Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The freak

Every other year, the days after I bust the main before I left Vegas drifted by empty. With no more poker to be played, and most or all my friends already left town, the hours and days were passed in silent solitary mourning until the time to catch a cab to the airport arrived.

This year however, the WSOP had scheduled one more event, the Little One Drop, so the chance to get back on the horse presented before the long depressed flight home. This is a welcome addition to the schedule as time moping is time wasted, even if the tournament nobody wanted to be in, the FML I'm Out Of The Main, was always going to be the crankiest of the year, as one cranky participant who couldn't believe he was out of the main snapped at another equally as tilted.

I drew some comfort from words I recall Alex "Assassinato" Fitzgerald saying last year after he bust the main on day one, to the effect that nobody in his seat dealt the cards and situations he was dealt could have fashioned a different outcome. I pretty much felt the same. I could have played tighter, but since most of the chips I did win on day one came from speculative hands and steals, I probably would just have run out of chips earlier. I could have played looser, but I don't remember a single hand I folded that flopped well, so again I probably would just have spewed myself out the door earlier in the day.

There was also a certain satisfaction to be able to show up for work again so soon, even in a tournament nobody really wanted to be in, and just get on with it. You never really know how your biggest professional disappointment of the year will affect your next game until you sit down and start playing again. On this occasion, the comparative insignificance of the event and the greatly reduced buyin translated into a certain "whatever happens happens" blaseness, but this wasn't really a bad thing. I certainly don't think it affected my play adversely: if anything not caring so much as I normally would about the outcome freed me up to just focus on the decisions and the process.

I ended up making another day 2, and notching up another cash, my third of the series, equalling my previous highest number of cashes.

It is said that all political careers end in failure. It also seems to be the case that all WSOP campaigns end up back in the Gold Coast. Dan and Smidge were booked to fly out the day before us, so with our lease on the condo expiring with them, Mrs Doke and I moved to the Gold Coast for a night. Dan and Smidge were both great companions for the series, serious and focused on the work, but also fun and good company to be around on down time. Smidge ruled the condo with an iron fist, until the arrival of Mrs Doke was accompanied by a bloodless coup that installed her in charge, which he took in good spirit. The only problem with Dan is that he's too bloody perfect, with his flawless poker mind, his unflappable bonhomie, his boyish good looks, and his sharp mind and opinions and ability to discuss everything intelligently. On our last day, he topped it all by heading off to feed the homeless (literally: he delivered out unused food to the poor unfortunates who dwell in the sewers near the condo complex).

We had good company for our last night, dining out with John and Daiva in a place with good food, not such good service, and a bizarre billing policy that involves charging over $2 for each ice cube in your drink.

In each of my first six years as a professional, I left Vegas feeling like a loser, significantly poorer financially for the experience. Last year was the first year I got to leave feeling like a winner, not only richer but having wiped out all the losses of previous years and then some. This year was something of a new experience, the score draw. Without my deep run and my other two cashes, it would have been a losing year like all the others. On the other hand, if another flip or two had gone my way, it could have been a repeat of last year. While I didn't know whether I should feel happy or sad about the outcome, I did feel some satisfaction at the considerable work I put in before Vegas to get myself in top physical and mental shape before I got on the plane. And I was pleased that I coped well mentally as a barren streak stretching back to February live continued through the first half of my WSOP campaign (before my New York break) and didn't affect my play allowing me to achieve a different kind of streak after New York (three out of four cashes).

A few years ago, I noticed that every year there are a few players at the series having their last ever year. I wrote at the time that they seldom realise it yet themselves. I thought I had reached that point four years ago as I finished another unsuccessful series on a totally empty tank. Disillusioned by my inability to go truly deep even once in 6 separate series, and demoralised by my lack of energy, I allowed myself to think that my time had past, that I was too old for this game. The following year I sat out the series at home, clicking buttons, thinking I'd never set foot in Vegas again. A few months later, after some serious personal issues that had weighed heavily on me for years started to clear, I decided to see if I could increase my fitness by running more. At that point I was running a few miles a day four times a weak, a pale shadow of the kind of fitness I'd enjoyed only a few years earlier as a competitive ultra runner. I increased this to six days a week, and every Thursday I tried to go a little longer. 4 miles became 6, then 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27 until before I knew it I was running 30 miles every Thursday afternoon, and feeling less tired and more fit than I had in years. As the energy and enthusiasm I always had as a runner returned, I started to believe maybe I wasn't too old for the WSOP after all.

Last year, I resolved to give it another try, and in event 45 achieved my first proper deep run at the WSOP, my first final table, my first big score, and came within a couple of flips of winning the ultimate prize, a bracelet. That encouraged me to keep working hard and training physically, and in the last 12 months I have followed up my "breakthrough" second place finish with two more deep runs (a 9th and a 13th). I have no reason to believe that needs to be the end of it. I am very focused on continuing to work and train harder than ever.

My only real regret leaving Vegas was that I could have worked harder. When I returned to the series in 2015, I was mindful of having finished previous campaigns on empty, and my advancing age. It seemed prudent to err on the side of caution when it came to scheduling lots of days off, and a mid series mini break. This year I finished the series brimming with energy, and the feeling that I could have pushed harder (played more events). As a result, assuming my training and preparation goes to plan over the next year, I'm already thinking of a longer 2017 campaign with more events and less days off. As nice as it is to have fashioned 3 deep runs from not much more than a dozen efforts over the last two years, it can only increase my chances if I play more events.

But before that, there are a lot of hours in the lab to be logged, and a lot of miles to be run. While I kept myself ticking over on both fronts in Vegas, most of the physical fitness I took to Vegas evaporated in the desert heat, and the rebuilding process needs to be restarted. There will come a time when my age will really be a factor, and I'll have to be more prudent and selective, but for now I look around at my peers less than half my age, and feel myself more than their equal when it comes to mental and physical stamina. Then I look at guys my age and realise I'm something of a freak when it comes to energy levels and ability to recover, but if I'm a freak, I might as well be a freak that takes advantage of it.


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