Friday, April 26, 2019

London and me (and ewwwww)

I think I was 11 or 12 when I first came to London to visit my godfather and uncle Kieran. He and his two brothers had an electrical store in Wood Green at the time (which they later sold when they moved back to Dublin and set up a similar enterprise in Churchtown. It was my first time outside Ireland and a welcome relief and temporary release from an unhappy family home. It was also the start of an off and on love affair with London and its residents that continues to this day.

Ten years later I found myself spending a lot of time in Hampstead where my first serious girlfriend Julie Sinclair had a flat. Two years later, still reeling from her premature death, I found myself wandering miserably around Aldwych after a disastrous job interview with a software company listening to the new David Bowie single (Day in Day Out) thinking I never wanted to be in this city again that brought back too many memories of Julie.

Ten years later I returned again with the love of my life (Mrs Doke). We went to a football match (Wimbledon against Arsenal) and a Bowie concert (Outside tour rehearsal show). Since then, I’ve formed many fresher happy memories of London: watching Daiva take down a ladies event, watching Kevin Killeen go deep in an EPT, attending the opening night of the latest incarnation of the Hippodrome, finishing second in a UKIPT, and playing my first Unibet Open as a Unibet ambassador.

My new chill coach

I said to Daiva recently that the one thing I’m really bad at these days is just chilling. I generally don’t take vacations, or even days off. She is a world class chiller and offered coaching, suggesting I take an easy week in London visiting her and John.

I flew in on Monday, and the three of us headed straight to my friend Sameer’s place. Sameer is an accomplished chef who used to own a restaurant before poker, and he pulled out all the stops to impress me (and more importantly keen foodie Daiva). Afterwards I headed to my first Arsenal match in over a decade with Gareth James and Sameer. The match was a lot of fun, particularly watching Sam (who it is fair to say is more of a cricket person) get totally into the experience.

Chop chop

The following evening Daiva and I headed to the Vic to play a random £90 nightly. Win lose or draw tourneys like this are always a lot of fun and you see a lot of plays that are charitably referred to as unorthodox. As it was, it ended up even more fun when Daiva and I got headsup and snap chopped. I got lucky in the crucial hand when the button limped, Daiva completed in the small blind, and I checked Doyle Brunson (ten deuce offsuit). The flop was a rather favourable T82r and I led for one big blind. The button called and Daiva folded. The turn was another 2, and I checked since the villain had shown a very strong tendency to bluff turns. He overbet shoved for several multiples of pot drawing dead with AK. I barely covered him so with that Daiva and I were headsup. In terms of a perfect poker experience chopping with your best friend and study buddy can’t really be topped.

Trying to remember (how to sign) my name

The following morning I was up early (for me) on my way to meet the lovely Kasia Scanlon at the Unibet offices in Wimbledon for my first ever book signing. I’ve known Kasia for as long as I’ve been playing poker: when I started she was one of the beautiful Polish dealers that graced the Sporting Emporium cardroom in Dublin, and by far the friendliest. We’d not seen much of each other after she and her husband John moved to London (he’s the cardroom manager at Aspers) so I was delighted when she joined Unibet live events team last year meaning I get to see her at all the Unibet stops. After the signing we went out to lunch and she told me one of my favorite stories I’ve heard in ages.

We were chatting generally about the IPhone centric world we find ourselves in these days. Kasia has a long commute to and from Wimbledon every day, and described to me how on one such occasion she found herself traveling at off peak, so the carriage had just a handful of passengers. As she looked around, everyone was on their device avoiding all eye contact. Kasia was reflecting on this when a little old man zimmered onto the train and made his way slowly and unsurely to the seat opposite her. He looked, in the words of Kasia, like a turtle, with his shriveled hunched body and wrinkly skin, but when she smiled he smiled back. As her faith that there was still some non technologically based humanity left in the world, he very slowly and carefully took a small wrapped item from his jacket, which he carefully unwrapped. It was the kind of eye glass jewelers use to examine jewelry. After fitting it carefully to his eye, he reached inside his other pocket and pulled out an IPhone, which he spent the rest of the trip peering at.

An Indian and an Irishman in the Imperial War Museum

The following day Daiva disappeared off on an all day shopping exhibition, after a very tasty brunch with John I headed to the Imperial War Museum with Sameer. When an Irishman and an Indian visit a museum celebrating British imperialism you can expect a lot of tut tutting. It’s a bit of a tradition between us that we visit places that afford us the opportunity to express ancestral outrage. Sameer was on a mission to find a mention of the million plus Indians who fought on the British side in WW1, and horrified to find none (we also found no acknowledgement of the Irishmen used as a cannon fodder in one of the most pointless wars ever). While a little jingoistic in spots and not as impressive overall as you might expect from the rather grandiose title or impressive guns outside, it’s still worth a visit and does convey a lot of the grim reality of war.

Other highlights the trip included a trip to a comedy club with John and Daiva, and watching the first ever GPI global poker awards.

GPI and Negrean-ewwwww

My customary indifference to award shows was for once overriden by the fact of being up for one: "The Chip Race" had unexpectedly been nominated for Podcast of the Year. We were the only (some might say "token") Europeans in the category (the other four nominees were all American). If I'm honest I was surprised we made the long list, even more surprised we made the nominations shortlist, and both David and I assumed we were basically drawing dead to win the award. Whenever we were asked if we were going to the awards, we both joked that we weren't flying all the way to Vegas to see which of the four Americans won.

David was so convinced we were drawing dead, he didn't bother staying up for it (or at least that was his excuse: copious consumption of alcoholic beverages on the occasion of his son's second birthday may also have been a contributor to his heavy night's sleep). Daiva (who serves both as a strategy guru on the show and our de facto adviser on ladies poker) was keen to watch though, so watch it we did. That meant that at some time around 2 am I was staring incredulously at Ali Nejad on a laptop screen saying "Unfortunately noone from the Chip Race is here to accept the award" while one half of Daiva did a victory dance and the other side professionally filmed my reaction for Twitter.

David has a similarly jaundiced view to mine on awards, but he wrote an uncharacteristically soppy blog the next day thanking everyone who ever helped us with the show (although again, that might have been hangover sentimentality). As much as people love a long list of credits at the end of a movie (as in not at all, unless you're in them), they love a bit of controversy even more, and on this occasion our old friend Daniel Negreanu provided his. His expression of disgust at us winning the award on the night was chronicled on the PokerNews Instagram story, and drew sharp condemnation as sour grapes from far and wide. He reacted to this a few days later on his own unnominated podcast by doubling down, saying he had every right to be disgusted (though in response to his cohost Terrence Chan singing the praises of The Chip Race paradoxically said we might be good for all he knows but he didn't know never having listened to a single second) because we were, in his words, "not good dudes" because we attack him constantly. Clearly we have different definitions of constancy, as the so-called "attacks" amounted simply to us writing a blog each critical of his comparison of certain player types to cancer, and his defence of unpopular PokerStars policies, and some tweets back and forth around the time of the blog.

After his podcast drew further outrage, he doubled down again in an expletive-laden exchange with Lappin on Twitter with more than a strong whiff of racism (referring to us with the charged "You people") and misogyny (when he dragged Lappin's girlfriend into it). I pretty much sat this one out, but Lappin loves a good Twitter barney as Negreanu quickly found out when he was put back into his box and returned to tweeting about hockey, veganisms and the size of a part of his anatomy he appears unusually proud of (no pics Daniel, please, for the love of God, no pics).

I don't want to harp on about Negreanu and the tiny handful of others who cast shade on our award: people tend to show their true colours in these situations and there are bad losers in all walks of life but I prefer to focus on positive people. Most of our rivals for the award were incredibly gracious and complimentary, and many of our listeners were quick to defend us and the show even in the face of seemingly more powerful voices. I've always preferred quality to quantity and while we might have but a tiny fraction of the followers of a Negreanu, our tribe of "you people" is sharp, committed, engaged and not afraid to make their voices heard.



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