Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Doke challenge


Since I made the decision 18 months ago to increase my training mileage, every Wednesday I spend at home is long run day. The day I tumble out of bed a bit earlier than usual and spend the next 3 to 4 hours running 20 to 30 miles. As I said on a blog recently, I've been wondering of late if this is such a good idea the day before an early morning flight, given how often I seem to be catching colds on trips away.

This particular Wednesday though, Canadian globetrotter Gareth Chantler has expressed an interest in becoming a bog trotter for the day, and timed his arrival to join me on my long run. Never one to pass up the opportunity to run some young upstart into the ground, we set out from Doke Manor. Many have taken the Doke challenge but no poker player has as yet completed it.

Gareth makes a very solid attempt making it to 19 miles before his knee gives up the ghost, leaving me to finish the last 8 miles alone.


After two hours sleep, we are up at the crack of dawn to catch our flight to Edinburgh. As we saunter into the airport, Gareth spices things up by casually announcing he needs to check in. An unnecessary sweat, I felt, and left him to it. As we started to board with no sign of Gareth, I formulated my stalling strategy, which would revolve around me being the last person to board. In this instance I was willing to go full on confused old man, unable to locate his passport and boarding pass in a timely manner. Thankfully Gareth materialised before this became necessary.

Somewhat foolhardedly, we had decided to walk from Edinburgh airport to the hotel. In our defence, this decision was based on underestimating the distance and overestimating the scenicness of the route. After almost two hours dragging our bags along the A8 (the main road from Glasgow to Edinburgh) we get to the hotel in time to wake Daragh Davey for breakfast. Gareth has enough energy left to walk us to Genting casino. Along the way we pick up a straggler in the form of English online phenom Phil "bergeroo" Huxley.

After a few diversions (despite having already been there the previous day Daragh manages to lead us astray), we make it there in time for level 2. Gareth heads back to get some rest (he decided to play the following day). Daragh busts about an hour before dinner but gamely sticks around to secure a table for us at the Nandos next door.

I go on to bag up over 100k to be 6th in chips overnight, very pleased with my day which I felt was one of my best ever. I had very little help from the deck, but a number of spots where I had to make a call between what game theory was telling me and what my live instincts said, and seemed to get all those spots right. I got back to the hotel to find Gareth passed out in bed, so I went downstairs for a few beverages with the usual suspects. Jen Mason commended me for having, in her words, "broken Gareth".


Gareth headed off to his day one. I had arranged to meet Daragh for some afternoon sightseeing but a family commitment on his side meant I got into another run as we started later than planned. In the end we just walked aimlessly around for 20 minutes before bailing on the sights, and heading back to the Starbucks near the casino to pass the time until Gareth and Sameer went on dinner break. We were tasked with securing a Nandos table, a simple task we managed to mess up, so instead of Nandos, we ate in a nearby Chinese.

The lads went back to the main while Daragh and I jumped in a turbo side event. Daragh ended up coming third in that and final table bubbling me in the process. I would never claim to be a gracious loser in these situations, and Daragh wisely chose to avoid me for the next 24 hours :)


Gareth and I went back for day 2 of the main. Gareth was short and so was his day two (he lost a race in the first orbit). I started on a tough table with the impressive Alex Lynskey and the overnight chipleader. I navigated my way reasonably well through the day and a number of different tables. With three tables left things were looking very promising for me to make my first ever UKIPT final table, but near the end I lost a couple of big ones. After that it was a case of hanging on and I bagged up 400k, about half average, to be 13/13 overnight. I don't think I made any major mistakes but didn't feel like I was at the absolute top of my game either, so I was a lot less pleased with myself than after day one.


As the shortest stack I knew I couldn't sit around for too long. I won a decent sized pot early on against my good friend Dode Elliot (who played superbly and seemed vastly improved from last time we played together), which gave me enough chips to open up my game a bit. Although I could possibly have just nitted it up to secure a place on the final table very short stacked, this held no great appeal to me. It's never just about making the final table: I always want to get there in as good a position as possible to win the tournament (or at least top three) and if you are not willing to take some chances playing wider ranges shorthanded near a final table bubble (when some people may be playing too tight trying to hang on) you probably won't finish top three very often.

Unfortunately this strategy didn't work out on this occasion and with ten left I found myself sub ten blinds, a very distant 10/10. A5s in the cutoff is a shove in that spot, so I didn't hesitate. Dode hesitated a little in the big blind before making a good call with pocket eights. I turned a gutshot and a flush draw but after bricking the river I shook hands with Dode and departed for the rail, where I was consoled by Dode's legendary brother Willie. Part and parcel of poker is the fact that we often deal pain or at least disappointment on our friends, and as he whisked Gareth and me away for consolatory ice cream, Willie remarked that Dode would be feeling worse about my knockout than I was. I fully believe this. As much as I wanted to finally final table a UKIPT, I'm reasonably philosophical in these spots where both of us are dealt hands we are supposed to get in, and do. When I wished Dode good luck I meant it, and was genuinely rooting for him (and Alan Brown, someone I have long admired as a player and a person) on the final table.

Willie is one of my favourite people I've met, not just in poker, but in life. In my opinion he's the closest thing I know to a saint, and it's always a privilege to spend time in his company. I was also heartened by all the support from Scottish friends, friends on social media and I even got a rare text from the monk himself (Andy Black). Poker is the very epitome of an individual pursuit, but it's always nice to have support.

My cash in the main event was my 99th on the Hendon mob. One of my stated aims for the year was to secure my 100th, and become the first Irish live poker centurion in the process. No time or place like the present, so with just one event left on the schedule, the Deepstack turbo, I set about that task. Almost immediately after securing the cash in that, I ran ace king into aces for my least tilting bust ever. It felt oddly fitting that the century should be secured with a min cash in a small side event, in my favourite place to play poker outside of Ireland. The ever reliable Willie immediately whipped up a photoshop to celebrate my century of cashes.

After my bust, I railed Daragh on the final table of the PLO and chatted to Nick O'Hara. Nick asked how disappointed I was at having just missed out yet again on a UKIPT main event final table. My answer was not as disappointed as I thought I would be, probably as a result of the 6 months I'm enjoying. It's a lot easier to be philosophical in the middle of a good patch. I've put a lot of work into my mental game this year, in particular decoupling outcomes and results from my moods and focusing just on my performance, but I still think I'd have been a lot more gutted if this had been my best result all year. As much as I try to be a robot at the table, I am human away from it.

As I chatted to Nick, main event winner Diego Gomez came over and offered to buy me a drink. If Mick McCloskey has taught me anything it's to not look a gift drink in the mouth, so I joined Diego and his buddies. Diego was understandably chuffed with his win, saying it was the best he ever felt in poker even though it wasn't his biggest score. The group gradually expanded to include Daragh, Jen, Marc Convey, Gareth, Miguel and Mickey May. Good times, good company.


With our flight not scheduled til the evening, Gareth and I decided to finally get to some sightseeing. First I arranged for us to meet my friend Dani for lunch. Dani is one of the funniest and most endearing people I know and kept us in stitches with her strongly expressed views on the inadvisability of transAtlantic flights, bread making, Edinburgh architecture, social media as a scrapbook for old age, various national characteristics and several other matters racing through her beautiful mind.

After Dani hopped on her bus to the airport we headed to Camera Obscura, a little too late to enjoy the full experience (which requires daylight) but early enough to secure a discount.

I left Edinburgh as I always do, looking forward to returning. Not only is the city magnificent, but the people are very welcoming. A final think you to all who took the trouble to do so: those mentioned above and others like Carl/Tommy, Dennis, Thomas, Lochaline, Kyle and anyone else senility has caused me to leave out.


With a week back home grinding online before Eureka, it was time for another long run. Gareth was feeling a lot more chipper about this and charged on ahead of me. I wasn't really feeling it but battled on. Gareth faded a bit towards the end and I passed him in the last few miles, but he hung on gamely to arrive back at Doke Manor mere minutes behind me, the first poker player to complete the Doke challenge.  He could barely walk the next day and has been very ill ever since, but still. Well done Gareth.


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