Monday, November 20, 2017


A few years ago, a few years into my career, I found myself sharing a cab from East Midlands airport to Nottingham with Liam Flood. Liam asked me that most common of Irish poker questions: how's your luck? I answered truthfully that I was going well online but not live. He seemed dissatisfied with the answer, like he expected more, so after an awkward silence I added that even at this early stage of my career, that seemed to be the most you could hope for. Running well at both simultaneously seemed not only greedy but elusive.

Liam's follow up was a bit more unexpected:

"Is that how you'd prefer it or the other way round?"

I'd never even been asked this before much less considered it so it took me about thirty seconds to answer Yes.

"Because online is more reliable both as a source of income and an indicator of playing ability"

At the time I had recently transitioned to online mtts from stts and was reaping the rewards. I didn't know it at the time, but the next four years would be the most profitable of my online career. I also didn't know that I was the top ranked Irish player on PocketFives at the time. I was blissfully unaware of PocketFives and its ranking system, but Lappin (who I hadn't yet met) was, and he remembers us both being in the Irish top five, which really wasn't that difficult as I think there were only four Irish full time online mtt players at the time.

A few years later increased competition and other changes in the online ecology saw the profit margins of pretty much every mtt player dwindle, myself included. Many dwindled to the point they got shaken out completely. Thankfully I wasn't one of them. I realised in time that the decline was a trend rather than a blip, and to avoid the flat line I had to work harder and get to grips with the brave new world of study sessions, simulations and solvers. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never again make as much from poker in a year as I had routinely in the early years of this decade, and would need to work harder than ever.

In fact, I was kind of wrong. But only kind of. I did have such a year again, in 2015, but only because I chopped a WSOP event for almost 300k. Online, the decline continued, and that remained no less worrying despite that one big live outlier. That same year, an industry friend warned us that Stars (and possibly other major onilne sites) had effectively decided to try to rid themselves of pros, who they saw as direct competition for the money of the losing players. Within a few years if all went to plan, we were told, online poker pros would no longer be a thing.

The downward trend of profitability of online continued, but to be honest it didn't bother me greatly. Even if I was making a lot less than half a decade ago, it was still a very good living by any objective measure, and more than enough to sustain me and mine. As more and more of my peers either dropped out completely or switched over to play predominantly live, I took some consolation from the fact that many who had flown well above me in the golden years had dropped way below me on the way down.

This year has seen the dial turn one more time. At time of writing it's one of the most lacklustre years of my live career, without a big result or final table of note. But on the other side of the coin, I'm having my best most profitable year online since the glory days, to the point that having started the year ranked outside the top 15 on the PocketFives Irish rankings I have steadily climbed all the way to number one recently. I'm not kidding myself on the magnitude of this achievement: it arose largely as a result of my main competitors downswinging simultaneously. But it was still unexpected and pleasing to find myself topping the charts again at the age of 52, in a much more competitive era than that which prevailed the last time I sat there. These days I'd guess there are close to 100 professional players in Ireland, many of them playing either exclusively online or at very least playing much less live (and therefore much more online) than myself as I go on trying to balance the two as I have for all my career.

Facing into the second ten years of my poker career, I have few regrets and many sources of pride. While its undoubtedly true that I've almost won more than I've actually won (a bracelet, a UKIPT, an EMOP, a Grand Prix and a WPT) and almost done more than I've actually done (four times runner up in the Live Irish Rankings), I take pride in the fact that I ended my first ten years in the game as the number one ranked Irish online player with the most PocketFives Triple Crowns, and the number one most cashed live Irish player of all time. Mostly I take pride in my consistency and my longevity, both of which I see as a much truer indicator of poker class than any one bink or outlier result, no matter how big. Of the peers I jostled with at the start of the decade, only Lappin remains standing (or sitting, drinking gin for a Twitch audience) as a full time pro.

As I start into the second ten years of my career, I feel much more confident than I did two or three years ago. Back then my sense was the whole thing was winding down, but as I continue to work harder than I ever have before, for the first time in my career I don't feel there to be any massive unbridgeable gulf in class between myself and the very best in the world. I've crammed a lot into the first ten years and can't expect to cram quite as much into the next ten (major announcement coming on that front soon: watch this space), but that won't stop me from trying.


"I don't feel there to be any massive unbridgeable gulf in class between myself and the very best in the world."

That's because there simply isn't one, keep it going for another 20.


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