Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Of mice and morphine

“You sound like a hater right now, dude”

After another immensely enjoyable Unibet players party, Lappin and I unexpectedly staggered out of the night club with a little too much alcohol in our system. We didn’t know it at the time but he also had a little too much calcium in his system. More on that later.

(This and all the other good photos in this blog courtesy of Tambet Kask and Lenka. All the crap ones are mine)

As we left our fellow poker ambassador Monica asked if we’d walk one of the influencers back to the hotel. As we walked, the lady in question tried to make polite conversation suggesting that some actual celebrities had been at the party. It’s always risky to bring up the nature of celebrity today with Lappin, and before she knew it he was trying to get her to question her life and values and casting doubt on the whole influencer profession. To her credit she stood her ground and defended her profession gamely, before pointing out that he sounded like a hater.

As she pointedly thanked me (I hadn’t said a word: I was far too drunk to get involved in debate) and not Lappin for walking her back, I glanced over and saw Lappin giggling uncontrollably. He’s not a man of simple pleasures, but he knows where to find them nevertheless.

Tractors and other Parisian traditions

I landed in Paris as my fellow ambassadors were stuck behind tractors on their way to the tag team event. I did join a few of them for content day the following morning, which consisted of walking around some of the sights. We went up on the Arc de Triomphe before retiring to a cafe for the traditional Parisian pleasures of pastries and watching Espen flirt with the waitress.

The highlight of the day for me came at a tour of the Paris Saint Germain football stadium, Parc des Princes. I’d been there once before, not for a football match, but a Bowie concert in the mid 90s. The tour is well worth doing: they bring you in the way the players enter the stadium, through the away dressing room and showers and out onto the pitch itself.

The welcome drinks that evening were also there.

And then poker

I left early to get a good night’s sleep before the main event. My first bullet was a pretty miserable affair as I busted just after the second break, but my second one was a lot more memorable. Not only did I find a bag, but also the most famous person in the room to my immediate left, with Monica to his left.

“So I had this spot in a satellite...”
“Just buy the book already you cheap bastard”

It’s fair to say Patrik wasn’t exactly taking it fully seriously, with some non GTO approved plays like raise calling a shove blind under the gun, raise calling another shove with 93o before eventually blinding out of the tournament in a novel way.

My day 2 was a swingy affair as I tried unsuccessfully to nurse a small stack into the money, coming up eight places short when my ace ten couldn’t hold versus ace nine. It doesn’t even qualify as a bad beat as I’d only looked at the ace so was lucky to be ahead preflop in the first place.

Night walks with an idiot abroad

I did some stints in the commentary box, and particularly enjoyed two scenic walks back to the hotel from the casino with Lappin, Iany, Davitsche, Adrian, and Henry.

Paris is impressive at night, and my biggest abiding impression is how little the city has changed since I lived there almost three decades ago (in comparison to Dublin which has changed almost beyond recognition).

On one of the night walks we were all marvelling at the Louvre pyramid, except Iany who was Pokemonning on his phone as ever. He did finally look up to squeal excitedly:
“Oooo that’s in The Da Vinci Code”.

An eventful Sunday for Lappin

The morning after the party, Lappin and I dragged ourselves out of bed with the tentative plan to go play the turbo side event. He was hoarse and very much the worse for wear after his early morning debating, but despite visibly struggling at the table managed to ship the event, much to the delight of his colleagues.

We decided to celebrate with another scenic walk back to the hotel, before our hunger got the better of us and we ended up in Five Guys. Things took an unexpected turn when Lappin suddenly started to feel really bad, and announced he was pretty sure he had a kidney stone and needed to head to an ER. Google Maps decided the nearest one was in Neuilly sur Seine, Iany called us an Uber, and as the only French speaker in the group I decided the only decent thing to do was to accompany him.

As David convulsed in pain, the driver unexpectedly stopped in the middle of nowhere in Neuilly sur Seine and said we had reached our destination.

The following conversation (translated from French) then went down
“Get out of the car”
“There’s no hospital here. We need the hospital”
“This is your destination according to Uber”
“My friend has a medical emergency. We need to be brought to the hospital”
“I can’t do that unless you change the destination on Uber”
“We didn’t book this. Our friend Ian did”
“I can ring Ian”
No answer
“Look can we just give you cash to take us to the nearest hospital? It really is an emergency”

He dropped us off at something called the American Hospital of Paris, which may or may not be an actual hospital, but certainly wasn’t open.

Google Maps told us we were only a kilometre from the actual hospital, so I guided the doubled up Lappin struggling gamely with his excruciation through the empty suburban streets. Probably for the best they were empty as we looked quite the sight, one doubled in pain from his kidney stone, the other shivering from lack of a coat.

He was admitted while I hung on in the waiting room awaiting developments. This wasn’t Lappin’s first rodeo or kidney stone which is how he was able to recognise the signs, and he was clear that what he needed was the finest painkillers known to humanity.

“Morphine. Give me morphine. I need morphine. Morphine now”
“On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is the pain?”
“It’s one hundred. Now let’s just get morphine into me”

When it was clear he would have to stay the night I walked back to the hotel, leaving him with the most basic necessities to survival in 2019, a power bank and a cable. I came to temporarily question that decision when my phone died on the walk and I was forced to navigate from thirty year old memories of Paris.

We meet Remy

After checking out the following morning I walked back to visit the now high Lappin (in case you’re curious, there is absolutely no difference between high Lappin and normal Lappin. Literally none except slightly more cheerful). We repaired to a restaurant for French onion soup, where Lappin started seeing a mouse.

At first I thought it might be the morphine, but then I saw it too. We called the waiter over and he also saw the mouse, but took it a lot more in his stride than you might expect.

The following conversation has also been translated from French:
“That’s a mouse”
“Yes sir”
He shrugged as we looked at him expectantly.
“Would you like to move to another table?”
It was an unexpected question. We looked at each other, both struggling to see how that was a solution to the mouse situation, so....
Another shrug from the waiter
“Heh, that’s Paris”

After he left we started seeing more mice, at which point we decided to pay the bill and skip dessert, which we enjoyed instead in a nearby mouse free establishment.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Unibet Open Paris. There is a tremendous atmosphere and team camaraderie among the ambassadors and Unibet staff, who are all great fun to spend time with. It’s also heartening to see someone from the esports/influencers world, Monkeyism, make a real effort to interact with us all and pitch in on stuff like commentary. A big thank you to all the players who interacted with me at and away from the tables.

And what can I say about Lappin that hasn’t been said already? Sliving.

Goodbye to the 10’s

On the plane back I was lucky enough to be sat beside the cutest most charming little French girl ever (she spoke perfect English and French) and her mother. Well, until she announced in a loud voice as we were taking off
“I’m scared mommy. You know why? Because we could collide with another plane and be smashed into a thousand pieces. Or we could crash and be burned alive”

And freaked everyone out.

This was my last live poker trip of the decade, and given that I made it home without being smashed into a thousand pieces or burned alive I’m looking forward to a month at home on the online grind, working on various other poker projects, and working hard to prepare for another decade in poker.

Thanks to all my readers who followed the last decade, and have a great Christmas and happy new year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Why live players should play online

I often hear the opinion expressed that live poker is so different from online, that they have little relevance to each other. While it’s true that population tendencies tend to be different, and there are undeniably some skills that online players hone (like the ability to quickly interpret statistical data and make rapid fire decisions) that don’t really transfer to live, and the same is true going the opposite way (like the area of live tells), I’m more in the “poker is poker” camp.

I also sometimes hear live players dismissing the prospects of some online beast in a live event because “they don’t have much live experience”. This is something I almost never get on board with unless the player in question is giving off some very obvious live tells. To make my point, I’m going to make a statement I expect almost nobody reading this to agree with, and then attempt to back it up.

In the WSOP main event, given the opportunity to buy a piece of either a decent midstakes online grinder playing his first live event ever, or to buy a piece of an experienced successful live pro with live results stretching back over 20 years, I’d take the online guy.

Why? Well to start to answer that question, let’s look at another question. What, exactly, is “experience”? I looked at the Hendon mob of one of the most successful live pros I know, a legend of the game, with results stretching back over twenty years. The player in question has cashed 114 times, final tabled 34, got headsup 9 times, and won 5. That’s basically a very successful career live spread out over two decades, averaging out as six cashes a year (six occasions he has to make major equity decisions), one final table every eight months, a headsup match every two and a half years, and a win once every four or five years.

Ok, next questions: where is the money in tournaments? It’s all in the cashes: the ability to navigate tricky bubbles and make the money more your fair share of the time is a much bigger part of long term profitability than most people think. But of course most of money is at and near the top. People sometimes hear this and think that means “playing for the win” is correct, and that means gambling at the death in the hope of winning all the chips. But while it’s always preferable to win a tournament, merely maximizing your chances of doing so in every single tournament you play or find yourself deep in isn’t just foolhardy, it’s wrong and burns money in the long term. A better way to look at it is your objective should always be to make the decision that wins you the most money in the long term, which may or may not be the one that gives you the best chance of winning the tournament. Some people can’t conceive that this could be so, believing that whatever gives you the best chance of winning the tournament must also make you the most money, so let’s look at a simple example to prove they can be different.

The good news: there are three people left in the main event, and you’re one of them.
The bad news: there are two hundred big blinds in play, and how have only two of them. The other 198 bigs are evenly distributed between your opponents (99 each).
The prize: you’ve already locked up four million for third, there’s an additional two million if you can somehow ladder to second, and there’s 10 million total for first.
The scenario: the button looks down at his cards, thinks for a while, then shoves all in. The small blind looks at his cards, and calls. You then look down at aces? Is this a call?

Well, if you’re “playing for the win”, it clearly is. You have the best hand (except in those rare occasions when one of the other guys has the other two aces), so calling maximizes your chances of winning all the chips eventually. However, in this case calling is burning money. Why? Well, you'll win the pot 70-75% of the time and find yourself headsup with 6 big blinds to your opponent's 194. Your chances of winning are about 30/1.

If you fold, you achieve the same result almost always (except in rare cases where the opponents chop). Now you're a 200/1 shot to actually win, but you've locked up the extra 2 million, which is much significant than your slightly better chances of winning if you call and triple.

This is a fairly clearcut example (albeit still one a lot of people will get wrong), but there are lots of other less clearcut examples of where the decision that maximizes Chip Ev (and therefore our chances of winning the tournament) is not the same as that which maximizes our Dollar Ev (and therefore our long term profits). Online tournament grinders devote much of their study and efforts away from the table into ensuring they get as many of these spots right as possible (this is the whole area of ICM).

Relatively major mistakes early in a tournament are minor compared to relatively minor mistakes late on. This might sound wrong but think of it like this: seriously misplaying a hand early on might be a ten big blind mistake, which would be massive in a cash game, but if starting stack was one hundred big blinds, that translates to only one tenth of a buyin. On the other hand, calling an all in with tens on a final table in a spot where you need jacks or better is minor in the sense that it’s only one pip below a correct call, but in dollar Ev might cost us 1% of the prize pool. And if this is a big tournament like the WSOP ME with 2000 buyins still in play in the prize pool, that’s a 20 buyin mistake (200k in the WSOP ME).

Tournament poker punishes all mistakes in the long term, but some much more than other. As I’ve just shown, even big mistakes early on don’t cost us all that much in the long run, while small mistakes at the death can be much more costly. Therefore, when you’re evaluating the likely profitability of a player in something like the main event, your main focus should be on how likely there are to make mistakes if they get deep, rather than how well they play in earlier days.

I submit that online players will tend to outperform live pros significantly in these situations just by virtue of having greater experience of being deep in tournaments and faced with the kind of decisions that are typical at this point.

Of course, objections might be raised along the lines of “That’s all well and good, but live is different and online players won’t have as much specific experience”. Point conceded, but how important is it really? Population tendencies and live reads are all well and good, and may very well confer significant edges to experienced live pros in the early stages in amateur heavy fields, but watch any major tournament from two tables out and you’ll quickly see that these skills shrivel up in situations where the big decisions are all allin pre ones, and the crucial skills are ICM and knowledge of preflop equities against different ranges.

There is another dimension to live poker: mental stamina. And even in this regard, I prefer the chances of an online player over those of a live pro. Online players put in long grinds online almost every day they play: there’s no equivalent to the live pro’s “I bust early and went home”. No, more a case of “I bust one of the twenty tournaments I regged early, so I regged another”. Live players, by contrast, don’t put in the same volume in terms of time, and take longer breaks away from the tables (while they wait for the next series to start). A live pro I know who went deep in the main event told me he made a massive error he would never normally make, and he ascribed it entirely to tiredness. For even an experienced player like my friend, the experience of having to make decisions while tired on a day 6 was something he’d had to deal with only a handful of times in a long career. Online players, by contrast, are drilled to keep having make rapid fire decisions for significant amounts of equity eight, nine, ten or twelve hours into their session every day, day after day. Even experienced live players tend to tire after three or four long days on the trot: during a major online series many online grinders will play long hours for fourteen days straight.

Performance experts like Jared Tendler also tell us that when we do get tired, what tends to happen is we autopilot more. As such, the skills that have been drilled into us the most are the ones that diminish the least. An online player is therefore much less likely to get shoving or calling ranges wrong than a live pro simply because they face those decisions more frequently on a daily, weekly, yearly and careerly basis.

So next time you have to assess the prospects of a player in a big tournament for whatever reason (such as buying or swapping a piece), remember that what matters most is how well that player is likely to perform if they are lucky enough to run deep. And that comes down to a combination of experience (of being deep in a big runner field), the key skills when most of the big decisions involve shoving or calling an allin (understanding preflop equities, ranges and ICM), and stamina.

More on dealers

Since my last blog went viral, a large number of dealers contacted me to air grievances. We covered some of these on the latest episode of the Chip Race, and it is clear that the mistreatment of dealers is not limited to Casino Malta. Most of the dealers expressed dismay at the sliding standards in the industry, a point also made by the dealer we interviewed on the Chip Race. As I said in my last blog, I feel the onus is on us as players to ask dealers how they are being treated at an event, to raise concerns with the organisers, and if necessary to vote with their feet if an event refuses to treat dealers with the respect they deserve.

As we said on the Chip Race, we don't want to get into individual events and naming and shaming, which unfortunately means some readers or listeners might take the view that dealers are badly treated everywhere. This is simply not the case. The blog and Chip Race piece focused on specific grievances and complaints, which are not universal to every event. In the course of talking to dealers, I received unsolicited positive feedback on some events and individual organisers. So while I don't want to name and shame I don't see any problem with revealing that several dealers nominated the Irish Open/Norwegian championships as their favourite event to work, and some dealers also praised PartyPoker Live and Unibet events.

Buy Poker Satellite Strategy and get a free €10 Unibet tournament token

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It’s really simple
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This offer is open to existing Unibet account holders. If you are new to Unibet you can sign up here.

This offer is currently not open to players from Sweden as per Unibet’s T&Cs.

This is a limited time offer, we only have 100 tournament tokens and may run out before December 2 (email barryrichardcarter@gmail.com ahead of time if you want to find out if we have tickets left).

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Let's talk about dealers

“Be your own boss”

That’s probably the phrase I heard the most often in my first few years in the workforce. In mid eighties Ireland, the new icon was the entrepreneur, and the new sinners were those who were happy to remain in safe employment kowtowing to a corporate boss. They were written off as stick in the muds who lacked ambition, unimaginative worker bees who would never amount to anything. 

After I took the bait and went out on my own, a different phrase started to loom larger. 

“The customer is always right”

The reality of being your own boss is that you usually aren’t. You just replace one boss with whatever number of clients or customers you pick up when you go it alone. As a freelancer (which is the right word for most people who called themselves entrepreneurs), you usually lose the right to say no to your bosses, the right to point out that what’s being demanded is unreasonable or can’t be done between the hours of nine to five, and many other rights an employee takes for granted. You also lose the security which allows you to be a squeaky wheel. As a freelancer, nothing is guaranteed, and a whispering campaign that you are unreliable, difficult to work with or a troublemaker can effectively end your career. 

Poker dealers who work on the live circuit are all freelancers. That means when they’re mistreated they generally feel they can’t complain in public, for fear the phone stops ringing. Good poker dealers are central to the live poker experience. There are places I won’t play because I’m not confident the dealers will be good. 

In Malta recently I was playing a side event when a top dealer I know came to the table. He was visibly upset. He explained that a decision had been made by the organisers that all the dealers in the Ladies side event which was about to start would be male, and topless. He wasn’t lying: a few minutes later what looked like a Chippendale troupe marched through the centre of the room to take their positions as dealers in the Ladies event. I watched aghast wondering what type of idiot could possibly think this was a good idea.

A female friend of mine pointed out that in the era of social media, the humiliation of the dealers was further compounded by photos being tweeted of topless dealers in which they were clearly recognizable (which is why I have blacked out the face of the dealer in the photo above).

By the time I had bagged and walked down to the players party, it was all kicking off on Twitter, spearheaded by leading Ladies poker ambassador Daiva Byrne:

The sponsors MPN head of live events, Clodagh Hansen, agreed.

After reportedly doubling down in the face of mounting criticism (when Clodagh raised the red flag that this decision which the sponsors had not been warned about in advance was not playing well, the official response from the relevant male casino employee she spoke to was “Your opinion does not matter. I know what women want”), common sense eventually prevailed and the dealers were told to put their shirts back on. Some people seemed to struggle to understand why not just the dealers might find this stunt offensive but also the ladies playing the event, and following it all over the world. Rather than attempt to mansplain it to you, I’ll leave it to Daiva to explain:

“The fact that someone thought this was a good idea is crazy. The entire situation was awkward for all involved, not least because it was demeaning for the players and the dealers. That this even happened is frankly shocking. I’ve spent the last few years trying to grow the women’s game and this just seems a huge step backwards.”

To be fair to the organisers, they did eventually put out an expression of regret and an apology of sorts alongside a pledge to donate the rake from the event to charity. However, I spoke to a number of dealers I’m friendly with in subsequent days. It turns out that this was really only the tip of the iceberg as far as dealer mistreatment goes. Several female dealers complained to me that there were routinely propositioned, asked for lap dances or offered money to take their clothes off by players, and there seemed to be a culture of tolerance when it came to sexual harassment from those in authority. Sadly this is a common blot on the poker landscape, but according to the accounts I heard reached record levels in Malta. I should point out that I personally didn’t witness any of this behaviour at the table, and if I had I would immediately have objected, as I think any male who holds himself to any modicum of decency would. 

Every dealer I spoke to said the accommodation they were provided with was filthy and squalid. One provided disgusting pictorial evidence I’ll spare your eyes having to view. Another told me her room was overrun with cockroaches, and she found one on her toothbrush that morning. 

I had dinner with Clodagh on the last night and we talked about all these issues. She was horrified and said the nobody at MPN knew about the dealer conditions until I told her, and she would have tried to do something about them if she could.

Another dealer I spoke to outlined a list of complaints (these are direct quotes):

“The dancing idea came from them 36 hours before and we was told we have to do it even though the conditions of work didn’t include dancing. They hired a load of local dealers who earn only €6-7 back at home so offering €50 to become topless is borderline prostitution.

Food was terrible it was just simple pasta every day for 7 days.

Bed bugs have bitten me and my girlfriend all over. It was the worst event I have worked in 10 years of dealing. 

Equality in the workplace almost doesn’t exist. Very rare would you see a guy on payouts or feature table.

I became a dealer to learn the game as I was too poor to have coaching. But I never see any important action anymore. They decided they want every pretty female dealing the main day 2 and onwards.

I love poker but sadly I won’t be at many more events soon if it carries on like this and the standard for players will drop. 

I predict in 1-2 years it will be a nightmare to play live events”

Another dealer chimed in:

"9 out of 10 dealers had to share a room and sometimes bed with another dealer they didn't know"

I’m lucky enough to be friends with lots of the best dealers. I have incredible admiration for the amazing job they do in the most trying conditions, often working long antisocial hours in very sub optimal conditions. if you don’t get how crucial dealers are to the whole live poker experience, go to an event where the dealers are bad some time. Believe me when I say you won’t want to go back. 

Because they are freelancers who need the phone to keep ringing to continue their livelihood, dealers don’t feel they have the luxury of being able to come forward and publicly complain when they’re mistreated. The onus therefore falls on us, the players, to speak out when we see dealers being mistreated, not just because it’s the right thing, but because it’s very much in our own self interest. I worked in companies that mistreated their employees. The result was always the same: the brightest and the best inevitably left, leaving only the most incompetent and desperate. 

Tournament organisers may feel they can get away with mistreating their dealers, and they may be right in the short term, but in the long term everyone in live poker will suffer. If they do feel they can rely on the public silence of the freelance dealer who needs the phone to keep ringing, there’s an obvious override, and that’s for players to speak out on their behalf. Remember that in live poker, it is the player who is the customer. And the customer is always right.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bluffs and cheats

With the sad recent demise of Bluff Europe magazine for whom I was a strategy columnist, I need a new home for the sort of strategy aimed at keen recreationals I used to write for them, so I'm going to start putting some of it here for now. If there are enough people reading and enjoying it, I'll continue: if not, it's back to just trip reports and opinions pieces I scuttle, my tail between my legs.

So let's talk about bluffing...

You hear a lot of talk these days about balance. In a nutshell, this means that every time you bet, you should be betting for value with a hand some of the time, and bluffing the rest of the time. If you are perfectly balanced, your opponent can't exploit you in the long term. To be perfectly balanced, you should be bluffing often enough that no matter how often your opponent calls with his bluff catchers (hands that only beat a bluff), he can't win long term if he always calls, or always folds. For example, if you bet pot, your bluffs will make a profit if your opponent calls you less than half the time, and your value bets will wipe out your bluffing losses if he calls you more than half. So to be balanced themselves, your opponent must call you down exactly half the time. The smaller you bet the more often they have to call.

So when striving for a balanced bluffing strategy, your sizing determines your frequency (how often you should be bluffing). When it comes to choosing which hands to bluff with, you should choose hands that add something to your overall strategy rather than just choosing at random.

For example, preflop it's good to choose hands that are not strong enough to call with but contain cards that either block cards you don't want your opponent to have, can flop an occasional monster, or contain cards that are not otherwise in your range. For example, a hand like a3s could be a good light three bet in a spot where your value hands would normally contain only high cards, because:
(1) having an ace is useful as it makes it a little less likely that your opponent have a strong Ax hand and a lot less likely they have aces
(2) you can flop the nut flush, the nut flush draw, or a straight
(3) if you have no other hands with a three in your range, then having no threes at all is a problem as you can't have a very strong hand on, for example, flops like 433 and opponents can exploit you by playing these flops aggressively. This is a concept known as board coverage: ideally you want all your ranges to contain enough different types of hands and cards that there is no flop where you can't have a very strong hand.

On the flop when it comes to picking bluffs, you are again looking for hands that aren't quite strong enough to call but can occasionally make very strong hands by the river. As such, semi bluffs are better than pure bluffs: a3s is a much better bluff on a 256 flop with one of your suit than ace ten off, as in addition to winning when your opponents fold, you can also improve to a better hand if you hit your gutshot or backdoor flush. Backdoor draws are particularly good as they are rarely strong enough to just call with and when they come in its easier to get paid off on the river than when a more obvious draw gets there.

On the turn, you are looking for hands that are not strong enough to call but could potentially improve to a winning hand that you can value bet on the river. For example, QT is a much better turn bluff if the board reads j875 than 23o because you can definitely value bet a 9 river, be reasonably confident you have the best hand on a queen, and sometimes be good on a ten. Whereas with 23o you're probably dead if called: even rivering a pair is unlikely to help matters. Additionally having a queen and a ten blocks some of the stronger hands that can call you don't want your opponent to have like QJ, JT, T9 and T8.

River bluffs are the trickiest. With no more cards to come, you can't semi bluff any more. You want to bluff with hands that have little or no showdown (so can only win by bluffing), block some of your opponents strong hands that can call, and don't block his weak hands (such as busted draws) that will fold. On a final board of 5A4dd8xJx, a hand like 63 with no diamonds is a much better bluff than KQdd because
(A) It has less showdown (KQdd could win at showdown versus worse busted draws: 63o has no hope)
(B) 63o blocks some straights like 23, 67 whereas KQ doesn't block anything as useful
(C) Having no diamond is good because one of the hands we really want our opponent to have is a busted flush draw. When we have KQdd ourselves it's less likely our opponent has a busted flush draw. In general, busted flush draws do not make good river bluffs

The trickiest spot of all to pick bluffs is the river check raise bluff. This is a spot where we want a hand with some showdown so that if the opponent checks behind we have the best hand (we can't depend on our opponent to bet for us so if we have a hand with no showdown but good bluffing possibilities it's better to bet it ourselves on the river rather than go for a check raise bluff), but if he bets we can be reasonably sure we don't have the best hand any more and have to raise as a bluff to win. This is where blockers come into effect.

I saw two examples of good river bluffs. The first was on an episode of Poker After Dark on PokerGo with Doug Polk, Jason Koon, Jungleman, Matt Berkey, Ike Haxton and Brian Rast. As you'd expect with such a line up the level of play was world class, and one hand in particular caught my eye. Ike and Rast have got to the river with QT and AJ respectively, on a JT529 runout. Ike checks and Brian tanked considering whether or not he should value bet. I was watching it with two of my friends, Jason Tompkins and David Lappin, both poker pros themselves, and as Rast tanked, I remarked that if he did value bet, Ike might check raise as a bluff. This is exactly what happened. The reasons why both I and Ike recognised this as a good spot to bluff are:
(1) once Rast bets, Ike knows he is only beating a bluff. Rast won't value bet any worse hand so his hand is unlikely to be good whereas had Rast checked behind he usually would be good
(2) he has a great bluffing candidate as having a queen blocks the nuts (KQ) and the ten is also a useful blocker to some other strong hands Rast might value bet (JT, T9, TT) that beat us

Blocking the nuts is particularly useful. Another hand that illustrates this came when the final event of the Poker Masters was down to the last three. On a board of AKQxx where nobody had shown much strength on flop or turn, Christner bet out with KQ (for value, clearly believing he had the best hand), and Sontheimer called with QJo (a reasonable call as given how the hand played out he would have the best hand enough of the time), leaving Fedor Holz to decide what I do with his pocket tens. Had the river been checked to him, he might very well have checked behind figuring he had the best hand but couldn't get called by anything worse, but facing a bet and a call he knows his tens are no good. But he also reasoned that since JT is the nuts, having two blockers to that hand makes his hand a good bluffing candidate, so he raised. Players of all levels are capable of bluffing rivers with a weak hand that has no hope at showdown, but the truly top class players are the ones who can recognise when their strong hand isn't strong enough to be good, but is a good candidate to turn into a bluff.

Some thoughts on cheats, thieves and other vagabonds

When I was a runner, one of the things that made me sad was that the thing that first popped into non-runners minds on hearing that I was a runner was "drug cheats". I actually believe athletics is one of the cleanest sports in this regard. It's certainly the one that tests for, chases and catches cheats the most vigorously. When a whole country is found to be cheating endemically, as Russia was, they're not afraid to blanket ban them all until it's sorted. Yes, many athletes at the upper levels cheat. Most of them are caught, eventually, but drug developers are always a few steps ahead in the drugs race, meaning most aren't caught until after they retire, or at least are well past their peak before their cheat drug of choice is identified and can be properly tested for. That means they can be stripped retrospectively of medals and records, but get to keep ill gotten financial gains from sponsorships. The other sad thing is that every time a cheat is caught and exposed, the message most people take isn't "good for athletics, chasing and catching cheats" but rather "they're all juicing".

Poker has an equivalent problem. Its history is blotted if not littered with cheats who were caught. Potripper ripped a good $16 to $18 million from the online player economy, and never paid a cent back. Perhaps even more damage was caused by the fuel it added to the "online poker is rigged" branch of the neo Luddites. Every so often another cheating scandal erupts, and unless you live under a rock you probably have been following the latest to blow up poker Twitter: the Mike Postle case. I saw no real reason to wade into the debate, as I can't really claim any special knowledge. That hasn't stopped most people, and a big part of what has fuelled it all is the fact that there is so much footage out there for people to comb through looking for clues and smoking guns in the er of Making A Murderer whodunnit docutainments. 

I guess my biggest feeling is that as great as it is that the community can come together and self police in this way (and it is great: special kudos to Veronica and Joey), it's unfortunate that these are the stories that most easily attract mainstream media attention. It would be sad if in the same way as the first thing most people outside athletics think when they hear about athletics is "drugs", poker's first out word association with the general public was "cheats".

It also seems to me that the poker world tends to overreact in the short term to incidents of impropriety, with maximum levels of outrage and hubris, but then conversely under-react in the long term, with minimal levels of punishments and deterrents. I can certainly think of no other sport, industry or sector where proven cheats are allowed to continue and even prosper. There's the danger of the particularly bad double whammy where we expose all our dirty laundry to the world, and then parade it around proudly as if there was nothing wrong with being seen in public in dirty clothes.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Brighter in Brighton

Flashback to a Nottingham a few years ago. Player of the Year Daragh Davey and I have won packages to a UKIPT there, and we are staying in the Stars hotel which leaves a lot to be desired. There’s even a safety net at the bottom of the stairs, presumably because guests keep losing the will to go on.

Our friend David Lappin has won a seat only, so he’s booked another hotel. Like many poker players, his search algorithm for hotels is simple: find cheapest. So he’s staying just up the road in the Britannia. Just as well, we think, because his new girlfriend is going to join him there the next day.

After checking in to our hotel, we walk him across to the Britannia. We arrive at what looks like a council high rise from the outside. We enter, and find it also looks like a council high rise on the inside, the kind of place you expect to see graffiti on the walls, a horse in the lift, and chalk outlines surrounded by Yellow tape on the floors. There are detergent dispensers everywhere, with large signs advising their immediate use. We walk through the corridor past rooms that smell like there might be a dead body inside, to a room that looks like a prison cell.

Daragh can’t stop laughing. All I can keep thinking and saying to David is
“You can’t bring Saron here”

Brighton has a special place in our hearts. It was our first UK poker tour stop as a Unibet ambassadors, and we met so many great people here for the first time as a result, like Donna, who literally drove me round the bend, the same bend, several times. The Chip Race was reborn here. It’s the only place I’ve managed to tell Lappin a story that he liked rather than made him go “heard it before, Grandpa Simpson”. The casino is really nice. The locals are very friendly. The sea front is very pleasant. The food is very good. We stayed in nice hotels.

This time, specifically with the hotel, not so much. It turned out it was another Britannia. Not as bad as the one in Nottingham, but the staff and general decor gave it a very Eastern European prison vibe. At least we could look down our noses, quite literally, on our favourite Eastern European, official photographer Lenka. She was in the basement, where there were mice reportedly. We were on the fourth floor, facing the sea, so there was the hope of a sea view from the window. It remained but an obscured hope.

I didn’t have to spend much time in the hotel as in happened. We got there on day 1A, which I got through short stacked. With the event being best stack forward that made it optimal to play 1B also, which I played most of before busting near the end.

I met up with Lappin, Iany, Jack Hardcastle and his super interesting friend Olly who I was meeting for the first time, but was one of those thoughtful super smart young people you are immediately engaged with and find easy to talk to. The last time I mentioned Jack on the blog I described him as larger than life, which he interpreted as “faggot”. So this time let’s go with flamboyant, as we tried to work out which of Jedward he was trying to look like. The lads went out on a session, but I went back to the hotel to get some sleep before day 2, where I literally passed out face down in the middle of sending a good night message to Mrs Doke.

I bust early on day 2, so we hung around a bit railing as one of my coaching students who we enjoyed hanging with before kickoff got all the way to headsup. Appropriately enough, after agreeing to chop and play on for the trophy and the Unibet Open Paris package, he came second. Team no winners photo. But massive congrats to Matt who has been on a real heater of late. His heater, plus that of other students (in the last two weeks, my students have two WCOOP seconds, two KO Series wins and over a dozen major final tables) is making me start to wonder if I’m a better coach than player these days.

Overall it was a very fun weekend with a great atmosphere between ambassadors, staff and players. Brighton never disappoints. There’s a decent likelihood this will be my last time to visit there, but even if it is, it has created enough happy memories for a lifetime.

(Photos apart from the crap ones of Jack/Jedward and the view from the hotel room window courtesy of Lenka Klamber)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Fun in the sun

It’s the last day of Unibet Open Malta. About half the team has some sort of mild bug, and I’m in the sick half, so my plan to play the last side event got altered to one of “go back to bed and stay there all day”. Then I remembered the book signing I’d agreed to do, so I hauled my sick sweaty ass out of bed and headed down to see what the story was. The last time I did one of these pretty much nobody showed up so I mentally set the line of signatures I’d be required to do at two.

I should have known that anything organized by the Polish powerhouse of positive energy Kasia Scanlon is never going to fizzle, but I was pleasantly surprised to see an actual queue. Bearing in mind I was ill it’s possible my memory of the event isn’t true in every literal detail, but I believe it’s true in spirit, and my recollection of the signing in summary form is:

“So what’s your name?”
“How do you spell that?”
“Where are you from?”
“Thanks Mika. And what’s your name?”
“Two i’s”
“Next. What’s your name?”
“How do you spell that?”
“Two k’s and an o”
“Next. What’s your name?”
“How do you spell that?”
“Two i’s two k’s and an o”

You get the idea. About half the queue seemed to be Finnish for some reason (which one of the Finns told me was Finnish poker legend Aki Pyysing, who has been singing the praises of the book in Finnish), and it seems that while Finns at first appearance seem to only have about four male names to choose from, no two people spell their name the same, something I can relate to as Irishman who hangs around with a Daragh, a Darragh, a Daire, and a Darach.

The trip got off to a slightly inauspicious start on a personal front when I was shown up for a total lack of sea legs. I’d only ever been on a boat three times in my life before, the last of those about 35 years ago. Having spent most of my first two boat trips leaning over the side making the Irish Sea greener, the strategy I devised was to take a sleeping pill and have my friend wake me as we docked. He proved ill suited even to this simple task, getting excited as soon as he saw the lights of Dublin, and deciding that was close enough to wake me. We were still over an hour away, almost all of which I spent slumped over the side spewing and swearing at him.

35 years is a long time though. Long enough, you might think, to grow out of sea sickness, as I have grown out of car sickness, asthma, acne and Catholicism. But no. After an initial euphoric period where we cruised gently around the bay and I thought this is actually quite pleasant, our captain put the boot down, the catamaran started heaving from side to side, and before long I was down in the toilet performing an emergency evacuation of my stomach. Not so much fun in the sun as sick on the sea.

When I was a highly paid globe trotting IT consultant, my decision making process for which projects to take didn’t stretch very far past “How much does it pay?” When I look back now at the experiences of that phase of my life both good and bad I can never even remember which ones paid particularly well. Instead my memories centre around how successful the project was (I have much happier memories of the ones that kickstarted the internet and produced the Oyster card compared to the one where we spent a year solving tricky problems only for our French paymasters to decide the whole thing was a bad idea in the first place and escort us all from the building with the added dramatic flair only gun toting security guards can bring to a mass firing), how much fun (or otherwise) the people I worked with were, how nice the place was to live in, and how much my family enjoyed it. I kind of feel the same will be the case when I look back on my poker career and in particular the live trips. It’s a real testament to what a good job the Unibet live events team does and the spirit among the players who support the tour that my abiding memories of a trip where I got sick on the first and last days, and didn’t cash a single event, are so good.

Fun in this case is very hard work, and the hard yards are put in by the crack all female squad of Nataly, Kasia, Sophie and Mai. Kasia has a special place in my heart as someone who gets the job done with the minimum amount of fuss and hassle, while also dispensing apparently endless supplies of support and concern trying to make sure everyone is feeling ok and looked after.

The welcome drinks on the roof featured some very entertaining Blingo and great company. I also enjoyed a couple of stints in the commentary box (the first of which meant skipping the party to let the hardworking duo of David “the voice of Unibet Poker” Vanderheyden and Henry “tall geezer” Kilbane go) with my Chip Race cohost David Lappin, catching up with (or rather being caught by) the divine Ms Kat Arnsby, hanging with Iany and Monika, and meeting some new esports people I hadn’t met before. It was also great to catch up with Saron and Hunter, who is already at least as loud and a better dancer than his Dad. I also enjoyed travelling too and from the airport with Nick and Brian (who taught me Meldx in the airport), and hanging with everyone’s favourite bookie Mike Hill and the thinking man’s Del Boy Barny Boatman, who surprised me by nominating Mrs Doke’s favourite movie (Robocop) as one of his most culturally most significant of recent decades.

It seems like every time there’s a Unibet Open Lappin suffers a delusional outbreak of “I could do that for a living”. Last time round it was professional dancing, after I surreptitiously caught him hip thrusting at a mortified Kat Arnsby at the party. This time round, it was male modelling. After this uncharacteristically flattering photo of him from the boat ride taken by Tambet Kask (who was clearly revelling in the freedom of being able to take photos with natural light) surfaced, he made sure it didn’t slip under anyone’s radar, thrusting it in all our faces as he had done his belly in Kat’s last year. I even heard him ask former Miss Hungary Kristina Polgar if she thought he should start entering some pageants now.

“You look good in that photo” she replied with an impressive stony face which I’m guessing helped greatly on the way to her cashing the main event.

Congrats to Daragh Davey who final tabled three side events and won one in a T-shirt that shouted “I’m here, I’m loud and I’m very much out”, Lany who was both first ambassador out of the main and last one standing, and Ann-Roos Callens who successfully defended her Queen Rules Ladies title.

I’ll leave the final word to another lady, Melania Mylioti, who not only overcame the handicap of being paired with Lappin (who was trying to bust before late reg closed in the super stack) to win the tag team event, but also delivered burn of the week in the staff tournament on the last night.

When asked by Davitsche why she was smiling, with perfect timing and poise, she delivered the Davitschastating line

“How could I not smile when I look at your face?”
Particularly appropriate for the occasion too, since it’s pretty much impossible not to have fun at a Unibet Open no matter how much you brick or are sick, as I hope you’ll find out if you join us in Paris.

(Photographs courtesy of Tambet Kask and Lenka)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The best job in the world

These days, I generally don’t complain about specific bad beats or periods of running bad: those are pointless activities best left to newbs. If I ever do find myself relapsing, I have any number of friends who will tell me to cop myself on. One common refrain is that a lot of them tell me I have the best job in the world, as I get to play cards for a living.

I haven’t been going to the WSOP for long enough to know anything other than the Rio as the venue. Popular wisdom is the owners plonked it there in the crown turd of their Vegas properties because it most needed the business. You won’t find very many people with too many good words to say for the place, including me.

For years, the Gold Coast, a cheaper and considerably more cheerful alternative located just across the road from the Rio, was a bit of a secret among the Irish. In recent years the secret that there’s a better place across the road, or at least better food options, has gotten out to other nationalities.

In the first few summers I trekked over to Vegas for the WSOP, the absolute highlight was the ice cream parlour located not far from the front entrance. The ice cream was unexpectedly good. I can’t say for certain it was the best in Vegas: I don’t have a large enough sample size to make that claim with any degree of credibility. What I can assure you is that I had never in my life tasted better ice cream up to that point.

I have no doubt that by any objective standard the ice cream was exceptional, but there may have been external factors at work that made it seem even better. It became a personal tradition that eventually extended to most of my friends that after every bracelet event bustout, the desolate walk of shame through the soulless Rio was followed by a walk across to the more cheerful Gold Coast for ice cream. Ice cream in that context is always going to taste a little better, serving as consolation.

The second bigger reason had everything to do with the server: a big happy kid called Eduardo. His English wasn’t great, but it didn’t need to be for you to understand that nothing gave Eduardo greater pleasure in the world than serving you ice cream. His face lit up as he scooped, his smile reaching a crescendo as he looked at the finished ice cream, made eye contact, and handed it over. It seemed he knew no greater pleasure than handing over something he knew would bring the recipient great pleasure.

A few years ago I walked across from the Rio to the Gold Coast only to discover to my horror that the ice cream place was no more. The venue of dozens of bust-out ice creams had been downgraded to another damn Subway. Eduardo was nowhere to be seen either: I like to think that he refused to settle for being someone who dispensed soulless sandwiches of mass production, and had gone in search of another ice cream parlour.

Even now every time I walk into the Gold Coast to the sights and smells of the Subway I feel a tinge of nostalgia and a smidgen of irk, a little more than the irk the line “But you have the best job in the world!” engenders in me when delivered by a non poker playing friend. I know for a fact that while I have a great job, one I wouldn’t swap for anything, I’m not the guy with the best job in the world, because I’ve met that guy, and his name was Eduardo.


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