Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bristol hillbillies

Around noon on Saturday as David Lappin and I were having a lie in to recover from both having busted the UKIPT main event the night before, I got a call from Feargal Nealon asking if we wanted to go for breakfast. We'd both already had breakfast but Kowby is always good company so we dragged ourselves out of bed for some coffee. Over our coffee and his breakfast, Kowby brought up the subject of David's final table appearance in the Big 55, his biggest result recently online, which it turned out he had railed. He was openly critical of David's play late on, and in particular in two big hands. Typically, David didn't react defensively to this criticism but listened carefully to Feargal's thoughts and reasoning, explained his own, and there was a healthy discussion between them in which I mainly played a listener role. David commended Feargal for having identified the two hands over which he had the most uncertainty afterwards, and as Feargal shot off to play a satellite to the High Roller, the discussion was inconclusive.

As we strolled back to the hotel, David suggested we go for a walk around Bristol as we were both at a loose end until the 300 side event that evening. As we walked around beautiful Bristol (one of the nicest cities I've visited ) David asked me for my views on the hands. In these situations, I tend to revert to mathematics rather than give my instinctive opinion. The first hand was a relatively straightforward choice between trying to induce a shove (with the intention of calling) or getting the chips in first. Although the line Feargal suggested would be supported by several other top players, a quick Ev calculation of both options indicated that the shove favoured by both David and myself is more profitable long term, and lower variance.

The second hand was a lot more complex and difficult to assess. It was a situation where David had to choose between a check raise or a check call with a set on the river where there weren't many worse hands that could call a check raise. David had opted at the time for the more cautious line (as he tends to do when he thinks its close), but Feargal was adamant it was a clear check raise. My instinct was that Feargal was right on this one, but I kept that to myself until we did the maths. That was easier said than done. Despite constantly teasing me for being a self proclaimed math genius, David isn't shy about using me as a calculator in these situations when he has no access to Pokerstove. The math on this one was quite tricky as it involved identifying the range of hands that could call a check raise, working out how many hand combinations in there that bottom set beat, assigning a weight to each possible combination (some hands are always in the range, and others may or may not be, so you have to estimate the probability that they are), estimating how big a factor ICM was, and converting the result into equity in actual money. This took us the full length of the walk, and engrossed us so much that we arrived back at the hotel with little or no memory of what we had seen on the walk. However, we had worked out definitively that Feargal's instincts were correct and that David had made a $750 mistake in this hand.

This level of attention to detail of one hand played weeks ago and level of reliance on the math strikes many as obsessive and probably is, but I think it also helps explain why both of us remain highly profitable online players  in the face of rising general standards and smaller and smaller edges. Poker is a game of situations and having analysed this particular situation thoroughly we both now "know" the correct answer the next time it comes up.

One of the easiest mistakes to make in poker is to let the variance obscure your vision of how well you are playing. Most players assume they are playing well when they are running well. It is to David's credit that he doesn't allow himself to think this without questioning. On the other side, it's easy to assume you must be playing bad when running bad. Personally I find it harder to be objective about how well I'm playing when running bad, so my solution is always to run more hands by the brains trust. I'm lucky enough to be close friends with players of the calibre of Jason Tompkins, David, and Daragh Davey.

As my recent run of non cashes extended from longest ever (I'd previously never gone ten live tourneys without a cash) to an alarming 24 (after I busted UKIPT Bristol main event) my friends had to put up with me asking them about a lot more hands as my faith in my own judgement came under attack from results. Guys like Jason and David possess the ruthless streak all great players have and would never hesitate to crush an enemy, but both are generous above and beyond the call of duty with their friends. Running hands by them in this situation is a win win for me. If they confirm I played the hand as they would, it boosts my morale. If one the other hand they identify some mistakes or flaws in my thought process, I'm now aware of the types of errors I'm making so I'm better equipped to cut them out. They don't need to help me out in this way and at the end of the day in addition to being their friend I'm also a direct competitor. In no other business I know of do people give as much help to their competitors. But I'd do the same for them and I'm sure they know that too. At the end of their lives, I think most people would prefer to be Albert Finney in Big Fish rather than Orson Wells in Citizen Kane. I certainly would.

My exit from the main event came a few hours in. I'd already made one massive fold (which I'm almost certain was correct), an uncharacteristic river check raise bluff (which got through), and an uncharacteristic light 4 bet followed by a couple of barrels (which also got through). I felt like I was playing really well and giving myself the best possible chance to end the streak, but it wasn't to be. My exit was an unclear spot where I flopped the nuts, let my opponent get there and then paid him off with my tournament life. Obviously I ran it by the brains trust and was reassured by the consensus that the only thing wrong with it was the result.

Things weren't looking good for an end to the streak when I got off to what might euphemistically be called a slow start in the side event (although there was nothing slow about the pace I seemed to be leaking chips) when Kowby came over to talk to me having just busted the High Roller (since he left us, he'd binked the satellite). As he watched, I got into a threeway allin and after I emerged victorious he immediately claimed the credit for reversing recent luck. After that I chipped up steadily and it was looking good until I lost a race which should never have been against Andrew Fleming. Lack of good spots saw me wither back. I refuse to stick it in in a bad spot just to save myself having to come back the next day with a tiny stack, so I did end up having to come back to play six big blinds.

Operation Spin Up got off to a good start. As Jason strolled over with the bad news that he'd busted a big stack in the main (after a series of setups and coolers), he was in time to see me win a race against the impressive James Rann. Maybe I should forget all about maths and game theory: what I really need is a steady stream of friends who have just busted another tourney to suck all the bad luck up.

From there I chipped up constantly (I did have to get lucky on the river though) until I was crippled a bit short of the bubble by the action player at the table after a very unusual hand. Folded to me, I had a hand strong enough to shove into his short stack (KTs) but rather than shove I elected to do the Lappin chop (a move David favours where you make a big pot committing raise but don't actually shove), and raised to 75% of my opponent's stack. Apparently nobody told him this meant I was committed though as he shoved K9o apparently under the misapprehension that I might fold. When I didn't, his courage was rewarded with a nine on the flop while I thought very bad thoughts about my friend David.

At this stage I could feel another bubble in the offing. However, I put that from my mind and just stuck my chips in when I felt I was supposed to. This worked out well as I got through the bubble with an above average stack. I've never been as relieved to min cash, and my friends seem to share this relief as it meant I was now fair game for having the piss taken out of me. Funniest tweet (as usual) courtesy of one DKLappin:
"Congrats to @daraokearney! Your Henson mob no longer looks like that of someone who died in July."

Another highlight was Team pro and online legend Mickey Petersen apparently calling me out as a nit on Twitter, pointing out I always seemed to have tens plus or an overpair in the big pots. When the great mementmori is laying the nit charge at your door, you take notice.

I peaked at 125k as the final table formed, about average. It's fair to say the final table didn't go to plan. I was basically card and spot dead, and the first move I made saw me shoving the absolute bottom scrape of my range (fours: take note Mickey) from early position. It went all the way round only to smash straight into the top of the big blind's range (kings). There was no suckout and I busted in 8th. I wasn't as tilted as I'd normally be in those spots: I guess as a result of a combination of at least having got the monkey off my back as far as the streak goes, and also having had to recover from fumes several times to even get that far. With the streak now consigned to the history blogs, I can hopefully go back to being tilted every time I cash but don't win.

Well done to everyone who outlasted me, especially James Rann and Andrew Fleming (who got the lion's share of the chop). After an initial unimpressed impression of Andrew the previous night when he 3x opened KQo and then 4 bet shoved it with no fold equity but won the race to cripple me, I was more impressed by his subsequent play throughout day 2. In fact, I can't remember the last time I've been as impressed by a self professed recreational player. He was pretty careful about giving away information at the table, but did let slip at one point that he's an actuary. I guess it's no surprise that someone who plies his trade in the Mines of Probability would be handy enough at poker.

Stars deserve a lot of credit for what they've created with the UKIPT. It's a good balance between hardened professional players and recreational players there for the craic.  At a time when several other organisers are charging more and more exorbitant reg fees, I give Stars credit for keeping them at a reasonable 10% across the board. Bristol is a beautiful city, the locals are friendly and hopefully it will stay on the calendar. Thanks to everyone who took the time to say hello or talk to me at the weekend: too many to name but you know who you are. Special mention to Chihao Tsang who provided me and my roommate with delightful dinner company and then took it in good grace as he got dogged left right and centre by his dining companion. I met him for the first time in Vegas this year but Chihao has quickly become one of my favourite people.

It was a good trip overall not just for me but also for a lot of my friends. David final tabled two side events, and was joined on the PLO final table by Liam O'Donoghue. Liam is one of those young players who impresses me not just with his game but also his maturity, temperament and measured approach. Jason, who only gets out of bed for main events or high rollers, made a strong challenge in the Main and with a bit less bad luck when it mattered would have made yet another final table. Marc McDonnell notched up another cash and reportedly tilted Vicky Coren out of the tournament and Danloulou final tabled UKIPT online. Different kind of props to Jwillo who took a leaf out of my book (you know the one, "How To Mess Up The Most Simple Travel Arrangements") and spent the night on a bench in Bristol airport grinding Twitter.

I might prefer to end up more like Albert Finney in Big Fish at the end of my life rather than Orson Wells in Citizen Kane but at the moment I seem to be more like Jed Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies. The complex inter-relationships within my inner circle of friends where we all own different bits of each other resembles a sort of modern poker equivalent to a white trash family. The culture within the group is very supportive: independent of who owns what I think we are all genuinely delighted when one of us does well and all supportive of those struggling on the flip side of variance. On the other side, nobody is above or below criticism or having the piss taken out of them when the occasion demands it, but as a group I genuinely think there's a higher level of mutual respect than is often the case in these peer groups. Our spirits were further lifted as we passed through airports (Bristol and Dublin) to the news that Daragh Davey was having a stormer of a Sunday. We landed in Dublin to news that he had won the Lock major, his second major since Vegas.

After a few hours sleep, I was up and ready to grind with renewed confidence. I decided to ease myself in with just a few satellites and mtts for a short session. I ended up winning a ticket to the next UKIPT (in Edinburgh) and final tabling two 10ks, one on Party and one on Ipoker. I was third on Ipoker but managed to win on Party, another nice confidence boost. So I should be going into EMOP Dublin in Clontarf Castle on Friday brimming with confidence. I feel like I'm now back playing my A game, and for that my closest friends deserve all the credit for providing me with the support to get through a difficult patch. Mr Lappin in particular may be known for his devilish wit and his sharp tongue, but he's also a great friend who knows when to not put the boot in. One night last week in a drunken moment of weakness he posted one of the most gushing and mushy tributes ever made to me in a Skype group chatbox. As a measure of thanks for his understanding and support, I won't repeat it here, as he would be very embarrassed if I did (and rightly so).



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