Monday, March 21, 2022

EPT Prague

Bless me Father for I have shingles

It’s been a while since my last blog. There’s a couple of reasons for that: first I had shingles, a disease I knew nothing about until I caught it. I started to feel poorly after a night out celebrating my oldest son’s birthday. Initially I shrugged it off as the after effects of too much alcohol. Then the following day I felt some pain in my back and shoulder so I did what I used to do as a runner when I felt twinges: I iced. After I finished my session I noticed my back where I’d iced was bright red. Thinking I must have iced for too long I shrugged it off as an ice burn until a couple of days later I noticed it had spread to parts I hadn’t iced. 

Well let me tell you shingles is no fun at all. For the next two weeks I was pretty much good for nothing with zero energy, and the best way to describe the pain is it feels like ground up glass pushed into your skin. Pain doesn’t bother me much but with shingles there can be long term nerve pain which doesn’t sound fun at all, but thankfully mine cleared up completely. 

Vegas Slots Online

The second reason I haven’t blogged much in a while is I’ve started writing for Vegas Slots Online, following in Lappin’s footsteps. However, my focus is a bit different, as I’m happy to leave the new stories and opinion pieces to him. My initial vision for VSO articles is tales from the road and a general portrayal of what it’s actually like to be a poker pro these days.

That said I’m not giving up on this blog completely, so I’ll be updating it with more personal catch-up pieces like this one. 

It’s coming back, it’s coming back, live is coming back 

I opened my live campaign with a cash in the Irish Poker Tour Dublin stop. I followed that with a fun trip to Limerick for the Irish Poker Tour grand final. Next up was the trip to Prague for the EPT. The one sentence summary of my trip is 2 cashes, one mystery bounty, a Lock In, and the chance to catch up with a lot of great people I hadn’t seen in two years. 

The Lock In we did in Prague was our third live one. So far they’ve been very well received so we are definitely doing another at the Irish Open, and maybe one in Tallinn.


To be or not to be: that is the question

I wrote a largely positive review of the event for VegasSlotsOnline with a few minor constructive criticisms about things that could be done better next time. Or so I thought: until a Stars employee unexpectedly went to the trouble of setting up a new Twitter account to have an incognito pop. The drama didn’t last long: an official response from Stars made it clear the feedback was gratefully received and the “anonymous” account disappeared back when it came from.






Next up for me is another Stars event, the Mammoth, here in Dublin next weekend. After that I’ll be commentating on the final day of the French Poker Championships in Rozvadov, before the Norwegians and Irish Open in Citywest. As I mentioned above David and I may be making a short trip to Tallinn for the Patrik Antonius Poker Challenge. Then it’s straight into APAT and the Dublin Poker Festival, maybe a rumoured UKIPT Dublin, and then it’s time to head to the WSOP, so the next few months are mostly going to be about live poker. 

It definitely felt good to be back in the groove in Prague. But not as good as it felt to be back in peak physical shape after my illness. During that I felt every day of my age and wondered if I’d be able to handle the travel, long days and stress of live trips, but in Prague I was the one suggesting to David and Daragh that we go for long walks, and laughing as David almost respired up a lung  on the climb up to Prague castle. When I reminded him I’m 15 years older he snapped 

“You need to stop comparing us to you on this stuff: we are always going to be a disappointment to you”.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

What’s another year?

On a recent Lock In, Lappin and I joked that this isn’t a new year, it’s the 25th month of 2020. The pandemic has warped all our senses of time, but let’s pretend years are still a thing and kick this one one off in the manner I have every year since I started playing poker: with a review of the year that’s just finished.

Live poker

This was barely a thing in 2021, but I did manage to squeeze some in right at the end. I basically played just two festivals, the IPO (where I came 27th in the main event that got 974 runners), and the WSOP. I had a good two weeks at the WSOP,  cashing four events and final tabling my last event, so I have reasons to be optimistic that my live game has come through the pandemic not just intact but perhaps stronger than ever. Tiny sample size obviously, but I do feel that those who continued to work hard on their games during lock down and put in volume online have opened up a skill gap on those who didn’t (and I obviously consider myself as one of those who kept working and grinding).

Which brings me to...

Online

As I noted in last year’s roundup, the start of the pandemic felt like a return to the glory days of online, as live players were forced back online for their poker fix. It was never going to last but it was glorious while it did. Over time many of the returning players drifted away again, until the sites realised that while it might not be possible to get them to play the Big 55 every night but they could be persuaded back for a big series. 

Pros like myself also adjusted to this, going hard during series and catching up on other stuff in between. The glory days will probably never fully return. Ten years ago when my average nightly expectation was low four figures and playing poker was pretty much my only income generating gig, and it was possible to continue beating the game comfortably without having to really study, I was heavily incentivised to just play as much as possible. These days, my nightly expectation online is mid three figures, and I have many other income streams, and it’s necessary to study pretty hard to keep ahead of the game. I can’t just get away with playing every night, so I’ve moved to playing 4-5 days a week when I’m at home, and spending the other 2-3 days doing the other stuff I do, and studying. 

Other stuff such as....

Writing

This year I published my third strategy book with Barry Carter, “Endgame Poker Strategy: the ICM book”. Like the first two it topped the Amazon poker charts on both sides of the pond, which is very heartening, and so far has been very well received.  Although not exactly a massive money spinner, I do enjoy writing with Barry a lot, and we are already well advanced on our fourth book. Additionally I’m working on two other books that might come out this year, one alone (non strategy), and one with Lappin (strategy). 



I also wrote quite a few strategy articles this year for sites like PokerStrategy and PokerNews, as well as for my own free strategy newsletter. I was less active on the blog front although I did write a few for GambleOnline in addition to those I published here. One of the reasons for this was no live poker: as it returns more fully I expect to have more to blog about. 

With writing taking up more and more of my time it’s meant having to cut back in some areas, such as...

Coaching

I think I’ve always been something of a reluctant coach. I only started it because as part of the staking group I founded (The Firm) I was expected to do some, but I always felt the other lads were just better at it. However, the advent of the solvers changed that to some extent, as I was an early adapter and felt I was better at using and interpreting them than most. Nevertheless I’ve never gone out of the way to attract students: I don’t really advertise my coaching services. I don’t take on everyone who comes to me for coaching. When I do, I try to get my students self sufficient as quickly as possible (unless they really don’t want to). However, over time I have started to enjoy coaching a lot more, and 2021 was a particularly satisfying year with big results for several of my students that I felt I contributed to. I’m really not sure how much I’ll do in 2022: there’s no real plan on the front.

Unlike...

Podcasts 

Something I (and David) do put a lot of time and planning into is our podcasts, The Chip Race and The Lock In. At time of writing, we have just been nominated for another GPI award, which is very heartening. Thank you to everyone who voted for us.



Last year our audience continued to grow and globalise, and we hope to continue that this year.  I also appeared as a guest on a lot of other pods: I particularly enjoyed my appearances on Thinking Poker, The Grid, Cardschat, RecPoker, People Who Read People and Chasing Poker Greatness.

Other content

Barry and I produced a Satellite Masterclass for LearnProPoker ($20 off if you use the code DOKE) and are collaborating with Ryan on an ICM series. 

I appeared in the GPI nominated Finnish documentary series “Last Call”. I absolutely love this series and am very flattered and proud to have been involved. 

I also did a couple of Twitch streams with my buddy Kevin Martin, and Unibet streamers Ian Simpson and Emily Glancy, and one with Conor O’Driscoll.  Additionally Barry, Lappin and I did some strategy videos together that appeared on either the Chip Race channel on YouTube or Barry’s own channel

I also did some commentary at the IPO this year, and have been hired to commentate alongside Fintan Gavin at the forthcoming WSOP Circuit main event in Rozvadov. Commentary is something I do enjoy a lot and hopefully I’ll get to do some more in 2022. 

Plans for 2022

Hopefully I’m not jinxing it, but I expect to play a lot more live poker this year as things hopefully start to return to normal. I generally plan in six months chunks, and the plan for the first part of the year include the IPT Grand Final in Limerick in February, EPT Prague in March, the Norwegians and Irish Open in April, and the WSOP in May. 

One thing I want to prioritise much more next year is my own study. I did better on this front last year than in previous years. And I feel it really improved my game, so I’m keen to redouble my efforts on that front in 2022.

Finally, to sum up, I’m very excited at the prospect of the year ahead, and hope you all are too! Hope to see each and every one of you at some point in 2022.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

My 2021 WSOP campaign

Vegas blogs

I realise I didn't write a blog covering my Vegas career here, for the simple reason that I wrote three from GambleOnline and also covered mot of the stories of my Vegas this year in various podcasts.

For posterity though, I'm going to do an umbrella blog bringing them all under one roof:

  • My first GambleOnline blog on Vegas covered my latest WSOP final table and some general WSOP thoughts
  • My second one went into details on the two most surprising rulings I was on the receiving end of in Vegas
  • My third and final blog covered my latest WSOP final table and some final thoughts on the Rio as the WSOP moves on from there to Bally's and Paris next year.

Lock In episodes

We recorded a couple of Lock In Vegas special episodes:

  • The first was recorded both just before and just after our trip over to Vegas
  • The second was recorded at the end of the series and covered the biggest stories and we broke down the two biggest hands from the main event final table



Other podcasts

I also recorded a couple of other podcasts:

Finnish Poker documentary

I was honoured to be included in the wonderful Finnish poker documentary series "Last Call". My episode has just been released (it was recorded just before Vegas) and in it I give my general advice and approach for tournaments.



Wednesday, November 3, 2021

An eternity of a blink

As I walked into the Bonnington for my first live tournament in 20 months, my mind flashed back to February of last year when the Unibet Open followed the European Deepstack. The pandemic has messed the very fabric of time for all of us, and it simultaneously felt like the blink of an eye and a lifetime separated me from that event where we talked about the looming threat of COVID-19 and what it would mean. Looking back it’s clearly there was a lot of COVID in the room (lead commentator Henry Kilbane went down with it, but he was clearly the top of an iceberg that took a couple of weeks to reveal itself). It’s also fair to say most people including myself greatly underestimated what the effect would be. Most people scoffed when it was suggested the WSOP might not go ahead that summer. I’m pretty sure nobody in the room could have imagined that not only would that come to pass, but that it also wouldn’t happen the following summer, and that it would be 20 months before the next live event in Ireland. 

When we did all meet up again, we were wearing masks and sanitising our hands frequently (kudos to the organisers for the ingenious idea of using sanitizer bottles as buttons, encouraging us all to sanitize once an orbit). Nevertheless everyone seemed to be thrilled to be back, and the general atmosphere was one of the friendliest I’ve ever witnessed. 

Online day 1

I’d played the online day 1 and made it through as the shortest stack (2.5x starting stack). I was surprised by the number of people who asked if I’d fire again because I was “short”, or didn’t ask but just assumed I would. I’ll never see the “logic” of forking out another buyin when I’ve already got over 2.5 in equity. Best case scenario I bust the second bullet. That’s not a typo or a brain fart. If I bust the second bullet I’ve only blown a buyin in equity, whereas if I get through with more and have to surrender my first stack, I’ve lit over 2.5 buyins in equity on fire. Not to mention the negative hourly on the time wasted on the second bullet.

Super High Roller

Having made day 2 that freed me up to play side events until day 2 on Sunday. First up was the 1k “Super High Roller” which attracted 63 runners. I had a good day one getting up to 2.5x starting stack at a tough table that featured Max Silver, Seamus Cahill and Johnny McCullagh. I lost a few standard all ins against shorties to end the day back at starting stack, and bust early on day 2. My bust out came on the feature table: Craig Burke opened in the hijack, a shortie shoved for 5 bigs in the cutoff, and I find black aces in the small blind with 18 bbs. I decided to flat for a couple of reasons: I wanted the full double from Craig, and I have some hands that want to flat the shorty shove but will fold if Craig shoves. He didn’t, electing instead to flat. 

The flop wasn’t exactly what my black aces were hoping for: KQ4 all hearts. With an SPR of one though I’m never folding so the only decision is how to get the rest in. I elected to bet another 5 bbs to give Craig room to get worse hands in. He shoved a not worse hand: a set of 4s. A queen on the turn gave me a couple of additional outs but it wasn’t to be.

Recovery runs

I recently coached Daniel Dvoress to his first ultra race, a 50 mile adventure race in the wilds of Canada. When David asked him on the Chip Race what surprised him most about the training, he replied the amount of filler recovery runs. Most people’s intuition on how to train for a long distance race is to just try to run hard and long every day. It turns out that not only is this not good, it’s very very bad. The proper way to train is to focus on either speed or distance in your hard runs, and to recover from them with an easy run the following day. You should either be training at high intensity, or recovering at low intensity. The in between zone, where you’ll invariably end up if you just try to run hard every day, achieves nothing in practise. It’s not hard enough to improve you, or easy enough to help your body recover from a hard run. It’s a bit like only ever betting 10% of pot. What’s the point?

I also advised Espen “Shawshank” Sorlie who was training for a 10 km prop bet (he won). Training poker players is fun so if you are training for something athletic feel free to hit me up for advice. 

Since I started balancing poker and running almost a decade and a half ago, I’ve tried different ways of combining them. After much trial and error I’ve decided :

(1) Long runs are a good way to basically reset and shrug off a major disappointment 

(2) Short recovery runs are a good way to recover from minor disappointments like a live bust out 

(3) High intensity speed training is a great way to get your body and mind hyper focused before a big tournament or session 

So I went for a short recovery run around the pitches across the road from the hotel to clear my mind.

Commentary

After a quick shower and change of clothes, I headed down to do some commentary with The Tower on the Super High Roller final table. It was one of the more fascinating FTs I’ve commentated on. Mark Buckley came in as chip leader, and anyone who knows Mark knows he’s guaranteed to drive the action in those circumstances. He didn’t have it all his own way with Martin Olali and the talented Gary T in particular fighting fire with fire and giving as good as they got. Ivan Tononi, probably the most technically adept and ICM aware player at the table, played a patient waiting game and eventually claimed the win in a style reminiscent of Martin Jacobson’s WSOP FT.

Book Signing

Barry and I found time to do a book signing for qualifiers claiming a free copy of the book as a bonus for qualifying for the main event on Unibet (and anyone else who wanted to buy a copy). I also took great pleasure watching Barry scurrying around to bring me books to sign while I was playing, and delivering them to other players.

Barry’s main role in the books has always been to act as a proxy for the readers: to ask the questions they would ask and to make me keep explaining my answers until they make sense to him (and by extension them). In recent times I’ve become concerned his skill level might be getting too high to fill this role. I needn’t have worried, based on what people who played with him reported to me.  For example, Luckymo:

“Who is the English lad with The Chip Race patch, Doke?”

“That must be Barry, the guy I write the books with, Mo”

“Lovely guy. Really lovely”

“He’s not bad”

“Yeah. Really lovely guy. But....shite at poker!”

“Well...”

“Really really shite. Like I thought he’d be good because of the patch. But he’s absolutely shite”



Day 2

I started day 2 roughly half average, but not for long when my aces coolered queens and held. I kicked on from there through the bubble to be well above average with 50 left, but then I barely won another hand, ultimately busting in 27th. No particularly interesting hands. Overall I was happy that I still remembered how to play live poker.


High Roller

I max late regged this the following day. After an inauspicious start where I lost a third of my stack very first hand (and to add insult to injury the table immediately broke), I recovered to be well above average and looking good for another cash. A couple of lost all ins later I was short nearing the bubble, and my AJ losing to A8 finished me off. That just left the....

Mini Main

Another late reg saw me on a pretty sick table with Paul “uwannaloan” Delaney, Paul Carr, Keith Tuohy and Paddy Power streamer Tom Parsons. Paul Carr had been given a ticket for the seat Keith was in, so they had to switch. Keith was then immediately coolered, much to the amusement of Paul who realised he’d have been gone first hand but for the switch. Keith took it in good sport: he’s good craic to talk to.

One table move later I found myself at a new table featuring another man with an Irish Open final table, Dixie Dean, and a French lady with a glare almost as piercing as my own French lady. She made a good fold with aces when I turned a straight and she gave me the full glare down. 

I played my most interesting hand of the weekend against Dixie. After a good young English guy raised under the gun, Dixie flatted in mid position (he was playing almost every hand) and I called in the big blind with 65 suited in clubs. The flop was J73 with two clubs, so I have a flush draw and gutter. After I checked, the opener cbet third pot, Dixie raised big, and it’s back to me. I had just over three times Dixie’s raise behind, so it seemed like a good spot to shove with lots of fold equity and equity when called. 

The opener folded quickly, while Dixie went into the tank. He asked me if I had a set of threes (no comment), saying he was dead if I had. He went on probing, then switched tack saying he had a flush draw and I could have a worse one. Not exactly what I wanted to hear, so I just sat there while he ruminated. After counting out the call from his stack to see what he’d have left, and looking at the clock to determine he’d still be average if he did call and lose, he eventually called with AQ suited in clubs. He started celebrating the call when I sheepishly turned over my hand. His celebration was dampened when the turn was an eight making me open ended, and when I missed it on the river he took a while to realise the innocuous looking five made me a pair which beat his ace high.

I continued to chip up until the legend that is Mick McCloskey moved to the table to my immediate left. When he opened under the gun and it folded around to him, I joked that he never could resist the temptation to raise my blind before I looked at my cards. Black aces again, the hand of the weekend. I threebet, Mick shoved and groaned when he saw the aces. He tabled kings muttering to himself how unlucky he was. Cue the king high flop to general groans at the table, cut short by Mick’s “It’s not over yet”.

As the dealer counted down the stacks to ascertain I had fumes left, I thought back to a similar spot deep in the European Deepstack in 2008 that Mick brought up several thousand times over the next decade. Maybe Mick’s did too, as he looked at me and said “Look, nobody did anything wrong”, as if to pre-empt a decade of retaliatory moaning. Truth is that’s poker though, sometimes we dish out the beats, sometimes they are dished out to us, and if someone in that seat is destined to suck out on me, I’d prefer it to be a friend like Mick rather than a foe.

Final thoughts

One thing was very clear: after 20 months without live poker, the Irish poker public are gagging for it again. People you wouldn’t expect to see at the IPO like Max Silver and Eoin O’Dea played the 1k, and Steve O’Dwyer fired two bullets at the 500. When someone at my table remarked it was amazing someone who was 12th in the all time money list was playing it, I pointed out that if he won he’d.....still be 12th.

A big thank you and congratulations are in order for Nick O’Hara, his team and all the dealers who made the event a huge success. David and I are off to the WSOP on the 8th if we can fade getting COVID. Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The ICM book

 There’s a saying in sports that it’s much harder to stay at the top than to get there, to retain a title than to win it for the first time. I certainly found that to be true in my running career. I never successfully defended a title, and if I’m honest, I have to admit that the motivation to repeat a former success was never as strong.

When I wrote my first poker strategy book with Barry Carter, “Poker Satellite Strategy” I hoped it would sell well (mostly for Barry: I’m a professional poker player for whom this was a side venture, but his livelihood is writing so I wanted it to sell well enough to make it worth his while) and be well received. I felt absolutely no pressure though: had it flopped miserably I’d have shrugged and just moved on to the next thing. I think one of my strengths is that I don’t mind failing so long as I’ve given something my best effort, and I don’t dwell on failures. Folding is an underrated skill in poker and life: knowing when to accept you’re just not destined to win a hand or a pursuit, and just cut your losses, fold and move on to the next one. 

However, the first book was a success beyond my mildest dreams, and I did feel a certain pressure with the follow up “PKO Poker Strategy”. Mostly I didn’t want to disappoint the thousands of readers who had messaged me to say that the first poker book was one of or even the best poker book they’d read, and one that had made a massive difference in their poker lives. 

The success of the second book rolled the pressure on to book number three, “Endgame Poker Strategy: the ICM book”. A ton of work went into this book running thousands of sims and trying to distil them down into communicable concepts. Barry thinks this is our best book yet, and the early feedback has been very positive. It’s certainly the least niche: ICM is (I believe) the most important concept in tournaments and the one that’ll make the biggest difference to your bottom line. 


It takes a village

Barry and I have always gone the self publish route, figuring a traditional publisher wouldn’t generate sufficient additional sales to compensate for taking most of the profit. That’s worked out well for us, but it does place the onus on us to do everything ourselves. However, we have been incredibly fortunate at the number of people who stepped forward willing to help, whether it be content review, proofreading, promotion or whatever. These are all thanked in the acknowledgements section of the book (although I’m quite certain I forgot a few) but I’d like to pay further tribute to some of them here. It takes a village to help two village idiots write a book.

I would really like to thank all of our advance readers for their feedback and suggestions, including Sameer Singh, Daniel Dvoress, Conal Prendergast, Danny Sprung, Kevin Snelgrove, Katie Swift, Paul Romain,  and Jennifer Shahade. Sameer, Daniel and Danny deserve special mention for going above and beyond in the thoroughness of their review and the excellence of their suggestions. Danny did the first and final proofreads on the book, turning it around in under 24 hours in both cases!

I would also like to thank some of the people that helped us get this book over the line, including Kat Arnsby and Saron Harford. Thank you also to everyone at Unibet Poker, ShareMyPair, Cardschat, RecPoker, GambleOnline and PokerStrategy.com for their support over the years. Thanks kindly to K L Cleeton whose excellent app Range Trainer Pro helped us produce some of the hand grids in this book.

A special thank you to my friend and Twitch phenom Kevin Martin, who invited me on his stream to talk about the last two books. Several of the “gorilla maths” methods in the newbook arose from in depth discussion I had with Kevin who always asks the best questions.

Thanks also to thank David Lappin for being our unofficial hype man and ‘5th Beatle’ for the last three books. David also gave us feedback on the first draft, although this looked suspiciously like an exact copy of his feedback on the last two books, “include more anecdotes”. However, we took this advice to heart and if you liked the anecdotes to illustrate and break up the heavier strategy sections, you can thank David. If on the other hand you think rambling anecdotes have no place in a strategy book, please direct your abuse towards him.  

Finally I dedicated this book to Sean Ua Cearnaigh, my father who passed away last year. He instilled his love of learning and words and cards in me from an early age. Starting even later than me, he ended up publishing over twenty books in his lifetime, so I have a long way to go to catch up!

A special message for the Irish

Unfortunately we discovered Amazon are struggling to send paper books to Irish customers. We are working on the issue but until then, you can get it from the French Amazon almost as quickly as you used to be able to from the UK. We will have some copies at the IPO this month in Dublin if you are going.

Promotion

The timing of the release ended up being somewhat fortuitous in that it came out just as I came out of a period of playing online almost every waking hour for six weeks because of the various online series that were happening. While the grind went very well (I had one of my biggest upswings ever, which I only partially ascribe to positive variance. I think the hundreds of hours I spent studying sims in the final push to get the book out bore fruit by considerably improving my game), a period of playing less was just what the doctor ordered. Promoting the book has been the main priority as well as catching up on other fronts that got neglected like coaching and content creation, so I’ve done a bunch of podcasts and a Twitch appearance (I’m open to doing more in the next few weeks so hit me up if you want me on your pod or stream) and interviews. I won’t bore you with a list of them all (that’s what my Twitter is for) but I will say this one conducted by Lappin was a lot of fun. 

As I said above, when you self publish, you have to drive the promotion yourself. This has been my main focus since the book came out, and will be for the next few weeks. So far it’s going very well, with the book climbing to the top of the Amazon charts following in the footsteps of the last two books. 

One thing that helps massively on this front is earlier reviews so a big thank you to those of you who took the time to do this, and keep them coming!


On that front Barry and I will be doing a book signing at the.....

IPO

Live poker returns to Ireland on the 22nd of October, the first event since March of last year. That was the Unibet Open in the Bonnington, so it’s fitting the first event back is another Unibet sponsored event, the IPO. Lappin will be making the trip from Malta, while Barry is coming from Sheffield, and I’m looking forward to catching up with scores of others I haven’t seen in 18 months. Satellites and feeders are now running on Unibet. Hope to see you all there at some point in the weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

I’m not a doctor

I’m not a doctor. I think most kids go through a phase where they think they want to be one, but I’m pretty sure I never did. The thought of only seeing people when they’re sick held no appeal for me, and I’m squeamish about blood and a lot of other body stuff doctors need to be able to take in their stride.

When it came to choosing a career, my only real criterion was what would get me a well paying job. My careers guidance teacher looked at my results and noted I was very good at maths and science, so he suggested accountant, actuary or engineer. Accountant sounded like a very boring thing to 18 year old me, so that got ruled out. There’s a saying the actuaries are people who can’t handle the excitement of chartered accountancy, so I ruled that out too. I wasn’t entirely sure what an engineer did, but it sounded vaguely exciting and futuristic, so off I went to university to become an engineer. At the end of first year we had to commit to a specific type of engineering. The options were (in reverse order of my preference)

(1) Agricultural. I ruled that out straight away as it sounded like it involved tractors and being on farms, two things I hated. Also it was widely known that almost nobody chose this one, so it became the preserve of the unfortunate bottom ten per cent in the first year exams

(2) Civil. This wasn’t a popular choice either, it was seen as old school. To me it sounded like it involved being on construction sites in a hard hat, a situation I never had any desire to find myself in, so I put that down as my second least preferred, and hoped my exam results wouldn’t consign me to a career on building sites 

(3) Chemical. This was a little sexier, but also summoned up images of chemical spills and fume filled factories. When my lab partner almost blew one of her hands off in the lab, that sealed it for me as third choice 

(4) Mechanical. This was initially third choice because it sounded like it might involve designing tractors, or at least other machinery, which held zero appeal. On the other hand, you seemed more likely to remain two handed than chemical engineers, so it went down as the reluctant second preference

(5) Electrical/electronic. I wasn’t thrilled about the electrical option, it sounded like it might involve getting electrocuted a lot, or having to work for the ESB, and I wasn’t sure which sounded worse. Electronic on the other hand sounded sexy and futuristic as fuck, so that was the first choice (at the time, you didn’t need to decide which exact type of elec engineering you wanted to be until the end of second year)

My first choice was most people’s first choice too, so to make the grade I had to get into the top 20%, no mean feat because engineering at the time seemed to attract the smart kids from every school in Ireland, or at least the ones who didn’t want to be doctors or accountants or actuaries. I think I just about scraped it, and when the time came scraped into the better side of the electrical electronic fork.

Ironically, by the time I got through the course and knew what electronic engineering actually was (designing circuit boards mostly), I hated it, and didn’t want to be one any more. Instead I blagged my way into computers when I got out of college, starting as a programmer (that’s what we called coders back then) and eventually ending up as a freelance consultant. This paid insanely well by the standards of the time, so well that I basically couldn’t say no to anything I was offered. 

The late 90s were a boom time for people like me as corporations started to panic about the millennium bug, and saw me effectively triple jobbing on three different projects. One of them was for an American bank in the city of London and I had to commute three days a week (from Dublin!). The other four days were spent at home, every waking hour going to working on the other two projects. Needless to say, this was a pretty stressful schedule, and I quickly got run down. A permanent cold became a permanent cough, and then I started coughing up blood. This was an alarming development, but who had time to go see a doctor who would presumably just tell you to take some time off? Not me, that’s who not. So I struggled on. Now not only was blood coming up, but also weird sticky gunk that lodged in my airways cutting off my breath. On one occasion this caused me to pass out at 3 am in the bathroom of the flat my brother shared with his girlfriend in London. But for her quick thinking and knowledge of first aid it could have been a very ignominious end. Suitably chastened, I went straight to the doctor.......section of the nearest book store where there were “self diagnose what might be wrong with you” type books with flowcharts where you followed your symptoms down the chart to some horrible disease like lung cancer or brucellosis you could potentially have. 




One of my work colleagues helpfully told me the bank hired a top UK doctor one afternoon a week for their non NHS covered American employees, and got me an appointment. The doctor told me to go to his private practise in Harley Street where he did an X-ray and decided that while coughing up blood and gunk wasn’t good there didn’t seem to be anything seriously wrong with my lungs apart from my asthma. He was at a loss to explain what was causing the symptoms, so he referred me to a hospital. After months of further tests and other specialists, several more doctors were at a loss and nobody was able to shed light on what my problem was beyond working too hard. My symptoms gradually subsided, but I started getting others like heart palpitations and fasciculations. I still had the self diagnosing book, and had started scouring the early medical web sites like WebMD, trying to figure out which horrible neurological disorder I was now developing. In the absence of prescribed medication, I started gobbling all sorts of herbal medicines various web sites recommended, and upped my dosage of ones I’d been using for years like garlic and echinacea. The latter in particular was touted as a near miraculous panacea on all the herbal medicine sites so I was taking the maximum recommended dose. 

My wife eventually suggested I return to our old doctor in the place we used to live, as he always seemed to have a good handle on me. So I took the train and paid him a visit. He spent almost an hour listening to my tale of woe and many theories as to what I might have, and after a quick physical inspection he said

“I think the problem is you’ve seen too many doctors in the last year and read too many medical websites. I don’t think there’s actually anything wrong with you at this point”.

A cloud lifted, and I immediately felt better. It was all I really needed, to hear that it was all in my head at this point. To this day, I’m not sure what caused the initial problems with the coughed up blood and gunk, but I did find one article that suggested that all the symptoms I experienced could be an allergic reaction to echinacea, something that apparently is reasonably common in asthmatics. So it’s possible that all the time I was gobbling down echinacea to “treat” my problem I was actually exacerbating it.

Over time that part of my life faded in my memory. It returned recently when I saw the debates raging on social media between the vaccers and anti vaccers. I see a lot of my earlier self in those who did a “deep dive” into the topic with the help of a search engine and came out of the experience thinking they now know more than people who, unlike me, didn’t mind the idea of only seeing sick people and weren’t squeamish about blood and went off to college and got a real medical education.

A few of these have tried to draw me into a debate. I always politely demur on the basis that I’m not a doctor. When it comes to medical stuff, I’m the guy who kinda knows the hand rankings, and nothing else, and not even. I’m not a doctor, and neither are the people who want to debate it out with me, because actual experts don’t try to engage noobs like me in medical debates, in the same way that high rollers don’t go looking for people who barely know the hand rankings to debate poker strategy. 

Did I mention that I’m not a doctor?



Friday, August 20, 2021

Chatting cards and implicit collusion

It’s been a funny old summer. Since I took to poker at the young age of 42 in 2007, I’ve spent most of my summers in the desert chasing jewellery. I first showed up in Vegas bracelet hunting in 2008 and until the pandemic went every year (except 2012 when a desire to watch the Olympics conspired with a lack of desire to lose the 25k that I’d lost at the series pretty much every year until then to convince me to sit that one out). 

This summer has been largely similar to last summer, except we remained in lock down through the start of it. After a period of solid grinding the various series that were on, I was feeling a little burned out with online poker, and a lot of other stuff on my To Do list had piled up still undone, so I decided to scale back my play to a couple of days a week to allow me to catch up on the coaching, writing and content creation while enjoying the Euros and the Olympics. 


Satellite Master Class

In addition to the third book, Barry and I have been working on a satellite master class course for LearnProPoker. 

This is the course for you if you prefer video content to books, or if you enjoyed the satellite book and want to take your satellite game even further.

If you have previously read the book we cover a lot of the same foundational material, but we go way beyond it. It features 30 videos and includes a lot of content we simply could not put in the satellite book because of the format. This includes post flop strategy, live sessions and hand reviews. We didn’t leave anything on the table with this, everything is covered. We also have way more hand examples in general than in the satellite book. 

If you bought the satellite book just to brush up on your satellite skills and you learn well from reading, you probably don’t need this course. The book more than covers the fundamentals of satellites. If, however, you want to make satellites a regular format you crush or if you learn better with videos, I highly recommend this course.

If you use the signup code DOKE you get $20 off.




The third book

My third poker strategy book with Barry Carter is now basically finished, subject to final revisions and edits. This one is on ICM, and should be out in the next few weeks.

Cardschat

When my first book came out, one of the things I did at Barry’s behest to promote it was start an AMA thread on Cardschat, the world’s friendliest poker forum. I quickly realised that wasn’t just a tagline, and it was the start of a beautiful friendship. I was still answering questions there when the second book came out so we just kept going, and I was both honoured and thrilled when they asked me to become a full ambassador for the site this summer. In addition to the usual ambassador duties, I’ll be creating some exclusive video and written strategy content for them, so if there’s anything you’d like me to tackle on this front, let me know. 




Poker concepts I understood before poker

On my recent appearance on the People Who Read People podcast, Zachary asked me what things I took from running into poker that proved useful. That got me thinking about concepts I learned purely from poker. I could think of surprisingly few. It’s maybe a function of how late I started playing, but I think I’d learned most of the important concepts like equity, Ev, bluffing and balance elsewhere. In fact, even something as specific as implicit collusion.

Implicit collusion in poker is where a number of players realise that’s it in all their interests to cooperate in a hand rather than simply maximise their individual chances. For example, when the shortest stack moves all in on the bubble of a satellite, a group of players may decide to check the hand down to maximise the chances the shorty busts. 

One non poker example comes from my refereeing days. I don’t talk about these very much, largely because of all the things I’ve tried and done in my life, refereeing gave me the least pleasure and most unpleasant experiences. It really is a thankless task that requires levels of masochism beyond any I possess. That’s another story though, and not my point here. One of the few pleasant memories I have from the two years I reffed is the Special Olympics. The last match I refereed there (which turned out to be the last match I ever refereed) was a semi final between Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

I doubt you need me to tell you this particular pairing caused considerable trepidation among the organisers to the point they considered splitting the teams and putting them in different semis. I was called to a meeting the day before and asked if I thought this was a good idea. I didn’t. Apart from the inherent unfairness to the other teams of manipulating the draw in this way, I advised them that if they did, both teams were likely to win their semis, as they appeared to be a class above the opposition. If that happened, splitting them now was just kicking the can down the road, and a final that had to be canned would be a much bigger deal than a semi. So the draw stood. I asked what the situation was if one or both teams refused to take to the field. 

“Immediate disqualification”

So it was with considerable trepidation I approached the manager of both teams before the match. They were socially distancing before it was in fashion, eyeing each other warily. The Saudi manager was first to break the silence.

“My team cannot take the field”

“Why not?”

“Political reasons”

At this point the Israeli chimed in

“The same goes for my team”

Both men seemed hesitant, even sad, about the words coming from their mouths. I looked at the two sets of players eagerly warming up, apparently unaware of the storm brewing.

“What happens if we both withdraw? Do our players get bronze medals?” the Israeli asked hopefully.

I shook my head. 

“I’m afraid the rules state any team not taking to the field is disqualified”

Both men looked at their sets of players, then at each other, their shared sadness obvious. An awkward silence followed.

“The match is scheduled to start in five minutes. Are both your decisions final or is there someone you can consult with?”

They looked at each other.

“I can try to phone my association. But I’m not optimistic”

The Israeli mulled this over.

“I can try also but it’ll take a while to get to a phone”

He glanced at the Saudi who concurred.

“Yes, it would take me a while too”

“Ok, well, see what you can do”

Both men pulled me to one side. Both said exactly the same thing.

“If I’m not back in time, start the match. If I’m told to pull my team, I’ll do it during the match”

Then both men left, and returned shortly after I’d blown the final whistle. If I didn’t know better I’d say they both watched from a discreet distance, waiting for the final whistle. 

Both lodged an official objection to the match having gone ahead, but thanked me privately for having done so. 

Implicit collusion, clearly.


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