Monday, December 4, 2017

Back to Bucharest

This time last year I travelled to Bucharest  at the invitation of Unibet to play the Unibet Open. They also invited my friends Daiva Byrne, David Lappin and Ian Simpson . When I got to the hotel, Daiva was about to win the Ladies Invitational Sit and Go, besting a field that including Luciana Manolea (probably the best female online player in the world) and Kat Arnsby (probably the mouthiest). We were already talking to Unibet about the possibility of representing them as brand ambassadors, and having seen at first hand Unibet's unparalleled commitment to providing players with a great live experience, we all left Bucharest clear in our minds that Unibet was the site we wanted to represent (there was interest in all of us from elsewhere).

The deals were finalised at the next Open in London, and although this wasn't the first time for me to represent a site, it has been uniquely rewarding and special to do so alongside my old friends and new (David Vanderheyden, Espen Jorstad and later addition Rauno Tahvonnen) and to get to know some amazing people who work for Unibet, and see familiar friendly player faces at all the stops. So going back to Bucharest one year on as an ambassador felt special, not least because I love the city and the people there.

This year I arrived in time to late register the High Roller hoping to bring the title back to Ireland for a second year running (my friend Keith Cummins won it last year). Day one was an uneventful one for me: I barely played a hand and bagged up less than starting stack.

I came back and managed to spin it up, mostly by holding in 70/30 spots with the occasional flip thrown in. Having dipped as low as six big blinds, it was pretty sweet to find myself on the bubble and the feature table late in the day, albeit as one of the short stacks. I was railed loyally by Daiva and Ian, and Djarii, Simon Steedman and Josh Barker also dropped by to offer words of encouragement as the bubble dragged on tortuously. Special shoutout to Daiva who came straight from a very tilting bust in the main to the rail, and fed me vital info from the stream as well as keeping me informed of the shorter stacks on the other table.

I got lucky on the bubble when I shoved queens from the small blind over a button raise and ran straight into the big blind's aces. I flopped a queen but had to fade a flush draw on small club board. My opponent picked up a gutshot on the turn to give him too many outs, and the river bricked out.

My mind immediately switched from "lock up the min cash" to "ramp up the pressure on the bubble and get to the final table with a commanding stack". That lasted all of one hand. Folded to me on the button with two shorter stacks behind who should be calling off super tight due to the bubble and the shortness of one of the stacks on the other table, I decided that meant 65s on the button was a profitable shove. It's a hand with very good equity against anything other than a pair, or a dominating hand. It's hard to have a pair (we get dealt one only 6% of the time, and I'm in good shape against the lower ones so I really only run into trouble 10% of the time with two players behind), I should never be dominated because no unpaired hand with a five or a six should call, and even if I run into ace king I'll get there over 41% of the time.

As it was, the small blind made a very light call with ace nine offsuit, perhaps tilted by having his aces just cracked. It was my turn to flop the world and turn the universe, but again too many outs led to a bricked river. That put me back in bubble survival mode, which thankfully I did. I then eliminated a shorty, Elvis Petcu, when my bad ace held against his king queen, to have grounds for optimism that I could press on to the final table.

At a break I scampered off to take part in a Secret Santa organised between the ambassadors and Unibet staff. That dragged on a bit longer than the break which meant I didn't get to open my present, but also lost my rail of Daiva and Ian.

Early in my career I developed a superstition about not racing back from breaks after I busted a few big tournaments first hand back. I believe it's unlucky to be superstitious (if you focus too much on superstition or even luck in general, you waste valuable brain cycles that would be better spent thinking about what you can control rather than the random vicissitudes of chance and patterns our monkey brains find in the randomness), but once again it was such a hand that did the damage. The big blind hadn't made it back to the table, so with his hand dead the Japanese gentleman under the gun correctly decided ace eight offsuit was a profitable shove for roughly eleven big blinds. Knowing the dead big blind made his range wider I had an easy call with ace queen, but an eight on the flop left me with less than two big blinds. I managed to hang around for a few more orbits but eventually bust in tenth, bubbling the final table. That was obviously a disappointment, but I'd run well to get that far so can't really complain.

While all this was happening, my friend (and recently announced Unibet ambassador) Fredrik Bergmann was taking advantage of winning a flip against my homey Alan "hotted" Widmann for most of the chips to win the Esports Sit n Go. He was thrilled with himself, and rightly so. Bergie is already an accomplished online player who works hard at his game and as he turns his focus more and more to poker, I expect him to keep improving.


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