Monday, May 13, 2019

The year I wrote a book

A famous Irish writer, Flann O’Brien I think, once created a character who would refer to years by their most memorable quality. “The year I took a bath”. As I get older, I have a new appreciation for this. When was my youngest son born? The year we lived in Paris. When did I become a Bowie fan? The year I did my Leaving Cert. 2007 was “the year I learned poker”.


I’m pretty sure when I remember this year’s Irish Open, it’ll be as “the year I wrote a book”. Because certainly from a personal point of view the poker itself was very unmemorable. I did make one final table, but it lasted all of two hands, in the smallest event I played.

My main event came down to a very uneventful day one, at the end of which I bagged up a bit more than starting stack on my first bullet, followed by a very eventful day 2. I more than trebled my stack in the first level of day two, then failed to win another pot and bust about ninety from the money. Not even many interesting hands: I posted the most interesting one on ShareMyPair.

I brought two boxes of books to Citywest on the off chance somebody might want one, and spent much of my weekend there signing books for people. I was overwhelmed by how many people wanted a book signed: dealers, bloggers, industry people, players and random passers by. Parky bought a book then immediately lost it, as you do if you’re Parky.


A year can have more than one mnemonic. 2008 is, in addition to being the year I won my first big live tournament, also the year I quit competitive running. And this Irish Open will also be remembered as the year of the GPI award. Roland and Hans presented me with the award in the bar as I was waiting for my lift one night. In the run up to this year’s Open I couldn’t help but notice that while there was an overwhelming consensus in our favour in the great Dnegs v The Chip Race Twitter spat, most of the very few dissenting voices from said overwhelming consensus were Irish. Very few in number, but I figured there was always the chance it might be the tip of the iceberg, so I steeled myself in advance for some negative feedback. As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered: of the literally hundreds who stopped me to talk about it, there wasn’t a single divergence from “Congrats on the award” and “Dnegs is an absolute tool”. People I’ve known for years and would have assumed took no interest in such things taking the trouble to do this made me unexpectedly emotional, and delighted at the pride my fellow country people were taking in the fact that from modest beginnings a poker podcast by (in the words of Kat Arnsby) “two Irish weirdos” had got to where The Chip Race is now. And not just the Irish.

In the run up to this year’s Irish Open, I took a trip down memory lane tweeting out my Irish Open blogs of years past, and at the event Laura Cornelius interviewed me about it. Trends from the past were reenforced: bricking the main, a stint in the commentary box, lots of drinking and socializing, and a draining of both my bankroll and energy as the event wound to a close. This time at least, the books in the boxes in my room gradually disappeared, and 20s appeared as if by magic in my bag to help replenish the bankroll.

At the start of the year I quit competitive running, I sat down in Drogheda to play my first big live event. I was starstruck, because to my immediate right sat Jen Mason, all English sophistication and technical perfection. I still get a little starstruck when I run into events regularly, even if she works mainly on the industry side these days, and no less so than when she asked me to sign a couple of books for her.

Throughout that European Deepstack back in the year I quit competitive running, the long suffering Mrs Doke was chauffeusing me back and forth to Dublin. While I was mostly folding upstairs, she sat down in reception reading a book. The highlight of her day was usually when someone she described as a charming dapper Englishman would come out for a break, and talk to her.


As long time readers of this blog will know, the final table of the event featured wield famous Joe Beevers, and 8 unknown Irishmen, many (myself, Gary Clarke and Marc McDonnell) recording their first cashes on Joe’s Hendon Mob site. When Joe bust, the relief was palpable that the world class player at the table was gone. My phone beeped with a text from Mireille:

“The nice Englishman just left :(“

Luckily for us, the nice Englishman is still gracing poker rooms with his elegance. I almost had a heart attack when he bought a book on the last day, and asked for a signature and a photo. As if this wasn’t already above and beyond, he also set about selling a few copies of the book to his tablemates.


One of these years I’ll get a proper run in the main event, but until then the friendship and warmth of the event is more than adequate compensation. Thank you to everyone who took the trouble to say hi or have a chat, and apologies I didn’t get to speak with most of you for longer.


This is my 498th blog, meaning my 500th is coming soon, and we all know I live a milestone. I need to have a think what I want to put in my 500th, but for now, I want to thank you everyone who followed my journey through poker yet. It’s not done yet, and I’ll try to keep it interesting.

Friday, April 26, 2019

London and me (and ewwwww)

I think I was 11 or 12 when I first came to London to visit my godfather and uncle Kieran. He and his two brothers had an electrical store in Wood Green at the time (which they later sold when they moved back to Dublin and set up a similar enterprise in Churchtown. It was my first time outside Ireland and a welcome relief and temporary release from an unhappy family home. It was also the start of an off and on love affair with London and its residents that continues to this day.

Ten years later I found myself spending a lot of time in Hampstead where my first serious girlfriend Julie Sinclair had a flat. Two years later, still reeling from her premature death, I found myself wandering miserably around Aldwych after a disastrous job interview with a software company listening to the new David Bowie single (Day in Day Out) thinking I never wanted to be in this city again that brought back too many memories of Julie.

Ten years later I returned again with the love of my life (Mrs Doke). We went to a football match (Wimbledon against Arsenal) and a Bowie concert (Outside tour rehearsal show). Since then, I’ve formed many fresher happy memories of London: watching Daiva take down a ladies event, watching Kevin Killeen go deep in an EPT, attending the opening night of the latest incarnation of the Hippodrome, finishing second in a UKIPT, and playing my first Unibet Open as a Unibet ambassador.

My new chill coach

I said to Daiva recently that the one thing I’m really bad at these days is just chilling. I generally don’t take vacations, or even days off. She is a world class chiller and offered coaching, suggesting I take an easy week in London visiting her and John.


I flew in on Monday, and the three of us headed straight to my friend Sameer’s place. Sameer is an accomplished chef who used to own a restaurant before poker, and he pulled out all the stops to impress me (and more importantly keen foodie Daiva). Afterwards I headed to my first Arsenal match in over a decade with Gareth James and Sameer. The match was a lot of fun, particularly watching Sam (who it is fair to say is more of a cricket person) get totally into the experience.


Chop chop

The following evening Daiva and I headed to the Vic to play a random £90 nightly. Win lose or draw tourneys like this are always a lot of fun and you see a lot of plays that are charitably referred to as unorthodox. As it was, it ended up even more fun when Daiva and I got headsup and snap chopped. I got lucky in the crucial hand when the button limped, Daiva completed in the small blind, and I checked Doyle Brunson (ten deuce offsuit). The flop was a rather favourable T82r and I led for one big blind. The button called and Daiva folded. The turn was another 2, and I checked since the villain had shown a very strong tendency to bluff turns. He overbet shoved for several multiples of pot drawing dead with AK. I barely covered him so with that Daiva and I were headsup. In terms of a perfect poker experience chopping with your best friend and study buddy can’t really be topped.


Trying to remember (how to sign) my name

The following morning I was up early (for me) on my way to meet the lovely Kasia Scanlon at the Unibet offices in Wimbledon for my first ever book signing. I’ve known Kasia for as long as I’ve been playing poker: when I started she was one of the beautiful Polish dealers that graced the Sporting Emporium cardroom in Dublin, and by far the friendliest. We’d not seen much of each other after she and her husband John moved to London (he’s the cardroom manager at Aspers) so I was delighted when she joined Unibet live events team last year meaning I get to see her at all the Unibet stops. After the signing we went out to lunch and she told me one of my favorite stories I’ve heard in ages.


We were chatting generally about the IPhone centric world we find ourselves in these days. Kasia has a long commute to and from Wimbledon every day, and described to me how on one such occasion she found herself traveling at off peak, so the carriage had just a handful of passengers. As she looked around, everyone was on their device avoiding all eye contact. Kasia was reflecting on this when a little old man zimmered onto the train and made his way slowly and unsurely to the seat opposite her. He looked, in the words of Kasia, like a turtle, with his shriveled hunched body and wrinkly skin, but when she smiled he smiled back. As her faith that there was still some non technologically based humanity left in the world, he very slowly and carefully took a small wrapped item from his jacket, which he carefully unwrapped. It was the kind of eye glass jewelers use to examine jewelry. After fitting it carefully to his eye, he reached inside his other pocket and pulled out an IPhone, which he spent the rest of the trip peering at.

An Indian and an Irishman in the Imperial War Museum

The following day Daiva disappeared off on an all day shopping exhibition, after a very tasty brunch with John I headed to the Imperial War Museum with Sameer. When an Irishman and an Indian visit a museum celebrating British imperialism you can expect a lot of tut tutting. It’s a bit of a tradition between us that we visit places that afford us the opportunity to express ancestral outrage. Sameer was on a mission to find a mention of the million plus Indians who fought on the British side in WW1, and horrified to find none (we also found no acknowledgement of the Irishmen used as a cannon fodder in one of the most pointless wars ever). While a little jingoistic in spots and not as impressive overall as you might expect from the rather grandiose title or impressive guns outside, it’s still worth a visit and does convey a lot of the grim reality of war.


Other highlights the trip included a trip to a comedy club with John and Daiva, and watching the first ever GPI global poker awards.


GPI and Negrean-ewwwww

My customary indifference to award shows was for once overriden by the fact of being up for one: "The Chip Race" had unexpectedly been nominated for Podcast of the Year. We were the only (some might say "token") Europeans in the category (the other four nominees were all American). If I'm honest I was surprised we made the long list, even more surprised we made the nominations shortlist, and both David and I assumed we were basically drawing dead to win the award. Whenever we were asked if we were going to the awards, we both joked that we weren't flying all the way to Vegas to see which of the four Americans won.

David was so convinced we were drawing dead, he didn't bother staying up for it (or at least that was his excuse: copious consumption of alcoholic beverages on the occasion of his son's second birthday may also have been a contributor to his heavy night's sleep). Daiva (who serves both as a strategy guru on the show and our de facto adviser on ladies poker) was keen to watch though, so watch it we did. That meant that at some time around 2 am I was staring incredulously at Ali Nejad on a laptop screen saying "Unfortunately noone from the Chip Race is here to accept the award" while one half of Daiva did a victory dance and the other side professionally filmed my reaction for Twitter.

David has a similarly jaundiced view to mine on awards, but he wrote an uncharacteristically soppy blog the next day thanking everyone who ever helped us with the show (although again, that might have been hangover sentimentality). As much as people love a long list of credits at the end of a movie (as in not at all, unless you're in them), they love a bit of controversy even more, and on this occasion our old friend Daniel Negreanu provided his. His expression of disgust at us winning the award on the night was chronicled on the PokerNews Instagram story, and drew sharp condemnation as sour grapes from far and wide. He reacted to this a few days later on his own unnominated podcast by doubling down, saying he had every right to be disgusted (though in response to his cohost Terrence Chan singing the praises of The Chip Race paradoxically said we might be good for all he knows but he didn't know never having listened to a single second) because we were, in his words, "not good dudes" because we attack him constantly. Clearly we have different definitions of constancy, as the so-called "attacks" amounted simply to us writing a blog each critical of his comparison of certain player types to cancer, and his defence of unpopular PokerStars policies, and some tweets back and forth around the time of the blog.

After his podcast drew further outrage, he doubled down again in an expletive-laden exchange with Lappin on Twitter with more than a strong whiff of racism (referring to us with the charged "You people") and misogyny (when he dragged Lappin's girlfriend into it). I pretty much sat this one out, but Lappin loves a good Twitter barney as Negreanu quickly found out when he was put back into his box and returned to tweeting about hockey, veganisms and the size of a part of his anatomy he appears unusually proud of (no pics Daniel, please, for the love of God, no pics).

I don't want to harp on about Negreanu and the tiny handful of others who cast shade on our award: people tend to show their true colours in these situations and there are bad losers in all walks of life but I prefer to focus on positive people. Most of our rivals for the award were incredibly gracious and complimentary, and many of our listeners were quick to defend us and the show even in the face of seemingly more powerful voices. I've always preferred quality to quantity and while we might have but a tiny fraction of the followers of a Negreanu, our tribe of "you people" is sharp, committed, engaged and not afraid to make their voices heard.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Brazil and books

By the book

I sat down to play live in Brazil for the first time unsure what to expect. Obviously I’ve played quite a bit with them online but live tends to be different. All I had to go on was the assessment of Jack Sinclair who got there a few days before me:
“A new type of fish, but fish nevertheless. Like the one with three eyes in the Simpsons”

During my first day’s play, I got what he meant. I saw lots of fish, but a multitude of varieties. It was hard to generalize, other than the most common type was the macho variety you also find quite a lot of in countries with a Mediterranean coast. When you find yourself sitting at a table with fish, your primary thought should not be “Mmmmm, fish” but “What type of fish?” The type that calls or folds too much? The type that thinks checking is a one player per hand thing, not allowed once the opponent has done it? The type that thinks the game is all about bluffing, or not being bluffed? At this stage you want to be leafing through the Angler’s Guide to Poker, trying to figure out the best way to play by the book against the particular species you’re faced with.


On my last table I found myself looking at something I’d not seen before: a player with a tall statue of himself as a card protector. When I passed this information on to my study buddy Daiva, once she’d recovered from the giggles, she gave me a very specific list of reads based on that one small piece of information, all of which proved correct. So the next time Daiva soul reads you at the table and you wonder why, it was probably something you wore, said, or had with you.

One of her reads that proved correct was that I should expect statue man to play a lot of hands, and not like folding much. I might have guessed this anyway from the big messy stack he had amassed before I got there, but it was quickly confirmed by his 100% attendance record in pots and his 0% fold to threebets. A Winamax pro was unsurprisingly peppering him with threebets, when a funny hand happened.

After the standard statue man open, Winamax threebet, statue man call opening, they saw a flop of AJ4. Lots of glaring and staring from statue man before he checked, then an unconvincing looking check raise after Winamax cbet. Winamax ignored the speech and the glaring while he tanked before calling. A nine rolled off on the turn and statue man ostentatiously reached for chips like he was about to bet the farm before dramatically checking. Winamax seemed to recognize this for what it always is: a Maginot line designed to look strong but actually very weak. So he fired out a chunky shell of a bet, which was met with a stubborn looking call.

A queen hit the river and statue man reprised his performance of “I could bet the farm here but I’ll check just for lolz”. Winamax thought for a while before shoving, to the obvious dismay of statue man. A few minutes into a marathon tank he complained about having no kicker. A few minutes later he accused his opponent of having flopped a set of jacks. It took him a few more minutes to talk himself into folding his ace rag, showing us all the ace so as not to leave any doubt. At this point, Winamax examined both of his cards carefully, before turning over one of them, a ten.

Now anyone who has read my most recent free strategy newsletter (which you can sign up to here) or my latest Bluff column where I explain what it almost invariably means when someone shows one will already know what Winamax has here (for those of you who haven’t, it’s clearly the nuts: king ten). Statue man clearly isn’t a subscriber though, because he bought it hook line and sinker that he’d been bluffed, and proceeded to tilt off most of his remaining stack in the next orbit or so.

This was great news for me given I found myself down to nine big blinds at this point and in need of charity. Statue man provided it twice, and went for the trifecta when he just jammed 60 big blinds from the small blind over my under the gun min raise. Tens is not a hand I’d normally be thrilled about getting that much in with at this point in a 10k, but I called faster than a speeding Amoeboid, and found myself looking at sixes. A few seconds later I saw my opponent turn a gutshot, which he filled on the river to celebrations that would have done justice to Brazil winning the World Cup.

I have nothing against recreationals having fun at the table celebrating their wins, so I left him to it. That’s poker as that awful saying goes: the pre-tilted fish can get lucky, and without that vital element of poker, the action would dry up pretty fast as soon as we all figured out our place in the food chain. But you’d much rather see that theory play out in practice in a 100 dollar event rather than a 10k one. Especially one you’ve flown all the way to Brazil to play.

Buy the book

If you live under a rock you may not heard of this new book I’ve written (with Barry Carter) called “Poker Satellite Strategy”. It’s about poker satellite strategy (we are not blessed with imagination when it comes to titles).



It seemed like most people I met in Brazil don’t live under rocks, as they were quite keen to talk about the book, as was I. Enough people keep asking the same questions that I figured I really should have somewhere I put the information. This part of the blog is intended to be that somewhere: I’ll update it as appropriate so people can refer back to it.

Ok, so what is the whole idea behind the book? I talked about this in the following places:



Some related content I’ve made:

  • Video with Gareth James looking at an Ian Simpson hand from 25k satellite bubble
  • Hand history review with Alan Widmann (not yet released)


Some free extracts from the book:



The first time I ever saw Barry Carter was on Sky TV talking about his book with Jared Tendler. I thought he was a very good interview. He still is, as you can see from:



You can buy the books in the following places:
One guy who bought the book as airplane reading was legendary online grinder Marty "TheLipoFund" Mathis. I have to admit I thought Marty might be taking the piss when he tweeted this (he is after all currently leading the PPL leaderboard and as such is the biggest winning satellite player of the last year), but not only did he read the book but he also left the first glowing review on Amazon.com for the book.


I spoke to Marty briefly a couple of times in Rio: briefly because not only was he deeper in the main event each time, but he was usually multitabling a few PPL satellites at the same time. As most of you probably already know, he went on to ship the main event.



It was clear as Marty went deeper that almost every online grinder in the place including myself was rooting for him. One of the eternal debates in poker is who, if anyone, a pro should root for. The cool answer is "the recreational because it's good for the game" but human nature being what is (we relate to people we identify with ourselves), the more honest answer for most of us "the pro who has put in the work and effort honing his craft". Thus it was that as Marty told us in an interview in the next episode of the Chip Race, despite getting headsup with a Brazilian, he had the biggest rail.

Buy more books

The whole experience of writing my first book has been so rewarding I doubt it will be my last. I’m just not sure what the next one should be about. Let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions.

I recently got asked what the ten most important books in my own development were. Here’s my list (in the order I read them):

  1. Super System 2 (Doyle Brunson)
  2. Harrington on Holdem (Dan Harrington)
  3. Sit n Go Strategy (Colin Moshman)
  4. The Mathematics of Poker (Chen, Ankenman)
  5. Kill Everyone (Lee Nelson , Tyson Streib, et al)
  6. Mental Game of Poker (Tendler, Carter)
  7. Raiser's Edge (Elky, Nelson, Streib, Dunst)
  8. Zachary Elwood "Reading Poker Tells", "Exploiting Poker Tells" and "Verbal  Poker Tells"
  9. Moorman's Book of Poker 
  10. No Limit Hold'em for Advanced Players (Matthew Janda)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

I saw people with ten words and nine teeth

“You know the way most recreational players everywhere get incredibly tilted by beats and go on moaning and sniping for ages afterwards?”

I’m in the middle of responding to Lappin’s question about how Melbourne is.

“Yes”
“Well they do that here too”
“LOL”
“But....”
“Oh. I thought that was the punchline”
“Almost always after 30 seconds or so, Aussie sporting values kick in, the guy says something like “Don’t mind me, I’m just annoyed I lost the pot but that’s the game” and it’s over”

Poker in the front

Ok, let’s get the poker out of the way first. I didn’t cash the main, and since I kept 97.5% of myself that more or less guaranteed a losing trip unless I did something special in the sides. I did cash 4 of them (almost half the ones I played) and had a number of promising shots but I didn’t run well when it really mattered. A 17th in the Terminator event (won in the end by Ioannis Angelou-Konstas, the winner of the last DTD Millions) was my best result. I looked to have a good shot at improving on that when I came back 6/36 in the Tournament of Champions (which despite the grandiose title was essentially a random 1k side) but could get nothing going and then ran AK into KK with 27 left. In the main event I grinded for almost two days never advancing much past starting stack before running aces into nines all in pre.

Taking on Danny Negreanu

When I’m at a major series like the Aussie Millions, I generally don’t write a blog during the series. I also postpone all my coaching and podcast commitments so I can concentrate on just playing. That was the plan this time, but as some of you will know already, I did end up writing one blog. Daniel Negreanu posted some ill considered tweets condemning certain poker player personality types and referring to them as a “cancer”, with more than a strong hint of “everyone should be more like me”. I’m always uneasy at attempts to pigeonhole poker players into one personality type, and the thing I enjoy most about live poker in particular is the diversity. Lappin wrote a great blog arguing for the defense of introverts, depressives and winning professionals. Before I read it I thought there would be little point in me writing my similar views up, but after reading it I felt there was a different angle to the one Lappin took that I could take, so I did. I finished it at 3 am local time, and by the time I woke up 5 hours later my phone was an ocean of notifications. One of Dnegs fans tweeted at me accusing me of trying to ride his coattails by being deliberately provocative, but in truth the last thing I wanted in the middle of the Aussie Millions was hundreds of notifications an hour. I could just ignore them, but that’s never really been my style. I like to engage with almost everyone who responds on social media to anything I write or do, but in this case that was incredibly time consuming (but I still tried). Ok if all you tweet is “you suck Dnegs is the best how dare you badmouth him” I’ll probably just read it and scroll on, but to be fair the vast majority of the Dnegs fans who waded in came at it a bit more more intelligently than that, and I’m always happy to defend my views against opponents.

Given the fact that Dnegs has at least 100 times as many fans and supporters as Lappin and I put together, I was very surprised that the reaction to our blogs was overwhelmingly positive. My new friend Jan Suchanek (a very shrewd man who is a giant in sports betting) counted it as 80/90 per cent in our favour, and the one poll I saw run backed that up. Davitsche tweeted that a major problem in the poker world is that people judge more by the status of the speakers rather than the validity of their positions. That might (or might not) be true in general, but wasn’t borne out by the reaction to this “debate”.

Blockface

Dnegs quickly blocked me on Twitter, citing my use of the image of him in blackface (which I explained in a comment I posted on my last blog) , and refused to engage. He did however quickly row back on his original tweets in a blog of his own, which I largely agreed with. For me this was always a debate of ideas rather than anything personal, and it wasn’t about finding out who was “right” or “wrong” or claiming victory, but simply an attempt to influence what I saw as some objectionable and potentially damaging ideas by someone who is still one of the most influential voices in poker. Lappin tells me there was extensive discussion of the topic in a number of podcasts, mostly favourable to us, but some confused as to why we were apparently so hard on Dnegs when his blog largely agreed with ours. The answer of course is his blog came after ours at the end of the argument, by which time his views had apparently shifted considerably from the original tweets we were responding to. It’s unfortunate that some people are unclear on the timeline leading to this confusion, but not a big deal really. I’m less interested in whether people see me as too harsh (or not harsh enough) than I am in communicating and arguing my ideas.

Although it was far more time consuming than I’d like, I did feel that almost nothing but good came from the debate. A large number of players (both regs and recs) expressed support for Lappin and I in person, and admiration for our willingness to take on the behemoth, with the most frequent point made to me was that they were glad finally someone was willing to question his status as the Pope of poker, or at least the infallibility part. I also got to meet some great new people.

Cometh the hour cometh the Jan

Jan in particular had some wonderful perspectives. We spoke a bit about the fan worship people like Dnegs attract which is largely based on their perceived success in high stakes tournaments, as measured by the Hendon mob. The advent of the super high roller events has created a situation where players with access to backing at those stakes can inflate their earnings well beyond even what the WSOP main event winner gets, and by extension their status. It has always fascinated me how performance in some sports is measured by constant consistency, which is utterly disregarded in other sports. A shot putter can foul his first 5 throws, but if he throws the final throw farther than anyone else has thrown, he is at once the winner. By contrast a golfer can be flawless at the first 71 holes, but throw it all away at the last, or a snooker player can make all the tough one point pots but choke on the final colour.

To my mind success in poker is closer to golf (or snooker), but is often seen by fans as closer to shot putting. If you judge someone by their biggest live score, or even lifetime “earnings”, you may be missing the point. Some of the biggest losers financially in poker have way more in lifetime live ‘earnings” than some of the biggest winners. In the smoke and mirror world of the high rollers, even some “big winners” may be barely getting by, given what a tiny percentage of their own action many of them have.

Jan made the excellent point that a world where we are measured only on our biggest successes (and our failures are completely ignored in the reckoning) is one which favours the narcissist, who wants praise heaped on his successes and his failures quietly ignored.

Jan had another flash of insight.
“And you know what other world is just like that?”
“What?”
“Twitter! There’s a like button but no dislike button. You can see how many people approved your message, but even if that’s 100 people, there might have been 10000 that disagreed. But there’s no button”

You can of course verbally respond, but that takes more time. And the true narcissist will find it too easy to stick their head in the virtual sand and click the Block button. As I said to Lappin, this is the world we live in now, narcissists blocking people while preaching tolerance.

Eligate

As I mentioned earlier, I tend to postpone all ancillary work like blogs, coaching and podcast so I can concentrate on playing poker on these trips. In the case of The Chip Race, postpone isn’t really the right word as I tend to get whatever is needed out of the way before the trip. That means recording enough stuff ahead of time that Lappin can put out any shows we have scheduled without any further input from me. That’s normally not a problem, but as Lappin prepared to release the latest episode, a major story broke about headline guest Eli Elezra. Since we were totally unaware of this story when we spoke to him, we hadn’t asked him about it in our original interview. That meant if we put the show out as originally intended, we’d look like fools at best, and propagandaists at worst. I pointed this out to Lappin and suggested we needed to postpone the release of the show until we knew whether Eli was willing to answer some further questions. Thankfully he was: Lappin had to fly solo but did a brilliant job both asking the questions and editing the answers back into the show.

Speaking of the Chip Race, I may not have managed to do any recording out there, but I did manage to line up some future guests. I had the good fortune to be drawn at the same table as Josh , not because he’s a fish but because he might be the funniest person I’ve met in poker (it’s close between him and Firaldo). We met for the first time at the Aussie Millions last year, and speaking about the road trip he took around Australia after that and his experiences in the remotest parts of Queensland, he came out with my favourite line of the trip, the title of this blog.

Meeting the man who wrote the book about the Spice Girls

By now you’ve hopefully got the idea that the trip was a pretty packed one both on and off the felt (deep runs mean long days, and even in the tourneys I didn’t cash in there were no early bustouts). I also managed to cram in a decent amount of socializing: I had a lot of fun hanging out with the Sinclairs in particular (Jack and his Dad David).



They have one of the healthiest father-son relationships I’ve ever seen, and when you meet David (an accomplished musician, writer and journalist) it comes as no surprise that Jack turned out the way he has. In particular I enjoyed some Jack anecdotes David was kind enough to share that gave an insight into Jack’s wonderful and unique personality. It was also great to catch up with a lot of poker friends too numerous to mention here (I will however mention how uplifting it is to spend breaks with the chillest man in poker, former Chip Race guest Jesse McKenzie). It was great to catch up with Merv Harvey and take the opportunity to record another episode of the Postflop Poker Podcast. It was also a real thrill getting to know Jan, who invited us to his Super Bowl watching party, and impressed Mrs Doke with a seemingly endless supply of Veuve Cliquot. Give my French girl enough champagne, and even American football starts to become palatable to her. We also had a lot of fun hanging out with my (pre-poker) Melbournian friend Adam and his lovely girlfriend Yi who we finally got to meet.

Regrets, I’ve had a few

In an interview I gave on my last day in the Crown this year, I said that the crucial difference between the Aussie Millions and the WSOP is that in general people get more and more miserable as the WSOP, whereas the opposite is true at the Aussie Millions. The longer people spend in Melbourne the happier they get, and a unique atmosphere involving normally miserable foreign regs and good natured locals prevails. Melbourne, with its amazing food options and perfect environment for exercise (I ran almost every day there, and got out for a run twice several days) is the one poker trip I come back feeling healthier and happier than I did at the start.

I have very few regrets at this point in my poker career, but the biggest is that I didn’t check out the Aussie Millions earlier in my career. I put it off til last year as too far to travel for poker. Given that I’ve been playing since 2008, last year could have been my tenth rather than my first. I’ll try to make up for lost time by coming back every year until I retire.

The book has landed

My first poker strategy book, "Poker Satellite Strategy" is finished and finally available to order on Amazon:

.com Paperback version
.com Kindle

.co.uk Paperback (UK and Ireland only) 
.co.uk Kindle (UK and Ireland only) 

It's also possible to get the paperback direct for $29.99 (including shipping) from dokepokercoaching@gmail.com (mail me at that address for payment options).

The book is more or less a brain dump of everything I know about satellites, focusing in particular on:

  • Adjustments you need to make from regular tournament play
  • What hands to shove, call and fold on the bubble
  • When to tighten up and when to keep accumulating chips
  • When it’s correct to fold Pocket Aces preflop


If you order the book before March 15, we are also throwing in a couple of freebies:

  • A 10 minute video on how to do COC calculations which should help you when you are reading the book
  • A PDF of the ‘Satellites in 30 minutes’ chapter so you can get better at satellites while you  are waiting for the book.


To get these  after you order, email barryrichardcarter@gmail.com with proof of your purchase and he'll send them on.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Oh Danny boy....

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

I entered the work force in the mid 80s after graduating from college. It was a bog standard office in a software company that I realized over time was mundanely typical. One of the standard guys I worked with was Ed. Ed was the mildest mannered person you could ever meet, except when he was drunk. Then Ed turned into an obnoxious loudmouth, berating everyone who didn’t like it as “no fun”. In drunk Ed’s world, he was fun, and nobody else was. Sober Ed seemed to have no recollection of drunk Ed, but had heard enough about him over the years to realize he needed to apologize to everyone next day at work. When pressed for details on what he was apologizing for, he’d respond with a sheepish grin and a shrug. 

“You know. The usual”

Sober Ed was a nice enough guy that everyone was willing to tolerate drunk Ed, even if they didn’t want to be in his presence. Over the years as I moved around, I realized that almost every office had an Ed: someone who saw themselves as the life and soul of the party, but was seen by everyone else as the office bore. 

********

In the late 80s I worked for a while in Singapore. The economy there was booming (they were one of the original Asian tigers). When I was there they used to run these weird TV commercials where the most miserable kids you could ever imagine were dragged to a park or a playground by some adults. At first I thought it was a public safety warning about child abductions, but then I realized the adults seemed to be the kids' parents. So I asked a Singaporean work colleague.

“Oh. They’re the commercials for the mandatory Government child block parties”
“So the parents have to bring their kids to these parties?”
“Yes”
“Why?”
“Apparently expert client psychologists say our kids don’t know how to have fun”
“And this is an attempt to force them to have fun?”
“Yes”
“Does it work?”
“No. The kids usually leave more miserable and confused. They dread these parties”


*********

Before I ran well in poker, I ran. As long time readers will already know, I spent most of my thirties as a mediocre marathon runner before blossoming in my early 40s into an elite ultra marathoner. This transformation was massively assisted by my training partners. Distance training is a long and boring process consisting mainly of long slow runs. Companionship is vital. The group spurs the individual to greater efforts and heights. 

Runners, like any random group, are a mixed lot. You have your characters, your jokers, your extroverts, your raconteurs and your observational comedians. And you have your quiet introverts, your thoughtful introspectives and your outright shy. Any reasonable sized training posse will have a mix of all types. My experience was runners not only tolerated personality differences, but they embraced and welcomed them. The introverts would laugh at the extroverts' jokes. The extroverts appreciated the audience and the more thoughtful perspectives of the introverts. One thing I never saw was the extroverts berating the introverts for being too quiet, or too shy, or no fun, or bad for running. If they wanted to hear more from their shy training partners, they tried gentle probing conversation rather than confrontation. More often than not it worked. And if it didn’t, it didn’t. If someone didn’t feel like talking, they didn’t have to: somebody else just took the airtime.

*********
Recently we interviewed Lithuanian online player Merfinis for the Chip Race (the interview hasn’t aired as yet). One of the questions we touched on was the whole idea of table talk. Merfinis, who also runs and if he’s in a training group I’m pretty sure is one of the thoughtful introspectives who doesn’t say much but when he does it is always interesting, said he didn’t think anyone should feel obliged to talk at the table if they didn’t want to. He suggested that the notion often posited that pros have an obligation to talk to amuse the recreationals is basically extroverts trying to bully introverts to be more like them. As soon as he said it, I flashed back to my running days, and how differently the extroverts and introverts of that world seemed to interact.

Daniel Negreanu is a poker giant. He has loomed large for two decades not just by virtue of his results and achievements but also by sheer force of his personality. He has been poker’s biggest star and as such primary ambassador for longer than anyone else. I still remember the frisson of excitement I felt the first time I saw him in the flesh at the WSOP.

“Wow, that’s Daniel Negreanu”

I bought his book. I watched him on TV. I followed his career and his pronouncements on the game. When other sites absconded with player funds, I applauded him for calling out the culprits in public. 
Over time, I got less and less starstruck every time I saw him. By the time I played in Monte Carlo a few years ago, I didn't even bother to turn my head to look when I heard his distinctive voice and laugh at the table behind me. Partly because I was annoyed that he was still unapologetically shilling for a company that had basically robbed so many of my Supernova friends, but mostly because I was far too engrossed in a conversation with an online player I was meeting in person for the first time.


Don't get me wrong: Daniel was still a big name at this stage, arguably the biggest in poker. A stream of people were coming up for selfies, and he was only too happy to oblige. After a while, I did look round as selfie number countless was in progress.

"It never ends, huh?"

My conversational partner considered his response.

"No. That's a very different type of person right there. We'd lose our minds getting that sort of constant attention, but he clearly loves it"

There was no judgement or sense of superiority in that statement: just an acknowledgement of different strokes for different folks.

Like most stars, Daniel’s fell. When he felt contractually obliged to defend his sponsors after they effectively stole from their most loyal clients, he lost a little credibility. When he tried to justify nonsensically that more rake was better for recreationals, it fell further. More recently, he’s tried to poke fun at critics and pros, suggesting that they are "bad for poker". 

I get a little nervous when I hear that phrase. It feels kinda like poker's equivalent of "enemy of the people": a Doc-boot whistle to Fascists to signify that certain people need to be eradicated from the body of society like a cancer.



Maybe Daniel is genuinely trying to be funny, as he apparently was when he went blackface. The problem is that Daniel just isn’t funny. His attempts at humour always come across as smug and sanctimonious and patronising. He has lost almost all his credibility as a spokesman for anyone but his paymasters, yet he insists on preaching to the rest of us as to how we should behave. If we don’t comply with his narrow definition of an acceptable personality type (basically his own: in Daniel’s world it seems the more like him the better you are, and the less like him the worse you are to the point he regards you as a cancer). This is an incredibly intolerant position for someone who claims to self identify as a liberal to hold.

There is a culture among the old school in poker to berate the new school as lacking in charm and personality. Whether you agree with that or not, it seems to me that berating someone for not having the type of personality you want them to have (which happens to coincide with your own) is not the way to go. Don't get me wrong: like most introverts I am capable of enjoying the company of out and out extroverts. I'd happily spend the rest of my life at the same table as Neil Channing listening to his stories, poking fun at the foibles we all have as humans (Neil included), or Jennifer Tilly, or Mustapha Kanit. But I wouldn't want the whole world to ape the personality of any of those great characters. Diversity rules.

The title of this blog is the well known folk song much beloved by Irish Americans, and I started this blog with the first verse which appears to be a lover or perhaps a parent (a loved one in any case) bemoaning the absence of the titular Danny boy. The people who move us most in life are the ones whose absence we mourn the most, whether that absence is purely physical, or a result of the person changing. When a loved one disappears forever, it's a tragedy, but when they reappear or transform into the opposite of what they once were, well that can be a bigger tragedy. The disappearing hero at least leaves good memories and a legacy, but the one who lingers long after their heroism has disappeared to the point of embarrassment is far worse. Negreanu's journey from genuine ambassador to pure corporate shill is a sad road perhaps paved with good intentions, but there is now a generation of players who know no other version of Negreanu than the one who says whatever his corporate paymasters tell him to say. More rake is better. Nits are a cancer. Make poker great again.

So if you are one of the extroverts of poker, and you find yourself at a table of introverts, ask yourself who you want to be. Do you want to be drunk Ed, tediously berating everyone for not having the same personality as you? Do you want to be the Singaporean Government instructing everyone to have fun? Do you want to be Danny boy telling them they're all enemies of the people, or a cancer on poker? Or do you want to be the friendly distance runner, telling jokes and stories and asking questions that prove you are genuinely interested in the person you are talking them and not just trying to butter them up so you can steal their money?


Monday, January 14, 2019

The best of years

"The results have been encouraging: I managed to reverse the decline in profitability of recent years to record my most profitable year since 2014. Highlights include a fourth place finish in the WCOOP event for 40K, a Powerfest win, the seventh PocketFives Triple Crown of my career, and regaining the top slot in the PocketFives rankings for Ireland for the first time in several years."

I wrote this last year, celebrating my most successful year in a while. Success in poker is an elusive concept with no widely accepted definition. I recently told a non-poker friend who asked how 2018 was for me pokerwise that it was my most successful year ever.

"Why? What did you win?"

I realised that my definition of success, measured in pure profit, was very different from his. But on my terms at least, 2018 was my most successful year in poker, even if I won nothing major.

So let's have a look back at 2018.

Online

As I've said before in this blog, I have always considered myself to be an online poker player who also plays a bit live, not the other way around. Online went very well this year: I won a couple of Powerfests, a Supernova, and in May the 8th Pocketfives  Triple Crown of my career.

"This year I decided to shift my focus away from low variance satellites to higher variance and higher margin mtts with thousands of runners. The results have been encouraging: I managed to reverse the decline in profitability of recent years to record my most profitable year since 2014. "

That was then (2017) but this is now. This year saw me return to satellites with a vengeance. I'm not going to lie: I was a little rusty at first and the metagame had changed quite a bit in the time I was away. It took me a while to work out the new strategy, but once I did it was satellites that underpinned my most profitable year ever online. Big results and outliers can skew the yearly results of the tournament player, so it's always important to acknowledge their impact. For example, 2015 was a very good year where I finished up 300k overall, but almost all of this came from one result at the WSOP. I made very little online that year, continuing a worrying downward decline. That decline continued the following year, but has reversed the last two years, and ultimately that gives me more satisfaction than any one big outlier.

Live

My live poker year was very much a tale of two halves. The first half of the year was very lacklustre, but I did at least notch up a few firsts. First trip to the Aussie Millions, first cash in Australasia, and first ever Irish Open cash. My Vegas continued in a similar theme: six cashes, two top 100 runs at the series, but no truly deep run.

The second half of the year was considerably better. I finished second to Upeshka Da Silva in the Killarney High Roller (not the first time that's happened) before coming 8th at the UK Millions for £70,000 (not including a Brucey bonus I got for chopping a £100k Last Longer with Alex Foxen), the second biggest live score of my career. This result also brought up my one million dollars lifetime score on the Hendon Mob,. I ended the year with a cash at Unibet Open Dublin, bringing my total live cashes figure for the year on the Hendon Mob to $136,929, my second highest ever.

Coaching

I did more coaching this year than any other so far. There’s a running joke in poker that players only start coaching when they can’t beat the game any more, but I’ve always felt coaching others helps my own game. Having to explain my thought processes to someone else seems to really crystallize them in my own mind. However, there’s a point beyond which too much time spent coaching is tiring and starts to erode my ability to grind, and I definitely pushed past that point a few times this year coaching over 20 hours a week.

I feel like there's a sweet spot where I coach an hour or two every day but no more, so I'll try to stick to that in 2019. Late this year, I joined Optimal Poker Pathway as a coach. This is a great way for those of you who don't want to pay my exorbitant fees for one-to-one coaching and videos to access my coaching at a more affordable price.

Content

I was very active in 2018 on the content creation front. I wrote 20 blogs here, more than I have in recent years, and passed a milestone of 600k hits. I am very heartened by the number of loyal readers who read everything I publish, and that keeps me motivated to keep writing. Some time in 2019 I expect to write my 500th blog.

I started writing for Bluff Europe again, and contributed some strategy articles to other sites such as PokerStrategy

The Chip Race, the podcast I host with David Lappin, continued to grow in 2018, on Soundcloud, Itunes and YouTube.

On YouTube, I made a couple of strategy videos with my friend Gareth James (one on a huge Jeff Gross check back, and another on a couple of hands from the UK Millions). I also did interviews with Cardplayer Lifestyle, Microgaming and Unibet.

My free strategy newsletter (link to sign up on the bar at the top of this blog) grew from just over 100 subscribers to over 400 over the year.

Health and fitness

I've been very fortunate with my health this year: no major illnesses and very few minor sniffles. I've done considerably worse on the fitness front. I find it hard to maintain my fitness on the road (I do much better during prolonged spells at home), and as a result went to Vegas in the worst shape (and heaviest) in years. There was also too much travel in the second half of the year to regain peak fitness, so I am trying to set this as a priority in 2019. On that front I'm off to a good start at least (I ran my first 26 mile training run in almost a year on New Year's Day, and my first 30 miler the following week). It's still likely to be a struggle to maintain given the amount of live poker on my slate for the next six months.

Plans and goals for 2019

I seem to end every year moaning I do and travel too much, and need to cut back on both, and then proceed not to. I do feel like something has to give. One thing I definitely tend to cut back on in 2019 is coaching: not that I want to drop it completely, but just be more selective.

Other than that it's hard to know what to drop or cut back majorly. Certainly not the Chip Race, which David and I are both very proud of and feel has a bit of life left in it yet. I also intend to keep the blog going (maybe with a few less entries this year though), and the strategy newsletter.

I'm not really one for setting specific poker goals, at least not ones like "I want a 100k live score in 2019" or "I want to make X profit online". I prefer to just focus on the process of grinding, studying and working hard, and taking it as it comes.

One specific goal is to publish my first book in 2019. About a year ago I was lucky enough to be approached by Barry Carter, who pitched the idea "Since there are no good books out there on satellites, we should write one". The book is now almost complete, and we are hoping for a February release. We took the material I developed for my webinar on satellites (the video of which is still available for $75 from dokepokercoaching@gmail.com if you can't wait for the book), expanded on it and added in some additional concepts to create the most comprehensive book we could.

Barry has been a delight to work with, and  I consider myself very fortunate to be collaborating with a writer of his calibre who has already co-authored one poker bestseller (The Mental Game of Poker, with Jared Tendler).

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who helped and supported me in 2019, most of all the two D's, Daiva (my study buddy and best friend) and David (my most patient and hard working cohost and collaborator), and everyone who has taken the time to read this blog, follow me on social media, listen to the Chip Race or interact with me at events.

I hope every one of us gets the 2019 we deserve!


Monday, December 10, 2018

Bahamas

Luxury prison camp

I often get asked why Mrs Doke doesn’t accompany me on more poker trips. There are many different answers, one of which is she doesn’t enjoy them. She’s not that keen a traveller (she likes her home comforts and doesn’t like the bovine feeling most airports engender in her), and she really has no interest in poker beyond how much I lost today. She hates casinos and resorts, and she is no sun worshipper. One thing we both have in common is we are utterly useless at doing nothing. We are terrible chillers: with nothing concrete to fill a day, we climb the concrete walls.

Last year we went to Punta Cana, a luxury all inclusive resort. While everyone else oohed and ahhed about the place, what was Mrs Doke’s reaction?

“Luxury prison camp”

What she does like are big cosmopolitan cities with vibrant cultures and a bit of history: Rome, New York, Melbourne, Prague. So while all I would have needed to say to get almost any other female on the plane was “Bahamas in November” the only way I could win her over to the idea was 5 days with the Bleemers in New York on the way over. True to form, she loved New York. And her verdict on her Bahamas?

“Ten days of my life, wasted”

And therein we have Doke’s paradox: I wanted to marry her because (among other reasons) she was the type of woman who would never be happy sunning herself by the pool: yet I still want her company on trips such as these where there’s not much else for her to do.

Let's see the sea 

After a few days lying in bed reading the many books she brought with her to get through this ordeal, Mrs Doke decided it might be an idea to go look at the sea, which she has a genuine fondness for, and which she had found out was quite near (100 meters or so from the hotel). I accompanied her downstairs on this great excursion and steered towards the back of the hotel.

“Where are you going?”
“Umm....to the sea? You said you wanted to, right?”
“Yes but it’s at the back of the hotel not the front”
“We are walking towards the back”
“No we are not”

I was certain I was right, but even more certain this was an argument I could not win (she was citing many hours of consulting maps in the room, and the directions of that master of navigation that is Freddie Bergmann, a man who proved so unable to find his way out of the toilets at a players party in Bucharest that he had to be rescued by David Vanderheyden) short of slinging her over my shoulder and carrying her to the sea. It seemed wiser to play along for now.


So out through reception we walk. There’s no sea in sight, so she asks one of the receptionists how to get to the sea. The receptionist looks confused and says “Back through the hotel or from here?”
“From here!”
The receptionist looks even more confused, and tells us more or less that if we won’t walk back through the hotel, the only way to get to the sea is to walk around it. At least that’s my interpretation: Mrs Doke's is quite different so before I know what’s happening, we are walking away from the hotel back towards the airport on the exact same road we came in as I try every possible combination of words that mean “The sea is not this way” and Mrs Doke uses only one word to communicate that I am an idiot.

“But why can’t we even see the sea?”
“We can, you idiot”
“So where is it?”
“Well we can’t see it yet, idiot”
“But it’s supposed to be near!”
“Idiot”
“Look at Google Maps on my phone. Here. Here. This blue dot is us, agreed?”
“Idiiot”
“And this is the hotel”
“Yes, idiot”
“And this is the sea”
“Duh, idiot”
“Ok. So the hotel is between the blue dot and the sea”
“So, idiot?”
“So to get to the sea the blue dot has to walk back towards the hotel, through it, and out the far side”
“No. It’s this way”
“I give up. I’m going back. You do what you want”

She considered her options, then followed me back sullenly muttering “idiot”

As we gazed out on the sea, no word of apology was expected or offered. I was still an idiot, albeit one who happened to be annoyingly correct on this occasion.

As we walked back to our room I pointed out that if we had kept walking in her direction we would also have hit the sea eventually, in 20 or 30 miles, so we were both right in a way.

This was not a helpful observation.

“Idiot”

U-S-A U-S-A

There seems to be a bit of a healthy rivalry these days in poker between the Americans and the Euros. The Americans, the birthplace and traditional superpower of poker, are a little less secure in their world dominance in these post UIGEA days. There was a time when going to the WSOP was the poker equivalent of an athlete going to the Olympics. It still is, but it’s the Moscow Olympics the Americans won nothing at (by virtue of boycott). They don’t boycott the WSOP, and they still win most of the bracelets, but there’s a feeling that that’s mostly sheer force of numbers. Ask any pro what accent they want to hear when the young unknown to their immediate left pulls down his sunglasses, peers at you and asks “How much?” and the answer definitely won’t be “German!” No sir: what you most want to hear is a y’all or a folksy American twang. Deprived of the ability to play a million hands a month online, the American player pool has been cut adrift onto its own evolutionary track. European regs openly joke about “dumpster American regs” (as Firaldo did recently on The Chip Race) and the Germans in particular do little to disguise their lack of esteem even for American legends and heroes such as Hellmuth.

The Americans though are are a wonderfully resilient nation. They still produce more poker champions than anyone else. Yes, population, but China. India. Russia.

At my day 2 main event table, Ryan Riess turned his head towards the 250k SHR final table and celebrated the fact that it was almost entirely American.

“Yeah! All Americans almost. We’ve been crushing the High Rollers lately. Team USA!”

His (American) neighbour Michael Gagliano seemed less ebulliently nationalistic.

“How many Euros even played? Not that many I think. It’s the Bahamas”
“All the shit Euro regs played it”

One day later, shit Euro reg Steffen Sontheimer was crowned champion, outnumbered but still slaying a table of dumpster Americans regs.

Let's hear it for the recs

I started as an online player. To this day, I see myself as an online player who plays a bit live. Live poker is the hobby: online the jobby. When I play live, it’s for a break, a holiday, or because I like the destination or the company (which was particularly good on this trip: shout-outs to Jason, Joy, Fay, Jamie, Ellie, Freddie and Tim who were all a pleasure to spend time with), or because one side effect of crushing online satellites is you have to go and actually play the target event.

These days satellites are not my bread and butter, and I could grind out a very good year online without ever going near one. I’m not as keen on travel as I was, and I have found other ways to give myself a break. The one appealing aspect that remains is the chance to meet and socialize with players I wouldn’t otherwise. Players I might interact with on social media like Jodi but it’s still nice to meet in person and get a little of their story. Sometimes I think the people I admire the most in poker are not the end bosses who lock themselves away running PIO sims 18 hours a day 365 days a year, but the true recreationals who play for the love of the game. It’s wonderful that someone can parlay a centroll into a holiday in the Bahamas rubbing shoulders with some of the superstars of the felt. I’m always grateful that so many of them see me as worthy of their time to come and have a natter.

This is something we should never lose sight of in all the bitching about structures and affiliate deals and preferential treatment for pros and overlays (real or non existent) and rake: the heart of live poker is recreational players playing for fun and having fun.

Social media

Social media and me: we go way back, let me tell ya. I was the first Irish poker player to get busy on Twitter. I remember the crescendo of mirth it caused among the pros of the day that I would waste my time on something so pointless so trivial and so clearly without a future.

Well who’s laughing now? The answer I guess is still nobody, since social media has devolved for the most part into pictures of food, chip stacks and girls in bikinis, or shouting about Trump or Brexit to the converted. It’s still an enormous waste of time, a time killer and a time sink, but it’s made us more connected than we have ever been. People come up to me all the time at poker tournaments and address me like an old friend while I stand there wondering “What is this person’s name? Have I ever even seen them before?” These are alarming questions for a man who has reached my age, as the inability to recognize the faces of old friends is a symptom of nothing good and many things bad.

Often though it’s just a case that I haven’t met this person before, but they feel like they know me because social media. And that’s a very cool thing, because the older you get the more tiresome it becomes to find an axe to break the ice.

Social media has reached the stage where you could be in the room where everything is happening, and still be less informed than the guy at home reading Twitter. Maybe I should give a concrete example: with nothing to do on a day off, I could go rail the feature table. I could walk around the poker room like a wannabe blogger looking for big hands. Or I could lie in bed with my wife, refreshing Twitter and Instagram. And guess which one will keep me the most informed?


Through social media I can learn that Jason Tompkins doubled through Jack Sinclair last hand of day one. Before I’ve even have time to message haha to Jack, I’ve seen his side of the hand on Instagram, met Jason on my stroll to the poker room, and we’ve run into Jack so I can deliver the haha in person. What a time to be alive.

Vouchers and Eastern European girls

Every time a player registered for a tournament the organizers gave them a card with Food Voucher on the front and 25 blank boxes on the back. These could be redeemed for food or water outside. Each box had a nominal value of a dollar, so if you bought a sandwich for 12 bucks, that was 12 boxes. As soon as I realized that a box was a buck, I found myself wondering why put a nominal value on boxes at all? They couldn’t be converted into anything other than corridor food or drink (though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at least one poker player tried to change them at the Currency Exchange kiosk at airport: my money and boxes are on Allen Kessler) so why not just put the prices in boxes? There are crypto currencies with less intrinsic merit.

I was reinforced in my view after Parky came over to tell me about a guy who wouldn’t stop complaining about the price of bottled water to him. It turned out of course that he wasn’t really complaining about the water costing 7 dollars, since no actual money had changed hands: only about the number of boxes it cost him.

After chortling with Parky over this tale, I decided to tell one of my own. In the previous night’s side event I’d had my most entertaining bustout.

The action went mid position open, button flat, me shove small blind for 14 big blinds, original opener reshove for lots more, and shrug call from button. I turn over my aces, the original raiser ace nine double suited, and the button five three single suited in diamonds. At this point I paused in the tale to assure Parky this was not a bad beat story, to stop his mind from wandering back to his room.

The flop was a rather safe looking king king jack rainbow no diamond, a 5 rolled off on the turn, followed by another on the river. As I stood up to leave, the guy raking in the chips explained he’d only called because what he really wanted to be doing was talking to the Eastern European girls in the players lounge. He seemed genuinely sad as he said this, like his was the real bad beat here.

As I headed not to the players lounge to talk to the Eastern European girls but back to the room to tell my French girl how much I’d lost today, I reflected on the fact that people play poker for lots of different reasons, most of them entirely valid.

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