There's a story members of Raheny Shamrocks athletic club tell about their most illustrious member, six time National Marathon champion and triple Olympian Dick Hooper. In his teens Dick was captain of his school (St Paul's in Raheny) rugby team. It's fair to say St. Paul's wouldn't be one of the powerhouses of school rugby so a big part of the captain's role was to raise morale after frequent defeats. On one such occasion he stopped himself mid speech as he looked around the dressing room and realised that nobody else actually cared. While Dick's competitive instincts burned so strong that he could never happily accept defeat no matter how much the odds were stacked against him, his teammates were more than happy to live their lives in mediocrity. This was a defining moment for Dick who decided that team sports were not for him, leading him to focus all his efforts into that most individualist of sports, running, so that his success or failure would never depend on the efforts of others.
The irony of this story is that it is repeated by members of possibly the most closely knit runners club in the land, and the success of the club in nurturing top class endurance athletes has much to do with the spirit of camaraderie and teamwork instilled by Dick in his position as head coach. My own transition from journeyman marathon runner to international ultra runner was greatly helped by my participation in club speed sessions and long hill runs in Howth where runners of all ages and levels were welcome. Chasing guys half my age around the track and up the hill pushed me well outside my comfort zone and improved me to a level that wouldn't have seemed possible at my age.
You get the feeling that most poker players had a similar eureka moment about team sports at some point, driving them ultimately into poker, a game where success depends not only on our own efforts but also the failure and failings of others. And yet, like Dick Hooper, most of us still have that human yearning to belong to a bigger group. This leads us to form little cliques of like minded players who support and root for each other, and who buy and swap pieces (supposedly to reduce variance but subconsciously to legitimise rooting for each other).
I was on my way into town last Thursday to play the Fitz EOM when I got a message from John O'Shea asking if I had any interest in a side bet. After hearing that his team included himself, Reesy, Andy Grimasson, Marc McDonnell and Eoghan O Dea we agreed to it. Obviously a very strong team so we couldn't really claim any great edge but given the presence on our team of players who can both close out tournaments and cash consistently (a fact emphasised by Hammo chopping the Fitz EOM that night), we didn't think we were dogs either. So basically a bit of fun and a team aspect to a very lonely sport. There were plenty of chances for banter too. Anyone aware of our history could probably guess how much it would pain John to have to give me what he joked was his case dough while I can't think of anyone I'd hate more to hand a wad of cash to.
Things weren't looking good for us on day 1 as most of us lingered near starting stack while reports circulated of members of Team Privileged breaching or breaking the 100k mark. Nick Newport had one of those days where you can't win a pot and Daragh Davey lost a 70/30 that upset him so much he staggered out of the Burlington like a dazed homing pigeon, only to realise some while later that the home he was walking towards was one he had moved out of during the week.
I had a tougher than average day 1 table where I had to tangle with the very impressive Jamie Roberts and the equally impressive recent WPT final tableist Andrew "ulduffer" Sweeney. A late rush in the day saw me finish comfortably above average with over 80k so I was happy with my days work and play. Apart from one hand where I made a bad river call against Jamie and another where I value owned myself on the river against Eoin Olin I felt I had played as well as I could at a tricky table.
Day 2 was pretty uneventful until my exit. I never strayed too far from my end of day 1 starting stack at my first table. My second table featured online beast Calvin Anderson (widely regarded as the best online mtt player in the world). He had direct position on me and was playing most hands. After he three bet my first couple of opens and I didn't have hands I was happy to go in or out with I realised I needed to tighten up and/or be prepared to stick it in a lot lighter than I normally would, as I basically had the perfect stack size for him to threebet. So I sat tight til he opened in early position, I found Aq in the blinds and 3 bet with the intention of shoving over a 4 bet or snapping a 4 bet shove. Cal backed off on this occasion. Next hand I played saw me open Aks utg. Cal threebet as I suspected he might and while I was trying to decide whether to just shove or click it back Tom Kitt unexpectedly cold 4 bet from the blinds. There are spots and situations where I might fold aks with just over 30 bigs but this wasn't one of them. Tom is good enough to recognise that in this spot both myself and Cal can be light and therefore pull out the light cold 4 bet so my aks is very big in this spot. With no fold equity I shoved. After Cal quickly got out of the way Tom called looking not too happy with life. He turned over queens and asked me if I had aces. I said "flip" as I turned over my cards and awaited my fate. It's a cliche that you have to win your flips but it's still annoying that after 15 hours of tricky poker decisions it comes down to pure luck. But that's tourney poker and there's no point complaining about it. Twenty seconds later I'm on my feet to shake Tom's hand and wish him continued luck. It's always a sad day when you bust the Irish Open but as I walked round the block to clear my head I at least had no bad beat or mistake to reflect on. I walked back into the Burlington just in time to see David Lappin get rivered in pretty cruel fashion on the feature table, and Smidge got done with aces shortly after. I think it's fair to say we ran pretty badly in the Open collectively so the fact that despite that there were still four of us in contention with less than 25% of the field left suggests we are doing something right.
That left Hammo as the last survivor of the two "teams". You couldn't really ask for a better night watchman as nothing seems to faze the lad. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. Similar to me, he lost his first all in (also a flip). Unfortunately it was 6 before the money making the bet with O'Shea a push. I can only imagine the sniggering of anyone following us on Twitter as we hyped up the bet that it had all petered out into a push with not one of the dozen of us managing to cash.
I had bought percentages of about a dozen people hoping that one of them might provide a sweat but I had to watch in dismay as they fell one by one with just the ever dependable Mick Mccloskey cashing. As I lick my wounds after a particularly bad weekend bankrollwise, now might be a good time to announce my retirement from buying percentages of people in live events :)
Perhaps my mood is a little affected by the fact that the weekend blew a big hole in my bankroll but I have to say this was the most underwhelming Irish Open I've been in. Given that I started playing at the height of the poker boom I guess it was somewhat inevitable that the only way was down, but I can't help feeling that we are witnessing the long slow death of live Irish poker. One leading Irish player nailed it for me when he said that this felt more like a Winter festival (the other Paddy Power live event that has always been something of an ugly sister). Paddy bowed to commercial pressure and reduced the buyin. In so doing they made it unattractive to most of the foreign pros who traditionally travel to it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the Irish Open is meant to be a predominantly Irish affair, but it does basically mean there is now no Irish tournament on the calendar that can be legitimately considered a major international event. No EPT, no proper WPT, and now an Irish Open that can't even attract half as many runners as last week's Norwegian Open in Citywest. The fact that the biggest tournament in Ireland this year was Norwegian says a lot. Obviously the economy isn't helping but it's not the only factor. Increasingly egregious reg fees are squeezing punters pockets even more and making the games even less attractive to serious players. While I have a lot of sympathy for small independent operators faced with dwindling numbers and rising costs, it's a lot harder to excuse a major operator like Paddy who profits so handsomely from Irish punters all year round. Whatever about a 12.5% reg fee on the main event, a 14% reg fee on the 700 event and 12% on a short stack hyper turbo that only lasts a few hours is really taking the piss. The fact that people who forked over 100 quid reg for the 700 event didn't even get a dinner voucher brings penny pinching to a whole new level. It would cost a lot less to feed the poker public than one of those clever TV ads Paddy loves so much, leading one to suspect Paddy views the Irish public as gullible eejits who don't mind being ripped off so long as the marketing is clever. It's time players starting voting with their feet and demanding more value for their reg fees (there are signs they already may be doing just that: it was noticeable that the hyper turbo side events were particularly poorly supported).
Although it was a bad weekend, it's always important to focus on the big picture, and I am feeling a lot better about live poker this year than last, at least on a personal level. No big scores yet but at least I'm achieving the sort of consistency that has been a hallmark of most of my career to date, a fact emphasised by my position at number 2 (behind John Keown) in the current live Irish rankings. In the relatively short span of my career, at least three different people have tried to run a rankings system and eventually given it up as a bad (or at least onerous) job, but Ciaran Cooney is doing a great job in the latest attempt on very limited resources, so fair play to him. (Ironically, in each of the three years there has been such a ranking system, I have ended the year in second place!)
After all this recent live stuff I'm looking forward to getting in some decent volume online before a mid April road trip taking in Cyprus Budapest and Berlin. The only live outing planned before then is a team event in the Jackpot next Saturday in aid of the Homeless. During one particular outburst of craic in the Burlington bar over the weekend Gary Clarke approached us with the idea of instigating a Friends of the Firm program, with him as the first official member. Any sane person would want Gary as a friend so we were only too happy to agree. His first official duty is to be roped into the Firm team for this, so he will be joining myself, Lappin and a mystery friend. Hope to see you there: it's a great cause.