Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Seat open, table 1

Dublin's premier poker club, the Fitzwilliam (or The Fitz as it is affectionately known) is not always the most welcoming of places. Or at least it wasn't back in 2007 when I started going there. Cardroom manager, the lovely Denise, always did her best to welcome everyone, but beyond that the culture of the place was very much dictated by the grumpy old veterans who were the regulars. They never seemed very happy to be there, and even less happy that you had chosen to invade "their" club. Most of them were pretty bad poker players, and pretty bad people who had come to the realisation that if you're bad at poker but still want to win, you have to try to get your opponents to play even worse. This they tried to achieve by any means they could, including angleshooting, verbal intimidation and mudslinging.

The one exception to this was Paddy Hicks. Paddy was the spiritual grandfather of the Fitz. There was no friendlier reg to newbies than Paddy in what could be a pretty unwelcoming cauldron. I wonder how many players would have turned away down the years if it wasn't for Paddy. Great man and great player (he looked like a kindly OAP but played like a crazy Russian kid).

Every night I went to the Fitz, Paddy was there, at table 1. Table 1 is the only table downstairs, and since it was unreasonable to expect a man of Paddy's age and stature to climb stairs, he was always seated there. While other regs could sense the nervousness of newcomers and use it as a signal to start the verbal intimidation and calls of "that's a string bet sonny", Paddy was the one guy who could be relied on to go out of his way to be friendly to the new person. A wolf in lamb's clothing, he successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of most of his fellow Fitz regs. In a 2010 blog I wrote:

"Paddy Hicks opened in mid position and AT looked plenty good enough in the SB to send my 20 bigs into the middle. Paddy more or less snapped with A3o and I held. Afterwards the other Fitz regs expressed surprise that my AT was ahead. How does Paddy still get away with it? He's been robbing their blinds and antes since 1953 with rag aces, face rags, suited conns and all sorts of spanners and still when he raises in there for the 100th time that night, guys are folding decent aces and pairs behind."

Paddy was the model recreational player. Nobody loved to play more than he did, and he always did it with a smile on his face whether he was winning or losing. He played for the sheer fun of it (I often felt that Paddy could have been a truly top class player if he could just have learned to take his foot off the accelerator at times, but Paddy played not for profit but for fun, and saw no fun in folding so he played all sorts of hands that he must have known on some level were not profitable). He rarely ventured outside his beloved Fitz, but the highlight of his year was always the Irish Open. Like a lot of Fitz regs, his game didn't always travel that well, but inside the Fitz he was formidable. It's particularly fitting that the last two results on his Hendon Mob are two wins back in February and March in the Fitz Double chance. Paddy's high variance game benefited more than most from second chances, but once he had bludgeoned stole and cajoled his way to a stack, Paddy knew how to close out a tournament.

My favourite Paddy Hicks moment came not in the Fitz but at one of JP McCann's festivals in the Maldron. Early on, I found myself at a table that was being run over by a young foreign kid I'd never seen before. He talked a good game, and he had already built a stack, but I didn't think he was a genius or anything (a view reenforced by the fact that he hasn't been seen or heard from since). When your strategy involves being crazy aggro preflop and bloating pots, and then you river a very unlikely two pair a lot against opponents who rightly feel they should be calling you down quite light, you'll thrive in the early stages when everyone has 300 big blinds. So the kid was having fun, playing every hand, winning most of them, and telling us after how well he'd played the hand. Then Paddy got moved to our table. As the kid eyed him up, you could almost see him licking his lips thinking "Great, another weak tight old man to pound on".

Paddy sat there and folded the first three or four hands, all of which the kid played and won. That was enough of a sighter for Paddy. Next time the kid opened, Paddy threebet. The kid folded under protest. Next hand, same story. Next hand, the kid opened again, Paddy threebet again, and this time the kid called. The three ragged flop looked like one the kid would like, and he check raised Paddy's continuation bet. Paddy three bet the flop and took it down. Next hand, the kid tried a fourbet, only for Paddy to slide all his chips into the middle preflop. By now the kid was muttering to himself much to the amusement of the rest of the table. One of them turned to the kid conspiratorally, pointed at Paddy, rolled his eyes, and said to the kid "These internet kids, they play crazy aggressive".

If there's a poker heaven, Paddy is already there and has just 7 bet shoved ace rag on someone because he had a blocker.


He stopped saying after a while, but Paddy, when winning a big pot, would exclaim "Aye aye oh!". I'll never forgot that. RIP Paddy.

Nice tribute Dara.
I think we should make you the official obituary writer for the Irish poker community.

A classy, funny commentary, Paddy would have liked it.

Nice tribute, I remember seeing Paddy when I visited, never got to play at his table.....think I would have enjoyed that.

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