Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Catching the little ones

My days as a competitive runner seem more distant than they actually are (less than 4 years ago I was a national champion at 24 hours and 3 years ago had just won the world's most prestigious 6 hour indoor race setting a number of national records in the process). My biggest weakness back then was I never managed to successfully defend a title. It seemed that with the best will and preparation in the world, once the gun went and I found myself in a race I'd previously won my unconscious was going "meh, already done this once". The flip side was that my biggest strength was I seldom if ever followed one lacklustre performance with another. Almost all my biggest wins followed hot on the heels of crushingly disappointing races. My biggest triumph (winning the New York ultra marathon) was a few weeks after the most disappointing race I ever ran (2:52 in my last ever Dublin marathon). If I was a racehorse, the jockey would have to be prepared to risk overuse of the whip.

I went into the 300 side event in UKIPT Manchester still smarting from a very lacklustre performance in the main event. I'd spent most of the previous 48 hours resting up in the hotel room reflecting on a few bad calls that effectively scuppered my main. I hate excuses for performance failure: if you're that way inclined you can always find an excuse or a reason to fail. I've become very stoical about variance and bad beats, they really don't bother me much any more, but bad play (on my part) is a completely different matter. When I started playing, I was still one of the physically and mentally fittest people on the planet. When you know you can run from Dublin to Galway in a day with an injury or an illness, you tend to think sitting at a poker table making good decisions for hours on end is a piece of cake by comparison. It's only recently that it's hit me that I'm not as young or in anything like that kind of shape any more and illness or tiredness are much more likely to affect me at the table. I therefore need to start thinking more about preparing myself physically and mentally for a live tournament the way I used to for a race in the days before, rather than just turning up to play after a couple of sleepless nights.

For a variety of reasons I got very little sleep in the 48 hours before the main event, and towards the end of the day I actually felt myself on the verge of nodding off at the table. I showed up for the start of the 2 day side event in a much more rested state, and it showed in my performance, which I think was my best live one since UKIPT Galway. That said, it was almost one of those "never got going" tourneys. I was already down to half a stack when I called a small raise with 55 in position. The flop came 965 all spades, the 2 blinds checked, the raiser cbet, and I now had to decide between the flat and the raise. I'm very unlucky if there's a made flush out there, but it's highly likely there's at least one flush draw out there. I quickly preferred the flat for a number of reasons: if there's more than one flush draw out there I make more by keeping them all in until the turn, the flat may encourage the raiser to keep barrelling if he has nothing or "protecting" one pair hands, or may induce action from a flush draw (if I raise it's more obvious that I'm committed with my stack). As it happened, the blinds both folded, the turn came a red queen, the raiser fired again and now was a good time to get the loot in. He called with AsQd and the river bricked.

I'd moved up to 2 stacks when I got moved to a rather juicy looking table that featured one very loose spewy player with a massive stack. He was playing most hands, overbetting lots, and never passing on a chance to bluff. He was also very easy to read: smiling and talking endlessly when he had it, but ashen faced and quiet as a churchmouse when he hadn't. Unfortunately before I got a chance to start relieving him of his chips, Nick Abou Risk arrived and seemed to immediately formulate a similar plan. Still, at least he was on the right side of me this time, and the target had enough chips for both of us. Over the rest of the day we gradually extricated most of his chips between us, using similar methods (looking to play lots of pots with him, and giving him the chance to bluff when we hit). I finished the day with just over average and 45K.

The day 2 redraw put me at a much tougher table and I basically tread water til it broke with 20 players left. A well timed squeeze pushed me up towards 100K. A loose guy I'd played with for most of the tournament opened under the gun. Having already seen him do this with 87s I wasn't giving the raise much respect. Just behind him, a Korean lady who had a massive stack last time I saw her on day 1 but now shortish (but apparently no more reluctant about playing almost every hand) called, and as it was folded around to my small blind my squeezing range crystallised in my mind to "any ace any pair any two pictures". KQs was therefore a no brainer. The initial raiser tank folded (99 he said, which would have setted up on the river) and the lady snapped with T8s which didn't get there.

I maintained my stack through card death until just before the final table. Then a standard (for the stacks and blinds) shove with an ace from the small blind ran into a bigger ace in the big blind and when the dust had clear, my stack was down to debris. I don't subscribe to the theory than when you get crippled, you have to get it in next hand, so I folded a few 6 and 7 high hands before sticking my 2 bbs in with AT, which held against Q7o to almost treble up. This meant I now had a stack where I could correctly call a shove with (almost) any two cards. Nick Newport was sb and smart enough to realise this so he didn't push his spanners and I got a walk. Next hand I pick up JJ in the sb and shove into the bb's A3s and hold again so suddenly I'm right back in it.

It's always nice to make a final table. It would be even nicer to last more than an orbit, but with 10 bbs it was always likely I was going to have to win a flip to do so. 77 in the cutoff is plenty to be going with in the circumstances. Nick Newport tank folded the button, and chipleader Fintan Gavin snapped and announced he had AT. I said "race", not really expecting to win this one the way Fintan was running (his AQ dogged Alan McLean's AK on the bubble and just before the final table he got it in with AQ v AA and 55 and hit two queens). My expectations were not exceeded and I was out in 9th. Dena did a very good job consoling me but to be honest I wasn't really upset. As long as I feel I've played well I can generally accept the outcome.

Four Irish final tabled the 2 day side event, and Peter Barable was unlucky not to final table the main. When I started travelling to the UK, it seemed the travelling Irish were a little outgunned by the locals, but there's now a very good band of players travelling from our shores and we're starting to punch above our weight.

I decided to skip the last side event (a microstakes affair) and the plan was to do a bit of sightseeing in Manchester. Mireille knows full well what a cheapskate I am when it comes to expenses, so she took matters into her own hands ringing the hotel and booking the full entertainment package on her card for me. That meant my inner cheapskate now felt compelled to stay indoors and watch as many of the movies as possible :)

The first movie I watched was the Facebook movie ("The Social Network"). In that, the guy who started Napster says to the guy who started Facebook that you have a choice between catching lots of small fish or landing one big one, and that you never see a picture of a guy holding up a lot of small fish. His point was that you're better off shooting for a billion dollar company than settling for a million dollar one, but you can intrepret it another way. The guys who get their picture in the paper with the big fish are generally the amateur's who go out one day, get lucky, and catch it. The guys who actually make their living from fishing are the guys who go out every day and catch lots of little fish. While I certainly wouldn't say no to another picture of me holding up a big novelty-sized cheque, so long as I keep catching lots of little fish, I'll be happy enough.



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