Monday, October 23, 2017

A tale of two airports

When it comes to designing beautiful furniture, or a stylish scarf, you'd back the French to pull it off. But when it comes to designing an efficient hub airport, not so much. That's when you look to the Germans or the Dutch with their frumpy scarves and their functional furniture.

True to type, Charles De Gaulle has to be the most poorly designed airport in the world. There are a number of ways and shapes you can go when faced with the problem of putting a lot of gates in one airport and minimising the distance between any two random gates. The obvious solution is the cartwheel where the gates sprong out different spokes of the same wheel. You can also go for something more crablike like the Dutch:

Image result for amsterdam airport terminal map

The feckless child who designed CDG dispensed with all that in favour of:

I didn't realise how much of a pain this could be until I landed there last year with an hour and five minutes to make a connection to Tallinn. Lots of time, I was thinking. How wrong was that thinking. 25 minutes later the bus they downloaded us onto from the plane finally started snaking towards the terminal. 25 minutes later, it pulled up at a door that said NON SCHENGEN in big judgemental letters. 25 minutes later I was arguing with a security guy that I needed to be allowed to skip a long passport control queue to have any chance of making my delayed but taking off imminently flight. He was having none of me and directed me to the back of the line. We glared at each other both clearly thinking exactly the same thought ("in my country, they shoot people like you") before I surrendered faster than you can say Maginot Line.

25 minutes later, I'm weaving my way towards the Air France information desk to tell them I missed my connection. It's manned, or rather womanned, by an attractive example of French womanhood. There is no such thing as a poorly designed French female in my experience: they are the most attractive nation on Earth in that regard. But they can also be a little difficult at times.

After looking at me like someone who hadn't a word of English as I explained my situation, she snapped her fingers and said "Passport!"

I like a woman who can take charge, all the more so when she does so in a sexy French accent, so I happily obliged and watched approvingly as she scrutinised my passport and typed on a keyboard. Her beautiful face moved through disapproval, annoyance, confusion before returning to me suspiciously.

"It appears you made your connection"
"What....but....I......clearly I did not. I stand before you. You have my passport"

She looked back at my passport. Then the computer screen. Then me.

"You made your connection"
"I strongly disagree. Is there some other way you can check that doesn't involve the computer?"

She thought about it. Then some more. Then some more. Then she looked at her phone and nodded. With one hand she put the phone to her well designed ear, and with the other punched some numbers before lifting a solitary well designed finger to me.

She spoke in hushed French tones. I pretended not to eavesdrop.

"Seat 24D. Can you check it?"

She glared at me while we waited.

"D'accord. Merci"

I looked at her hopefully.

"It appears you missed your connection"
"I am aware of this"
"You had more than an hour"

Her tone was accusatory.
One thing three decades of marriage to a well designed French woman has taught me is that there is an art to arguing with them. That art involves not actually arguing (they love a good argument and will indulge and run rings around you just for fun), but rather self deprecating and deflecting without actually conceding.

I smiled confidently, thinking "She's French, I got this".

"Yes, but I am the world's stupidest Irishman in the world's stupidest airport"

I could see her almost smiling before she shrugged and started punching keys again. The world's slowest printer churned out a boarding pass which she handed to me. I looked at it gratefully.

"Um....this flight closes in 15 minutes and I have to go back through security"
"We may find ourselves back here within the hour arguing about whether I'm on another flight or not"

She finally cracked and smiled.

"We may"


This year I came via Frankfurt. I discovered to my horror I had less than an hour to make the connection. I'm screwed I thought, and less familiar and comfortable with the ways of the German Frau than I am with the quirks of the French Femme. All I could think of was getting shouted at and being called an untermensch.

As soon as the plane landed I got a text message telling me which gate I had to go to. Five minutes later they'd downloaded us onto a bus and I'd got a text saying the bus would take 13 minutes to get to the terminal. There were screens on the bus with gate numbers, and multilingual announcements directing us to look at them. Thirteen minutes later, I was walking through a sea of Lufthansa staff there to direct people to their gates. 10 minutes later I'm at the gate glaring at those fools who insist on queueing before boarding commences. 15 minutes later I'm in my seat on the plane looking up at James Walsh, who has just made a tight connection from Manchester. I don't even mind the fact that I'm on a plane full of Germans laughing at stuff I don't find remotely funny (the funniest joke by far was the guy who observed us all shuffling in and out of our seats to let people in before declaring "We are all playing plane dominoes" to raucous Germanic laughter).

At that moment I was simply in awe of and grateful for German efficiency.


The trip itself was a blast, with a great crew of people in a great little city. Clodagh Hansen and her staff excelled themselves again.

I bust last hand of day one after a frustrating day where I started well but didn't then kick on. I decided to reenter at the start of day 2 with 10.4 big blinds, one of a handful of what Mark Spurr called the crazies to do so. In most worlds I'm going to bust pretty quick, but I back myself to play that kind of stack optimally, and as I explained to my gracious host Hanno, most of the equity in tournaments comes from playing the latter stages well when you run well enough to get there.

It wasn't looking good as I dipped as low as 4 big blinds at one point, but I stuck to the game plane and notched up my first cash on Estonian soil. I continued to linger on sub twenty bigs the whole way. With 19 left I looked up at the clock to confirm we were on the first significant pay jump. I had 16 big blinds but felt like I might be the shortest, which Lappin quickly confirmed after a scout round the other tables. Then a loose young Russian min raises to 32k, an even more maniacal young Scandi makes it 100k in the small blind, and I have tens and 200k in the big blind. I know my hand is too strong to fold even with the pay jump, but I'm professionally compelled to do everything I can to lock up the pay jump. So I sit there looking tortured waiting for someone to call clock, at which point I'll run down the minute before min raising. I figure the "What on Earth is he doing? How much have you behind?" confusion will buy me some more time before I have clock called on me again, and we might get the ladder.

It doesn't come to that. Lappin pipes up:

"All in and a call on the other table"

As my table mates continue to humour my tank (I think the fact this was my first made them more forgiving) the guy on the other table busted. I waited a few more seconds to give them a chance to start processing his payout (I didn't want any ambiguity as to who busted first if I did bust), then moved all in. A minute later I'd won a flip and was feeling like I was in the tournament for the first time.

It's been a frustrating year live, with only one live final table all year. With almost an average stack now and a good seat I was feeling good about doubling my final table count for the year, but it was not to be.

After the maniacal Scandi raised I look down at Kings and threebet. He shoves and I snap. I very surprised to be behind and quite sad to be out in 17th, but happy with my performance and accepting of the fact that I'd run well to get this far, winning two flips and holding two 70/30s on the other occasions I was allin.

That left me free to fill my last full day in Tallinn as I pleased. I did some Chip Race recordings with David, and we were interviewed by Jason Glatzer for PokerNews about our podcast. Jennifer Tilly started a tradition of people asking "And do you play poker too David?"  when we interviewed her, one Jason continued much to my amusement.

David and I then did a stint in the commentary box where I got to see my vanquisher raise K2 utg, confirming my read of him as looser than Kat Arnsby' strings. After our stint in the box David scurried off to brick another side event (yes he does play a bit of poker) while I met his beautiful girlfriend Saron and their adorable son Hunter for dinner at Olde Hansa, a restaurant she fancied. The theme is medieval, with a menu of 15th century dishes, and nothing but candlelight as illumination. Saron is great fun to be with so this and the stroll back to the hotel through the old town was a real highlight.

Hanno very kindly brought me and James Walsh to the airport the following morning and we talked some hands (he also cashed, and on one bullet). We ran into the delightful delinquent Kat Arnsby fresh from her side event second place. She'd already spent much of the windfall on perfume (€650) and a kilogram bag of M&M's, which didn't stop her from loftily proclaiming "I'm thrifty. I spend very little money" as we boarded.

Next up live for me is the Brighton leg of the Unibet UK Poker Tour, where I'm looking forward to catching up with many familiar faces. I always seem to plan to end the year playing mostly blind but actually end up cramming in lots of live poker. After Brighton I have the WSOPE main event (my first trip to Rozvadov), Punta Cana, Bucharest and Manchester all before I head to the Aussie Millions in January.

Finally, massive shoutout of thanks to my host and sponsor Hanno Liiva for his generosity and hospitality in Tallinn, and everyone else who made it such a fun trip.


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