Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Donkey shots in Berlin, and the second most famous person from Dumfries

My original plan for WSOPE was to get there early and play almost all the Holdem bracelet events up to and including the main event. I was forced to change that when I realised that the main event ran into IPT Malta, which I had already qualified for. While this would only be an issue if I made day 4 of the main event (something I have failed to do in 7 attempts) and it could be argued that at that point I wouldn't be too upset to know I had a stack blinding out in a 1k event in Malta, that's not how I look at things. I don't like to go into an event where I have a good reason to be somewhere else before the end of it: I tend to think that on some sub conscious level there's a strong possibility for self sabotage, or at least not taking it as seriously as you should. Furthermore, the thought of going straight from Berlin to Malta spending three weeks away from home a few days after I'd just got back from the Isle of Man wasn't too appealing, and might make my wife feeling a little grumpy and abandoned. So I changed the plan to a week in Berlin that would allow me three to six shots at a coveted bracelet, and then a few days back home recharging my batteries and placating my wife before Malta.

First up was the six max event. In theory with around 200 runners this seems like one of the best bracelet shots for us Holdem specialists (since most bracelet Holdem events attract over a thousand runners) but it's fair to say it's a pretty stacked field. Six max tends to turn off recreational players not used to playing anything other than full ring, and attract the strongest online 6 max specialists who rightly see it as their best bracelet shot. My first table included Anthony Zinno (then third eventually winner in the WSOP leaderboard) to my immediate right and Manig Loser to his right. The tables did not get any easier either. When that table broke my new table included Ollie Price, Martin Jacobsen and Faraz Jaka. My final day one table saw Steve O'Dwyer to my immediate right, Simon Deadman next to him (replaced by Ollie Price when Simon bust), and Kevin Macphee next to him.

In such a tough field, I flipped my usual strategy of lowering variance and avoiding marginal spots to ramping up the variance and pushing even the most marginal of edges. This seemed to work out pretty well. At one point I was 3/17 but by the time we were down to nine, prolonged card death and a few minor losses saw me sub 20 big blinds and 7/9. The plan was still to keep the boot on the gas and take any promising spot rather than focus on laddering. Apart from this seeming like good strategy in a tough 6 max, I also felt with the high calibre of player remaining I was less likely to benefit from the ICM suicides that allowed me to ladder all the way from ninth to headsup short stacked in my first WSOP final table in Vegas this summer. It also should be said that the 100k up top was a lot less significant to me than the 300k I got for coming second in Vegas, which relieved any financial pressure I might have felt to lock up a five figure payday. So when I found ace ten in the small blind, it seemed like a pretty trivial shove over a button raise. The speed and exuberance with which he called made me think I needed to hit a three outer. I wasn't wrong: he had queens and hit a set on the flop. I wasn't dead though: in fact my three outs had become four as I flopped a gutshot, but I didn't fill it.

After my second place finish in Vegas this year, I was surprised at how little disappointment I felt at having got so close to the bracelet only to fall at the last hurdle. I think there were a number of reasons for this: I was genuinely thrilled with my own performance so had no regrets on how I played, and the fact that we were basically only playing for the bracelet at that point and I had locked up almost 300k and was a heavily outchipped underdog meant I knew I was going to lose in most universes.

By contrast, this time I was surprised at how disappointed I was not to have gone further. My entire focus was on maximising my chances of winning the bracelet (one of the reasons I didn't sell for this event was I didn't want to have to compromise on this as I would feel obliged to maximise investors equity), and while I would have been thrilled by the prospect of even one shot at a bracelet at the start of the year, the realization is starting to dawn on me that there are only so many chances an old donkey like me can expect to get in his life.

I regged the so called Oktoberfest and then went  for some food with my Anglo Chinese friend Chi. I gave him the choice of a Chinese or a fish and chip place: his Chinese heritage overcame his Englishness and I found myself in the rather bizarre position of interpreter between Chi (who speaks no German) and the Chinese waitress (who did, but spoke no English).


The Oktoberfest was a rather novel event. The low buyin (550 euro) and four starting flights have been done before (in Vegas this summer): the novel part is that they played well past the money in each of the four flights. Anyone who bust a flight was free to enter later flights. Anyone meant almost everyone in this case with just over 5% of the field advancing. This meant that in theory you could cash the same event up to four times. While this might horrify the purists I personally think it's a great idea. It overcomes one of the most annoying features of multi flight reentry tournaments where you can find yourself short stacked near the end of one flight still a distance away from the money wondering if you should gamble it up so you can reenter a later flight.

In this format, with the min cash already locked up, you should definitely be looking to gamble it up short stacked near the end of a flight, knowing that any equity you lose doing this is compensated for by being able to reenter.

My run in the six max meant I missed the first flight, and came in to the second one late. The table had one bracelet winner (Michael Wang) but lots of spots and I built a stack pretty effortlessly. I ran my starting stack up from 5k to over 40k, before running kings into Wang's aces for over half of it. I rebuilt again to over 40k, but ran horrendously in all ins to find myself sub 20 bbs at around 40k near the bubble. The final straw was when I reshoved tens over nines and lost.

My second bullet the following day saw me again effortlessly build a stack again only for most of it to disappear when I lost with Ak v a9 a bit short of the bubble. I managed to tread water between three and ten big blinds until we got within ten of the bubble, and I was pot committed on my big blind with sevens, and got rivered by king jack.

My third bullet in the final flight saw me lose most of my stack early on at the toughest table I'd been on all event that included Mike Leah, and never really recover. Still, even if I ended up bubbling the same tournament twice rather than cashing it four times, I do think the idea is a winner.

My final event was a 2k six max. I found myself seated to the immediate right of 2012 main event champion Greg Merson, which was prime position to eavesdrop on an interesting conversation between Greg and 2014 champ Martin Jacobsen on what it's like to win the main event, how neither of them were approached by a single online site after their wins (I guess sites are only interested in footballers and models these days), their views on Daniel Negreanu, and coyness about revealing who they were coaching in this year's November 9 (but admitting they both were coaching someone).

I advanced a little on my starting stack by reverting to my more normal low variance style, but was pretty card dead the entire tournament. After a few hours of folding down to what was now a sub 20 big blind reshove stack, AJs seemed like a fine candidate to do that over an open from a guy playing over 50% of hands. When my neighbour who had only played 2 hands all tournament snap called, I found myself hoping I had three outs. As it turned out I had against his kings, at least until he hit a house on the turn.

That freed me up to do a bit of socialising for my last two days in Berlin, and to play a bit online. Within a few hours I found myself headsup in an online satellite for Malta against one of the guys I had loosely arranged to meet the following day, 19 year old Indian pro Arsh Grove. Arsh is a young charismatic guy with boundless energy and bonhomie, so I would be very surprised if some site eyeing the potentially massive Indian market doesn't snap him up soon. On this occasion I was victorious, which made for some good banter when we met up the following evening. Also in attendance at various points in what became quite a messy alcohol fuelled gathering that moved from casino to restaurant to beer house to Irish pub were Niall "Firaldo" Farrell (who told us at one point that he's the second most famous person from his small town in Scotland: Calvin Harris being the first), current Irish GPI top ranked Marc McDonnell, PokerStars mind sports ambassador Jen Shahade and poker/chess champion Kenny. Firaldo's near legendary prowess at the poker table is topped by his legendary drinking ability. He was a little off his game tonight though. I am renowned for being really bad at drinking, so it was a shock of David versus Goliath proportions when I beat him in a J├Ągermeister race. I guess it was the injured pride from this setback that caused him to go sober for the entire Malta EPT (which he of course won), which meant the rest of the field were drawing dead. Whatever hope we might have against a drink addled Firaldo, we have no hope against a clean and sober one.

The night started rather well with a great Phil Hellmuth story from Canadian beast Shak from the 6 max, but you'll have to read my forthcoming Bluff piece for that one :)

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