Sunday, September 11, 2016

Living life in seconds

After my last blog I couldn't help but reflect on the irony of the fact that a few days later I found myself walking into the Hippodrome, the PokerStars casino in Leicester Square. Under the circumstances I fully expected and received some frosty receptions, but only from some of the bit industry players I barely knew anyway. Everyone else was as welcoming as ever, and while obviously not everyone agreed with everything in the blog, they did seem to appreciate the spirit of constructive criticism in which it was intended.

I had a decent starting table which only got better with the removal of the best player there, Ben Morrison. I had almost tripled my stack to 70k late in the day when our table broke and I found myself at a new table with my friend (and landlady for the week) Daiva Barauskaite Byrne, Hippodrome pro Kelly Saxby, and a massive chipleader who was dominating the table. It turned out to be a pretty disastrous table move as I barely won a pot and Kelly was the main beneficiary. There was one rather sick spot where I bet top two on the river for value and was shoved on by Kelly for not much more. I don't make a habit of folding top two getting about 4 to 1 but I eventually persuaded myself it just couldn't be a bluff and folded (she told me at the end she had the nuts). I never used to make those folds, I used to just shrug "4 to 1, strong hand, gotta call" even though I knew I was nearly always beaten.

That meant coming back for the start of day 2 with less than 13 big blinds. Another short day 2 was on the cards, particularly after I followed Daiva onto the wrong train meaning we got there a few minutes late and the blinds had gone through me. After getting one shove through I was happy to pick up AQ. This time I was called by A4, and after I held found myself with a healthy stack.

I met my friend Sameer and his lovely wife Fran for dinner to catch up. Sami was running late and I was literally running (45 minute dinner breaks for the loss), so as much as I appreciated the catch up, I appreciated the Teutonic efficiency of Fran even more who went on ahead and had ordered and had the food waiting for us.

A lengthy period of card death meant I was one of the shortest stacks on the bubble and had no real choice but to fold into the money. Once I'd done that I managed to spin up until I got moved late in the day to one of the toughest tables I've ever been at anywhere, let alone a UKIPT. It included Felix Stephenson, Billy Chattaway, Ben Morrison, the chippy from my late day one table, and eventual winner Stien. It seemed prudent to tighten up until the 2 table redraw, and that was the plan, but I got some hands it would have been cowardly to fold and just played them strongly.

Some key hands from the table:

Hand 1:

Felix opens from early position and I elect to defend A8s because I know from past experience he opens super wide from there. It's not exactly the dream scenario defending a reprehensible ace against a world class aggressive player, but on the other hand I'm definitely being exploited if I fold a hand that strong, and I can bluffcatch a lot if I hit top pair. The suitedness gives me some other potentially profitable continuation plans on flops with one or two of my suit, and I can just check fold flops I whiff completely.

Flop comes AT4 with two clubs and a diamond. My suit is spades.

This is a flop that falls under the bluffcatch category so I check call and see a very interesting turn, the eight of clubs.

So I now have two pair but the flush got there. I felt like it's pretty close between leading, and check calling. The advantage of leading is I get value from some of his marginal hands that may check behind now, and charge his hands with a club to draw. The disadvantage is I'm in a pretty horrible spot if he raises (a very real consideration against this particular villain) out of position against a world class opponent with a lot of potentially ugly rivers. It also stops him from continuing to bluff his air. So against this specific opponent I decided to stick to a conservative check call. As it happens, he checked behind.

River is an offsuit j. I checked again figuring he'd bet a wider range of hands here (some bluffs and thin value bets) than he'd call if I suddenly lead here. As it was he had a hand strong enough to do both (jt) and I won a decent sized pot.

Hand 2:

Billy opens the cutoff and I find ace king in the big blind. We have played a ton online and have a very aggro history from there, but I don't know him personally so have no idea if he knows I am SlowDoke. Whether he does or not, ace king is strong enough to try to induce him to stick his 45 big blinds in with (I had slightly more) and online I'd be looking to get a lot weaker hands in preflop. My strategy against top class aggressive players is generally to tighten my preflop ranges but play the hands I do play less cautiously and look to push preflop edges and get in a wider range preflop (basic TAG strategy). So while I'm not loving getting almost the lot in pre at this point and letting the deck decide who advances, the TAG approach is the best way not to cede the battlefield and leak equity. So I 3 bet, he jams, I call, he has KQ, and I'm patting myself on the back thinking I love it when a plan comes together. Until the flop comes queen high at least. Ace on the turn though, so all was good in the world again.

There was an amusing aftermath to this hand as Ben declared "Dangerous man to give chips to. And I bet those poor kids don't even know, do they Dara? SlowDoke, online endboss, and they have no idea". I went on stacking chips trying to suppress a smile. His point was made immediately as the guy beside him started asking what he meant.

Hand 3:

Felix raises under the gun. Ben flats off a sub 30 big blind stack. My neighbour to the west squeezes. I have jacks on the button and have to think. Felix is super wide even from this position. Ben knows this and has already been 3 betting him quite liberally so the flat is a little suspicious. My neighbour is very tight and is unlikely to be making a move. Suddenly jacks don't seem like such a good hand any more and I pass them to the muck. My neighbour ends up getting queens in against Ben's trickily played aces. The flop was raggy so there are a lot of ways I could have lost a lot of chips in this spot, so was pretty happy together off scot free. A form of positive variance players don't recognise is spots like these where because of the way a hand plays out you lose less chips than you would if it played out differently.

Hand 4:

I open kjs utg. Normally at a tough table I would just chuck this hand, but by now we are down to two tables, the other table features Ben, Jake Cody and Matt Perrins so my table may not even be tougher than average at this point. Therefore my strategy has shifted to playing a wider range. The main reason I open is it is Albert Sapiano's big blind, he never folds to my raises, and I enjoy playing pots against Albert in position.

Albert is the only caller and he checks the j32 flop that gives me top pair and a flush draw. The turn is an offsuit 7 and he pots it as expected. I say as expected because he always seems to do this against me, putting me on ace king after I check the flop, and trying to barrel me off it. In discussions with Daiva about the other players about whom she has much more local knowledge than I have, she'd brought up this exact tendency as something that could be exploited.

So I call and watch him like a hawk as the river is dealt. He seems less than happy I've called and breathes heavily for a long time like a man steeling himself to shove a hand he's not convinced is good, so without knowing the river yet, I decide I'm most likely calling even if I haven't improved. After he overbet shoves, I glance at the river, see it paired the board but also made my flush, so I waste no time making the call. He has a lower flush, ten five, and treats us to the standard Albert "I never hit my flushes" speech, until he realised that he had this time, and added "and when I do the other guy either has a higher flush or a house".

Hand 5:

Chippy and eventual winner Stian opens in mid position. He's been opening close to any two. I find ace king just behind. With almost 70 big blinds, and maybe third or fourth overall in chips at this point, I don't really want to get it all in pre or even play a bloated pot against him right now. On the other hand, as I said before, my preferred strategy against players like him is to play tighter and more aggressively preflop, and calling just to give up when I miss seems pretty lame. This is my sixth UKIPT main event second last table, and I have not converted any of the previous five to a final table. I could just nit my way to the final table, but it's not just about making final tables, it's also about the stack you take to them.

Having taken all these considerations into account, I decided courage and a willingness to bust was called for, so I threebet with the intention of getting the lot in if necessary. The chippy from my day one table 4 bet shoved 19 big blinds behind, and Stian went deep into the tank. The longer I watched him the more I was convinced he either had a decent but not brilliant pair or a hand I dominated, so I already knew if he reshoved I was calling. As it was, he eventually folded, and I found myself racing against jacks.

As the flop came down I watched Stian rather than the board or my opponent in the hand, as going forward the most interesting point was what he had folded. He visibly winced when the flop was spread so I figured he had folded something which would have hit. The flop was AA9, I won the race, and asked him inquiringly what he had folded.

"Pocket nines"

So another nice pot for me, but one that could have been my exit hand if he had made a mistake and continued with nines. Again, that hidden positive variance.

That was pretty much the last hand I won that day. Mostly I was just card dead, but also lost a pretty big one to Stian. After I opened Aks utg, he threebet pretty big from the big blind. I didn't fancy four betting to get it in, as now I'm 2/12 and not really looking to flip against him of all people. Folding is obviously not an option, so that just leaves calling. I flop two overs and a gutter and a flush draw so now I pretty much have to call again. I pick up more outs in the form of a gutshot on the turn, so I called again. The river bricks out and I fold. In another time and place, raising on the flop or turn and praying he either folds or I hit if we get it in is a good alternative, but not here for the same reasons I don't want to get it in preflop.

This was a crucial pot in terms of my overall prospects as if I hit I almost certainly go to the final table as chipleader. But I didn't, and didn't.

Continued card death meant that by the time we were down to the official final table, I was 7/8. However, that was still almost 30 big blinds so not exactly short, and the stacks were very flat (nobody had less than twenty, and the chip leader had only slightly more than double my stack).

I legged it out of the Hippodrome just in time for the last tube back to Camden, where my obliging landlady ensured I dined like a poker God. If that poker God is a Lithuanian, at least. Husband John was not exactly fulsome in his praise of the attractions of cold beetroot soup ("Pretty sure I'd struggle to find anyone in Bury willing to eat it"), and I'm not the biggest fan of cold soups, or beetroot particularly, but it was surprisingly tasty.

As a Stars qualifier I was told I had to wear a patch on the final table, which I did, a little differently.

Daiva also ensured we got on the correct train the following day to get there in plenty of time, and that I had the best rail at kickoff. Unfortunately, that meant she just got to see me three bet fold 20% of my stack very first hand, relegating me instantly to 8/8 and a strategy lecture from Albert. No regrets about the hand though, it was clearly a very good spot for a light 3 bet, and I had the perfect hand to do it with it, even if it didn't work out. After Adam Maxwell opened in late position and I three bet the small blind, Albert folded his big blind in disgust. His disgust grew after Adam shoved and I snap folded.

"What's the point of that? Your name is Dara, right? Well, Dara, may I suggest in future that you don't raise if you're not willing to follow through".

Even though I immediately found myself 8/8, I was far from disconsolate. I felt like I'd been here before. It reminded me very much of my WSOP final table from last year. Me shortest, surveying a mix of some very good aggro players with stacks, and some very inexperienced players who I suspected would react to the pressure and novelty of the situation by punting in a misguided attempt to "play for the win". My read was confirmed when I saw one guy squeeze shove and show a three when he got the fold (why show?). Shortly afterwards, he bust with a kamikaze turn shove on a board (6789) that was particularly bad for his hand (ako).

So even as my stack withered, I saw my equity increase as the bustouts kept coming. I stayed alive getting it in and staying ahead twice versus the player who impressed me the most (Adam Maxwell). I went from 8/8 to 7/7, 6/6, 5/5 and 4/4 after Albert bust in fifth shoving a flush draw that he knew wouldn't get there. Big shoutout to my rail who stuck with it even though I'd already warned them that watching me play a final table short stacked is the poker equivalent of watching paint dry. For once I had by far the biggest, loudest, liveliest and loveliest rail.

The time to gamble and change gears was here, and I made progress shorthanded with my tight image allowing me to nick more pots with 9 high. As I prospered, my neighbour to the west dwindled, and when I eventually eliminated him, I was suddenly 2/3 going to dinner.

At dinner with Sameer and Daiva I told them my plan was to play tight smallball, stick to a limping strategy, and hope my more aggro opponents would clash and I could ladder to headsup risk free. I cut my teeth online in full ring one table sit n gos. There, I learned that three handed is one of the most interesting phases strategically. If both your opponents are too tight and too passive, it's clearly profitable to exploit this was playing hyper loose. If they are both too aggro, you can automatically profit by playing tight, knowing you'll generally ladder to headsup with second place locked up and roughly the same chance of winning still. The nightmare scenario is where one player is hell bent on playing too loose, and the other one too tight, when you just have two bad options (to be one of two tight players being exploited by a loose one, or one of two loose players being exploited by a tight one).

This three handed setup seemed like one where I could exploit two guys playing too loose: hence the tight limping strategy. It didn't take too long for it to pay off. After I limped my first button and folded to a big blind squeeze, I limped again next button. Another squeeze and I still didn't have a hand strong enough to continue, but after I folded the chip leader ripped, won a race, and I found myself headsup.

With less than 30 big blinds, I stuck to a smallball limping strategy, hoping to find edges post flop and gradually work my stack upwards without the need to flip. However, I quickly realised that Stian was a lot better than I expected a man with only 2k of lifetime cashes to be headsup, and there was little or no edge to be found postflop. As the blinds increased over the two hours or so we battled headsup I switched to an increasingly preflop strategy which at least provided some excitement to my rail. On the third allin and a call, I found myself flipping to get back to level stacks. It was not to be. Credit to Stian who thoroughly deserved the win with a commanding final table display from start to finish.

For my own part I was happy with my performance which I think was as close to the perfect game as I've had in my career. I almost gave up on live poker a couple of years ago when I skipped Vegas and stopped showing up religiously at UKIPTs and festivals in Ireland. Last year I decided to give it another go, and rather than just show up and see what happened started to put in a lot of work away from the table on my live game. That paid dividends as I hit the best patch of form of my career in the second half of last year, with two deep WSOP runs (a second and a ninth), three consecutive EPT main event cashes (and two EPT side event final tables), a deep run in Edinburgh UKIPT (and two UKIPT side event final tables including third in a high roller). A conversation I had with Calvin Anderson towards the end of Vegas last year where he expressed the opinion that online poker will gradually dry up as a source of income over the next few years and we will all be forced to play live more persuaded me to keep working hard at my online game this year.

Ironically, as I was doing this, I was going through the longest cashless streak of my career live stretching from the seniors event at EPT Dublin through the Irish Open, the Norwegian championships, UKIPT london, Unibet Malta and up to my mid WSOP break in New York. Thankfully I've been around long enough to know that the rewards of hard work are rarely seen in the short term and to recognise bad variance, so I kept plugging away confident I'd start to see some results. After returning to Vegas from New York, I cashed 3 of my last 5 events there (including another deepish run, 13th), cashed the FPS High Roller in Lille, the main event at EPT Barcelona, and now this latest result. One of the results of having studied days of live footage and watched a couple of dozen of Zach Elwood's excellent video series on tells is I'm much more engaged and less bored at the table as I have more to look for and think about.

I'm still grinding online and more than holding my own on that front, but I have a pretty packed live schedule for the rest of the year including Killarney, Winamax Open Dublin, Eureka Hamburg, UKIPT Birmingham, Estrellas/EPT Malta, WPT Dusk Til Dawn, MPN Morocco, Fitzwilliam Festival and EPT Prague. I want to keep working hard on my live game. On a related note, I had pretty much phased out my coaching work because, well, actually playing is a lot more fun (and more profitable still). This year however I've done some coaching with online players transitioning to live specifically focused on the aspects that make live poker different. I've found that a lot more fun than running through people's online hand histories looking for leaks so I'm looking to expand it, not just to other online players who want some coaching on live, but players who just play live who think they could benefit from my technical knowledge from online and my experience of going deep a lot live. So drop me a note at if you are interested. I do mainly one on one coaching, but for recreational or other players on a budget I'm also looking at doing group sessions with 4 to 6 players at a lower cost.

Heading to Killarney on Thursday. looking forward to it as it's a lovely place and I don't think I've played there since the glory days of Ladbrokes.


a lovely article Dara, that i found on twitter. you are indeed a talented writer and poker player. i was there on the rail that day, fighting my own headsup battle on the UKIPT KO tournament. well done on the deep run.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

UKIPT Birmingham? How bad do Stars have to be before you'll give a GUKPT a spin?!

Wd on your result Munchie.

Might give the GUKPT a spin again soon Jeff, played quite a few back in the day

Thank you dara, I should say the same again for your recent score, running hot!

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