When I set out to a live tournament, the first challenge is getting there. A few years ago, I made myself the laughing stock of Irish poker by turning up at the wrong hotel in the wrong part of Dublin for JP's mini WSOP. This time, I got the hotel (the Regency) right and turned up for the European Deepstack thinking I was 2 hours late (I didn't see the point of the early levels) but actually 22 hours early. As I walked around the empty poker room initially believing it must be a break, the lack of dealers or even chips on the table eventually made me realise I must have got the day wrong. So a quick text to Mrs Doke just in time before she made it back to the M50 and I was on my way back home, listening to her muttering under her breath. Couldn't quite catch what she was saying, but pretty sure it wasn't how wonderful it is to be married to me.
So, the following day, I was back for take 2. My table was entirely foreign (there didn't seem to be as many French around but lots of Scandis, Belgians and Germans) and I made easy early progress from 100k starting stack (not a typo) to 135k or so. I then made one of the biggest fold I have ever made (second nuts on the river) after the longest tank of my career. Thankfully I was shown the nuts so despite finishing the day with just over half a starting stack I was able to sleep that night feeling like I played as well as I could.
Day 2 got off to a great start and before I knew it I had increased my stack from 60k to over 350k when I made a mistake due to a temporary lapse of concentration. Sometimes my mind wanders a bit when I play live (I think a lot of online players used to having to make 50 decisions a minute do when suddenly they only have to make one every few minutes). So I was daydreaming briefly when I became aware of the dealer looking at me expectantly. A quick glance round the table revealed no visible cards or bet so I assumed it had been folded around to me in the hijack. I find jacks so I push out enough chips for a min raise. At this point the dealer tells me the short stack between me and her is already all in (apparently he had turned to her and announced this without moving any chips forward). Since I didn't say raise, I now have to put in enough chips for the flat call. No biggie, since I do have jacks. The button then confirmed I had flat called the shove and also called. Now it's a little wonky as I have about a quarter of my stack in, so I'm not committed and could have a tough flop decision if overcards come. The flop came Q73cc, so I check to see what the button does. He instantly shoves for several times pot. I don't think too long before folding, figuring he should never be bluffing with no side pot so either has KK or AA, or has made a slightly speculative call pre with AQ or KQ. I therefore was somewhat dismayed when he flipped over AK. Had I made the call. I would suddenly have been up to 750k, but to be honest I'm fine with the fold, I think long term it's the correct decision. My mistake was the loss of concentration preflop (although the result would probably have been the same as I would have flatted the shove).
I don't think I won a pot after that and withered down to the point where it became shove or fold. Eventually I ran qjs into qq. I flopped the world, or a royal flush draw to be precise, but it wasn't to be.
Back next day for the 300 side event. First table was a dream, all foreign recreational players. Despite this I managed to lose about 75% of my stack in the first level, mostly the result of a failed bluff against a gentleman from the UK. I joked on Twitter that I had broken my golden rule of never trying to bluff someone with visible tattoos. There's no real reasoning behind this: it's purely based on experience as I don't think I've ever successfully bluffed anyone with visible tattoos. My mood wasn't improved by the table talk, centered around my new nemesis (who I mentally dubbed Coach, after he sought me out at a break to tell me how badly I played, and why I would never win anything in poker playing the way I do). He was holding a strategy symposium, dissecting every hand focusing in particular on how well he had played it (and he was playing every hand) and how badly everyone else had. I declined to engage, contenting myself to stay silent while I flicked about on Facebook and Twitter, but I won't pretend I was unhappy when our table broke.
I picked up a few chips at my new table before the break. At the break, I had the aforementioned pep talk from "Coach", explaining why I had to play more hands and be less ABC. Armed with my new found knowledge, I went on a tear from 10k to bag up nearly 200k, to be 4/44 overnight. Or maybe I just ignored everything Coach told me, sat there folding patiently for hours, and got it in 70/30 ahead 4 times (holding each time). The second of these double ups came courtesy of Gavin "Gavonator" O'Rourke. After I got moved to his table (my third), he asked me if I would mention him in the blog if he doubled me up. I proomised I would, or alternatively if he dogged me. Ever the gentleman, Gav took the double up route rather than the dogging one. Biggest laugh of the weekend also courtesy of Gav: at the break I was telling Gary Clarke Gav had doubled me up to get mentioned in the blog. Gary then offered to devote an entire blog to him if he doubled him up. Without a moment's hesitation, Gav came out with the zinger "But way more people read Doke's blog".
While I can't say I enjoyed most of the day (I didn't play very well early on which always annoys me, and didn't enjoy the company with the notable exception of Gav and a few other Irish on my tables), I was very pleased to have ground it out. A few of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers apparently thought I was on tilt given the grumpy nature of most of my tweets, but to be honest I was kind of hamming it up for my own (and hopefully others) amusement. That's the great thing about social networks: it means you are not forced to interact with people you have nothing in common with beyond being seated at the table but can socialise with people who aren't even there. One tabling live when you are not enjoying the company is pretty boring, especially when short stacked, but I pride myself on never tilting while still involved in any tournament no matter how small (post bust out is a different story). I think the fact I grinded the short stack for hours on end when my equity in the tournament was less than 100 euro waiting for optimal spots rather than just flicking it in proves I didn't let my mood affect my performance.
I quickly chipped up on day 2 and was probably chipleader within the first hour. Everything was going great until I called a shove with jacks two tables out. Jacks would normally be strong enough to call an open shove by anyone in these things, but particularly when it's a Norwegian who is trying to bust (he had already shoved Q4o over an utg raise) so he can make his flight. I was therefore disappointed to find myself in a plain old flip (versus AQ), and even more disappointed to lose it. For the third time this tourney, that meant grinding 6 big blinds again for a while, which I did until I decided KJ utg was strong enough to push with. King jack off is a mucky enough hand with a whole table to pass through (you're going to be dominated a lot when called) but the blinds were about to rise so if I let it pass and the blinds went through, I'd suddenly be down to 3 bigs and no longer have fold equity on my shoves. When I got called and reshoved on, things weren't looking good, but when the hands went over it was about as good as I could have hoped for. I had one live card v two opponents who had queens and eights. The king came through for me to put me back in the game.
By the time we got down to final table, I was 5 or 6/9. Firm mate Daragh Davey was there too, 4/9. I don't remember the last time we've gone to a festival without at least one of the Firm making a final table, but it's been a while since I made one alongside another Firmy. The stacks were very flat and in the not much wiggle room zone (20 to 30 big blinds) which made for cagey going early on, and unfortunately Daragh was coolered when he reshoved jacks over a spewy youngster who was raise folding a lot but ran into queens in the big blind. The final table was a bit of a grind for me, and another lost flip saw me grinding 6 bigs for the fourth time this tournament. With 5 left I was a very distant 5th, but then two of the big stacks clashed. David Caffrey came off the worst to bust in 5th, and no sooner was I feeling good about having ladder to 4th and a 5k payday than I suddenly doubled up twice to be right back in the mix, 3/4. First double up was courtesy of AQ holding versus 97, second came when I exploited a tendency I had picked up on one guy. After he peeled from the blinds, and donked flop and turn (which I had concluded based on observation he would never do with a strong hand as he tended to get all trappy and slowplay then), I went with my read and piled over his turn lead with air. After some thought (or maybe Hollywood) he passed.
My hopes of the win were dashed with nines in the small blind. I raised to induce the big blind to shove and snapped when he did, expecting to be ahead. I was not ahead. His queens held and I was left with under 2 bigs. After folding one hand, the rest went in with K5s and I was called by both blinds. The flop was favourable (middle pair and a flush draw) but an offsuit ace on the river sent me packing to the rail. I was pretty gutted as about ten minutes earlier I was feeling like I could win the whole thing but you have to take the positives. In the last year, I have played very few side events, having decided to stick to main events rather than waste my time playing every 100 quid side, time that could be spent more profitably and enjoyably grinding online. However, having climbed into the top 10 of the overall UKIPT leaderboard without grinding sides, I decided I better start playing them (at UKIPTs at least) to give myself a decent shot at the leaderboard. So it was heartening to see I can still bring my best game to a side event these days even if I'm not enjoying the experience early on and in the back of my mind I'm thinking I'd be better off playing online at home. Also it's only February and I've already maintained my record of making a live final table every year since I started playing.
As I was queueing to cash out, Cathal Shine (who had just won the main) started chatting to me. Cathal is one of the unsung heroes of Irish poker, he's been crushing online quietly for years, and a nicer sounder lad you could not meet. So it was great not only to see an Irish winner in the event, but one of Cathal's calibre and class. As I was chatting to him, I was already late regging a UKIPT Nottingham satellite on my phone. I played it in the car on the drive home (I wasn't driving, I hasten to add), much to the amusement of Daragh Davey who was on my table for the second time that day. I ended up winning the satellite which was a nice end to the day.
Online I got off to a downswingy start this year, losing about 10k in January. I bounced back this month (about 25k up so far), and also qualified for EPT Vienna by mistake. I regged a 3x feeder sat on Stars Fr not realizing it would run into the target sat, so when I won the 3x, I got thrown in. There was only one seat for 20 something runners so I was cursing my mistake, but ended up winning the sat and the seat, so I'm off to Vienna for my first EPT this year, and very much looking forward to it. I definitely feel my live mojo has returned and a big result could be just round the corner. Before that, there's the small matter of UKIPT Dublin this week. I'm roomsharing in Vienna with the Drumlish legend himself Smidge.
This was my first time playing the Euro Deepstack in a few years, due to clashes with other events (Deauville last year, for example). It's always an emotional return for me ever since I was crowned champion at the first running. Talking to runner up Gary Clarke (who also finalled the 300 side), we reminded each other that at the time the final table was seen as one top class English pro (Joe Beevers) and a bunch of almost unknown Irish novices. It was the first Hendon mob result not just for myself and Gary, but also Marc McDonnell, Pete "Multi" Murphy and Tony Baitson. Down the years the character of the event has changed dramatically. From a 1500 buyin with under 200 runners, the buyin dropped but the numbers increased dramatically as the French arrived in force the following year. That year I mounted a reasonable defence of the crown going out on the second last table, and my Firm mate Jason Tompkins announced his arrival on the scene by chopping it headsup (with Francis "Wally" McCormack). The following year the numbers grew further as the French arrived in even more force to the point where French became the principal language of the tournament (you haven't lived til you've heard JP's Tallaght French), and both myself and Jason made our second final table. As I said I missed it in recent years, but this year the French were notable by their absence. Still mostly continentals, but it was good to see quite a few Irish consistent performers go deep apart from Cathal. Tom Kitt had another rollercoaster ride, and Keith Cummins gave his investors on IPB a great sweat for their money all the way to the final table. Eoin Starr was also involved at the business end. Eoin's a young lad who has probably attracted more stick from certain quarters than anyone else in Irish poker (I personally think a lot of people need to remember how young he is, and how all of us pretty much did some silly stuff at that age), and I think he'd be the first to admit he hasn't always put his best foot forward, but he is making a habit of going deep in events and clearly possesses natural raw talent and tremendous enthusiasm for the game (I don't know of anyone in Ireland who rails more online poker). People like that tend to keep improving and I think we have yet to see how good Eoin could be. He was on my table in the 300 side, and I believe he also final tabled the 200 side, so respect for his ability to keep grinding and plugging away after the disappointment of busting the main.
Kudos to everyone involved for a really well run event. Mike and Brian do sterling work bringing soft recreational fields to our shores, and deserve more local support for their tourneys. A couple of minor gripes: when I posted a picture of the chip counts from the excellent Vegas Nights site, a German friend immediately remarked on the very high rake for the side event. This is the way it's been going in Ireland, and I appreciate it costs more to run a well structured 2 day side event than it does a nightly turbo, but it's reaching the point where many of us who play for profit rather than fun are voting with our feet. My other gripe concerns the main event structure. This has been tweaked quite a lot down the years, but I believe this year's structure was the worst. The 100k starting stack is simply too big and makes the early levels virtually meaningless. I didn't reg til the end of level 2, and was still the first Firmy to take to the felt. What you have now is a few hours of pointlessness, and then to get things moving along, the structure suddenly starts to resemble a deepstack hyper with skipped levels and big antes. By the time we got near the money on day 2, there was less play than in a "normal" tourney like the Irish Open or a UKIPT. I gather the structure got better again later (the duration of the final table backs this up) which is a positive, but I think the structure needs more tweaking to ensure more play in the middle and less at the start. If levels have to be skipped, I'd rather it was 150/300 rather than 500/1000. I personally think the 50k starting stack is ample, and early antes could force the pace a bit earlier. I think people in this part of the world misunderstand what makes a good structure, equating a big starting stack (bigger the better) to "good". But length of clock and included levels are actually more important. People who have never played WSOP side events tend to assume the 3k or 4500 starting stacks mean they are crapshoots, but actually for that type of event it's perfect. With a one hour clock from the start, you have 1 hour with a 120 or 180 nig blind starting stack, and another with 60 or 90. At that point people have to start moving rather than sitting on their hands, but that's fine, as a slew of bustouts keeps the average stack healthy and actually makes for lots of play throughout the whole tourney.
However, these are minor gripes and as I say, well done to everyone involved. One final shoutout to the online beast that is Paul "uwannaloan", who was third in the Sky event over in Nottingham at the weekend. Him and his crew (which includes Sunday Million and Supersonic winner weesh and datwilldopig) now need a name (the turtle lovers? the animals?) as they are amassing a sick run of results, and further proof that all the most exciting talents in Irish poker right now are emerging from the online scene.