Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Last Time

There’s a last time for everything we do in our lives. Sometimes we know it’s the last time, but more often we don’t. As I’ve noted before on this blog, every year in Vegas there are pros playing their last WSOP, and only rarely do they realise it. There’s also the last time we do something we love, the last time we see a loved one or friend, or even the last day of friendship.

Knowing it’s the last time for something always makes for a bittersweet occasion, as it did in Madrid at the last ever MPN tour stop. This has been one of my favourite tours ever since I played my first a few years ago up near Dublin airport. You see the same faces at stops, always a good sign, and testament to what a great job my friend Clodagh Hansen has done engendering a feel good atmosphere with a budget that’s a small fraction of what bigger operators like Stars and Party have to spend.

There can be a slipping of standards when a team knows they’ll be redundant soon, but there was no sign of that in Madrid. I’d struggle to find anything to criticise about any aspect of the event. The registration process seemed a little inefficient, and some of the rulings had more than a faint whiff of home town decisions, which in my experience is often a problem in Spain. My exit in the 220 side event was a bit of a head scratcher, nothing as egregious as the all time worst decision I was ever on the wrong side of (in San Sebastian years ago) but there’s at least some possibility I was angle shot (I’ll give the details on that later). But other than those minor quibbles, top marks across the board for the MPN team.

Being sensible for once

I got there late on Thursday afternoon, after day 1A kicked off. There was still time to late register and not miss more than a level or two, but on two hours sleep it seemed wiser to take an easy evening and have an early night ahead of 1B, which is what I did.

My day 1B was a pretty miserable affair with long periods of card death. I may have messed up the first hand on the turn, when I decided to start bluffing on an ace high board with a hand that had picked up a lot of equity because everyone had checked the flop. The plan was to keep barreling on the river if I thinned the field sufficiently (which I did to one seemingly quite reluctant caller). The plan was aborted partially because I hit a pair giving me a small amount of showdown equity, but mostly because I suddenly heard a voice in my head, my own, telling endless online players who come to me for advice on what adjustments they need to make when they play live: “Live players don’t call turn and fold river with a pair”. My opponent had a better pair and won.

A minor loss, but not exactly starting on the right foot. Most of the rest of the day was a case of staying patient and disciplined as my stack dwindled further. If we must insist on imposing a narrative on random data the narrative would have been that patience and discipline was rewarded with a late surge up past starting stack, but there’s a twist. On the second last hand of the day, I got queens in preflop against ace queen, and the ace on the turn left me bagging up seven bigs for day 2.

Day 2 times 3

There was no spin up: early on day 2 I got the lot in with AJ versus KJ and a king on the turn sent me packing. My decision to come to Madrid was made rather late so I didn’t play as many satellites as I normally would, but still had two other bullets in the clip, both of which unfortunately got fired to no avail.

The incomparable Katie Swift

After my first stint in the commentary box and an interview with the film crew, I jumped into the 220 side and got on a really fun table. Most of the fun was instigated by motormouth Katie Swift, whose presence would enliven any table. A lot of the time when I sit down at a table, I get the feeling people start doing or saying certain things in the hope of “making the blog”. Obviously people never vent these thoughts: well unless they’re Katie Swift.

Every time a major talking point presented at the table, Katie wanted to know if it would make the blog. First she lobbied for a discussion on some rule that I lost interest in as soon as I realised what it was about (nothing poker related bores me more rulings discussion: if you want those debated at length Lappin is your man). Next she lobbied so passionately for Marmite I found myself checking whether her patch said Grosvenor or Marmite. After a digression that saw her digging out a photo of me she had on her phone that proved my idea of snow gear is pretty unusual, she then got into a discussion on marshmallows saying she loved them so much it didn’t matter who pissed on one, she was having it. That branched out into a rather hilarious lost in translation discussion with her neighbour who thought she was talking about being pissed on by Swedes rather than pissed on sweets.

Possible angles

As hinted earlier, my exit from this event was blogworthy. Finding myself down to 13 big blinds I moved all in with ace ten from the cutoff. The small blind missed the move and attempted to limp. After it was explained to him the extra half blind would have to stay in the pot if he folded, he decided in for a penny in for a pound (or in for a small blind in for the lot) and shoved. And this is where it gets interesting.

The big blind who had looked at his cards instantly said nothing and flipped them over, ace jack. He moved no chips in or as far as I or the dealer could tell said nothing, but looked immediately at the small blind, who then turned over his cards to reveal king ten. The dealer then looked at me to turn over my cards and I pointed at the ace jack and said “that’s a fold right?”. After he nodded I turned over my ace ten, at which point the big blind now piped up “Is a call, is a call”. The dealer looked at him confused, then accepted it was a call, and got him to move his chips in.

Now it’s possible the big blind (a very experienced player who won MPN London) had clearly decided to call and just flipped over his ace jack thinking that was enough, but in my mind at least it’s also possible he left enough ambiguity there to be able to claim it as either as a fold or a call after he saw the two hands he was up against. This being Spain I had very little confidence I’d get a favourable ruling so I decided to let this one slide.


Turns out though, that that wasn’t even the most blogworthy thing about the event, because Katie Swift kicked on to win the event outright, helped in no small part she told me the following day by a pep talk from her mum Sue, a lovely lady Katie had me give a signed copy of my book to.

Doubles Troubles

On Sunday, the final day, David and I went for brunch with Clodagh, Bobby, Parky, Jesse and a few others. I'd already had breakfast so I texted Clodagh to just order dessert for me. Dessert turned out to be an order of magnitude greater than I expected, and Bobby took this sneaky pic of me struggling gamely to finish it.


David and I then went in to play the Doubles event, or as the MPN blog was jokingly calling it the Couples event. They even went so far as to speculate whether romance would blossom between myself and my cohost. Any chance of that was ended when David not only made us one of the early bustouts but also subjected me to a trademark confused confusing almost nonsensical Grandpa Simpson of the hand history in the Mexican we went to afterwards (shoutout to Mad Harper for the recommendation).


As you can probably tell from my face, I was less than enthralled.

Legends

We toyed with the idea of entering the last side event, a bounty, which had some additional appeal given that PKOs are my latest specialisation (more on that later too). Instead though, we opted for a bit of commentary with all time legends Jesse May (the first voice you hear at the start of every episode of the Chip Race), which was a lot of fun. We then retired to the hotel where our ladies were waiting with wine, to bring down the curtain on a very fun if unprofitable trip.


I can’t really complain though. Having cashed for over 20k live in January and made the best start ever to a year online since moving more to PKOs, I was due a speed bump.

PKOs

It’s been clear for quite some time that PKOs are the most profitable online mtts to play right now. Recreationals love them, and because they’re new and the strategy deceptively complex, almost nobody plays them very well. Despite knowing this for ages, I’ve shied away from them for too long, because I don’t enjoy playing a game if I don’t feel I have a very good handle on the strategy. This is actually a pretty bad leak for a professional to have, because it’s not the size of your skill that matters, it’s the size of your edge. You could be a pretty bad cash player, but if you found a game where everyone else was even worse, you should hop in. But for me a lot of the joy of poker is as a pure strategy game, and if I find myself floundering around strategically it doesn’t matter how much I’m winning, I’m not having fun.

PKOs are so new there’s almost nothing out there on the strategy, and we are all still trying to work it out. I only moved from limit cash to stts after working out push fold from first principles so that I felt reasonably expert. The move to satellites came only after I’d mastered ICM in the stts. Before I moved into headsup sit n goes, I worked out as much of the maths as I could. So before committing to PKOs I wanted to do the same.

That process started about a year ago when I finished work on “Poker Satellite Strategy”. Recognizing that the best way to reverse what was now a clear decline in my online profitability was to move into the most profitable games there are online (PKOs) I rolled up my shirt sleeves and started working on the maths. The motivation initially was purely for my own benefit, but....

The difficult second book

When Barry started probing for ideas on another book we could write together, I mentioned I was doing a lot of work on PKOs. He pointed out that with so little content out there on PKOs that might be our second book, so as I worked out the maths and refined it into strategic ideas, I started presenting it to Barry. He’s clearly a lot more adventurous than I am because he immediately started playing PKOs. Playing and crushing: it seemed hardly a week went by that he wasn’t sending me a screenshot of another big PKO score.

On the most recent episode of The Chip Race, we announced that the book is coming soon. I initially thought it might be a much tougher sell to convince people to part with hard cash for my strategic insights on PKOs than on satellites, given my long-standing reputation as a satellite expert, but....

The webinar and video

I presented the biggest ideas I have on PKO strategy in a webinar recently. I expected the audience to be almost entirely recreational, so I was surprised on the night to find three absolute beasts forked out to hear what I had to say. It’s a pretty bad show when at best you’re the fourth best player in your own webinar, but I soldiered on. Since then I’ve made the two hour video available for $100, and again been surprised at how many beasts have bought.


I intend to run some more webinars/group coaching sessions in the next few months on other stuff I’ve put a lot of my own study time into, so keep an eye on my Twitter if you think you might be interested. I have done a lot of work on peeling three bets out of position (something I identified as a leak in my own game) and exploiting weaker live players (something many online players have come to me for coaching on).

Doke the lullaby

This log has taken rather a shilly turn but I have one more thing to plug. Probably the two questions I’ve been asked the most in the last year are “Is there an audiobook version of Poker Satellite Strategy?” and “When is the audiobook coming?”

Initially we had no intention of doing one because the content didn’t seem to lend itself to the format but given the apparent demand we bit the bullet and went for it. Barry did the rewrites necessary to make it more audiobook friendly, so there are some additional expositions and explanations in the audiobook not in the printed or ebook versions to compensate for the charts we had to leave out (which are still available in printed form to audiobook purchasers if they so desire), and I did the late night recordings with all the devices in the house shut down to eliminate background noise, which Barry then edited. Shoutout to Jared Tendler who also narrated his contributions. And if we only sell two audiobooks and this was all an elaborate troll to get us to waste a few weeks of our lives, well played “when’s the audiobook coming?” people.

So if you are the type of person who learns best through listening (and I suspect a lot of podcast consumers are), or you just think my voice banging on about satellites is the perfect cheap cure for insomnia, here’s where the audiobook is available for now:

iTunes: books.apple.com/gb/audiobook/p Google Play: play.google.com/store/audioboo

Kobo: kobo.com/us/en/audioboo


Podcast guest? Moi?

I felt a bit like a guest on the Chip Race when I talked about PKOs on it with Barry, particularly when David hit me with the “You’re known for satellites but not PKOs. Why the Hell would anyone want a book on PKOs by you?” question. I was an actual guest on a recent RecPoker episode, which was tremendous fun and well worth staying up past midnight and turning all the devices in the house off for.

I also recorded episodes of the Elliot Roe podcast (fascinating guy who we also have as a guest on a forthcoming Chip Race) and Brad Wilson (who has mastered the art of booking the top guests, though he might be out of leads now given he had to resort to interviewing me) which haven’t aired at time of writing, but should be out soon.

MPN - the final word

As I said already, it is with great sadness I say goodbye to the MPN tour. I hope it’s also not goodbye to the many regular faces I only saw at MPN events. If the poker industry loses Clodagh Hansen, it’ll be a massive own goal. If I never see the many friendly faces who I only saw playing those events again, it’ll be a major loss to me. Thank you all and everyone, but especially the ones (like Leo pictured below) who took the time to come up and tell me how much they got from my first book.


Obviously I’m biased, but I’d love those players to replace the hole the demise of the MPN tour leaves in their life by giving Unibet events a try. I genuinely believe Unibet events epitomise the same “make it fun for recreationals” ethos.

Next up for me is the Unibet sponsored Dublin festival. I’ll be more or less living in the Bonnington for the next seventeen days, and after that head straight to London with my cohost for the UK poker tour event in Aspers. So I hope to see a lot of you over the next month. Who knows...you might even do something that makes the blog.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The R word

Continuing my look back at 2019 and look forward to next year and decade.

Coaching

For most of the time I’ve been coaching, I didn’t rate myself very highly as a coach. When I started staking I outsourced the coaching to Lappin, and when the Firm staking expanded to the point we all had to chip in on the coaching front, I rated myself a pretty distant third to Lappin and Daragh Davey. However, I think I’ve gotten a lot better over time, and when I was hired to coach another stable I had to up my game.

This year I did more private coaching than ever before. I only take on or keep students as long as I’m convinced I can help them enough to give them value for money, which means I turn away more than I take on. Until this year I’ve seen my specialisation as budding online pros, and that demographic continued to make up about half my students this year. My approach has always been the “teach a man to fish”: I see my job as teaching these students the methodology I use to look at and study poker situations with the tools that are available rather than (for example) “how to play Ace Queen”.

A growing part of my coaching which grew to the other half this year is what I would call highly motivated recreationals. Most of them have successful careers in other areas (business and trading being the most common) and approach me with some variation of “I don’t want to be a pro, I have no illusions about my potential but I just want to be as competitive as I can be”. The irony is their rate of improvement is often quite staggering and several of them have turned into significant online and live winning players. It took me a while to work out my approach had to be different for this group: typically they don’t have the time or inclination to spend hundreds of hours with the solvers, but can assimilate what someone who has (like me) very quickly if it’s properly explained.

Study

In terms of volume, I put in as much work away from the tables as ever, but I still feel this is an area where I need to improve. Specifically my study tends to be too sporadic (I do it in bursts rather than consistent effort) and disorganised (no real method, I just study whatever I feel like that day). I realised that this is because of where I’ve tended to place study on my priority list: near the bottom. I’ve tended to see it as what I do when I’m not playing, coaching, writing or creating content, but more often than not when I have spare time from my other activities, I’m tired and not particularly motivated to study.

Therefore, this year I want to take a more disciplined approach to study that mirrors my physical training. I run an hour five days a week when I’m at home, with a further four hour long run once a week, and one rest day. My plan for 2020 is to study at least an hour day, with one longer session every week. I feel like this level of effort is needed as the pace at which the competition improves is getting faster and faster, and it’s never been easier to fall behind the curve.

Health and fitness

These have both been good this year. I trained all year with no injury or major illness. My only illnesses were a few minor colds which I was able to work and train through. It’s notable though that all these illnesses were picked up on live trips, which has been the pattern since I started playing poker.

The R word

My biggest regret this year is how my online year ended up: not just in terms of profitability but also volume. This was my lowest volume year online since I started playing. Part of that is the changes in the online landscape make it impossible or at least undesirable to play the same number of tables as I used to. My days of comfortably 24 tabling are in the past for now: these days I rarely go over 12, and with more sites switching over to banning HUDs, I will almost certainly have to decrease that even further.

My biggest fear right now is that the days of the online pro may be numbered. In the middle of this decade, my friends and I were told by a Stars employee that Stars and other major sites were looking to wipe out our profession, seeing us as direct competitors for whatever recreational money was about. In the last couple of years Stars seems to have doubled down on this strategy, looking not only to turn poker into what every other form of online gaming is (a game where the only long term winner is the site), but also to try to lure poker players over to bingo, slots and casino. Unibet are one of the few sites that aren’t treating poker as a gateway drug, as their recent aggressive marketing of Hexapros to casino players proves. Bit for the most part the sites seem to be something the sites want to use to lure new customers in the door,cans then try to get them to switch to other forms of gambling.

I wasn’t in Prague this year, but my friends who were said there was general gloom and doom among the online players there that sites like Stars were close to their objective of killing the online pro. Last year my ROI on Stars was a measly 8%, a pale shadow of my historical ROI there (in excess of 60%). You might think “So what? Anyone can have a bad year” but here’s the rub: that measly 8% profit margin puts me well inside the top 1% of players on Stars, roughly where I was relative to the field back when I won at ten times that rate. Lappin told me he looked at the ROI of the top 25 Irish players in the last year, and as a group we are making 6% on an ABI of $40. That’s no longer a living wage.

One area I’ve historically been very strong is game selection, but I’ve let that slip in recent years. It’s too easy to just click on the Stars lobby and register a few games to fill my screen, but my results have suffered since the days I used to put a lot of work into investigating what the most profitable games on each site were, and restricting myself to those. That’s one thing I need to get back to in 2020.

All of which has me thinking about the R word (retirement). Retirement for me doesn’t mean quitting poker completely: I don’t see myself doing that any time soon. But poker has been not just my full time occupation for the past decade, but also my primary hobby and something of an obsession. I’ve been handsomely rewarded for my dedication and time, but in recent years the returns have diminished. If the trend continues then I can no longer justify continuing at the same level of intensity. As I said, I’m not talking about quitting, but would move to playing what and when I feel like. There is a general drift of my generation of online pro away from the game. At our recent annual Christmas get together, Mireille noted that this was the first one she attended where we barely spoke about poker at all.

However, I’m not there yet: I want to give it all I have again in 2020 and see what happens. While most of my friends are experiencing similar diminishing returns, a few of the younger ones had great years online, so assuming they’re not just statistical outliers, it may be possible to reverse the trend by going harder than ever in 2020.

Decade

This is not just a new year but also a new decade, so it’s worth looking back at the last decade. At the start of the last decade I was hitting my stride online. I booked all of my biggest winning years online in the first half of the decade, fuelled mostly by satellites. Changes in the ecosystem and the hostility of Stars to their most loyal customers started to bite in the middle of the decade, and my online profits dipped sharply around then. If I remember correctly 2015 was my worst year ever online, and my best live (mostly down to chopping a WSOP event). Things picked up online again in the next few years as I moved most of my online volume away from Stars.

Content creation became a much bigger part of what I do in the last few years, and while it will continue to be a major part of what I do, I’m hoping to move the focus back a bit more towards my own play, particularly online.

This blog ended up a lot longer than I intended it to be, so thank you to those of you still reading this far. I wish you all a happy New Year, and hope you achieve all your goals in both poker and life in 2020!












Friday, January 3, 2020

2019: the year the poker died?

A few years ago a friend of mine from esports told me he was a multiple world champion but “these days I’m just a dirty little content creator”.

Poker content is an area that has undergone explosive growth in recent years. There are more books and articles than ever being written, more training videos and courses, more YouTube vlogs and podcasts, and everyone’s suddenly on all the social media channels. A seemingly almost insatiable demand from recreationals is being met by more and more pros who see sufficient upside to investing some most or even all of their time in this area. The upside comes in the form of passive income, whether it be from sponsors (back in the day, sponsors asked “where are your results?” when deciding who to sponsor: now it’s more of a case of “show us your content and social media”).

Until now I’ve always been in the “some” category when it comes to how much time I’ve spent on activities not directly related to my playing, but 2019 was the year I devoted more of my time and energy ever to extra curricular (or extra tabular) activities. It’s also the first year over half my income comes from the stuff other than playing.

But let’s start with the playing, because I see myself primarily as a player still.

Online

The one word summary: meh. I did ok, but 2019 was the least profitable year for me online in the last five. It’s also been the lowest volume I’ve played in my entire career. My biggest priority in 2020 is to put the work in and reverse both those stats.

Live

The two word summary: also meh. In terms of cashing I’ve continued my customary consistency, notching up 24 live cashes on the Hendon mob, my most ever in a single year (and there were two other significant live cashes that didn't make it onto Hendon: a tournament in the Vic I chopped with Daiva and a satellite to the main event at the WSOP I won a seat in).


The problem is that they’ve mostly been small cashes, and the big result in particular has eluded me. I started the year very strongly final tabling the Dublin Grand Prix high roller and almost final tabling the main event. Four more crossbars at the Aussie Millions were followed in February by another main event cash at Unibet Open Sinaia (where I survived for hours on the bubble with 3 big blinds or less) and my second final table in the Deepstack Open. My third final table came at the Irish Open in a turbo side event, but again I was one of the first people out on the final table. My fourth final table came in a small daily Deepstack event in Vegas, but again I couldn’t make the final six. Nine other cashes made for a decent WSOP campaign, but again it felt like a lot of crossbars, with my deepest run coming in the online event where I finished 39th (does that event count as live?)

I followed Vegas with a min cash in the Party Millions. The 20k I got for that turned out to be my biggest score of the year, and again, does it even count as a live event given that I played day one and two online and bust within a couple of orbits after flying to Rozvadov for day three. Another min cash in the Battle of Malta main event was followed by one in the IPO mini main. I thought I was going to get the big result in my last outing of the year, the Road to PSPC, when I was top three in chips three tables out, but once again I ran out of steam on the second last table and bust in 11th.

All of which adds up to a breakevenish year live (which means a losing year when you factor in expenses) but I’m happy with how I played live throughout the year. Sample size is always too small live in one year, but the fact I kept getting into position is encouraging, as is the fact that after reviewing my livestream appearances with a fine comb I couldn’t find any major errors or stuff to be unhappy about.

Ambassadoring

I got a lot of satisfaction continuing to represent both Unibet Poker and ShareMyPair as ambassador this year. I am very grateful to both for their continued support through some controversial and contentious moments in 2019.

I’d particularly like to thank all the Unibet employees I interact directly with who made this the most fun year since I signed with Unibet. This year the ambassador team felt like a real team.

Chip Race

In many ways for me personally, 2019 was the year of the Chip Race. At the end of 2018, Lappin and I both felt there was a strong likelihood the podcast had peaked and the only way was down, or at least sideways. How wrong we were. 2019 was the year we were not only nominated for a Global Poker award but we pulled off a major shock to win it (nobody was more shocked than one prominent pro whose characteristically peevish response to things not going his way made our victory all the sweeter). It was the year our audience grew by over 50% from what we thought was a peak, and the year we stopped having to chase whatever guests we could get and started getting to pick and choose whoever we wanted.


The podcast is very much a labour of love for me and in particular Lappin, who really pours his heart and soul into it. We complement each other almost perfectly not just in terms of our personas on the show but also our strengths and weaknesses behind the scenes. Total trust is vital to any working relationship that close where so much has to be unwritten or unsaid and David is one of the few people in poker I totally trust and know always has my back. He also puts into ridiculous hours writing, producing, recording, editing and promoting the show.

David and I, like most poker pros, know when to fold ‘em as well as when to hold ‘em. Not just our poker hands, but everything else from relationships to projects. With The Chip Race at an all time high right now it’s unlikely we will be hanging up our microphones any time soon, but the day will come when we feel we have done as much as we can with it, and it will end on our terms.

Which leads me onto...

Blog

The blog is the one constant over the entirety of my poker career as far as content creation goes. It’s hard to keep coming up with new stuff to say or new ways to say it, and there have been times when I thought I’d reached the end with it. Actually I did mentally retire it at the start of 2016 after the Bowie blog, but brought it back when inspiration struck again.

This year I wrote 15 new blogs and managed to maintain and even grow my readership. At the start of 2019 the blog went through 600k readers and near the end through 700k. Two of the blogs I wrote this year are in the top ten ever in terms of number of readers: the Negreanu one (second most read ever) and the dealer controversy in Malta one (eighth), with another falling just outside the top ten, the one announcing the book.

Which leads me onto...

The book

If 2019 was the year of the Chip Race, it was also to a large extent the year of the book. I published my first poker strategy book, “Poker Satellite Strategy”, co-authored with Barry Carter, at the start of March. We have both been very happy both with the sales (there’s always a risk when you go the self publishing route you’ll fall flat on your face without a big publisher behind you) and the reception. A big thank you to everyone who helped us spread the word, especially Clodagh, Daiva, Kat, Donna, Lara, Kasia, George, Chad and Lappin.

Working with Barry is a very pleasant experience. Similar to my relationship with David we complement each other very well, with Barry doing all the legwork that’s not my bag. Two more books are in the works and should appear at some point in 2020.

Other content

During 2019, I wrote a monthly strategy for Bluff Europe (until it’s closure), and contributed a number of strategy pieces to PokerNews and PokerStrategy, made some strategy videos with Gareth James and Barry Carter, published a regular free strategy newsletter, and did some Twitch streams with Kevin Martin, Ian Simpson and Collin Moshman.

I also appeared on a few other podcasts: Jamie Kerstetter and Chad Holloway PokerNews pod, Red Chip (with Barry Carter) and Elliot Roe (not released yet).

(This blog is turning out a lot longer than intended so I’ve decided to split it into two parts. Part two coming in a few days)

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....
“Um.....no”
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.

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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.

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