Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Batmania, an opportunity lost

Australia was "discovered" in 1606 by the Dutch, who gave it the name "New Holland". It was a very Eurocentric discovery, given that the place was already home to up to a million or so native people, who presumably felt their ancestors had a greater claim on the discovery than these European Johnny Come Latelies. The infamous Captain Cook got there in 1770, and did what any self respecting Briton of the time would do: immediately claimed the whole place for King and Country.

Not quite sure what to do with the newest part of their empire, the British decided to turn it into one big prison and started shipping convicts and Irish rebels there. When the Brits heard reports the French were sniffing around the south coast of the mainland looking to establish a colony there, they decided to beat them to the punch. A group led by John Batman sailed from Tasmania to what is now Melbourne to set up a colony. There's speculation that Melbourne almost wasn't Melbourne. Given the Aussie penchant for taking someone's name and adding some vowels (Tasmania was named after Abel Tasman, the first European to land there), the obvious name for the new colony would have been Batmania, but sadly sensible heads prevailed and it became Melbourne instead.

It's fairly safe to assume the early Melbourne was a pretty rough place. One of those early residents was one Elizabeth Callaghan, who was born in the town of my birth (Ennis in county Clare). Elizabeth was quite the character it seems. She got herself into trouble at age 17 for passing a counterfeit note, a crime which resulted in her shipment off to Tasmania. Her fortune or misfortune continued when she somehow ended up marrying Batman in Tasmania a few years before he set sail from Melbourne, with whom she had 8 kids. In 1839 she decided to sail back to the UK for a visit (no small undertaking in those days: next time you find yourself moaning about jetlag after flying to Australia try to bear in mind that it was a one year round trip two centuries ago). While she was gone, her husband took it upon himself to die of syphilis, a fact she only discovered on her return to Australia almost nine months after his death.

Apparently the spirited Elizabeth was less perturbed about her husband's death and considerably more concerned about how much, or rather how little, he had left her and the 8 kids they had together. She and her late husband's clerk with whom she now took up with sued to try to get the fiver she'd been left increased, but were unsuccessful. Elizabeth's eventful life eventually came to a premature end in 1852 when she was killed in a bar fight. But not before she had given her name to several streets and locations around Melbourne.

The golden era (literally) of Melbourne started shortly afterwards with the discovery of vast amounts of gold. Prospectors showed up from all over the world, and these tended to be somewhat better educated and disciplined than the early residents who founded the city. As the gold flowed, the transition from rough colony to prosperous modern city was completed. At the time there was no Australia: a new nation would be born a few decades later. On January 1st, 1901, the six British colonies that made up Australia at that point, met there and decided to band together in a new nation called Australia. It was essentially a safety in numbers strategy: the colonies felt that separately they would be unable to repel an invasion.

195 years after Elizabeth Callaghan cursed her fate and boarded a convict ship, another native of Ennis in the fine county of Clare boarded a flight to Melbourne, accompanied by another feisty woman who would have given Elizabeth a run or fight for her money. It was my first time in Australia, or indeed the Southern Hemisphere, and the same is true for Mrs Doke. We aren't getting any younger, we figured, so might as well go look at some water disappearing down the drain in the opposite direction to the one we have seen all our lives.

What's wrong with the shirt?

My Melbournian friend Adam met us at the airport and brought us to his place where we spent the first night. Adam was a great host all through the trip and was our guide for most of the most memorable days. He knows little or nothing about poker which is useful on those days you just want to switch off and not think about the great game.

I was up bright and early the next morning (jetlag? What jetlag?). Mrs Doke slept most of the day (ok, maybe jetlag is a thing) so Adam brought me to see some bats that live very near him (or flying foxes as the locals call them). From there we moved into an aparthotel in central Melbourne a five minute walk from the Crown casino.

The Crown is a great place to play poker, and the Aussie Millions is a great series. The atmosphere at the tables is unusually friendly, the staff are cheerful if a little eccentric (they do chip races on the fly one table at a time without halting play, and there's a glorious randomness to who gets moved from a table when necessary: it's rarely the standard "next big blind"), security is delightfully low key, and the casino itself is about as tasteful as it gets.

I had some success at the tables. Not much to write home (or even a blog) about, but I did satellite into the main, and went deep in the Accumulator side event. I posted a couple of hands from the latter on ShareMyPair, one I misplayed on day one against a French pro, and  an interesting spot against the chipleader from day 2. I ended up busting in 27th, when my aces got cracked by jacks (all in pre, jack on the turn). I would have been in good shape to press on to the final table if I had held, but it was not to be.

In the main event, a frustrating day one saw me bag up just under starting stack thinking maybe I should have just bought into day two. I got off to a great start the next day with a near double up early on, only for  the dream to come crashing down very next hand in a manner eerily reminiscent of my Accumulator bustout.

On my first table, Bertie Bayley said something I completely agree with:

"Melbourne is the one place you are guaranteed to have a good time irrespective of how the poker goes for you"

We had some great days away from the tables.

Anyone for tennis?

It seems most of the travelling pros availed of the opportunity to go watch the Australian Open, and we went along for a full day of quarter finals with Adam.

We also ran into the irrepressible Aseefo.

Parade of the penguins

On another day off, Adam drove us to Phillip Island, an unspoiled nature park featuring koalas, wallabies, and seals. Pride of place though goes to the fairy penguins, who come ashore every night and attract tourists from all over the world to witness their landing and slow trudge up the hill to their burrows.

These remarkable little creatures (about the size of a normal bird) spend 4 or 5 days at sea swimming up to 50 kilometres a day and diving hundreds of times a day for food, before returning to their burrows to rest. They know where to land, and trudge up the hill up to a couple of kilometres to their burrow.

It was a long cold wait before they arrived, but when they did it was one of the most spectacular sights I've ever witnessed. They first appear as little specks on the sea, as they size up their options. They bob there for a while, before the bravest among them comes in to land. On this occasion, he looked up the hill, then at the crowds gathered to witness the spectacle, decided he didn't fancy it and scooted back out to sea.

Next a party of three landed, and the leader repeated the sizing up process, before reaching the same "don't fancy it" conclusion and scurrying back out to sea. This was repeated a few times by other landing parties, before finally one landed, and their leader decided to go for it, waddling up the beach followed by the others. Groups of various sizes (three or more) continued to land and march up the hill. One of the last groups to land was the biggest: ten in all. As their leader went through the sizing up process at the front, one dissenter at the back remained face out to sea, as if exhorting his groupmates that they'd be much better off back out there. He was ignored by the others, and when the leader eventually decided to go for it followed by the other eight, the dissenter finally turned landwards only to see his buddies slowly disappearing from sight. He took off after them as fast as his little legs could waddle.

As we walked up the boardwalk back to the car park, penguins all round us waddled up to their burrows. For the most part, they seemed unperturbed by the humans, but it seemed all a bit much for one guy in the face of much flash photography. Turning his back on the crowds, he crouched apparently unwilling to go on until the crowd cleared. The ever softhearted Mrs Doke was so concerned she sought out a park ranger, who assured us he'd be fine and this was a frequent occurrence.

The penguins, it seems, don't mind the humans but don't like flash photography.

Big thank you to Adam's friend Tom, a park ranger there who acted as our personal guide for the day.

Wine tour

Another down day highlight was a tour of the Yarra Valley wine region, which went so well it transformed Mrs Doke from French wine snob to Australian wine fan.

Meet the Byrnes

My study buddy Daiva and her husband John were there for the series and it was great to get a chance to hang out with them. We went to see "Molly's Game" one night, and to a jazz club another.

Daiva and I also recorded a strategy segment for The Chip Race which should be available soon: it's our take on a hand between recent guest Phil Hellmuth and Liv Boeree, and Doug Polk's analysis of it).

Special shoutout to David Lappin, who threw caution and time differences to the wind to drag himself out of bed to record with us.

Daiva and I railed one of the three final tables Kenny Hallaert made. He lost a flip for the win, but went one better shipping the final turbo side event. Well done to him for keeping his amazing heater lit.

We also played a team event, where I maintained my impressive 100% record of busting us out of these events, and Daiva's table mate Aussie cricket legend Shane Warne seemed bemused by how unimpressed she was by his efforts to impress her.

All told, we had an amazing time in Melbourne (and we are already looking forward to next year). Big thank you to all those already mentioned who made it so memorable, and also online beast (and former Chip Race guest) Jesse McKenzie, Merv, Willie Shillibier, Christian weird-German-name, Hamish, Tom, Cass, Josh and everyone else I hung out with or chatted to.

I'll leave the final word to poker's most travelled recreational player, Asif "Poker Tourist" Warris. Aseefo trots the globe from event to event, mainly it sometimes seem so he can compile the definitive list of everything that's wrong with everywhere. So there is perhaps no bigger tribute I can pay than his answer when I asked him how his trip was.

"Brilliant. Melbourne is amazing. How could you not have a good time here?"



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