Monday, December 10, 2018


Luxury prison camp

I often get asked why Mrs Doke doesn’t accompany me on more poker trips. There are many different answers, one of which is she doesn’t enjoy them. She’s not that keen a traveller (she likes her home comforts and doesn’t like the bovine feeling most airports engender in her), and she really has no interest in poker beyond how much I lost today. She hates casinos and resorts, and she is no sun worshipper. One thing we both have in common is we are utterly useless at doing nothing. We are terrible chillers: with nothing concrete to fill a day, we climb the concrete walls.

Last year we went to Punta Cana, a luxury all inclusive resort. While everyone else oohed and ahhed about the place, what was Mrs Doke’s reaction?

“Luxury prison camp”

What she does like are big cosmopolitan cities with vibrant cultures and a bit of history: Rome, New York, Melbourne, Prague. So while all I would have needed to say to get almost any other female on the plane was “Bahamas in November” the only way I could win her over to the idea was 5 days with the Bleemers in New York on the way over. True to form, she loved New York. And her verdict on her Bahamas?

“Ten days of my life, wasted”

And therein we have Doke’s paradox: I wanted to marry her because (among other reasons) she was the type of woman who would never be happy sunning herself by the pool: yet I still want her company on trips such as these where there’s not much else for her to do.

Let's see the sea 

After a few days lying in bed reading the many books she brought with her to get through this ordeal, Mrs Doke decided it might be an idea to go look at the sea, which she has a genuine fondness for, and which she had found out was quite near (100 meters or so from the hotel). I accompanied her downstairs on this great excursion and steered towards the back of the hotel.

“Where are you going?”
“ the sea? You said you wanted to, right?”
“Yes but it’s at the back of the hotel not the front”
“We are walking towards the back”
“No we are not”

I was certain I was right, but even more certain this was an argument I could not win (she was citing many hours of consulting maps in the room, and the directions of that master of navigation that is Freddie Bergmann, a man who proved so unable to find his way out of the toilets at a players party in Bucharest that he had to be rescued by David Vanderheyden) short of slinging her over my shoulder and carrying her to the sea. It seemed wiser to play along for now.

So out through reception we walk. There’s no sea in sight, so she asks one of the receptionists how to get to the sea. The receptionist looks confused and says “Back through the hotel or from here?”
“From here!”
The receptionist looks even more confused, and tells us more or less that if we won’t walk back through the hotel, the only way to get to the sea is to walk around it. At least that’s my interpretation: Mrs Doke's is quite different so before I know what’s happening, we are walking away from the hotel back towards the airport on the exact same road we came in as I try every possible combination of words that mean “The sea is not this way” and Mrs Doke uses only one word to communicate that I am an idiot.

“But why can’t we even see the sea?”
“We can, you idiot”
“So where is it?”
“Well we can’t see it yet, idiot”
“But it’s supposed to be near!”
“Look at Google Maps on my phone. Here. Here. This blue dot is us, agreed?”
“And this is the hotel”
“Yes, idiot”
“And this is the sea”
“Duh, idiot”
“Ok. So the hotel is between the blue dot and the sea”
“So, idiot?”
“So to get to the sea the blue dot has to walk back towards the hotel, through it, and out the far side”
“No. It’s this way”
“I give up. I’m going back. You do what you want”

She considered her options, then followed me back sullenly muttering “idiot”

As we gazed out on the sea, no word of apology was expected or offered. I was still an idiot, albeit one who happened to be annoyingly correct on this occasion.

As we walked back to our room I pointed out that if we had kept walking in her direction we would also have hit the sea eventually, in 20 or 30 miles, so we were both right in a way.

This was not a helpful observation.



There seems to be a bit of a healthy rivalry these days in poker between the Americans and the Euros. The Americans, the birthplace and traditional superpower of poker, are a little less secure in their world dominance in these post UIGEA days. There was a time when going to the WSOP was the poker equivalent of an athlete going to the Olympics. It still is, but it’s the Moscow Olympics the Americans won nothing at (by virtue of boycott). They don’t boycott the WSOP, and they still win most of the bracelets, but there’s a feeling that that’s mostly sheer force of numbers. Ask any pro what accent they want to hear when the young unknown to their immediate left pulls down his sunglasses, peers at you and asks “How much?” and the answer definitely won’t be “German!” No sir: what you most want to hear is a y’all or a folksy American twang. Deprived of the ability to play a million hands a month online, the American player pool has been cut adrift onto its own evolutionary track. European regs openly joke about “dumpster American regs” (as Firaldo did recently on The Chip Race) and the Germans in particular do little to disguise their lack of esteem even for American legends and heroes such as Hellmuth.

The Americans though are are a wonderfully resilient nation. They still produce more poker champions than anyone else. Yes, population, but China. India. Russia.

At my day 2 main event table, Ryan Riess turned his head towards the 250k SHR final table and celebrated the fact that it was almost entirely American.

“Yeah! All Americans almost. We’ve been crushing the High Rollers lately. Team USA!”

His (American) neighbour Michael Gagliano seemed less ebulliently nationalistic.

“How many Euros even played? Not that many I think. It’s the Bahamas”
“All the shit Euro regs played it”

One day later, shit Euro reg Steffen Sontheimer was crowned champion, outnumbered but still slaying a table of dumpster Americans regs.

Let's hear it for the recs

I started as an online player. To this day, I see myself as an online player who plays a bit live. Live poker is the hobby: online the jobby. When I play live, it’s for a break, a holiday, or because I like the destination or the company (which was particularly good on this trip: shout-outs to Jason, Joy, Fay, Jamie, Ellie, Freddie and Tim who were all a pleasure to spend time with), or because one side effect of crushing online satellites is you have to go and actually play the target event.

These days satellites are not my bread and butter, and I could grind out a very good year online without ever going near one. I’m not as keen on travel as I was, and I have found other ways to give myself a break. The one appealing aspect that remains is the chance to meet and socialize with players I wouldn’t otherwise. Players I might interact with on social media like Jodi but it’s still nice to meet in person and get a little of their story. Sometimes I think the people I admire the most in poker are not the end bosses who lock themselves away running PIO sims 18 hours a day 365 days a year, but the true recreationals who play for the love of the game. It’s wonderful that someone can parlay a centroll into a holiday in the Bahamas rubbing shoulders with some of the superstars of the felt. I’m always grateful that so many of them see me as worthy of their time to come and have a natter.

This is something we should never lose sight of in all the bitching about structures and affiliate deals and preferential treatment for pros and overlays (real or non existent) and rake: the heart of live poker is recreational players playing for fun and having fun.

Social media

Social media and me: we go way back, let me tell ya. I was the first Irish poker player to get busy on Twitter. I remember the crescendo of mirth it caused among the pros of the day that I would waste my time on something so pointless so trivial and so clearly without a future.

Well who’s laughing now? The answer I guess is still nobody, since social media has devolved for the most part into pictures of food, chip stacks and girls in bikinis, or shouting about Trump or Brexit to the converted. It’s still an enormous waste of time, a time killer and a time sink, but it’s made us more connected than we have ever been. People come up to me all the time at poker tournaments and address me like an old friend while I stand there wondering “What is this person’s name? Have I ever even seen them before?” These are alarming questions for a man who has reached my age, as the inability to recognize the faces of old friends is a symptom of nothing good and many things bad.

Often though it’s just a case that I haven’t met this person before, but they feel like they know me because social media. And that’s a very cool thing, because the older you get the more tiresome it becomes to find an axe to break the ice.

Social media has reached the stage where you could be in the room where everything is happening, and still be less informed than the guy at home reading Twitter. Maybe I should give a concrete example: with nothing to do on a day off, I could go rail the feature table. I could walk around the poker room like a wannabe blogger looking for big hands. Or I could lie in bed with my wife, refreshing Twitter and Instagram. And guess which one will keep me the most informed?

Through social media I can learn that Jason Tompkins doubled through Jack Sinclair last hand of day one. Before I’ve even have time to message haha to Jack, I’ve seen his side of the hand on Instagram, met Jason on my stroll to the poker room, and we’ve run into Jack so I can deliver the haha in person. What a time to be alive.

Vouchers and Eastern European girls

Every time a player registered for a tournament the organizers gave them a card with Food Voucher on the front and 25 blank boxes on the back. These could be redeemed for food or water outside. Each box had a nominal value of a dollar, so if you bought a sandwich for 12 bucks, that was 12 boxes. As soon as I realized that a box was a buck, I found myself wondering why put a nominal value on boxes at all? They couldn’t be converted into anything other than corridor food or drink (though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at least one poker player tried to change them at the Currency Exchange kiosk at airport: my money and boxes are on Allen Kessler) so why not just put the prices in boxes? There are crypto currencies with less intrinsic merit.

I was reinforced in my view after Parky came over to tell me about a guy who wouldn’t stop complaining about the price of bottled water to him. It turned out of course that he wasn’t really complaining about the water costing 7 dollars, since no actual money had changed hands: only about the number of boxes it cost him.

After chortling with Parky over this tale, I decided to tell one of my own. In the previous night’s side event I’d had my most entertaining bustout.

The action went mid position open, button flat, me shove small blind for 14 big blinds, original opener reshove for lots more, and shrug call from button. I turn over my aces, the original raiser ace nine double suited, and the button five three single suited in diamonds. At this point I paused in the tale to assure Parky this was not a bad beat story, to stop his mind from wandering back to his room.

The flop was a rather safe looking king king jack rainbow no diamond, a 5 rolled off on the turn, followed by another on the river. As I stood up to leave, the guy raking in the chips explained he’d only called because what he really wanted to be doing was talking to the Eastern European girls in the players lounge. He seemed genuinely sad as he said this, like his was the real bad beat here.

As I headed not to the players lounge to talk to the Eastern European girls but back to the room to tell my French girl how much I’d lost today, I reflected on the fact that people play poker for lots of different reasons, most of them entirely valid.



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