Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the rail

The biggest indicator of the fact that I'm having the most lacklustre year of my 5 year career on the live poker front is the two highlights of my year have been railing my good friend Jason Tompkins, rather than sitting at the table. I already wrote my paean to Jason on the occasion of him final tabling a WSOP event a few months ago, so I'll try to keep the superlatives in check this time and just say that apart from being my friend Jason is the person I admire most in Irish poker. Not just for how well he plays and his achievements, but also the way he has gone about overcoming the obstacles life has thrown at him. His journey from the dole queues of Athy through ill health to where he is now, the brightest star of his generation in Irish poker, is truly inspirational.

On Wednesday night, we chatted on Skype for a few hours, as we often do (we're also business partners in a staking venture). This chat was slightly different though because the following day, Jason was going back to the final table of EPT San Remo. This was being streamed live with hole cards (on an hour delay) so Jason asked me to get up early (well, 1 o'clock is early in my world) to watch and pass on all vital information on non-showdown hands to him. No doubt mindful of the fact that I'm not exactly known for my short-windedness, he stressed "vital information only" a few times. It's risky enough dragging someone my age out of bed before he's had his 6 hours but then again it's not every day you get to see one of your friends play for a major title. Just once every three months if your friend happens to be Jason.

For the next 6 hours or so, I watched intently as the final table played out. Those railing on Irish Poker Boards where Jason is a popular figure commented on how slow it was. TV highlights programmes give the impression that final tables are all 3, 4 and 5 betting wars, all in confrontations and sensational coolers, but the reality is, as one poster noted, "poker is the second most boring spectator sport after cricket". Most hands consist of one guy raising, then everyone thinking about it, and folding, some more slowly than others (but none more slowly than the amateurish Mr. Raskin, who seemed determined to milk his moment in front of the cameras). Sometimes someone would call, so the dealer had to do a flop. Most of the time, the raiser bet the flop and the other guy folded. Sorry folks at home but that's just the way poker is in a slow structure. The challenge is to stay patient, focused and disciplined  when 99% of what you're doing is dull and routine (or "standard" in the language of poker).

Jason rose admirably to this challenge. David Lappin has given a good insight into the optimal strategy in these situations and I gather we'll hear more from Jason on his blog in due course but the bottom line is Jason ran ice cold when it mattered, was faced with a few tough marginal spots and got them all right.  In so doing, he gave himself a chance to catch the wave which unfortunately never came, and finished as high as anyone could have given the cards and situations. I think at least 90% of players would have been eliminated in 6th or 7th had they been sitting in Jason's seat. Do I believe in poker karma? Yes and no. In the short term I think we get what fortune decides to give us, but in the long term people do seem to get what they deserve in poker most of the time. It's certainly true that over the course of my relatively short poker career I've seen some shooting stars that seemed to be riding the variance wave luckbox a big score or two, convince themselves and maybe even others that they were better than they actually were, but ultimately end up giving it all back. So if poker karma does exist, I think maybe it's just the acceptable face of the schadenfreude family. (On a sidenote, I was in business for 20 years during all of the Celtic Tiger and whatever about poker karma, business karma certainly didn't seem to exist. As one business friend put it, "It's always the absolute worst assholes who get to drive off into the sunset in the red Ferrari with the money and the girl". That seemed to be true at the time, but most of those guys are now hiding from NAMA or even looking at jail time, so maybe Karma Freude gets everyone in the end).

Jason was ringing me at breaks. There's a terrific temptation that needs to be resisted in these situations: becoming a backseat driver. I'm more opinionated than most but in my opinion the last thing a player as talented as Jason needs is some guy thousands of miles away watching a live stream telling him what he thinks he should be doing. So I tried to keep myself to passing on the information Jason wanted, and acting as a listener and sounding board to his thoughts on how it was progressing.

I was also watching the reaction of people on IPB, Twitter and Facebook and chatting to a few people on Skype as it was all unfolding. Jason, ever the polite gentleman, rang me after his bustout to thank me for my efforts. I told him truthfully that I just wished my services had been required for longer.

Jason's more than twenty years younger than me, he's actually younger than my oldest son, but in a poker sense we're contemporaries. In fact he started before me, but we rose through the ranks contemporaneously. By my count, we've played together on five final tables (I may be forgetting one or two) in Ireland, including a CPT Grand final which he chopped (as an addendum to which Jason recently told me that his girlfriend Joy who is a delight took an instant dislike to me and told him to target me :)) and a JP Masters. I hung out a lot with him and Joy at my first EMOP in Gran Canaria, and we roomed together in Berlin last year and Vegas this summer. We hopscotched each other on the all time Ireland money list on the Hendon mob until he flew by me with his deep run in the WSOP in the summer. On Twitter during his EPT final table, I joked it would take a lot of min cashes in €100 side events for me to catch him now.

The advantage of being both a friend and rival to someone as good as Jason is he sets very high targets if you want to live in his company. He made some very kind comments on a recent blog he wrote about how my continuing success online had inspired him to start grinding again. The corollary of that is that I'm hoping that his amazing success this year in the big events (he's now cashed in three successive EPTs) will spur my efforts on the live front. Not many players worldwide can say they final tabled an EPT and a WSOP in the same year.

As I said at the start of this blog, I've struggled this year live. I've cashed in about the same number of events as I normally would and I've even managed to win one, but in a sense it's been the wrong events. I haven't done well in the bigger buyins and while I accept you can't pick and choose which events to run well in, it is frustrating. Frustrating enough that recently I've been considering my options live. I have considered them all, from total retirement (to allow me to concentrate on online and spend more time at home) through just playing the big events to continuing to do what I've always done (an impromptu mix and match of different events, tours and buyins). I may have reached a point in my poker life where there's really no point leaving the house to play smaller events any more. I don't enjoy them like I used to, and even when I cash I end up thinking I could have made the same or more clicking buttons in the comfort of my own home. So perhaps I need to learn from Jason who picks and chooses his events much more carefully and only comes out for the big ones. Whatever I eventually decide, it's safe to say that I'll be hoping to draw inspiration from Jason, who I believe is Ireland's finest live player, if and when I do go out to play live.


Nice blog Dara. The only problem is that if you and all the other big players decide to only play the "big" live games, small to mid-stake live players here in Ireland dont get the pleasure of playing poker with ye and getting a chance to learn from the more experienced players. I know thats not really a consideration for ye, but it would be a negative for the Irish poker scene. I do understand what you're saying though, and obviously wish you good fortune in whatever direction you take.

Thanks for the comment Connie, very good point. I might be just being overly reactionary to my recent bad run, we'll have to wait and see. I've always enjoyed playing the smaller events in Ireland, at least til recently. It's just harder and harder to justify leaving the house when there's such a discrepancy between how I'm doing live and online

You shouldn't be allowed out of the house, in my opinion. A danger to yourself and others.


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