Sunday, December 11, 2016


"The great thing about Oonibet..."
"It's Youneebet David"
"Yes the great thing about them is that Oonibet..."

So I'm doing some commentary on the Unibet Open in Bucharest alongside the legend that is Marc Convey and the gobshite that is David Lappin, who has found a ooniquely pretentious way to pronounce the sponsors.

Another flawless wictory for....

My trip to Bucharest couldn't have gotten off to a better start. After cabbing it from the airport to the Marriott and dropping a suitably impressed Mrs Doke off in the room, I went back downstairs to rail my study buddy and close friend Daiva in the Ladies Battle Royale. Unibet had assembled an impressive lineup for this one table invitational event. In addition to Daiva, they had Luciana Manolea (who as luckyno75 has crushed online for years and is to my mind the best female online player in the world), Gaelle Garcia Diaz, Kat Arnsby (one of the best poker bloggers right now) and Maret Komarova. Daiva crushes Ladies events but she still prepared specifically for the format so I was hoping her efforts would be rewarded.

I got there as she was mid tank three handed having raised the button and gotten shoved on. She made a great fold and a couple of hands later she had sealed another Ladies event victory. 

After her interview, we went for a celebration dinner which she paid for. Always a class act.

In for the long haul

The following day I did my first stint in the commentary box alongside Daiva and Marc. I'd already made my first excursion into the Old Town with Mrs Doke and Daiva. We ate in a restaurant (La Mama) the two ladies liked so much they decided we'd eat there again that night, with Saron, David and Ian Simpson who got in that afternoon.

Our commentary duties completed, we headed to La Mama in two cabs. We went in the first one with Ian, which led to us sitting in the restaurant for 45 minutes explaining to a suspicious waiter that we really did have three other friends on the way while I swapped texts with Lappin.

"Where are you?"
"Still in the cab. Think we are being long hauled again"

"Where are you now?"
"Walking. Nearly there"

"Where are you now????"
"In the restaurant"
"I doubt that"

"Turns out there are different La Mama's. We are in the wrong one?"
"Really? Oh well, these things happen. Not like one of you was in the right one just a few hours ago"

Why are we here? Oh

By the time I sat down to play the main event on day 1b I had started to get a sense of what my friend Timmy said made Unibet events unique. A couple of late nights socialising might not be the ideal preparation for optimal day one play, but it was a good crash course in how much fun these events are when the site (Unibet) makes an effort to foster a community spirit and a fun experience rather than viewing its players purely as rake paying oonits.

For once I made a good start, but a few sharp reverses meant I found myself late on day 1 shortstacked. I opened ace queen, looking for action, and got it. My 4 bet shove was called by tens, and I lost the flip. I felt unusually sad to depart, perhaps because I was enjoying the tournament so much.

At least that freed me up for some more late night socialising. Around 3 am Daiva, who despite having the physique of a supermodel, is capable of stuffing her face with any sort of fatty food or alcoholic beverage any time of the day or night, decided she needed more food. Word reached us of a Chicken Staff (Romanian KFC), and with Lappin (a man who knows the word for No to late night chicken in no language) and Kat Arnsby we had a couple of willing accomplices for the walk of shame. Daiva proclaimed it to be the best late night chicken ever, and in fact it was pretty tasty. There is no hotel too fancy that can't be improved by close proximity to a decent late night chicken joint.

Somehow we always end up in a supermarket

The next day I juggled a few options in my head as to what to do. As a general rule at poker festivals, the juiciest side event is the biggest buyin below the main: in this case the 330 that started at 2. But Ian said that Unibet high rollers also tended to be super juicy, and that started at 4. I decided to hedge my bets til 4, knowing I could still late reg the 330 if the High Roller proved unjuicy.

As it happened a third attractive option presented when Daiva awoke from her chicken fuelled coma and decided with Mireille they wanted to go to a shopping mall they'd heard good things about. I wouldn't be the biggest fan of malls in general, but I have to say the AFI Palace is unique as far as malls I've been to. It's centred around a number of attractions to children like a skating rink and rollercoaster and giant slides,

It also boasts a wide selection of excellent restaurants. We chose to eat in a Lebanese place which was pretty awesome. As always seems to happen whenever I go out with Daiva and Mrs Doke, it always seem to end with us buying booze in a supermarket.

The plan was to drink the booze back at the hotel but I got the call back to the commentary box for the night shift (it was players party night and I imagine most of the others were headed there). Myself and Marcus Maximus Convey were joined by Lappin, who had found his own oonique solution to the "330 side or High Roller" problem (play and bust both in good time to do comms with us).

Don't touch any buttons

After an hour largely spent teasing David about his pronunciation of Oonibet, we went on a break. Marc told us to start back without him if he wasn't back. Yes, we fell for that old trick. After a while of holding the fort terrified to touch any buttons in case we broke something and dealing with requests for raffles from the chat with "we have no clue how to do that" the realisation sunk in: he wasn't coming back.

Nevertheless I felt we did pretty well in the circumstances, and I hope others apart from my various Facebook friends who said they enjoyed it a lot did too. As I've said before I think Dave and I have good natural chemistry as commentators stretching from our debut years ago through the Chip Race, based on similar views on the game and understanding how to slag each other without anyone getting too insulted. Probably the fact that we were pretty much sloshed contributed to proceedings too. You can listen to it back here (we come in round the 7 hours 30 minute mark)

Why are we here again? Oh

I woke up on Sunday feeling like I should probably play some poker again, so I hopped in the last turbo side. Part of the motivation was a flag: I wanted to add Romania to the list of different countries I've cashed in. During the event I was chatting to Keith Cummins (who was looking for some advice on a potential chop) and he ended up shipping the trophy which I know he was very chuffed about. Well done Keith.

Meanwhile I secured the cash and the flag in the turbo, but ended up bubbling the final table. After cashing out I hung around to rail the finale of the main event, which was now headsup. The two players battling it out were Brit Eli Heath, and local hero Traian Bostan. Heath had been on the feature table for both of my commentary stints, and was the player who most impressed on both occasions, but I was rooting for Traian, a Facebook friend of mine I've chatted to a few times (he went to the trouble of shaking my hand on day one, and we swapped some Facebook messages over the weekend). Traian ended up shipping it, to the delight of me and the locals.

Learning the ways of Estonians

Afterwards was time for more socialising. I'd made a new friend from Estonia, Hanno, despite the fact that he told me that Estonians take years, sometimes decades, to make new friends. I guess it's testament to the friendly spirit that engulfs Unibet events that even Estonians make new friends there.

Having been to Estonia for the first time this year (and even though I thoroughly enjoyed it I can attest to the Estonian aloofness as I don't think I managed a single conversation of note with any Estonians while there), I was intrigued to learn more. Hanno and a lovely Estonian lady whose name I didn't catch (maybe she'll tell me in a decade or so when she gets to know me) offered some insight. In particular I was tickled by Hanno's assertion that "When one group of Estonians sees other Estonians abroad, they point discretely and whisper "Estonians". But they never go over to talk to them".  Exact opposite of Irish, then.

Also got to hang out with Unibet community hero William Hens, fresh from his 12th place finish in the main. As I quickly learnt on commentary, HensiePensie is a hero to all in Unibet chat.

The list

Miireille and I loved Bucharest so much we decided to stay on a few days afterwards until it was time for me to head to Prague. We moved into a hotel in the centre, but spent our first afternoon there with the last few survivors in Bucharest, HensiePensie, Kat, Marek and local Andrei. Good company and good food in one of the places on Mrs Doke's list (more on the list later).

The following day we arranged to meet two Romanian friends Dani and Toni in another restaurant on the list, Zexe. They'd chosen it independently of "the list", but it was on the list, and became our new favourite. Dani and Toni are my two favourite dealers but sadly since they retired from the EPT circuit, I don't get to see them as often as I used to. So it was really nice to catch up with them over some great food in great surroundings. 

Afterwards we cabbed it into town and ended up in an Antiques market. Again with the shopping but thankfully neither Dani nor Mireille are the type to spend hours deciding what not to buy.

Our French niece Leia lives in Montreal with her Romanian boyfriend Cosmin. They gave Mireille a list of recommended restaurants which she was determined to complete. With just two left to hit, the plan for our last full day in Bucharest was to skip breakfast at the hotel, go to one on the list, and make a reservation for the evening.

As we settled down to "breakfast" (maybe a meal with soup wine and stew needs a different name) I decided to try out a new toy, Facebook live. Mireille was aghast at the thought that people were tuning in to our breakfast (even more so when the number watching grew to 200), so I may have to get her to sign a permission slip for future meals. Like all new toys I'm not entirely sure what Facebook live is "for" (I never worked out the point of Snapchat) so any guidance would be gratefully accepted.

After "breakfast" we walked around for a bit of casual sightseeing before heading back to the hotel to sleep off breakfast. It's a solid indicator that you are over eating and imbibing when your wife suggests setting an alarm to make sure you wake up for dinner.

Our last dinner, in Hanu Lui Manuc, may have been our best. It's always a good sign when a big restaurant is jammed to capacity at 9 pm on a random Tuesday in winter. Once again I found myself roundly defeated by Mrs Doke in the Eating Game.

When I was a runner Mrs Doke travelled everywhere with me. She was basically my sports psychologist, massage therapist, nutritionist, coach, race helper and spiritual companion. One of the few things I regret most about my transition into poker is the loss of that closeness we shared around big events. She's never enjoyed the role of hanging around waiting for me to bust, and dealing with my moods after I do, so she hasn't tended to travel with me. Mindful of that, once she'd signed up for this trip, I decided to stay a few days after the poker in Bucharest as a pure holiday. I'm glad I did as we had a great time. She's anything but conventional but always entertaining, whether ranting about a cab driver or determinedly setting about opening a wine bottle armed only with a spoon (she succeeded) before delivering the line "it's got some cork in it, but not too much".


Before I flew out to Bucharest I did my most comprehensive interview ever, for the Inspireland podcast. The brief was "not just poker" and in addition to poker we went through my running career, my experiences as a parent on an autistic son, and my unlikely pen friendship with David Bowie. I admit to getting a bit teary eyed during the segments on autism and Bowie, so I am very grateful to everyone who sent me feedback saying they enjoyed or appreciated it. For those of you who missed it, you can listen to it here.

 Sod sportification

As we waddled through security in Bucharest airport, we felt a little sad to be leaving, and a lot fatter than when we arrived. Romania was a blast, the food was the best I've ever had anywhere, so good it seemed to be trying to kill us. I managed to sneak in three runs while I was there, but I will really have to hit training hard when I get home to get back in shape for the New Year.

I headed to Prague with an open mind for the grind. I don't want to keep hating on Stars and I really do hope they take on board the criticisms of myself and more importantly so many recreational players who are the lifeblood of the game. Myself and David may not be always able to agree on the pronunciation of Youneebet/Oonibet but we both feel that their vision for the future of poker is much more positive and likely to succeed long term than Amaya's. Sod sportifying poker: how about we all just try to make it fun again as Unibet are doing?


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