'm up to 50k.
Hand 5: Two more blind steals and I have 55k. I find aces in early position, and make my standard raise to 2200. The local just behind who seems to be gunning for me since Hand 4 flats. The old guy in the blinds who also seems frustrated by my apparent aggression threebets to 5600, I four bet to 12500, and after an eternity, the old guy shoves. He has kings, and binks on the turn, which is fair enough.

That's poker
I wouldn't be human if I didn't feel a bit sick as I walked back to my hotel. It's a long way to come to sit and wait patiently for more than a day for the rush to come, and then when it does and you get it in 81/18 to move into the chiplead in one of the softest 4 figure buyin tournaments ever as the bubble starts to loom on the horizon and you know that with a stack you'll be able to cruise to a megastack. One of the things I like about online poker is that no one tournament ever means too much if you do it right: it's ultimately just one in a sample size of tens of thousands. But live is slower and sample size necessarily tiny by comparison, so it seems like every tournament matters more (even if it really doesn't. I was talking to Lappin recently about my "take it or leave it/not that pushed either way" attitude to chops and said jokingly I wish I'd chopped Dublin EMOP headsup as I'd be 10-15k richer. Lappin responded saying 10k is nothing compared to what you will win in your life playing poker).

However, I shrug these setbacks off quicker than most. Mark, great friend that he is, took only a few minutes to learn of my demise and come over to check up on me. He said he expected to find me committing hara kiri, and was astonished at how positive I seemed. It generally takes 10 minutes or so for the mists of disappointment to clear, but once they do I'm done with it and already thinking about the next tournament.

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a bar
The following day I spent some time chilling with Mark by the pool, then we met Dave for some midday drinks. Dave's a great guy with a great attitude: despite all he's achieved in poker to date, his ego doesn't seem to cloud his perception and his desire to keep up with the ever evolving game. Mark always gives me some interesting stuff to consider every time we meet. This time he suggested that I might benefit from either a total break from poker, or regular mini breaks. My work ethic is probably the one thing I get the most comments and compliments on from other players, and I do see it as one of my biggest strengths, but there may be a case for taking more breaks as periods of reflection, so I don't end up chasing my tail.

This year is winding down, and overall it's my most successful year to date (albeit only marginally more so than last year). It's a natural point at which to stop, reflect, and plan for next year. On the poker front, I think I need to narrow my focus to home in on the games that mean the most to me (live) and are (likely to be) the most profitable for me online. Away from the table, I probably need to get a bit more balance back into my life, and give greater consideration to my health, fitness and diet. I'm almost 2 stone heavier than when I was running, and while it's unlikely I'll ever tip the scales at 10 and a half stones again, I want to drop at least a stone.

Busting a tourney relatively early with no side events to play and an internet connection too unreliable to play online (I did try though!) makes for a fair amount of down time. Generally when you're abroad you're drawing to a few movie channels and a music channel or two as far as English speaking stuff goes. I found myself watching a lot of Fox News, purely as entertainment, something I generally associate with Vegas. Now that they're not even pretending to be in any way balanced any more, it's always good for a giggle. Usually this takes the form of endless variation on current far right wing dogma (currently there's a feverish attempt to portray the Republican nomination process as anything other than a parade of Crazy Bobs), but one amusing piece that caught my eye was some bloke who wrote a book on how to win the lottery (seriously: or at least how to increase your odds of so doing).

Apparently it boils down to three basic tips (how he managed to expand this into an entire book is surely a more miraculous feat than his claim to have won the lottery 7 times):
(1) When buying 10 scratch cards (this in itself qualifies the tip as a fail), buy ten from the same game rather than spreading it over 10 different games
(2) When deciding which scratch cards to buy, check how many grand jackpots for each are still in play (apparently they make this information available to the public in the US)
(3) Don't QuickPick: always play the same numbers.

(1) is basically a trick of mathematical semantics. Let's say each scratch card has a 1 in a 1000 chance at the start of winning because 1,000,000 were issued and 1000 are winners. If you buy cards from ten different games, each card has precisely a 1 in a 1000 chance. But if you buy from the same game, you have to factor in losers (in the same way you remove known cards from poker probability calculations). So if the first one is a dud, the second one has a slightly higher chance of being a winner (1 chance in a 999999/1000). If that's a dud, the chances that the third one is a winner is ever so slightly higher, and so on. Therefore, your chances of scoring precisely 1 winner in your batch of ten is very slightly higher than if you buy ten different games. The key phrasess in that last sentence are "precisely 1 winner" and "very slightly higher". The increase is almost insignificant: if the first nine are duds, your chances of the tenth being a winner rise from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 999.991. Big whoop. Also, this increased chance is "paid" for by it being significantly less likely you'll score more than one winner using this method. Either way, your expected value is precisely the same: the only difference is that when you buy ten from the same game more of this equity resides in your chance of hitting one winner. Naturally, the guy didn't explain any of this or the math underlying the other two points: he just presented them as indisputable facts.
(2) actually has some mathematical validity. Or rather, could have, if he related it number of cards remaining. In the example he quoted, he said that you should always go for the option with the highest number of grand prizes remaining. This is not true. If option A has 6 grand prizes remaining but only 10% of the cards sold to date, then it's a much worse proposition than option B which has 5 prizes remaining but 90% of cards already accounted for.
(3) is not only rubbish: it's actually wrong. Whether you pick the same numbers every week or you do a random QuickPick, your chances of winning are precisely the same. The only difference is that it's actually worse (in terms of expected value) to pick the same numbers every week as there's a much higher chance you'll split the jackpot if you do win as opposed to the quickpicker.

The Fox presenters of course lapped up this nonsense without any attempt at criticism. I guess it's what they're programmed to do when dealing with right wing nuts spouting propaganda: it's probably naive to expect them to develop the ability to think critically all of a sudden just because the topic changed from voodoo economics to junk mathematics. Fair play to your man who wrote the book though: good game selection sir. If you need to reach the gullible fools who would be your target audience here to lap this nonsense up, where better to promote yourself than on Fox?


"Proof that I shouldn't be allowed out of the house alone, part one"

Looking forward to the next few dozen/hundred? instalments.

Mick, Mireille says it's up to you (as my official poker wife) to look after me when she's not around


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