Thursday, August 22, 2013

One moment in time?

Looking back, my view that I could make my living from a game I'd just learned at age of 42 was ludicrous. Thankfully I'm a very ludicrous person, so six years on, here we are. I went to Galway on a high after my Super Tuesday result. A big result takes the pressure of expectation off for a while, wich isn't necessarily a good thing. As a runner, I never retained a title, and all of my biggest wins came at the most unexpected times when I was generally being written off. Something in my psyche responds better to the pressure of ignominy than the adulation and praise that comes with success.

To motivate myself, I reminded myself I was going not just for a fourth cash in a row in UKIPT main events, but a fourth consecutive day 3, and hoping to actually make a final table at last. My day 1 went very well until it didn't. With a little over an hour left to play, I had worked my way up from 20k starting stack to almost 60k with no major setbacks. Then I ran queens into kings for half my stack, and after a period of card death had been cut in half again down to less than starting stack, found what looked like my first good shipping spot (a suited ace) only to run straight into Fiachra Meere's jacks.

My plan was to play some side events, but I ended up instead splitting my time between socialising (the poker village created more or less the perfect environment for that) and doing livestream commentary. My first stint in the commentary box gave me a chance to observe the work of Clayton Mooney, the Firm's American signing (already nicknamed the Yank). Clayton has effectively been benched since Black Friday, but after being encouraged out of his homeland by David Lappin came back with a bang in his first couple of weeks in Ireland, making several final tables in the Fitzwilliam and winning two online tournaments in his first night back on the cyberfelt.

My co-commentator for most of the time was Emmet Kennedy, who is always a delight to work with. For someone who is not primarily poker in terms of his background, Emmet is a very astute observer of the game and makes very good points and asks very good questions. As the tournament got down to the business end, I was in the commentary box to see Nick Newport stone cold bubble, also running queens into kings. Nick has been having a hard time of it recently running really badly but keeps plugging away. That's all you can do in a downswing: keep playing, keep making good decisions, and have faith that things will turn around eventually.

Jamie Flynn wrote a very entertaining blog looking at some "scandals" from Galway. I can add one to that list, kinda. I was in the commentary box (actually a small commentary tent out the back of the main marquee) when one of the production staff stepped out. He stepped straight back in, looking ashen faced. When pressed for an explanation, he told us that one of the best known players in Ireland was relieving himself up against the tent, in full public view. This despite the fact that ample bathroom facilities were available less than 20 metres away. Hygiene is always a bit of a worry at the poker table: in particular none of us likes to think that any of our table mates might rush back from the bathroom without washing their hands. Yet here you had a boyo not even bothering to use the bathroom, thereby giving himself no opportunity to wash his hands, rushing back to handle chips and cards that would also be handled by everyone else at his table.

Poker is fairly unique in how quickly you can rise through the ranks (so to speak) at any age. It's hard to imagine you could take up tennis at the age of 42 and find yourself competing in Wimbledon a few years later, and commentating on it. Within a few months of learning the game, I found myself sitting at the same table as some of the players whose TV exploits had inspired me to take it up (Nicky Power was at my table the first time I ever played outside the Fitz, and Neil Channing and Roy Brindley were both at my table at my first ever big tournament, the IPC in Galway). Wind forward a couple of years and I'm doing a long commentary stint at the Irish Open with Emmet Kennedy and my hero Neil Channing as Niall Smyth gradually grinds Surindar Sunar down on his way to a memorable victory. That same year, the man who will always be the voice of poker, Jesse May, interviewed me about my exit, a surreal moment when you realize people at home are listening to me talking about it the same way I listened to other players do the same. Wind forward to Galway this year and I did a stint in the commentary box with Jesse and got to comment on my friend Daragh Davey make a late charge towards the final table.

At the end of my stint, I went to the bar to watch the livestream with the Firm crew. Daragh was down to the last nine (the unofficial final table) but it was looking touch and go as to whether he would make the official final table of 8. Particularly when he got it in with nines against the chipleader's aces. As Jesse pointed out on commentary, things weren't looking good for him....until a magic nine hit the river snding the Firm rail wild with delight. There was no such display of exuberance from Daragh, just a wry smile, and a short while later he coolered Max Silver and the final table was formed, with Daragh in possession of a stack that made him a real threat.

Daragh tends to take everything in his stride with aplomb, so it was no surprise he got the most sleep of any of us and was good to go the next day. Early on the final table, the eventual winner ran a high risk high octane bluff on him that worked. After Daragh reluctantly folded, he was shown the bluff, presumably an attempt to tilt him, but Daragh is far too experienced and level headed for that. He knuckled down, regrouped, and played the best he possibly could before eventually busting in third. Over the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of watching Daragh emerge as the top young player in Ireland, a truly well rounded player who can crush live cash and tournaments, and win online majors (two and counting). Jason Tompkins sent a tweet from Australia hailing him as the best poker player in the Firm, something I would agree with. More important than his talent is the grace with which he handles himself in all situations. It's pretty safe to predict Daragh will never be seen pissing up against the wall of a poker venue, or fistpumping in the face of a defeated opponent. As such he is a credit to his parents, and his mother showed up to rail him (Lappin instantly named her Momgoose) so we had the pleasure of meeting her.

We are all shaped to a very large degree by our parents and our childhood. I come from a background of abject poverty. As I was growing up, my parents didn't own a house, a car or even a TV. Family life was heavily coloured by a constant struggle to keep food on the table and the wolf (or rather debtors) from the door. This backdrop caused me to place an unusually high importance on money and the making of it in my early adulthood. I was determined that when I had a wife and kids of my own that they would never have to worry about money the way myself and my brother did as kids, or have to endure the jeers in the schoolyard as "the poor kids". As I worked my way up the corporate ladder, my only question when considering a new opportunity was "how much does it pay?".

In my late 20s, I realised that while I went into every new job thinking only about the money, when I looked back, it was the least of my concerns. My memories centred around how interesting the work and the people I worked with were, and how well I got on with them. This caused me to broaden the parameters of my decision making, and to do things for reasons other than money, ultimately leading me to ultra running, and poker (which as I said at the start of this blog was a ludicrous long shot that worked).

The reason I bring all this up now is that looked at from a purely short term financial point of view, the Galway festival was not a success. Full Tilt had to foot the bill for the overlay on the main event, the construction of the venue and all the rest of it. But I believe when we look back on this amazing event in years to come, we will barely remember this, if at all. Instead we will remember the most amazing poker event ever created, that drew thousands and thousands of players to a marquee in Galway at a time when the country as a whole was deep in recession. As such, it will be remembered as a most unexpected and delightful success, created through the toil and belief of people like Fintan Gavin, Kirsty Thompson, Dave Curtis, Rebecca McAdam. People will remember that the voice of poker, Jesse May, was there to scream "it's a nine!" when Daragh Davey magically hit the river. They will remember how local legend Christy Morkan made a deep run to the final table, how the winner ran and showed a sick bluff. They will remember the fun they had at the pool table, or the Pacman or the open faced Chinese, that Gus Hansen came and nicked a girl from under Gary Clarke, that Isildurr was there too and got to hang with the legend that is Mick Mccloskey, or a hundred other memory makers sprinkled through the festival.

Everyone who helped make this happen deserves our applause and our good will. It's refreshing to see a poker site willing to go out on a limb and risk losing some of the money they rake daily from players online, to give something back. Hopefully, when we do look back on this in years to come, it will be as the start of something special (I firmly believe that if the organisers stick with this it can only grow in future years) rather than a one off moment of poker heaven.



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