Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Life in the old Doke yet (YWNOM)

2016 got off to a pretty shaky start for me personally. Laid low with a particularly bad bout of food poisoning, I found it hard to get in the volume online. I spent some of my  recovery time struggling for inspiration to finish a trip report blog on Prague. I finished it in the early hours of January 10th listening to the new David Bowie album Blackstar, and went to bed with the intention of proofreading and posting it when I woke up.

I woke up to the news that Bowie had died. Suddenly the Prague blog seemed especially pointless, and I struggled through the day feeling unspeakably sad before deciding the best way to deal with it was to write about it. The blog I wrote took on a life of its own over the next few weeks and months, quickly becoming the most read blog I'd ever written, by a factor of over 500%. Even now one year later it tends to be my most read blog in any given month.

A little embarrassed by its reach, I struggled with the idea of "How on Earth do I follow that?" Following it up a few weeks later with a blog bemoaning how badly I ran at EPT Dublin seemed a little pointless, so I told various people who asked that it would probably be my last ever blog. I continued to struggle mentally and physically through the next few months. I followed two min cashes at the EPT Dublin event with the longest cashless live streak of my poker career. I stopped keeping count as I figured keeping a scoreboard on failure would just worsen my depression, but it stretched through the European Deepstack, Norwegians, JP Masters, Irish Open, UKIPT London, Sofia, Malta and the first half of my WSOP campaign. Online I struggled for focus and motivation even if in strict profit terms I made a decent start to the year. The changes Amaya continued to foist on Stars were clearly making online poker increasingly difficult to make any profit at. Online gets tougher every year, but for the first time this year there was a massive cull of winning pros, and Stars in particular made it clear they were out to end online poker as a career option.

I did manage to keep studying and working on my game through this time, and mentally I felt I turned a corner in April. After busting UKIPT London early, I got to hang out with my study partner and amazing friend Daiva in London for a few days, and she did a great job helping me see the forest for the trees and regain my focus. Only another poker player can understand the peculiar brand of crazy that drives someone trying to be an elite poker player. With Vegas just around the corner and having already committed to following up my most successful WSOP campaign ever last year with a similarly ambitious schedule, I threw myself into preparations for that. I decided to restart my blog with a poker "comeback" blog (shortest retirement ever!), and I came back from London fired up to get back to work seriously. While there I snuck in an online session and won a Party tournament. I followed it up with two more wins back home to clinch the fifth PocketFives Triple Crown of my career.

I followed that with an op ed blog on the GPL, which became my most read poker blog in a long time and sparked a lot of discussion about the GPL and its future, which I guess was the point of writing it in the first place.

My last trip beforeVegas was to Malta where I was lucky enough to stay with Lappin and grind with Ian Simpson.

My journey to Vegas was not without incident and my cashless streak live continued for the first half of my WSOP campaign. I almost missed my flight to New York for my mid series refresher break, ending up spending a sleepless night in McCarran airport waiting for a diverted flight to LAX.

I came back from New York feeling recharged and my luck turned in event 56 where I came close to making my third WSOP final table in a year. I was obviously disappointed not to go all the way but also relieved to have at least ended the cashless streak.

I followed that up with two more cashes meaning I cashed 3 of my last 5 events at this year's WSOP. Unfortunately the two bricks were the two I'd most like to have cashed, the Team event and the main. But I left Vegas on a high enjoying live poker again.

Back home, I wrote another Bowie-related blog, a review of Adam Buxton's Bowie show I was fortunate enough to attend (earlier this year I was also fortunate to join Adam on his podcast).

My good live form continued with a High Roller cash in Lille and a cash in the main event at EPT Barcelona. I went to Barcelona straight from a very enjoyable trip to Tallinn for the MPN tour stop there. Although I cashed in Barca and bricked everything in Tallinn, on every other front Tallinn was a much better experience than Barcelona. The blog I wrote contrasting the two events and the differing philosophies of their operators quickly became my most talked about and widely read poker blog ever.

It also caused quite a stir internally at Stars, as I quickly realised when I turned up in London for the UKIPT the following week. I lost count of the number of Stars employees or associates who came up to say they agreed fully with my blog and that of Lappin on the same topic, but it was more than their jobs were worth to acknowledge that in public. In the mean time, I concentrated on my own job, nursing a short stack through the bubble all the way to the final table. With Stars already having announced the death knell for the tour, it was an ambition realised to finally make a final table after several last two table finishes. I ended up doing my customary "ladder the short stack to headsup, then lose" but came out of the event feeling I'd done everything I could and got the most out of it.

I also came out of it thinking that would be the highlight of my year, but one week later I had to revise that. I went to Killarney (one of my favourite places to play poker) knowing there was a small but almost impossible chance of having to multitable two events, if I made the last few tables of the WPT having already made day 2 of the GPPT with a big stack. In the event that big stack was needed to prevent me from blinding out of the GPPT while I battled my way to fourth in the WPT. I got to the GPPT having lost almost one million chips blinding out (over fifty starting stacks!) and ended up making my third final table on the bounce. Once again I laddered to headsup with a significant chip deficit. I turned this around to lead headsup at one point, but ended up coming second yet again.

Next up was Hamburg, and my back to back to back final tables added another back as I final tabled the High Roller there. Away from the tables, this was one of my favourite trips of the year hanging out with a great crew that included High Roller champ George Danzer, and a memory of us tricking a puffing and panting Lappin to ascend seemingly endless stairs ("THERE WAS AN ELEVATOR? YOU BASTARDS!") that will live long in my brain.

Another final table and another second place in the last ever UKIPT side event, and a nostalgic blog looking back on the UKIPT tour that became one of my most popular and most read ever.

Another enjoyable trip to Morocco for the MPN stop there where I managed to finally break my appalling record of never having cashed an MPN event (I came third in the High Roller won by Lappin) and then the most enjoyable trip of the whole year, to Bucharest for the Unibet Open. Not much joy for me personally on the poker front (one final table bubble in a turbo side event) but lots of joy away from it. I even got there just in time to see Daiva ship the Ladies Battle Royale after she put on a master class of poise, discipline and ICM.

My last trip and blog of the year was a much less joyous affair where Stars proved that not only are they trying to suck all the profit out of poker for the pros but also all the fun for the fun players. I came back from Prague a little jaded with live poker, which is understandable given how much I played in the last six months. Travelling almost non stop meant my online volume in the second half of the year was a pale shadow of former years. Doing so little online volume was one big reason why I've had my least profitable year online since I switched to mtts. The other reason is just that online got so much tougher this year as Stars policy of squeezing out the pros bore bitter fruit. I basically broke even this year on Stars before rakeback so I only turned a profit there due to the rakeback I enjoyed as a Supernova. With that now gone, I'll be slashing my online volume there further next year (I already reduced it by 35% this year). The good news is that other sites thankfully now see an opportunity for the first time in years to grow at Stars expense, so are showing encouraging signs of not joining them in the race to the bottom attempting to squeeze the last juice from the last few recreational players. All my profit online this year basically came on the other sites I play, and if any of you recreational players are buying the Stars spin that this is good for you guys, well, all I can say is you are being duped. An exodus of pros from Stars doesn't mean you guys will lose your deposits more slowly: it just means less liquidity, smaller prize pools, that all the money you lose will disappear down the rake hole, and that Stars will go on implementing policies to make structures worse so you lose money faster while they screw you on currency exchanges and any other way they feel they can get away with without pros biting at their heels complaining.

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly disillusioned with staking as a good use of my time and bankroll. This year I cut back even more, and it's unlikely I'll ever take on someone and fully stake them again. On the other hand, the fact that I had less horses to coach freed me up to coach more people I don't stake, and 2016 was the year I did the most of this. One thing which has held me back from doing more coaching in the past is the nagging feeling that I'm a much better player than coach, but I do now feel I've improved a lot on this front to the point where I can transmit my ideas and approach better. Several of the people I coached had massively successful years (more successful than my own), which admittedly might just be variance (one guy who won an online major immediately after our first session commented wrily that I at least seemed to have given him the ability to win all the flips). But I am finding coaching more enjoyable than ever so will be doing more of it in 2017 (drop me an email at dokepokercoaching@gmail.com if you are interested).

I also made my official Twitch debut in 2016 (doing the first Poker School Night for Party Poker) and that's something I'm definitely interested in doing more of in 2017 once I work out exactly how I want to approach it. I don't want to half ass it, so first I need to work out what I can contribute that is unique. Livestream commentary is something I always get a kick out of, and this year I did some at the Irish Open, in Tallinn, alongside Lappin in Morocco, and with Lappin Daiva and Convey in Bucharest.

Reflecting on my online year, and that of several of my friends who basically lost their livelihood this year (there has never been a year where so many pros I know have been forced to seek alternative employment, and there are guys who ranked in the top 50 or even top 10 in the world not so long ago who were forced to admit defeat this year), it's easy to be a bit depressed. But I draw comfort from the fact that I managed to remain profitable this year online even as I struggled with illness and personal issues in the first half of the year, and focused more on live poker in the second half. Towards the end of my running career, I knew it was coming to an end, and hoped I could successfully transition into poker. After poker, I hope to transition into writing. Looking back at this blog I realise that the one area where 2016 was unquestionably my most successful year ever in poker was on the writing front. The last few years my end of year thoughts on my blog were of the "getting difficult to think of new stuff to write about, might just call it a day" variety. Like most online poker content, the popularity and readership of my blog grew steadily until Black Friday, and then went into decline. This year reversed that trend, with my blog attracting more readers than ever before by a considerable distance. Admittedly most of that distance is accounted for by the totally unexpected viral success of the Bowie blog with zero poker content, but even taking out that blog, this year would have been the one I got the most hits ever for the poker blogs. I also enjoyed writing my continuing Bluff Europe column.

That said, the fact that I'm planning for a career after poker does not mean I'm planning to end my poker career just yet. On the live front I still feel I can compete with the best, and my deep run in Vegas and several final tables since are grounds for optimism that I haven't written the final chaper (or blog) of my WSOP career. I feel as fit and hungry for success as ever. I've always been a contrarian in the sense that as soon as I notice I'm doing the same as everyone around me, I stop wanting to do it. Seeing the same faces on the ant trail to the morning commuter train was a big motivation for me to leave the ant trail and find another way to making a living, which ultimately was poker. Seeing more and more of my friends, several of them more naturally talented at poker than me, give up and go back to work just makes me more determined than ever to do everything I can to go on in poker.

After I got back from Prague and reflected on my online year, I decided I wanted to finish it on a high with a concrete achievable goal: my sixth PocketFives Triple Crown. So immediately after eating Christmas dinner, I settled myself down for a marathon 16 hour Sunday grind that culminated with me winning a tournament on ACR. Two days later I added a win on Ipoker, and two days later I clinched the Triple Crown. Having played so little the last six months that I was feeling a bit rusty online, it was good to feel I could still do it if I tried hard enough.

A poker player tweeted wrily that it's ironic how many players tweet resolutions for self improvement the night after the most debauched session of their year. In true contrarian fashion, I spent the afternoon of my New Year's Eve running 23 miles round my local park, and the rest of the day studying poker. I have lost some shape in the last six months of endless travelling, but I intend to be back in 30 mile long run shape by the end of January. To survive as a pro in poker you have to be prepared to study more than ever but if that's what it takes, then I'll put the work in. In the words (or letters) of my Lithuanian friend Laurynas, YWNOM.

Looking forward to 2017, the plan is to work harder and smarter than ever. The WSOP will always be the main focus of my live poker year. Before then, I intend to travel a lot less and be much more selective in what I play, focusing on events I actually want to play and places I want to visit. I want to rededicate myself to online, as that has always been the main focus. I want to do everything I can to be in top shape physically and mentally again when I get off the plane in McCarran airport. And I want to end 2017 feeling that online poker is still a very viable option as my main source of income. Most of all, I want to look back and feel I gave it my best shot and hopefully proved that there's life in the old Doke still.


Yet another great blog. You are giving a refreshingly honest assessment of your poker year, by most poker players' standards that is, as many players will not disclose most of the negatives that go along with playing poker as a full time profession.

As you said, less pros on Pokerstars might at face value seem like an advantage for recreational players but as you alluded to they will be in smaller fields so will have less leverage on their buy ins and therefore lose out on some of the benefit of the exponential playing edge a player can achieve within an MTT, that's even if recreational players can string a long term +ROI together, which is unlikely in itself.

My read and instinct, based on reading a lot of your blogs and Tweets etc is that you would be one of the best coaches around to be coached by as you have a very well rounded skill set and outlook that covers all of the technical, mind set and practical aspects of the game.

I don't play NLHE and am only a part time player currently but would definitely consider asking you for mental game coaching should I go back to playing a bigger volume of live tournaments.

Good luck in everything, poker and otherwise, for 2017 and keep up the writing as it is top drawer and a valuable and interesting read for all players.

Thank you for your kind words!

One thing I've realised as I've done more coaching is just how important things other than pure strategy are important. I read a very good piece by Matthew Hunt today (http://www.pocketfives.com/articles/three-domains-poker-learning-592746/) and realised that I'm certainly guilty of this:

"Most players spend almost all of their learning and development energy on strategy - they figure that improving their understanding of the fundamentals and learning to make better decisions is the only way to really get better, and studying other aspects of the game in an effort to improve performance or perspective is somehow not ‘true improvement’"

I think that's because for whatever reasons I just have a naturally strong mental game, and ability to perform when it matters most. This is something I tend to take for granted as I have had it in all areas before poker: when I was a runner I always brought it in the big race etc., and I had the mindset to focus on what I can control and don't worry about the rest. As I've coached more people and seen that not everyone has these as strengths, I've become more aware of how lucky I am (they seem to be innate, though maybe I learned them at some point without realising). That's not to say I'm superhuman: I obviously do make the odd performance mistake (usually due to boredom: early stages of deep stack slow structure tournaments in particular, or overexertion online if I have too many tables) and occasionally find negative or otherwise unhelpful thoughts creeping into my head (though I think or at least hope they never adversely affect my decisions). But it's never something I've really had to work at overtly in poker.

On the other hand, I now know that not everyone is so lucky. I often find myself listening to students explain thought processes that I really can't relate to. My natural instinct is usually "Why would you even think or do that? That's so unhelpful/counterproductive". That's obviously not a useful response, so instead I just try to explain my own counter strategy or thought process, as this seems to help, if I can persuade the other person that it's a more useful way to think or act.

Poker is particularly tough though. We are told not to be "results oriented". But we are wired as humans to be exactly that. But in poker you can play bad and win, and play perfect and lose (short term). That really mucks up our inner compass that wants good effort rewarded, and bad play punished. Most sports punish bad play and poor preparation, and reward good play and diligence.

So it's been interesting to me how much of the job of a coach is not correcting the individual mistakes of a player, or teaching them correct strategy, but getting them thinking the right way, and when they don't, understanding what the underlying weakness that causes these particular errors and how to try to correct that rather than "How do I play the nut flush draw out of position?".

hi,I think that's because for whatever reasons I just have a naturally strong mental game, and ability to perform when it matters most.
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