Monday June 22My starting table was easily the toughest I've been at in Vegas this year, so I saw no shame in battening down the hatches as I knew the table would break before the end of the day. My second table was a lot more fun, and I built a stack and bagged up comfortably over average
Tuesday June 23We were not too far from the bubble on day 2 (which I think reenforces my point in part one about the new structures), and I got through it comfortably without any major incident, chipping up quite a bit in the process. Most of the rest of day 2 and day 3 until the final table is something of a blur (pretty much all standard spots and lots of table changes). My memories of all my biggest wins as a runner are similarly blurry, so I tend to think it's something to do with the intense concentration that comes with the excitement of finding yourself in with a chance of winning something big. I was pretty card dead late on day 2, and even though I kept chipping up, the average caught and passed me, so I came back to day 3 a bit below average.
Wednesday June 24Day 3 started as a fairly grim struggle for survival. I won a vital flip two tables out to relieve some of the pressure, but was still one of the shorter stacks when we were down to 10, unofficial final table. Having played with most of the players on the table at some point, I had pretty developed reads on them by this point, and I felt that there was a very strong possibility some would attack too aggressively. While I wasn't going to pass any very good spots, I decided my strategy would be to pass marginal or only slightly profitable spots. With only 30k for ninth and almost 6 times as much for third, I felt there was a lot of value in just hanging around and hoping others would bust. The first such spot presented itself when I picked up Ace queen in the hijack playing just over 20 big blinds. Jason Koon opened just in front of me playing 17 big blinds, and while my first instinct was to 3 bet and get it in with him, after some reflection I decided to let it go. Three of the players still to act behind were playing very aggressively, so I felt I would probably have to go with the hand if the four bet came in behind. While ace queen is a good enough to call off in that spot, I felt that it was basically not just a marginal spot but potentially a group of marginal spots, all but one of which could result in getting the loot in with not much more than the correct equity, which at a table where you are not the shortest and there are others itching to get all in is an ICM disaster. There was some chance everyone including Koon would fold to my 3 bet, but I didn't think this would happen all that often. More likely I'd get it in versus Koon only slightly ahead most of the time and risk being crippled. Sometimes I'd run into a hand behind and have the correct price to call off but be slightly behind most of the time and again risking my tournament life (this is what would actually have happened as the aggressive big blind was sitting there with pocket tens going nowhere). So I made a tight fold but one that felt right in the situation.
By now, my phone was buzzing constantly with notifications of messages from people watching back home, not just in their own homes, but casinos all over Ireland had the livestream up on the big screen. Ciaran Cooney, head honcho of Irish Poker Rankings, sent me a message saying it was like Italia 90 (when the Irish football team qualified for the World Cup for the first time ever and the whole country stopped to watch) for poker fans, and a photo of his local casino showing play having stopped while everyone watched the TV screen.
That level of support is very touching and truly staggering, and really only registered with me after the event. It's easy to imagine beforehand that when you find yourself in a situation like this, it could be a struggle to control your excitement, but in actual fact I felt the most calm composed and focused I have ever felt at a poker table. All my mental effort was focused on the game, and my evolving reads on my opponents and the overall situation, and formulation of my strategy. The only reason I was checking my phone is I was fortunate enough to have three top class players studying the livestream intently and relaying all the relevant information on how my opponents were playing. So a big thank you to my Chip Race cohost David Lappin back in Dublin, WSOP and EPT final tableist Jason Tompkins across the road in Palms Place, and my American friend Carlos Welch on the rail. They fed me all the relevant information that allowed me to keep refining my reads and overall strategy.
People watching back home were probably surprised to see me reshove the lot in with eight high after having earlier passed ace queen, but I felt it was a clearly profitable spot. The hijack opener was chipleader (and eventual winner) Upeshka De Silva who was pushing his lead hyperaggressively, so I felt he was opening something like 75% of hands in the spot. Given that he was probably only going to call top 15 to 20% of hands when I shoved, and 87s has decent enough equity even against that range, I didn't hesitate. Pesh immediately said something that sounds like Balzac so it was clear he wasn't at the top of his range, and took a while to call with KJo. I think it's one of the worst hands he would have called with, so that certainly makes the reshove profitable. I flopped a flush draw but it took a lowly 7 to hit the river to keep me alive.
I also passed a shove I'd normally take, QJo, from the cutoff, on ICM grounds. With one shorty much shorter than me, busting at that point was an ICM disaster, so I stuck with the strategy of passing bottom of the range shoves, even if it was the first half decent hand I;d been dealt in a while. The other option was to raise fold, but I didn't think it would get through often enough in this specific situation.
For most of the rest of the final table, it seemed I was always second shortest in chips waiting for the shortest to bust, until we got three handed and I was by far the shortest. This meant I could up the aggression and in particular target the second biggest stack, so I chipped up steadily until he got it in behind against the chipleader and bust. So having spent the entire final table allowing ICM to dictate my strategy, I now found myself freerolling for the bracelet, albeit with a massive chip deficit.
Pesh's very rowdy rail clearly didn't expect the headsup to last very long. Some of the comments from the rail upset and annoyed people watching back home (not just Irish: several Americans thought it crossed the line several times) but in all honesty I think it upset my opponent a lot more than it did me (to his credit, Pesh felt compelled to apologize to me for his friends at one point). If anything, it just hardened my resolve to make it as tough as possible for my opponent, and I dragged it out so long we were forced to quit for the night and come back the next day. Pesh won most of the small pots and I won most of the big ones, including a double up when I called it off with QT after he shoved pre with J8 and held. At that point I was within a couple of flips of the bracelet, as close as I ever got.
It fell as it so often does to the irrepressible Andy Black to inject some levity. At one point I heard his distinctive voice coming from the rail and looked over to see he had embedded himself in the epicentre of Pesh's rail, a one man verbal wrecking ball reducing them all to laughter or silence with the brilliance of his one liners, causing one guy to ruefully reflect "We are never going to win a one liner battle against the Irish".
I am particularly grateful to Andy for popping up given he was deep in the 2500 event at the time and was sacrificing his breaks. I am also very grateful to all who helped and supported, not just my many Irish poker friends, but also the very English Tim Davie (who got so wrapped up on the rail he had people wondering what someone who looks like he might be in One Direction was doing on my rail asking him if I was his Dad), the very American Carlos Welch, and the very Croatian Tatjana Pasalic who kept the bloggers fed with info on me and brightened the rail on her break from her livestream duties.
Thursday June 25Overnight I got a message through an intermediary from Pesh and his team saying they were interested in coming to some sort of chop arrangement. Since the WSOP does not facilitate chops, I won't say anything further on that.
Unfortunately, 6 hands in, I got it in slightly ahead with the underpair against the two overs, and lost the ugly way (I got counterfeited). While it would have been nice to win the bracelet and hear the national anthem written by my Grandad's cousin Peadar O'Kearney played at a bracelet ceremony for the first time since 2007, I was not as disappointed as might be expected. I genuinely felt I gave it my best shot and got my strategy right to the point of giving myself the biggest possible payday and chance to win, and I ran well at all crucial points up to the last flip, so I have no regrets. Pesh was a most deserving winner, and a gentleman. I'm pretty sure this won't be his last big result.
The support from back home (and indeed from non Irish friends) was truly overwhelming to the point that I simply couldn't keep up with it. Every few seconds a few more notifications buzzed in, so I put off individual responses until after the headsup battle. All I can say is the support people expressed truly moved and astonished me, and if I neglected to respond to any individual message, please forgive me on the basis of oversight rather than wilful ignorance.
As far as disappointment goes, similar comments apply. I felt less disappointed at the end than I did when I busted in 3rd in the Fitz End of Month a few months ago. Obviously it would have been amazing to win a bracelet, but my overriding feeling was that I had given it my absolute best shot and there was nothing I could have done better or more. A mistake at any point could have seen me eliminated in 9th, 8th or whatever, and my conservative approach got me to within two flips of a bracelet having already locked up almost 300 grand. Andy Black always talks about the importance of not knocking yourself out when the big opportunity looms, and I saw at first hand that many on my final table seemed only to eager to do just that.
I'm not stupid or arrogant enough to think I played perfectly, but I do think I got as close as I could on the day. Once the dust has settled and I have enough distance to look back objectively, I will review the entire livestream to see what I can learn and analyse as best I can the close decisions. But even if I come to the conclusion that the 87s shove was a tad light, or the AQo and QJo folds a tad tight even with ICM, I cannot regret those decisions made in the heat of battle as they were made for very specific reasons and in every case I made what I believed to be the best decision rather than the safest or least controversial one. I didn't freeze up and fail to pull the trigger when I saw 87s having already decided that was strong enough to push. I have no doubt that had I not got lucky on the river I'd spend the rest of my poker life explaining that I hadn't just lost my mind with 8 high but made what I felt was clearly the best play, but had that been the exit hand, it's one I would happily have lived with. I also take heart that rather than always erring on the side of caution or courage, I made the light shove, the tight folds and the loose calls all as part of the same performance, each time believing them to be the best play. While it's nice that all the people whose opinions I respect the most praised my performance (and they're all people whose opinion I value precisely because they don't pull punches when they think I messed up), and I don't doubt there are those who would find much to criticise, ultimately as a poker player I answer first snd foremost to my biggest critic, myself.
After the payout, it felt very surreal to be walking back thru the Rio to the Gold Coast with so much cash in my little green turtle bag.
To be continued.....part 3 coming soon