Thursday, July 9, 2015

What happened in Vegas.....part 3

Back in the room, I fired up the laptop with the intention of starting to respond to individual messages. There was one from Andrew Brokos whose wise words I tried to keep in mind throughout the event asking if I was available for an interview. No time like the present, so with the memory fresh in my mind, I popped on Skype to chat with Andrew and Nate.

Once that was fine, it was celebration time. My friend Yifei (who used to deal in JP's game back home before he moved stateside) had driven from California to rail. To compensate for not prolonging it long enough for him to be able to actually rail, we hung out and then headed to the Nove Italian in the Palms to meet the others. Great food, great company, and a great feeling of having achieved something of note in poker.

The fitness I brought to Vegas from the 30 mile runs every Wednesday this year stood me in good stead through the four days of minimal sleep, but by now the adrenaline was starting to wear off and I was just thinking of bed and catching up on my sleep. No rest for the wicked though: a rejuvenated Andy Black was not only making a final table of the 2500 event I had been forced to skip as a result of my deep run but sent word through various channels that he wanted me on livestream duty for his final table. Fergal Nealon was kind enough to speed me back to the Rio for that and stick around to help out with it. Knowing at first hand how vital it is to have someone feeding you the relevant information the livestream revealed (thank you again to Lappin, Jason and Carlos) I was more than happy to help out.

Friday June 26

Up early for another run, breakfast, then back to the Rio to continue my livestream duty for Andy. He ultimately ended up busting in 4th, having laddered masterfully, and seemed suitably content with his performance. As we walked through the Rio I suggested to Andy it hadn't been a bad few days for 50 year old Irish poker players while he teased Nicoline that the celebration would be in "the Gold Coast boofay" (as he insisted on calling it) before taking us to the only marginally more upmarket TGIs. Carlos came along, and Andy was very generous as ever in dispensing advice on how Carlos should approach his first ever main event. Andy's an odd blend of monkish hermit and generous extrovert (at one point he threatened to kick Carlos' ass if he followed him on Twitter) and is never anything other then fascinating and insightful when he talks about poker (or anything else for that matter).

With my next side event scheduled for the following day, I was eager to get any post big one blues or elation out of my system on my own dime, so I late regged the Rio Daily a Deepstack (a $235 turbo that attracts mainly tourists). I played it as well and as disciplined as I could, ultimately busting a bit before the money. I figured I might as well register the last turbo of the night, the 10 PM, and had just done so when another message from Tasha arrived asking if I would go back into the commentary box for the final table if the 3k 6 max, featuring Seamus Cahill.  After quickly unregging the turbo I was back in the box with David Tuchman. After some joshing about me being the latest example of commentary box run good (many previous guest commentators had similarly gone straight from the box to a big score), we were joined for a while by another very special guest.

My first WSOP campaign back in 2008 was a particularly dismal one. Looking back, I realise how hopelessly unprepared I was. I'm glad it was back in the day before professional players routinely sold for these things, as anyone buying me back then would have been better off using their cash as a fossil fuel. Not only was I a greenhorn playing less than a year, but a greenhorn used to very different pastures. Back then, the vast majority of Irish live games had no antes at any point. Similarly, antes were not a thing in my online staples at the time (limit cash and sit n gos). So while I had developed a reasonably effective tight game that worked well in the kind of structure against the type of opponents I faced back in Ireland and online, particularly when I ran as well as I did in that first year, I had no idea how to adjust to antes against players who did.

I was accompanied on that first trip by my brother Sean (who had taught me how to play). I was staking Sean, so my misery was doubled each time we bricked an event. With the campaign not going to plan and deep runs in bracelet events failing to materialise, we found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands to play smaller events like the Daily Deepstack. It was a similar story in these: we'd meet up at first break, both having added a bit to our starting stacks playing tight pre antes. Then back we'd go to antes, where we'd wither down unless we picked up premiums and end up busting a bit short of the bubble.

So every night we'd trudge (I was of the opinion that taxis were for closers, not specialists in bubbling) gloomily back up Industrial Road, the rather depressing parallel to the Strip, to our room in Circus Circus. On one such occasion, I ventured the opinion that we weren't just running bad: there was something fundamentally wrong with our strategy. Sean disagreed. He felt we were just unlucky not to be getting cards "when it really mattered". I countered with a real life example: a very garrulous Canadian who seemed to go very deep every night playing a maniacal style quite different from ours. Sean countered that the guy in question was just a luckbox who seemed to get it in every night with some sort of suited connector he'd opened in early position only to find himself priced in to call a short stack shove, and he seemed to get there against Ak more often than not.

The argument raged on with no consensus ever emerging. For the first time in my poker development I disagreed with Sean rather than just bowing to his greater experience. This led over the next few days to a Eureka moment when I realised it must be possible to solve short stack play. Over the next few months I worked laboriously to arrive at a close approximation to optimal play (so called Nash equilibrium) from first principles, which not only allowed me to crush my regular online sit n gos, but also meant when I returned to Vegas I was much better equipped to compete.

I sometimes wonder how long it would have taken me to work out optimal short stack play if I hadn't seen at first hand the garrulous Canadian routinely crushing the Daily Deepstack. Perhaps I would never have worked it out and only got there when the solution leaked out to the general populace.

I later realised (when his picture started popping up on Poker sites due to him winning big tournaments) that the garrulous Canadian was Mike Leah. So it was a somewhat surreal experience to find myself doing commentary on the 6 max final table for a while with Mike.

After Seamus got headsup and they adjourned for the night, I thought finally I'd get to catch up on my sleep, but, well, not even. Back in the room, messages arrived through various channels that Seamus wanted to talk to me. We met downstairs in TGIs and I passed on what advice I felt I could give, and agreed to handle livestream duties the following day.

Saturday June 27

After about 3 hours sleep, I headed to the Rio to meet Seamus before kickoff. He had played a brilliant final table the night before to give himself roughly a 3:2 headsup lead. Unfortunately it was not to be his day. The 30 minute livestream delay having barely elapsed, Seamus was crippled when his eights ran into aces. Next hand he got the rest in dominated and lost.

That freed me up to play my final scheduled side event, the Draftkings 50/50 (where half the field "cashed"). Numbers for this were so disappointing I doubt this particular experiment will be repeated. It was anticipated that a lot of recreational players would show up,  seeing this as their best ever shot at notching up an official WSOP cash. It seems like they did (most of my table openly admitted they'd never cashed an event before, with a few never even having plsyed one before). What wasn't anticipated was how big a turnoff the unusual payout structure would prove among regulars, very few of whom played. This meant this was by far the softest event I played this year (and maybe ever).

With the smaller than expected numbers and the fact that I ran up a stack early on more effortlessly than I ever have, I was starting to think this might be my best chance ever at aa Holdem bracelet. But then my table started hitting gunshots and runner runners every time I made a hand, and I found myself short on the bubble and required to fold through it. Quite the contrast between folding to a 1k min cash and playing headsup a few days previously for 165k, but the thing about being a pro is you have to play every situation as well as you can. One of my Facebook friends asked me before the event if the big score would change my approach to the smaller sides (making me more gambley) and I was happy to see the answer was no.

Sunday June 28

First full nights sleep in about a week, and I figured there was no point playing given I had an early flight to New York the following morning. I sold some of my surplus dollars to some Lithuanians, and paid off a couple of my investors. It felt particularly good to be handing over significant amounts of cash to people who had shown faith and bought some of the old guy. My investors this time are an eclectic mix of close friends and online beasts (with significant overlap), many of whom have kept the faith through a pretty barren set of years for me at the WSOP. One of the guys I met fresh off the plane was already one of the top online players in the world when he started buying has bought a significant chunk every year I've sold (without even asking about the events or the markup) and went on doing so even though I lost his money every year. So it felt particularly good to be repaying him with interest.

Kevin Williams and Jamie "James" Burland also arrived and I met them and the ever entertaining Neil Channing for some late night food. By now it seemed risky to even go to bed on the basis that I was so tired I might sleep through the alarm and miss my flight to New York. So I stayed up all night before heading to New York to meet Mireille. After 6 restful days there (shoutout to the amazing hospitality of our hosts Russ and Nancy) it was time to head back to Vegas for the main event (this blog and the previous two were written on the plane).

In my absence, Pete Murphy became the 7th Irish final tableist of the series. By any measure, that's pretty remarkable. Most years I've come, we have had one or at most two final tables to rail (last year there were none). Six of the seven final tableists are guys who started playing in the second half of the mid Naughties (myself included). It seems like what I always felt could be a golden generation of Irish poker players has finally come of age at the WSOP. In addition to the half dozen of us who have made a final table, most Irish poker fans could probably name another half dozen many of whom would have been seen as even more likely to succeed pre Series (such as Big Mick, Jude, Smidge, Killeen, Sean Prendiville, Reesy, Feargal, Eoghan and Chris Dowling) and who given the breaks are more than capable of delivering Ireland's first bracelet since 2008. While the number of Irish players playing the main event this year may be lower than most years, there are grounds for optimism  that there is enough collective talent there for at least one of us to go deep. Is it too greedy to hope that it be me? :)

The first few times I was in Vegas, every time I walked past the bar at the end of the corridor leading from the WSOP to the main body of the Rio hotel, it was chock full of almost every Irish player at the series. To misappropriate and twist the words of fighter Conor McGregor, it seemed like the Irish didn't go to Vegas to take part, we went there to get hammered. And hammered we got, in the bars and at the tables.

This year I must have walked past that bar a couple of dozen times already, and I have yet to see my first Irish player at it.

Related reading/listening

- Latest Thinking Poker podcast with me 
- Livestream of Seamus' final table (with guest commentary by me and Mike Leah)



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