Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I've always been a bit of a contrary bollix. On my last day in Enniscorthy before I headed to university in Dublin, my best friend, in an uncharacteristically bromantic moment, unexpectedly hugged me (particularly shocking since this was back in the day when guys just nodded and grunted at each other with no physical contact, there was no fist pumping and certainly no hugging) and left me with the words "I think you could achieve almost anything you set your mind to. Except anything athletic, obviously".

The last part was a fair call based on my record as the most unathletic kid in the school. Last pick for any team. Last by a distance in every race.

As a contrarian, I focused not on the ridiculously optimistic opening sentence of his statement, but on the realistic closer. It took me 20 years to do it, but I did eventually prove him wrong by winning a number of very long international races and representing Ireland at the World Championships. So, in your eye, Michael.

Given my contrary bollix nature, I guess when I decided at the start of the year to do no more trip report blogs, it was always going to come out as "more trip reports than ever". My decision to eschew trip reports is based on my view that what Lappin disparagingly refers to as the "I went there and I done that" format is the lowest form of blogging. Don't get me wrong, there are some bloggers who do very well sticking almost exclusively to the format, but for me personally, it's always a struggle to elevate these blogs to more than a few dull hand histories and a bust out hand of interest to nobody that isn't me. Or even is me.

So here we are, third trip report on the bounce, this one from Vienna. I arrived there on Sunday. Value hunter supreme Smidge had sniffed out the absolute nut economy hotel for us. Situated in the historic heart of Vienna a five minute walk from the palace (yes, a real actual palace, not the Vegas facsimile version) where the poker was, Hotel Graben has everything you'd want in a poker trip hotel, including free reliable wifi and very friendly staff.

I got to the starting line a lot more refreshed than I expected to be. I guess I'm getting better at flipping sleep patterns between the nocturnal one of the online grinder and the dragging yourself out of bed before midday one of the live pro. I sat tight in the early levels and drifted back a bit as I was pretty card dead and missing flops a lot. Before dinner I upped the aggression feeling my tight image would make it profitable to do so. This allowed me to more than double my stack to a very satisfactory 52k.

Foreign trips are a great chance to socialise with people I don't see at tournaments back home, so myself and Smidge went to dinner with Max Heinzelmann (my only swap in the tourney. Who wouldn't want to swap with a guy who got headsup in back to back mass runner field EPTs a few years ago and was EPT Player of the Year), Tim "great son in law material" Davie and Tom "Jabracada" Hall. Jabracada confirmed his current live beast mode by chopping the 2k side event. He's an interesting character: I don't think I know anyone else that good who is as brutally self critical. You have to be your own biggest critic to survive in this game but he really takes it to unparalleled heights.

The only downside to this delightful dinner company was I somehow managed to lose yet another credit card roulette, extending my lifetime record to played ten lost ten. I worked out the probability of this happening as over 200 million to 1! So clearly, credit card roulette is rigged.

After dinner it was clear my image was no longer as pristinely nitty any more and people started playing back at me more. After losing a chunky one (described later) when I whiffed a nut flush and a gutter draw (but still actually had the best hand after the river) I decided it was time to accept this, batten down the hatches, and hope to make a hand and get paid off. Unfortunately I failed the "make a hand" phase, but still had reason to be happy enough to bag up over 38k at the end given so little cooperation from the deck all day.

Day 2, unfortunately, couldn't really have gone much worse. After a bad river call early on (described later) I was chopped in half. I doubled straight back up winning a flip, and then doubled straight back down when I folded aces on a king high dry board in a really gross spot. You always feel pretty uneasy about doing that, especially when you have put 40% of your stack in, but to be honest I thought my opponent would have to be insane to be bluffing (especially after seeing me station off to the end in the only other hand I'd played post flop), and he didn't seem like the insane type. Still, this was the hand I immediately ran by the brains trust afterwards. The villain was German but Max didn't know anything about how he played. He thought it was a gross spot and wasn't sure what he would do. Timmy seemed to think the fold was good. Jason Tompkins gave the most detailed analysis of the spot, concluding he would have played it the same and describing it as a "world class fold", high praise indeed from a man who is not only probably Ireland's most original and versatile poker mind, but also one not given to hyperbole. So on reflection I'm fine with the hand.

When you do make a very tough disciplined fold that preserves your tourney life, you always feel like you "deserve" to go on and profit from it. Unfortunately, numbers have no memory and poker just doesn't work like that. Instead I was dealt trash for an hour which I patiently folded, and when I did find a hand good enough to stick the 12 big blinds in with, I ran into a slightly better hand and didn't get there.

You do have to be your own biggest critic and you learn more from mistakes than hands played perfectly, so inspired by Jabracada, here are the three hands I wasn't happy with.
(1) Just over 2 hours in, I was dealt tens in the cutoff. After the lag to my right opened, I decided to call. With my image, I figured the 3 bet would just fold out almost everything worse and get 4 bet by almost everything better (it would be a horrible spot if I did get 4 bet). Both blinds came along and the flop was a very favourable looking 752hh. I bet when checked to, and only the original raiser called. We both checked an off suit 7 on the turn, and he fired 65% of pot on the river (an offsuit 3). After some deliberation most of which was spent muttering "I'm only beating eights and nines", I figure that apart from 88 or 99 I'm really only beating a bluff. A4 got there but the more credible flush draws all missed so I eventually called. He had a7. In retrospect I don't like the river call as I didn't think he was bluffing often enough. My gut was saying muck and I should have gone with it. Over my lifetime I've definitely made more incorrect river calls than folds in these spots.
(2) This was the last major hand I played on day 1. After opening AQo and getting 3 bet by a Spanish lag showing willing to play back against everyone, me included, I elected to call the 3 bet in a three way pot where I was closing the action preflop. My hand seemed too strong to fold and the 4 bet might just fold everything worse, with the added headache that it opened the possibility of a light 5 bet, something my opponent seemed perfectly capable of doing. I flopped well, two overs and the nut flush draw, and elected to call a small cbet. The turn gave me some additional gutshot outs and I elected to take the initiative by leading out. I expected my opponent to give up a fair amount of the time, and I didn't mind if he called either as it meant I got to a river with a lot of outs with the betting lead. Also, the only other time I'd taken this line all day (check call flop, lead turn), my opponent saw me show down a flopped set, and he was definitely good enough and observant enough to remember this.  Unfortunately my opponent was having none of it and raised. The sizing was pretty small and it seemed like he was now repping a flush or a set (which meant I had one or two less outs than I thought), but I also felt there was a strong chance he had a total airball (and he might abort the mission on the river). After considering all the options (including the pot committing semi bluff raise) I decided to go with the low variance line and just call (I was priced in to hit my outs). I missed the river and although the original plan was to just give up now in the face of a bet, I got a really strong read my opponent was full of it when he bet half pot. The longer I tanked and looked at him the stronger this feeling became. But mindful of the fact that I had earlier made an incorrect river call (hand 1 above) and have done so too often, I just gave up. My opponent asked me if I wanted to see and after I said yes showed A6o for the suspected airball. Fair play to him for a good read backed up by a gutsy play, but actually I'm ok with how I played this hand, if not the result, even if I found the way to lose the maximum. If I play it any other way I either win the hand or lose less, but you can't be too results oriented in these spots. I think all my decisions were reasonable and well reasoned, including the river fold. The fact is I don't even beat some of his bluffs, and I am near the bottom of my range. The fact that he is at the rock bottom of his doesn't change that. However, just to be results oriented for a minute, if I had found the call there I'd have ended day one with over 80k rather than less than 40k, so it was the big moment.
(3) Another aq hand, sooted this time. This was the first major hand I played on day 2 referred to above. I opened it utg, and after asking for a count of my stack, the button called, as did the big blind. The flop came aqjr, and my cbet got rid of the big blind. The turn was a 9, and I check called. The river was a jack and my opponent quickly bet again. Even though I have top 2 I'm basically only beating a bluff. While he did look the type that could be bluffing (big stack with a mountain of ante chips you suspect he didn't come by through playing tight on day one), I think I would have been stunned to be good. It's a particularly bad river and I really should have found the fold. A combination of my apparent hand strength (I say apparent cos it looks a lot stronger than it is) and the fact that he must be bluffing some of the time got the call, but in reality I don't think he is bluffing nearly often enough.

One thing that occurred to me afterwards was the sequence pattern in the big four hands I played. Incorrect call, followed by incorrect fold, followed by incorrect call, followed by fold of unknown correctness. I've noticed this pattern in tourneys before and it may be a leak that having gotten one marginal decision wrong I tend more towards the opposite decision the next time. While it's important to consider history and dynamics (if your opponents are thinking and observant, they are less likely to try to bluff you after seeing you station it off, and more likely to do so having seen you fold to a bluff) each spot is different, has to be taken on its merits, and there should not be a "default" decision. Then again, one can't be too results based: just because a call or fold happens to be incorrect in one specific instance (sample size one) doesn't make it so in the long term. Some days you just get lucky and happen to get them all right and feel like a champ, and other days they don't go your way (yet another hidden form of variance) and you feel like a chump.

Vienna is not a bad place to be stranded for a few days. I didn't fancy jumping into the sides, although given that nearly everyone I know who played the 2k seems to have final tabled it I somewhat regretted that decision. But I did fit in some quality sightseeing and two profitable online evening sessions. For the sightseeing, I avoided the much talked about segways for the old fashioned method of just hoofing it. When did we stop seeing our legs as something to walk with? For me, walking (or running) around a city is still the best way to experience it, something I learnt from my father who started taking me for very long walks from the age of three.

My father was a forester, so a lot of these walks were around forests. At an early age he introduced me to the fact that trees grow out from the inside, so by looking at their rings in a cross section you basically have a snapshot of their history. The great European cities like Vienna are similar. In the historic centre you have old buildings, some older than America. Outside that you have a ring where most of the buildings are about a century old. And outside that, our generation's mass produced monstrosities. Vienna is no different. The centre is as charming and diverse as any city I've ever been in. The first outer ring is less so, but still pleasingly diverse. The outer ring is no better than anywhere else, you might as well be in London, Minneapolis or Nottingham. I said to Mrs Doke that history won't judge our generation well, given that our contribution boils down to ugly office blocks, industrial estates, high rise flats and motorways. We will appear to our descendants as the trailer park trash generations. She told me not to worry, because our crap won't last, and we will probably blow ourselves up or pollute ourselves to death before we have many descendants to worry about. She's cheery that way.

Ironically enough, I kinda feel that if she is wrong and we do have to worry about our legacy, the one thing that will last is the very thing we see as the most transitory: social media. My extensive use of the social media and this blog to record the minutae of my life in poker is something I often get asked about by younger players in particular, many of whom have the polar opposite policy of wanting nothing to do with poker recorded. I understand their perspective, but at this point in my life I feel I have no reason to hide my involvement in poker from potential future employers or money lenders. We are the first generations to have the possibility to record so much of our impressions of and on life on the fly, and I kinda get a kick out of the idea that a few hundred years from now the latest O'Kearney inhabiting the earth will be able to download a 2014 blogspot module, and see what their great great great great great great great great grand pappy did and thought about on his first trip to Vienna. So hi there great great great great great great great grandson or daughter. And I do apologise for the motorways and the soulless buildings.

Postscript: I typed this blog up on my Ipad on the plane back from Vienna. 12 hours later I found myself on the final table of the Fitz End of Month. Basically, the run good I had hoped for in Vienna arrived a few days too late. My starting stack was chopped in half early on so I was thinking at least I'd have an early night, but then I proceeded to start running absurdly well. At one point, I cracked aces with kings, then very next hand I'm in again with eights v queens, my opponent turns a flush draw to reduce me to one out on the river, and ping there it is. Credit to my opponent who I know to see for years for taking the beat better than I've ever seen anyone take a one outer. In the end I got headsup with young online beat JWillo (photo courtesy of David Lappin), 2 to 1 down in chips. I had 19 big blinds, a stack I wouldn't expect to make many mistakes with, but felt my opponent wouldn't either, so was happy enough to chop it up and keep up the recent great record of the Firm in this tourney (in the past twelve months, Daragh, David, Hammo and Nick (twice) have either won or chopped it, and Jason and Clayton have recorded top 5 finishes). Had a great night and thanks to people like Sean Kilroy and Gary Fitzpatrick for taking the trouble to say how much they enjoy the blog. That kind of feedback makes it worthwhile. Sean even suggests I should start charging for the blog: don't tempt me Sean :)


The photo suggests you may have nodded off in the HU anyways :) Wp again sir, on fire

Sup Doke,

You heading to Monte Carlo?

Much of an Irish contingent go each year?


Conor C

Thanks guys.

LOL Shane. Was a long night :)

No plans for Monte Carlo Conor (unless I satellite in by mistake which is how I ended up in Vienna). Trying to minimise the travelling for a while: probably only gonna do Main at WSOP for same reason.


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