Thursday, July 25, 2013

Last Vegas? (part 2)

A short while after I installed myself in an armchair in the Jockey Club condo and started clicking the Like button on Facebook and the Favourite button on Twitter (believe it or not, it does actually help to start easing the pain that other players and people back home take the time to send messages of commiseration, and I greatly appreciate these messages), the door unexpectedly opens and Jason appears, pain visible on his face as he attempts to come to terms with what just happened to him and his 2013 WSOP Main event dream.

He had gone back to a stack almost three times the average, and seen it disappear in a few hours in a series of coolers and setups. No matter how good you are (and nobody who knows anything about poker would question how good Jason is), these things unfortunately happen. You just hope that when they do it won't be in the biggest tourney in the world.

One of the things I learned as a runner is that when you injure yourself, your body does almost all the repairs while you sleep (which explains why most elite distance runners sleep 12 to 14 hours a day). I suspect the same is true of the psychic damage poker inflicts: most of the top poker players I know sleep far more than a "normal" person. And it seems our first impulse after a big bustout is to sleep it off. By the time the only Firm member still in the Main, Daragh Davey, arrived back, myself and Jason were both sound asleep, and by the time he went back for day 4 not far from the bubble, we still were. Not for the first time, I lost out to Jason, the 13 hours it took me to sleep it off paling by comparison with the full 24 hours it took him to emerge from the bed.

I headed back to the Rio one last time to rail Daragh. I got there in time to see him almost double up with tens v aq, at which point he seemed in a great position to move on. By his own account he had run well to that point, but unfortunately it turned against him when he lost his first two big pots all tourney. He then went card dead at the wrong time and as he drifted back to the kind of stack I started day 3 with. I had my fingers crossed he would be more fortunate than I had been, but unfortunately his end was similar. He had drifted back even further when he found a good spot with AQ. Well, it would have been a good spot if he hadn't run into AK, and the flop hadn't come king rag rag.

When I decided to get involved in staking almost 2 years ago, I cast my mind around the players I knew in Ireland for a preferred candidate. Daragh had quite a low profile at the time, most people would probably have gone with someone flashier, but I quickly decided I wanted him to be the first person I fully staked in mtts despite him having no big live results yet, and not being a big online winner. My decision was based in part on his game, but much more so on his temperament, discipline and work ethic. There are differing views on what makes a likely winner in poker (a theme I intend to return to in another blog in the near future) but for me these are the top 3 for proper long term success.

While I was railing Daragh, I was joined on the rail by one of the hidden gems of Irish poker, Bobby Willis. Bobby is the loveliest gentleman I've met through poker. He didn't know Daragh but as we watched he asked me what age he was. When I told him, Bobby remarked that Daragh is very mature for his age, which is certainly true. Although I no longer stake him I have spent a lot of time with him on trips away and if our relationship sometimes takes on a father-son dimension, Daragh is very much the strict disciplinarian father!

The payout room at the WSOP can resemble a sort of Hellish waiting room of poker death, as players who have just busted the main queue to go through the necessary procedures to get paid. Any room filled with people who have just had their dreams of $8 million crushed is not going to be a happy room, so the lady who processed Daragh was quite surprised by his sunny demeanour, remarking he was the happiest looking person she had seen all day. All the weirder when you consider Daragh's response to good news is generally the scowl of a man who has just been told his dog died.

I stayed off the social media for a while after my exit, as experience suggests poker players can get embarrassingly emo in this spot. I call it post Vegas tiltdown. Usually it just takes the form of "God I hate Vegas can't wait to leave this hole" type tweets, with a bit of variety being provided by Tatjana Pasalic complaining about guys in the Rio needing deodorant rather than the potato crisps they gave us every day. Most entertaining tiltdown this year came courtesy of Shane "Shaniac" Schleger, who started retweeting hundreds of old tweets that included stock poker phrases like "happy with how I played" and "old guy at my table". A few of my old tweets resurfaced (though in my defence, I would like to point out my contribution to the "old guy at my table" cliche stockpile was a tweet about myself). Having hundreds of seemingly inane old tweets pop up on his followers feeds sent quite a few of them into a tilt tizzy and had them threatening to unfollow him, but I thought it was at once both hilarious and illuminating, proving just how much of poker communication uses the same stock phrases.

At the end of every Vegas, I look back and review to see what I can learn, and possibly do differently next time. Looking back this time I find it harder to identify stuff I would change. I was happy with my preparation. I was careful not to overplay and went into the main event relaxed and focused. I felt I played very well and can't identify any major mistakes. I paid careful attention to what I ate and drink (I stayed dry this year), and made sure I got enough sleep and some exercise. I honestly feel like I gave it my best shot, but lacked the needed run good. The fact that I built a stack in the main event with very little help from the deck should be comforting, but to be totally honest, for just this one tournament, I'd prefer to play worse but run better if it meant a cash. The main is so big that even a min cash can make your Vegas (after the bubble burst, Daragh pointed out that the min cash was his biggest ever live score).

When I first came to Vegas, I saw the crew of Irish players there as the elite of the game back home. Similar to when I went to world championships as a runner, the assumption was that everyone who was there deserved to be because they were one of the top performers in Ireland. Over the years since, I've come to realise this isn't strictly true. The WSOP might be the nearest thing poker has to an Olympics, but there are some subtle differences. While most of the top Irish players do make the trek to play poker in a draughty warehouse in the desert every year, a few choose to sit it out. A few who are there are riding a heater that won't last and won't be back. And at least a few are on their way out: I noted in this blog that every year there are a few players having their last ever Vegas (without realising it).

This year I couldn't help wonder if I might be one of the players in their Last Vegas. Barring some kind of major deterioration of my mental faculties over the next 12 months, I fully expect to be in shape next June both financially and mentally to come back. What's less clear is if I will want to. I'd be a lot richer if I never set foot in Vegas. For 6 years I've come and taken a shot here every summer. That no longer seems as wise or attractive as it did once. When I look at the year Jude Ainsworth is having, apart from giving him massive credit, I can't help but wonder how much of it is down to the fact that he has barely played live this year and focussed entirely on the online grind. And that leads me to wonder how much better off I would if I followed that example.

Talking to Jason and Daragh after, there was general agreement that if we do come back next year, we will Big Mick it (a reference to Mick's method of showing up the weekend before a main, and playing the last side or two and the main). A shorter Vegas campaign is definitely conducive to avoiding burnout in the desert, and speeding up recovery time. In previous years I've struggled for a while with post Vegas blues, but this year I arrived home raring to get back to the online grind. Maybe I'm getting better at shaking off disappointment, but I do think the shorter more selective campaign helped. Going forward the lesson is the days when I trot myself for every live event and festival and play everything I possibly can are over. I need to be a lot more selective to avoid feeling the kind of burnout I have in the past at the end of a couple of weeks playing live.

It helps that I seemed to get straight back into the groove online, reeling off 5 winning days on the bounce. As someone who plays mtts almost exclusively, I'm always going to have more losing days than winning ones, so 5 winning days back to back is pretty rare in my world.

Next up is Galway. I was lucky enough to be selected for the Irish team for the Ireland v England headsup event, along with 15 others (including Daragh), which should be a bit of craic. Headsup stts were my online staple for a while but that's a couple of years ago, so I've been revising as preparation and played a few online. I was crushing these so Lappin offered to provide stiffer opposition one night. Our "match" went on for several hours and I squeaked a 3-2 win, which was more than acceptable.

I'm travelling down on Monday and coming back afterwards. As great as the full schedule looks, I don't want to commit to more than 2 full weeks of live poker, but I will be back at some stage during UKIPT main event week to play that.

Finally, big congrats are in order for two of my friends, Dermot Blain and Ben Jenkins, who were named as UKIPT Ambassadors by Full Tilt. It's hard to imagine two guys more suited to an ambassadorial role in poker. In a world not short on people with a flair for self publicity, both allow their results to do that talking. It's fair to say Mrs. Doke hasn't been very impressed by many of the poker players she has met down the years, but every time I return from a trip she asks if I met that "nice mannerly English kid", a reference to Ben who she only met once (a few years ago at a tournament in Slovenia). Well played Full Tilt.



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