Monday, March 25, 2013

London luck?

It's widely recognised how big a part luck plays in any poker tournament or in overall success in poker in the short term. What's less widely recognised is the different forms running good can take. Most people think exclusively in terms of their allins; whether their good hands held, they won their flips or they got the suckout when needed. But the less obvious forms of luck play at least as big a part.

(Photos courtesy of Mickey May)

In my recent deep run in the UKIPT London main event, I ran well on an obvious level, winning my flips when I needed to (until the last one). On the less obvious levels, not so much. Not only did I not get dealt my fair share of genuine premium hands, I didn't even get much by the way of playable hands. When I peeked at my cards, I found myself looking at j2o and 83o a lot more often than 98s or j8s. I was also unlucky on two crucial occasions when I did get the 98s.

The first one saw me 3 betting the button over a Chris Dowling raise. Chris was opening a very wide range of hands (as he does) and this seemed like a perfect spot for a light 3 bet. Some of the time Chris will have a very weak hand he has to fold pre and I pick up a decent pot. A lot of the time he will have something pretty marginal he may call with. When that happens, I have a disguised hand that flops well and position. If high cards come Chris is likely to believe it has hit me (and he would usually be right). If I do flop well, Chris is less likely to believe me and I stand to win a very sizeable pot. On a few rare occasions, Chris will have a hand strong enough to 4 bet (or may suspect I'm light). On those occasions I have an easy decision to fold. In the long run I will make a lot more chips from scenarios one and two than I lose in scenario three. Hence it's a good spot.

Unfortunately in this specific case I ran into Dave Docherty in the big blind. He cold 4 bet shoved aj and priced in I called and lost. There are actually three unlucky things about this from my point of view: first, that I run into a hand, second that it's David who has the hand (a lot of live players wouldn't dream of shoving aj there against an old guy playing as tight as I appeared to be but David is good enough and has played enough with me online to recognise that aj is ahead of my range), and third that having made the correct call on the basis of pot odds I didn't get there. I know it sounds strange to complain about bad luck when you get it in behind and don't suck out but it actually is bad luck (albeit not as much as when you get it in ahead and get outdrawn). I got it in with 41% pot equity but got 0% back. When you're running really really well you win those.

That hand, the first big move I made in the tournament (and while ABC will get you so far I think you need to be capable of at least the occasional move to really prosper in this game), was a bit of a turning point as I never again had the 50 big blind stack with the full range of tools it affords you. In fact I spent most of the rest of my tournament grinding 20 bigs or less.

The other big move (if you can even call it that: I consider it a totally standard shove) that went wrong was my exit. Folded to me on the button, I found 98s (again) and shoved. Some Twitter banter aside, anyone who knows anything about short stack poker knows this is a bog standard shove. With an M of 5 and the table 6 handed, that means I have 30 hands to find a spot or blind out (and only 12 hands before I drop too low to have any fold equity on shoves). While not exactly a premium hand 98s in decent shape against most hands that will call a shove. If I'm called by a smaller pair (which is what actually happened: the small blind had sixes), it's a flip and a chance to get right back into the game. Even if I run into,  say, ak I have a good fighting chance (40%). And if I'm unlucky enough to run into say aces, well at least I'm better off with a 22% shot than I would be if I had kings (18%).

While it's obviously disappointing to go that far but no further, I think it's crucial in this game not to be too results based and focus on performance and the long term. On that level I was very happy with my performance. I felt I gave myself the best possible chance given the cards and situations I was dealt. I picked my spots very well in general and was particularly proud of one hand in particular that was covered on the Stars blog (so I won't go into detail on it here) where I got creative and slowplayed kings thinking it was the best way to exploit over aggressive villains to get the treble up at a crucial moment late on day 1 when I found myself short stacked.

Another man who openly admitted on his blog recently to taking a much more short term view saying if he didn't get a result soon he would have to rethink his continued involvement in the game, Chris Dowling, went even further all the way to the final table. Even though we seem to disagree on almost everything, I have a lot of respect and fondness for Chris and would have loved to see him go all the way in this, his third UKIPT final table. After day 2 myself, Lappin and Mark Smyth were joined by Chris and some of his London based family for dinner in a Greek restaurant. Lappin was teasing us that it was like a throwback to a few years earlier when myself and Chris would have been seen as leading players on the Irish live scene. While I would baulk a little at Lappin's attempt to portray us as dinosaurs on the comeback trail, Chris and I have so much shared history at this point that I was genuinely gutted for him when I was starting my Sunday grind back in the hotel about an hour after chatting with him in the casino before the final table kicked off and heard he had busted. When you lose a big hand at the start of a final table there are inevitably questions and a few people wondered if it was wise for Chris to flip for so much at that point. However, Chris felt his opponent would show up with aq or other hands he dominated so he couldn't back off or take the lower variance route, and whatever else you think about Chris nobody can ever question his courage in those spots or his willingness to go with his read.

At the end of day 2 Jamie Burland asked me if I was interested in a swap as we had the same stacks at that point. I obviously snapped the offer as Jamie is both a top class player and a proven finisher. Unfortunately he ran no better than me on day 3 but he also cashed in the EPT. I have always maintained that consistency is a better judge of poker chops than even the most eye-catching individual result.

While I'm handling out the well dones, Tom "Jabracada" Hall and Neil "hefs" Raine deserve a lot of credit for an exciting finale to the UKIPT leader board race. Hefs looked to have put the matter out of reach when he finalled a turbo side, but after going deep but not deep enough inthe main, Jabracada gave himself one last shot jumping straight into the High Roller. He needed a decent final table to pip Hefs and did just that.

For my own part, back to back deep runs in UKIPT main events with a Super Poker side event final table sandwiched in between represents a much more pleasant type of streak than the one I went on last year that had me tearing my hair out and seriously contemplating retirement from live poker. I'm hoping to keep the good run going into the JP Masters, the Irish Open and Berlin.

Online has been going well too and on that front, massive well done to Jaymo for winning the Big 162 last week. Jaymo's the only guy I know whose hunger for the game rivals my own and his ability to keep his head through the downswings that are inevitable given his style and volume and just keep grinding makes him a very special player. The hardest thing in this game is to keep grinding through the bad spells. One of his housemates told me that after a particularly bad day at the lowpoint of one of his downswings all Jaymo had to say was that he couldn't wait to start grinding again the next day. That says it all. Once you have that kind of attitude discipline and work ethic luck ceases to be a factor in the long term.


Hi Dara,

Out of curiousity, in the first hand that you 3 bet Chris Dowlings raise, did you take into account the stack sizes of the blinds before you 3 bet knowing that you would be committed to calling a shove from the big blind? If so, did you dwell at all when forced to call off with 98s or was it a decision you had already made?

GL in the IO!

Hi Cahal,

Was aware of David's stack size and knew I would have to call it off if he shoved and Chris folded. So I called quickly (as soon as I had verified David's stack size was what I thought it was)


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