When I was a competitive distance runner, I learned that occasionally races are won or lost in the latter stages. More frequently, they are lost earlier in the race, when you either go too hard or not hard enough. But most frequently of all, a race is lost before it even starts. Your training or preparation simply wasn't good enough, so you got to the starting line drawing dead. Or the results of the genetic lottery were such that you never stood a chance in the first place. Runners learn to accept that some races can never be won, but only after the event. There's little to be gained from going into a race thinking it can't be won.
I went to Malta brimming with confidence on the back of a few very good months live, feeling that a lot of hard work done in the first six months of the year when I was running bad was now standing to me, and translating into results. I also went there happy to be there. Some of my closest friends in poker live there, so it was a chance to catch up with them. Malta is also a pleasant place to spend 10 days, especially at this time of year as the Irish winter starts to close in.
Unfortunately the poker part didn't work out (I bricked everything) but that's ok. It happens. Most of the tournaments I played followed the same script: I never really got going, lingered as long as I could, and bust close but not very to the money. For the most part I was happy with how I played. I felt my day 1 of the EPT was as good as I've ever played, with some good calls and great folds maximising the stack I took into day 2. I was less happy on day 2 at probably the toughest EPT table I've ever been at (it included Stevie Chidwick, Fabrice Soulier, Benny Spindler and some other very good regs) but I didn't make any big mistakes (there were a couple of very unclear spots where there was probably little difference between two plays but I unfortunately chose the lesser of the two in game). My exit was an unavoidable flip against Fabrice which given stack sizes and positions was probably always going to be my exit.
Nevertheless I enjoyed my time on the island. I stayed with David and Saron who are always great to spend time with, and was also lucky enough to spend time with Jason Tompkins, Daragh Davey, Daragh Davey, Nick Newport, Andy Hills and George Danzer. I got out for a few runs, one with Gareth Chantler, and was lucky enough to catch up with Tony and Gillian Baitson who very kindly invited me to their great place in Swieqi. I spend so much time in the company of people who are jaded with poker that it's always a refreshing pleasure to break pizza with genuine enthusiasts. I went to their place intending to spend an hour there before going back to David's to grind online (any pain I might have felt about running bad over a sample size of half a dozen live was assuaged by sneaking in a few very profitable online sessions that included a win in 32Red's Mosh Pit and a fifth in Party's Sunday major), but before I knew it six hours had flown by and people were starting to think I must be dead because I'd stopped tweeting.
Yet numbers were well down. Not just on Barcelona (which was to be expected) but in previous Malta stops. The EPT main event dropped from 651 last time to 468, a pretty disastrous drop of 30%. The drop in side events aimed primarily at recreationals was even more stark: the €300 buyin multientry Cup shedded over 50% dropping from 894 to 416. The IPT main event dropped about 20% from 947 to 775. Events aimed at special demographics were heavily hit too: the Seniors dropped from 106 to 71, and the Ladies from 55 to 50. And even the High Rollers were heavily hit (the 25k shed over 20% dropping from 63 to 46).
I have no idea what conclusion Stars will draw from this decline. While I fully accept they have more relevant data than I have and are better placed to come to meaningful conclusions, I do hope the lesson they take is not the one I heard murmurings of from Stars personnel (that Malta simply doesn't work as a stop). I personally see no reason to believe that Malta is a tough destination to sell at this time of year, even to people without lots of friends on the island. This week's Battle of Malta is expected to be a big success for 888.
I've been told by people inside Stars that the concerns and criticisms raised by myself and others after Barcelona were listened to. That's nice, but maybe Stars would have been better served making some sort of public nos culpa statement after Barcelona that acknowledged that mistakes had been made and endeavours would be made to prevent them being repeated. Actions may speak louder than words, but sometimes we want to hear those words too. So many regs and recs who said "Never again" after Barcelona were notably absent from Malta. It's nice that Malta was a much better run affair, but how are the people who didn't show up to know that?
I believe that if Stars think the "failure" of Malta (and I heard from several Stars people it was seen as such, to the point that we will never see a Stars event on this scale on the island again) is just "because Malta", they are totally missing the point. I fully believe if they just shuffle the tour stop destinations they are running a fools errand, a race that can never be won, a race that was lost before the starting gun even sounded.