Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Last Time

There’s a last time for everything we do in our lives. Sometimes we know it’s the last time, but more often we don’t. As I’ve noted before on this blog, every year in Vegas there are pros playing their last WSOP, and only rarely do they realise it. There’s also the last time we do something we love, the last time we see a loved one or friend, or even the last day of friendship.

Knowing it’s the last time for something always makes for a bittersweet occasion, as it did in Madrid at the last ever MPN tour stop. This has been one of my favourite tours ever since I played my first a few years ago up near Dublin airport. You see the same faces at stops, always a good sign, and testament to what a great job my friend Clodagh Hansen has done engendering a feel good atmosphere with a budget that’s a small fraction of what bigger operators like Stars and Party have to spend.

There can be a slipping of standards when a team knows they’ll be redundant soon, but there was no sign of that in Madrid. I’d struggle to find anything to criticise about any aspect of the event. The registration process seemed a little inefficient, and some of the rulings had more than a faint whiff of home town decisions, which in my experience is often a problem in Spain. My exit in the 220 side event was a bit of a head scratcher, nothing as egregious as the all time worst decision I was ever on the wrong side of (in San Sebastian years ago) but there’s at least some possibility I was angle shot (I’ll give the details on that later). But other than those minor quibbles, top marks across the board for the MPN team.

Being sensible for once

I got there late on Thursday afternoon, after day 1A kicked off. There was still time to late register and not miss more than a level or two, but on two hours sleep it seemed wiser to take an easy evening and have an early night ahead of 1B, which is what I did.

My day 1B was a pretty miserable affair with long periods of card death. I may have messed up the first hand on the turn, when I decided to start bluffing on an ace high board with a hand that had picked up a lot of equity because everyone had checked the flop. The plan was to keep barreling on the river if I thinned the field sufficiently (which I did to one seemingly quite reluctant caller). The plan was aborted partially because I hit a pair giving me a small amount of showdown equity, but mostly because I suddenly heard a voice in my head, my own, telling endless online players who come to me for advice on what adjustments they need to make when they play live: “Live players don’t call turn and fold river with a pair”. My opponent had a better pair and won.

A minor loss, but not exactly starting on the right foot. Most of the rest of the day was a case of staying patient and disciplined as my stack dwindled further. If we must insist on imposing a narrative on random data the narrative would have been that patience and discipline was rewarded with a late surge up past starting stack, but there’s a twist. On the second last hand of the day, I got queens in preflop against ace queen, and the ace on the turn left me bagging up seven bigs for day 2.

Day 2 times 3

There was no spin up: early on day 2 I got the lot in with AJ versus KJ and a king on the turn sent me packing. My decision to come to Madrid was made rather late so I didn’t play as many satellites as I normally would, but still had two other bullets in the clip, both of which unfortunately got fired to no avail.

The incomparable Katie Swift

After my first stint in the commentary box and an interview with the film crew, I jumped into the 220 side and got on a really fun table. Most of the fun was instigated by motormouth Katie Swift, whose presence would enliven any table. A lot of the time when I sit down at a table, I get the feeling people start doing or saying certain things in the hope of “making the blog”. Obviously people never vent these thoughts: well unless they’re Katie Swift.

Every time a major talking point presented at the table, Katie wanted to know if it would make the blog. First she lobbied for a discussion on some rule that I lost interest in as soon as I realised what it was about (nothing poker related bores me more rulings discussion: if you want those debated at length Lappin is your man). Next she lobbied so passionately for Marmite I found myself checking whether her patch said Grosvenor or Marmite. After a digression that saw her digging out a photo of me she had on her phone that proved my idea of snow gear is pretty unusual, she then got into a discussion on marshmallows saying she loved them so much it didn’t matter who pissed on one, she was having it. That branched out into a rather hilarious lost in translation discussion with her neighbour who thought she was talking about being pissed on by Swedes rather than pissed on sweets.

Possible angles

As hinted earlier, my exit from this event was blogworthy. Finding myself down to 13 big blinds I moved all in with ace ten from the cutoff. The small blind missed the move and attempted to limp. After it was explained to him the extra half blind would have to stay in the pot if he folded, he decided in for a penny in for a pound (or in for a small blind in for the lot) and shoved. And this is where it gets interesting.

The big blind who had looked at his cards instantly said nothing and flipped them over, ace jack. He moved no chips in or as far as I or the dealer could tell said nothing, but looked immediately at the small blind, who then turned over his cards to reveal king ten. The dealer then looked at me to turn over my cards and I pointed at the ace jack and said “that’s a fold right?”. After he nodded I turned over my ace ten, at which point the big blind now piped up “Is a call, is a call”. The dealer looked at him confused, then accepted it was a call, and got him to move his chips in.

Now it’s possible the big blind (a very experienced player who won MPN London) had clearly decided to call and just flipped over his ace jack thinking that was enough, but in my mind at least it’s also possible he left enough ambiguity there to be able to claim it as either as a fold or a call after he saw the two hands he was up against. This being Spain I had very little confidence I’d get a favourable ruling so I decided to let this one slide.

Turns out though, that that wasn’t even the most blogworthy thing about the event, because Katie Swift kicked on to win the event outright, helped in no small part she told me the following day by a pep talk from her mum Sue, a lovely lady Katie had me give a signed copy of my book to.

Doubles Troubles

On Sunday, the final day, David and I went for brunch with Clodagh, Bobby, Parky, Jesse and a few others. I'd already had breakfast so I texted Clodagh to just order dessert for me. Dessert turned out to be an order of magnitude greater than I expected, and Bobby took this sneaky pic of me struggling gamely to finish it.

David and I then went in to play the Doubles event, or as the MPN blog was jokingly calling it the Couples event. They even went so far as to speculate whether romance would blossom between myself and my cohost. Any chance of that was ended when David not only made us one of the early bustouts but also subjected me to a trademark confused confusing almost nonsensical Grandpa Simpson of the hand history in the Mexican we went to afterwards (shoutout to Mad Harper for the recommendation).

As you can probably tell from my face, I was less than enthralled.


We toyed with the idea of entering the last side event, a bounty, which had some additional appeal given that PKOs are my latest specialisation (more on that later too). Instead though, we opted for a bit of commentary with all time legends Jesse May (the first voice you hear at the start of every episode of the Chip Race), which was a lot of fun. We then retired to the hotel where our ladies were waiting with wine, to bring down the curtain on a very fun if unprofitable trip.

I can’t really complain though. Having cashed for over 20k live in January and made the best start ever to a year online since moving more to PKOs, I was due a speed bump.


It’s been clear for quite some time that PKOs are the most profitable online mtts to play right now. Recreationals love them, and because they’re new and the strategy deceptively complex, almost nobody plays them very well. Despite knowing this for ages, I’ve shied away from them for too long, because I don’t enjoy playing a game if I don’t feel I have a very good handle on the strategy. This is actually a pretty bad leak for a professional to have, because it’s not the size of your skill that matters, it’s the size of your edge. You could be a pretty bad cash player, but if you found a game where everyone else was even worse, you should hop in. But for me a lot of the joy of poker is as a pure strategy game, and if I find myself floundering around strategically it doesn’t matter how much I’m winning, I’m not having fun.

PKOs are so new there’s almost nothing out there on the strategy, and we are all still trying to work it out. I only moved from limit cash to stts after working out push fold from first principles so that I felt reasonably expert. The move to satellites came only after I’d mastered ICM in the stts. Before I moved into headsup sit n goes, I worked out as much of the maths as I could. So before committing to PKOs I wanted to do the same.

That process started about a year ago when I finished work on “Poker Satellite Strategy”. Recognizing that the best way to reverse what was now a clear decline in my online profitability was to move into the most profitable games there are online (PKOs) I rolled up my shirt sleeves and started working on the maths. The motivation initially was purely for my own benefit, but....

The difficult second book

When Barry started probing for ideas on another book we could write together, I mentioned I was doing a lot of work on PKOs. He pointed out that with so little content out there on PKOs that might be our second book, so as I worked out the maths and refined it into strategic ideas, I started presenting it to Barry. He’s clearly a lot more adventurous than I am because he immediately started playing PKOs. Playing and crushing: it seemed hardly a week went by that he wasn’t sending me a screenshot of another big PKO score.

On the most recent episode of The Chip Race, we announced that the book is coming soon. I initially thought it might be a much tougher sell to convince people to part with hard cash for my strategic insights on PKOs than on satellites, given my long-standing reputation as a satellite expert, but....

The webinar and video

I presented the biggest ideas I have on PKO strategy in a webinar recently. I expected the audience to be almost entirely recreational, so I was surprised on the night to find three absolute beasts forked out to hear what I had to say. It’s a pretty bad show when at best you’re the fourth best player in your own webinar, but I soldiered on. Since then I’ve made the two hour video available for $100, and again been surprised at how many beasts have bought.

I intend to run some more webinars/group coaching sessions in the next few months on other stuff I’ve put a lot of my own study time into, so keep an eye on my Twitter if you think you might be interested. I have done a lot of work on peeling three bets out of position (something I identified as a leak in my own game) and exploiting weaker live players (something many online players have come to me for coaching on).

Doke the lullaby

This log has taken rather a shilly turn but I have one more thing to plug. Probably the two questions I’ve been asked the most in the last year are “Is there an audiobook version of Poker Satellite Strategy?” and “When is the audiobook coming?”

Initially we had no intention of doing one because the content didn’t seem to lend itself to the format but given the apparent demand we bit the bullet and went for it. Barry did the rewrites necessary to make it more audiobook friendly, so there are some additional expositions and explanations in the audiobook not in the printed or ebook versions to compensate for the charts we had to leave out (which are still available in printed form to audiobook purchasers if they so desire), and I did the late night recordings with all the devices in the house shut down to eliminate background noise, which Barry then edited. Shoutout to Jared Tendler who also narrated his contributions. And if we only sell two audiobooks and this was all an elaborate troll to get us to waste a few weeks of our lives, well played “when’s the audiobook coming?” people.

So if you are the type of person who learns best through listening (and I suspect a lot of podcast consumers are), or you just think my voice banging on about satellites is the perfect cheap cure for insomnia, here’s where the audiobook is available for now:

iTunes: Google Play:


Podcast guest? Moi?

I felt a bit like a guest on the Chip Race when I talked about PKOs on it with Barry, particularly when David hit me with the “You’re known for satellites but not PKOs. Why the Hell would anyone want a book on PKOs by you?” question. I was an actual guest on a recent RecPoker episode, which was tremendous fun and well worth staying up past midnight and turning all the devices in the house off for.

I also recorded episodes of the Elliot Roe podcast (fascinating guy who we also have as a guest on a forthcoming Chip Race) and Brad Wilson (who has mastered the art of booking the top guests, though he might be out of leads now given he had to resort to interviewing me) which haven’t aired at time of writing, but should be out soon.

MPN - the final word

As I said already, it is with great sadness I say goodbye to the MPN tour. I hope it’s also not goodbye to the many regular faces I only saw at MPN events. If the poker industry loses Clodagh Hansen, it’ll be a massive own goal. If I never see the many friendly faces who I only saw playing those events again, it’ll be a major loss to me. Thank you all and everyone, but especially the ones (like Leo pictured below) who took the time to come up and tell me how much they got from my first book.

Obviously I’m biased, but I’d love those players to replace the hole the demise of the MPN tour leaves in their life by giving Unibet events a try. I genuinely believe Unibet events epitomise the same “make it fun for recreationals” ethos.

Next up for me is the Unibet sponsored Dublin festival. I’ll be more or less living in the Bonnington for the next seventeen days, and after that head straight to London with my cohost for the UK poker tour event in Aspers. So I hope to see a lot of you over the next month. Who might even do something that makes the blog.



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