Wednesday, January 1, 2014

An interesting year and the Cliffs of More

In the early hours of 2013, I was scanning through my email inbox, trying to quickly decide which messages were worthy of my immediate attention. I was basing this not on the Subject (they were nearly all the same, "Happy New Year" or some cutesy version thereof). Rather I was scanning through the From email addresses until a few semi-retired neurons in my brain fired in recognition at an email address of a friend I used to talk to online almost every day (hey, who remembers MSN and Usenet?), but hadn't heard from in years. There hadn't been a big bust up or falling out: just a gradual drifting apart and divergence of interests. As an older gentleman, I thought maybe he just lost interest in the internet, or had passed on to a better place but with no wifi. Nevertheless, I was instantly happy to recognise his email address.

After opening it, I was rather disappointed to find that after several years of lying low, all my friend had to say to me was "This could be an interesting year". Disappointment turned to curiosity as I wondered whether this glib pronouncement was directed at me, at him, or at both of us. I suspected he meant him, as the bulk of our friendship was before that day in 2007 when my brother sat me down and taught me the basics of poker, and although our communications continued for a while into the period where poker gradually took over my life, he never showed much interest in my latest career. With the benefit of a year's hindsight, I'm now even more convinced he meant himself, as his year turned out very interesting indeed. But enough about him, this is my blog not his. At the end of every year since I started this blog, I have written a summary review looking back at my year in poker, and this year shall be no exception. So here it is, 2013, through the rear view mirror.


I played less live poker this year than any other in my career. I focused more on quality than quantity, for the most part sticking to main events and eschewing side events (and for once I completely skipped several events on the domestic calendar). My WSOP campaign was shorter than in previous years, and I didn't play every day I was in Vegas. I guess another way of saying the above is that I abandoned my previous strategy of grinding everything and keeping my average buyins down to take a series of shots, but I think at this stage of my career that's not an unreasonable way for someone who is primarily an online player to approach live poker.

The Hendon mob records ten cashes for me in 2013, a reasonably consistent return given how little I played. Unfortunately there were no big results in there: my biggest cash was for €4395 (UKIPT Marbella) and my total cashes for the year amounted to $23571 (the lowest annual total to date I have recorded). I don't keep detailed records of these things like I used to, but I suspect that number is in or around my buyins for the year (or at least the portion of them I paid myself: I sold for all my bigger buyins like the WSOP and EPT London). So basically a breakeven year live. Maybe a bit better than that as I swapped pretty well (most notably 10% with Daragh Davey in UKIPT Galway).

The UKIPT was the only live tour I really committed to in 2014, mainly because I was cleaning up in the online satellites, and ended up as UKIPT Qualifier of the Year (I'm currently leading this season also). I cashed in 5 UKIPT main events in 2013 (which I think is a record), but the highlight of my year live was an event where there was no money at stake when I was part of the Irish team that won the IFP European Nations Cup in Cyprus.


I continued my involvement in staking with my Firm brethren David Lappin, Daragh Davey, and Jason Tompkins. Overall this has been profitable, but not to the degree I had hoped. This might be a result of me going into it with an overly optimistic view as at least one of my partners feel the returns to date to be more than acceptable, but the fact is that in terms of pure hourly rates I would be better off forgetting about staking and just playing more myself (or coaching). This makes me less keen about expanding my involvement any further.

Even though I have often resolved to stop buying one off percentages of so many people in one off live events in the past, I continued doing this in 2013. Again, I don't keep detailed records these days, but I'm pretty sure I lost a relatively modest amount doing this in 2013.

Other Activities

I did more coaching in 2013 than in any other year. Some of this was as part of the in house Firm coaching headed up by David Lappin provided to staked players, and admittedly my involvement mostly boiled down to offering the opinion that a spot was "HUD dependent" (that is, the optimal decision or line depends on interpretation of HUD statistics on the villain). The rest was done on an ad hoc basis when outside players came to me for sessions, offering amounts of money it didn't seem prudent to refuse. While I enjoyed these sessions a lot (and I certainly enjoyed the money), my plan going forward is to keep this to a relatively small sideline to the core business of my own online grind.

A couple of poker-related investments came a cropper this year. It must be said my track record on this front is very poor since I left the world of business just over 5 years ago and moved into poker, so it may be my instincts are no longer what they used to be in this area and I should just stick to clicking buttons.

As a group, it has been a very good year for the Firm. My continued association with such a great group of guys and players is something I am very pleased about. I appreciate we may come across as something of a clique to people on the outside, but I learnt the hard way that not everybody in poker can be trusted to act honourably. So having identified a group of guys I do trust, that makes for a stronger bond than any one based purely on convenience, proximity or nationality. However I like to think I go out of my way to help people who approach me for my thoughts on a hand or advice on any other aspect of the business, and while one or two may fall through the cracks, this year I answered literally thousands of questions and requests from people I barely know if at all via Facebook, Twitter, IPB, email, Viber, Skype, text, phone call or face to face. If some did fall through the cracks it is just the media is so diverse these days. I don't mean to imply my doing this is a burden on me or a tremendous act of charity as I get a lot of pleasure from interacting with people and have made some brilliant friends in the process, guys like Willie Eliot and Mark Smyth who can make me laugh out loud (as opposed to LOL) with a line on Twitter or a photoshopped image. Online poker is a lonely and solitary pursuit at the worst of times: at the best of times you get to chuckle at the breaks at some responses to your tweets, or from railers in the chatbox.


This year I wrote some of my best ever received (and most widely read) blog entries. Of course there were also quite a few ho hum ones lacking in inspiration. It gets harder and harder to think of new things to say, or new ways to say it, and as soon as I reach the point where I feel I am just repeating myself, I will stop. I have a strong feeling that could very well happen in the next year, and if it does, well, after six years and almost 400 entries, I think it will have been a decent run.

Although I complain every year that I am running out of material, I take some pride that so many still read the blog and seem to enjoy it. Five of my all time top ten most read blogs come from the past year. For the record, my five most read blogs this year were:
(1) "No I in team, and no Irish in biggest tourney in Ireland this year", my thoughts on the Norwegian poker championships. I strongly suspect this was the most read this year because I talked about Raheny Shamrock legend Dick Hooper so the readership extended beyond poker degens and into my old friends in the running world (this became my third most read blog ever)
(2) "Trying to make colour blindness work in Vegas", my first blog from Vegas this year (5th most read ever)
(3) "Living it little and large", my UKIPT Edinburgh trip report (7th most read ever)
(4) "Online, not orange", my thoughts on the parallel rise of online poker in Ireland and decline in live poker (8th most read ever)
(5) "A Super Tuesday in the life (how one man and his dog won Super Tuesday, almost)", my account of chopping Super Tuesday back in August (9th most read ever)


OK, finally we get to the nuts and bolts. As much as I'd like to win a bracelet or an Irish Open or get a six figure live score, I am primarily (and pretty much have been from day one) an online player. That's where the vast majority of the money I've made has come from, this and every other year.

A picture paints a thousand words, or in this case a graph accurately summarizes 7000 mtts:

I guess most people looking at this graph will focus on the spike in the middle, and certainly my $85k score for chopping Super Tuesday was the singular highlight of the year. However, if anything I take more pride from the rest of the graph. Even if I hadn't satellited into Super Tuesday that night in August and proceeded to run well all night, it would still be a pretty good year. That score accounts for only about a third of my overall profit for the year (less when you include rakeback and bonuses), and even if you take it out my year would have been approximately as profitable as 2012.

It was very much a year of two halves. After a really good start to the year in January (one month and 500 mtts in, I was already up almost 30k), I then ground out only another 30k in profit over the course of the next 7 months and 2500 mtts. In the middle of this, I remember complaining to my poker bff David Lappin and saying it could be a sign of the poker apocalypse. I also remember coming back from Vegas pretty depressed not just with how Vegas had gone for me (although I bricked everything there, I genuinely felt I played really well while running really badly, and of course the sample size is far too small to be meaningful: nevertheless the brickage did nothing to lift my spirits) and as I reflected how the year was going for me, I couldn't help but wonder if I was one of those self deluding players who doesn't realise the game has essentially passed him by. I remarked to Lappin that even if I managed to clear 100k this year, it wouldn't be by much. He made the reasonable point that most people would be happy with making that much in any year, which is undoubtedly true, but most people don't have my expenses and family to support.

In any case, given where I was at the start of August, I'm really happy and pleasantly surprised to end up having not my worst year online but possibly my best (I say possibly because I know I made a similar amount in the first year I switched to mtts, 2010, but am not sure of which year pips the other), and to have reversed a two year decline. Since my Super Tuesday bink, I have made approximately the same amount again, without any massive single score, grinded out over the course of 4000 tournaments. For the first two thousand of those I was actually just breakeven. Sideswings (prolonged breakeven periods) are frustrating, but a lot easier to take when you have just had a big score. I would guess it was mainly down to variance, but it's also possible I was a little less than focussed after the win (so called winner's tilt, which I knew was a weakness going back to my running days. I never won the same race or broke the same record twice: it seemed once I'd won a race once a kind of been there won that mentality kicked in), and I certainly took more shots at bigger games that probably are not massively profitable long term. On the plus side, I did grind through it, and did more volume in the last 5 months than in the first 7. Part of this was a result of noticing back in August that if I kept up the same rate of vpps for the last 4 months as I had for that month, I would get Supernova status, something I achieved about 24 hours from the end of the year.

I also put in far more work away from the tables, watching videos and running the maths myself on certain spots (this was something I resolved to do after Vegas, to try to jump ahead of the curve again). That's something I want to keep doing this year, keep working, learning, improving. I don't want to be the best poker player in the world, it's not realistic to think I ever could be, but I do want to be the best that I can be. That's always been the approach I've taken with everything I do, be it chess, bridge, running or poker, and I'm pretty sure that when I do get as good as I can get at poker and plateau, then I will decide I'm done with it and move on to the next obsession.

As I was typing up this blog, Mrs Doke looked over my shoulder and commented that my graph looked like the Cliffs of More. I think she meant the cliffs of Moher, but you never know with her, she is French after all. So there you have it, 2013, from a prophetic email in the first few hours to the Cliffs of More.



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