Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Year of the Crossbar?

After taking a complete break from live poker after Berlin, longer than I've ever taken since I started playing, I was raring to go when I sat down for day 1a of UKIPT Marbella. Lappin wrote a great blog in the runup to this event where he spoke about the need to approach the tournament like a cricket match and "build an innings" (thereby more or less guaranteeing an early bath for himself: he spent more time on the bus travelling from the villa where he and Saron stayed for the week than he did playing in the tournament). In truth I made a bit of a ropey start myself. The only decent hand I got early on had to be folded to heavy action post flop, and the results of my assaults on pots without cards were somewhat mixed, all of which meant I made the dinner break with only 75% of my starting stack of 15k. Dinner companions Big Mick G and Peter Barrable were similarly stacked so while the more comfortably stacked Chris Dowling and Nick Newport were happy to shoot the breeze, the three of us were more focused on hustling the staff into bringing us our food pronto.

Rushing back to the rush

I did make it back to the table just in time to look down at my second decent hand of the day, tens. The big blind hadn't made it back so after a loose player opened in mid position and got threebet by the player to my immediate right, tens were clearly big enough to cold 4 bet shove for value as there was a decent chance the action to date represented a steal and a resteal. As it was the 3 bettor had a hand, AQ. Things weren't looking good when he flopped top 2 but I hit a ten on the river to stay alive.

I had a very good few levels from there to the end of the day, so when I told blogger extraordinaire Jen Mason as I walked out that I had over 90k, she figured that must be top 10 at that point.

Day 2

Day 2 saw me start pretty quickly and move up to 150k in the early going, until a bad read prompted me to make a bad river fold (top pair, dubious kicker). After my worst ever year live in 2012 I did a lot of thinking at the start of this year about what improvements I could make. One thing I decided to focus more attention on live was physical reads. I was very good at this when I started playing and in fact in the early days I had to compensate for some considerable technical deficiencies purely through proficiency in reading people physically. At the end of each trip to the Fitz with my brother, I would sit down with him and compare notes on physical stuff we had picked up on the people we played against. As I expanded my play to festivals, I continued to update the notebook with reads on regulars on the Irish tournament circuit, until it became quite voluminous. At some point, I stopped updating the book, around the same time I started paying much more attention to technical aspects like betting lines, ranges, bluffing frequencies and other such tendencies. I still think these are highly important, but I also feel that concentrating on them exclusively rather than watching people for the physical stuff means giving up an additional tool that increases your prospects live. So during my recent layoff from live poker, I went back and reread my old notebooks to remind myself of the kind of stuff you can pick up if you watch for it.

In this tournament, I had 12 relatively minor decisions (minor meaning for a relatively small part of my stack) and 2 big ones (for all my stack) that were all very marginal and where I was ultimately swayed by physical stuff. I finished 10/12 on the minor ones and 2/2 on the major ones, enough to convince me that it is indeed worthwhile watching like a hawk for anything physical I can pick up.

This particular fold was one of the ones I got wrong, although it was interesting that Jason Barton beside me (who impresses me as someone who reads people very well) also had the exact same (incorrect) read that the villain hated the turn but loved the river.

I then lost a 60/40 to knock me back to where I had started the day as the table got tougher with the arrival of James Mitchell. I wasn't unhappy when our table broke as the presence of James, Jason, Noel O'Brien and some of the more capable locals led me to believe we were on one of the toughest table. My new tables seemed a lot more welcoming initially, with Dan Willis as the only recognizable face, although when eventual winner Ludovic Geilich arrived things got a lot murkier. Initial gains at my new table drifted back in the face of card death and having to fold to 3 bets when I opened light (and getting jammed on when I 4 bet light) as the bubble loomed. There was a time when upping the aggression near the bubble was almost guaranteed to increase your chip stack, but these days more and more players are aware of bubble strategy and not as desperate to fold to a min cash, so it's a double edged sword. Things got even worse when I made a correct read and made a stand with A9o shortly before the bubble. Suspecting the villain was light having seen me raise fold quite a bit (and he looked uncomfortable as I tanked) I made the call but lost to his KJo.

Hello cold 4 bet my old friend

That left me in no position other than to play honestly til the bubble bust. Thankfully it did a lot quicker than usual (another indication I guess that bubbles ain't what they used to be) and I got through it short but not critically so with 14 bbs. Operation Spin Up got off to a good start when I doubled up immediately. When I caught the right side of a cooler shortly afterwards (my aces holding in a threeway allin versus Dan Willis' 77 and a Scandi's JJ) to almost triple up, I had suddenly gone from short to well over average with 375k. From there I worked myself up to over half a million by the end of day 2, with no cards and just the occasional well timed cold 4 bet as my only friend at a table that was playing very loose but at least respecting cold 4 bets from the tight old guy.

That left me 7/48 overnight and pretty stoked to have not only cashed in my third consecutive UKIPT main event of 2013, but also a third consecutive day 3. With something of a stack I fancied myself to go further than I had in Cork and London, hopefully all the way to the final table.

But which one is the lucky seat?

Unfortunately it wasn't to be. When I arrived for day 3 I found my bag had been placed in the wrong seat (1 rather than 2). It's funny how the mind works because as I informed the dealer of the mistake and switched seats with another player who hadn't realized the mistake, I couldn't help but wonder which seat would get the better cards and spots. As it happened, it certainly wasn't mine, as the only decent hand I got on day 3 was my exit. However, I can't really complain as I had run well to get that far, and there's more to luck than getting big hands and winning flips, there's stuff like what you run into when you open or 3 or 4 bet light.

I lost a 60/40 against a shortie early on, and had drifted further back as nothing was working for me (for example, when I 3 bet Geilich first hand after I got moved to his table aware of the fact that he knew he was opening close to 90% while I hadn't threebet him at all the previous day leading me to believe I wouldn't get 4 bet light, I had to reluctantly fold to his 4 bet), until I doubled back up to where I had started the day with three tables left. Geilich opened from the small blind, I shoved AJ from the big blind, he called and tabled A4, hit his 4 on the flop but the river again saved me.

I then tread water for a while until we were down to 19 and I finally picked up a real hand. After a Scandi min raised the button, I found tens in the big blind. After some quick pot and stack size calculations to decide whether it was better to raise and call a shove, or just shove (I'm never folding tens with 20 big blinds in that spot), I shoved, expecting it to get through most of the time and be in decent shape even if called. However, the speed of the call suggested otherwise. My opponent had kings, and after the king high flop I was drawing to runner runner quads,  tough ask even for me.

Return of a Masters

As I tweeted my demise and wished the sole remaining Irish player Dave Masters good luck, I was joined in the payout queue by Dave who busted just after me. Great to see Dave back on the scene and going deep. Always larger than life, he generated more blog coverage than anyone else in the field on day 2 and 3 with a ready stream of memorable quotes and quips. Also great to see Gavonater (and his wonderful girlfriend, another larger than life character) back on the scene and in the money, and well done to the gentle giant of Irish poker Big Mick G who underlined his incredible consistency with another deep run.

After a few hours feeling sorry for myself in the hotel room, most of the rest of the trip was given over to socialising. Stars have created something fairly unique with this tour in terms of the camaraderie between regular players, both professional and recreational. You run into the same friendly faces at different legs, so that they feel less like "work" and more like a social occasion. I was very grateful for the constant support and enquiries as to how I was getting on from not just other Irish players but a lot of English and other nationalities. On my first night there, I went for dinner with Lappin, Nick Newport, Feargal Nealon (who cashed the Marbella Cup), and Richard Evans (fresh from his well deserved Champion of Champions triumph), and the company and conversation was both fun and stimulating. Throughout the weekend, I ran into Neil Raine, Tim Davie, Bob Malvasi and Neil "Granite" Rawnsley(who provided my favourite line of the weekend, more on that later), all great guys to run into, and people who I didn't know kept coming up to introduce themselves saying they had asked someone to point out SlowDoke to them.

Scots and suits in Spain

On Sunday, the hotel delivered champagne and cake to my room with no explanation other than "on the house", and Gary Clarke arrived to help me drink the champagne and have a good natter. Monday was Scottish day, as I spent it in the company of Ian Le Bruce, and Willie and Dode Elliot, simultaneously the most dissimilar and close brothers you could ever meet. Willie, one of life's true gentlemen, is a legendary railer to the point that if you make a final table online and Willie isn't there to rail, it feels like it never happened (and on the flip side, when Willie took down the Big 22 not so long ago on Stars railed by half the Firm, it gave most of us on the rail a bigger thrill than any of our own wins this year). Continuing the theme, I ran into Fraser McIntyre in the airport, who I first met years ago in my first deep run outside Ireland (in a GUKPT in Newcastle) and we had a quick coffee before departure.

While I am much happier with my live game than I was last year, it's a bit frustrating that it hasn't really translated into real success yet. 2013 is feeling like the Year of the Crossbar so far, with three UKIPT day 3's (but no final table) and a similar run in the JP Masters. As much as I tell myself that consistency is the hallmark of class, I would gladly swap 4 crossbars for one final table, but at least the consistency is there, and hopefully it will translate into something big in Vegas. The plan now is a quick final online burst before heading to Vegas next Monday.

I must admit I was very wary of this UKIPT after previous bad experiences in Spain. Essentially what Stars have done is add the UKIPT tag to an Estrellas (the Spanish equivalent) but that's not necessarily a bad thing and Marbella is a very pleasant place to spend a week. One thing though which does need improvement is the dealers. Admittedly we are spoiled most of the time in UKIPTs with the best dealers in the world but to be brutally frank the local dealers not only weren't up to scratch, but they showed no desire to be. Other players I talked to relayed similar impressions amid tales of players being told to shush when they tried to correct dealer mistakes, dealers refusing to call the floor, or respond to anything said to them in English. I saw a lot of dealer errors myself, one of which could have cost me if I hadn't been on guard. After an allin on my table had been won by a short stack, the dealer counted down his stack, then proceeded to pull chips from mine. After my experience in San Sebastián where I lost my tournament life to a player after his hand had been mucked and then retrieved from the muck, my reaction in pointing out that since I wasn't even in the hand I couldn't be expected to cover the losses of the guy who was and lost was immediate and vociferous.

On the plus side, the floor staff (headed by the ever professional Toby Stone and Nick O'Hara) were top notch, as were the hotel staff in general, and the Stars UKIPT team led by Kirstie and Jamie are always on the ball. The blogging crew led by Jen Mason and the media team are all top class too (I recorded a short interview with the man who once compared me to a badger on national TV, the ever witty Nick Wealthall, which I'm hoping will surface at some point) .

Edit: Now available at

Granite's guide to the Isle of Man

I had breakfast with Fintan Gavin too who was very upbeat about the next UKIPT on his turf in Galway so that's definitely one to look forward. One I need a bit of convincing on is the Isle of Man, so I was asking my English friends if they had ever been there. Neil Rawnsley's response was the most memorable and I ready warned him that it was going in this blog so here goes, The Granite Guide to the Isle of Man:
"You know how beautiful San Sebastián is? Well it's just like that as you come in, with the crescent bay and the panoramic view of Douglas. But then when you get off the boat and into town, it's ...... shit".

I don't believe I have many (any) readers in the Isle of Man. Hopefully not for Neil's sake at least: otherwise he runs the risk of being confronted at the port by the locals and promptly Wicker Manned.



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