Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We are Family

Almost a year ago, I had coffee with David Lappin to tell him I was thinking of getting into the staking business. David has experience in this area so I wanted to pick his brain on how to approach it. As we concluded our chat, I  told him I intended to start slowly in 2012 and see how it went. David laughed and remarked that given my tendency to do things to extreme I'd probably have a full stable by the end of the year. In fact, he overestimated my ability to do things by halves and as 2012 draws to a close, in addition to my own staking, I run two other operations, one with Jason Tompkins, the other with David and Daragh Davey.

At dinner in Clontarf Castle on Sunday, there was a bit of discussion among what we jokingly refer to as "the Firm" as to what Firm member Smidge's strategy should be now he was headsup against an unpredictable recreational player in the EMOP. Smidge had a chiplead of over 3 to 1, his opponent had less than 20 big blinds, and the general consensus was to try to grind him down even further using smallball before getting it in preflop. Against a more experienced opponent the plan would have been to get it in sooner rather than later, but the last thing Smidge wanted to do was let his opponent flip his way to the title.

With that agreed quickly, the conversation moved on to David Lappin's attempt in a recent blog to stake a claim to the Daddy role and attempt to assign me as the mother hen. This was met with general derision: the general consensus was that Lappin is less Daddy and more creepy uncle. The discussion moved on to what that made my role, a discussion ended when Daragh declared me to be Daddy and Mammy all rolled into one. All small social units end up functioning (or dysfunctioning) like a family for a reason: the family unit is the one we know the most about.

After dinner, we trouped dutifully back to watch the baby of the family finish the job. As David put himself in charge of capturing the moment of victory on camera, I took to tweeting a detailed hand by hand description of the headsup battle for friends and Firm members not present in Clontarf. A little too detailed perhaps: again with the problem of not being able to do things any other way than to ridiculous extreme. I am, after all, a man who started running in his early thirties with the idea that three 20 minute runs a week would take some weight off and strengthen a genetically iffy heart, and ended up  ten years later running the distance from Dublin to Galway in my early 40s in one day in the sweltering heat and 90% humidity of the North American summer. When I tweeted that Smidge had just folded his big blind, this was met with quite reasonable derision on the Twitter community, with Ben Jenkins tweeting back "Can't wait to see what he does in the small blind".

The headsup wasn't all smooth sailing (the gallant and game Frenchman almost clawed his way back to level after an ill timed bluff by Smidge went wrong) but after just over an hour, Smidge had ground him down and all the Frenchman's chips  were in the middle with a dominated hand. Last year in EMOP Dublin, I also got it in good in the last hand of the tournament, but didn't manage to hold. Smidge thankfully did, and so became the first (and almost certainly last, since the tour appears to be finished) Irishman to claim an EMOP title. We lined up behind Smidge for his victory photo and thanks to IPB's Danny Maxwell we finally had a sort of family portrait.

My own involvement in the event was essentially a cameo. Arriving there a few minutes after it had started due to unexpected traffic, I rushed to table 2 seat 1, thinking at least I knew where table 2 was as I'd spent a few hours the previous evening at it (in the supersat). What I didn't realise was that the numbering scheme for the tables in the main was different from that in the supersat. As a result, I ended up taking my place at table 6. This was unfortunate as it seemed to be about the toughest table of all, with Ross Johnson, Aki Pyssing, a number of good young Scandis and later David Lappin. It was David who ended up taking me out when I reshoved jacks over a loose raiser and ran into David's queens. Another queen on the flop ended any hope of the suckout, and I left the scene quickly, disappointed at such a brief effort to end the year on a high live.

All of the highlights of my year on the live front have been watching friends and Firm members from the rail, and so it was again last Sunday. Smidge ended day 1 and day 2 as chipleader and went to the final table with a commanding chiplead. He was joined by Daragh Davey, who was short. Daragh's so good though that the comeback was always likely, and until he was coolered by Smidge (running sevens into aces) he had actually forged slightly ahead. When I first cast my mind around the Irish poker scene a year ago trying to think who I would most like to stake, it alighted on Daragh, not just for his game (which was already top class) but more for his calm composed approach and ability to deal with setbacks and just get on with it. You'll never see Daragh kick or throw a chair after a beat or swear at an opponent or dealer. You'll never see him tilt off his stack after a setback. What you are likely to see him do is win a big live tournament soon.

The first time I saw Daragh was when he was to my right in a Fitz End of Month. At the break, I asked my friend Rob Taylor who the quiet grumpy kid to my right was. Rob squinted and then announced "Oh, that's Daragh Davey. He's very good". This stuck out as high praise indeed as Rob's private assessments tended to run from atrocious to not bad. I'd never heard him describe anyone as very good before, and I secretly suspected that if Phil Ivey somehow strolled into the Fitz, Rob would tell me he was only half decent.

The first time I almost struck up a conversation with Daragh was when I found myself sitting beside him on a sofa in the D4 bar at a D4 event. I say almost because as affable as I consider myself to be, the Davey glare trumped it with an intensity that proclaimed "I do not want to be talked to". From that inauspicious start, Daragh has somehow become one of my closest friends in poker, and one of the very few people I desperately want to see do well independent of any financial interest I might have. So every time he was all in on Sunday, my stomach knotted up, and when he lost a race to exit in 5th, I felt worse than I did after my own exit. He took it in his stride though: his transformation from live cash grinder to online mtt beast is complete with the two majors he has captured in recent months, so he has a lot to smile about these days, even if he admits the fact that he's still only learning to smile can make that smile a quite disconcerting one at times.

By contrast, Smidge is just about the smiliest player in Ireland, and as he follows his UKIPT Dublin final table in May with his first major title, he has much to be happy about. He showed tremendous poise and talent to lead from post to post, and after a difficult recent spell, it took great character. His close friend James "Jaymo" Noonan has flown the flag online recently for the Firm as he tore up online poker.

Before I played poker, I played bridge, with my brother as my partner. Bridge in Ireland is almost the mirror opposite of the way poker is going. It is (or at least was at the time) dominated by old dears (the kind that talk about countries like Rhodesia that don't exist any more), so as a couple of young guns myself and the brother stuck out. The old folks regarded us as curiousities, and it was their curiousity that prompted them to ask us 40 questions every time we sat down at the table. After my brother realised that most of them couldn't remember having already done so we sat down at their table, he decided it would be more interesting to answer their questions with brazen lies rather than repetitive truths. Thus, we were the brothers from Tammyhill, Kiljaykenny, Instaseabay and a number of other fictitious places my brother invented on the spot. I had never heard of Drumlish before both Smidge and Jaymo unexpectedly claimed to come from such a place. Descriptions of where it actually is are very vague. It seems to be about 20 miles from a lot of places but near nowhere, and on the way to nowhere. So I continue to harbour the suspicion that the two lads made it up, and they're actually from Athlone or somewhere like that. But I guess so long as Jaymo keeps crushing online and Smidge live, it doesn't really matter whether there's an actual place called Drumlish.


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