Monday, January 4, 2021

The year everything changed and nothing happened

The further I get into my poker career, the more difficult I find it to match events to the year they happened. Was 2008 my first WSOP, or was it 2009? Did I sign my first sponsorship deal in 2009, or was it 2008 or 2010? Did Lappin enter the picture in 2012, 2011, or 2013? Did we start the Chip Race in 2015 or 2016? You get the picture even if I don’t. 

When it comes to 2020, I don’t see myself having that problem. It’s a year that stands alone like no other. The year both nothing and everything happened. The problem with 2020 looking back I think will be trying to find any significant memorable events. One Irish writer used to refer to a particular year as “the year I had a bath”. I think I’ll look back on 2020 mainly as the year I stayed at home and met nobody. 

Live poker

I actually started the year on a run of form live. I followed up a cash in the Dublin Grand Prix main event with another cash and deep run in the UK Millions main event at Dusk Til Dawn, where I played the hand against Krissy Bicknell that is the subject of the latest Chip Race strategy video, and also maybe got COVID-19 (more on that later). After I added two more final tables and three cashes at the Unibet sponsored European Deepstack festival, and then another final table at the Unibet Open, I remember Lappin predicting I’d break the record for most live cashes in a single year by an Irish player that I set a few years ago. 

And then the world changed....

COVID or not COVID, that is the question...

There’s a very strong likelihood I had Covid-19 before we even knew it was a thing. I came back from Nottingham feeling poorly. I told Mrs Doke it was the strangest flu ever: no sore throat or runny nose, just a bad cough, extreme fatigue and I’d lost the senses of smell and taste. One day I went out to do a long run and ended up walking back to the house less than an hour later. A few days later Mrs Doke went down with the same symptoms and was unable to get out of bed for a week. My co-author Barry who I hung out with in Nottingham told me a similar tale from the Carter household. 

For most of the year I felt weirdly fatigued and somewhat fuzzy and uncertain in my thought processes. At different points in the year I ascribed it to age starting to creep up on me, or pandemic blues, until suddenly in early December I felt a new bounce in my step on my runs, a return to previous clarity of thought, and the ability to put in 16 hour online grinds returned. So now I think it’s likely I was struggling with the after effects of COVID-19, so called long COVID, for most of the year. 


If you look at my Hendon mob for this year, you’ll see seven more cashes I didn’t mention above, all from the WSOP. That of course was after live poker moved online, starting with the Irish Open (which I also cashed), and like everyone The Hendon Mob shrugged and accepted the new reality. 

As long time readers of the blog (I like to pretend such exotic creatures might exist) may recall, I started out as an exclusively online player. As my career developed I added more and more live poker to the mix, but I’ve continued to see myself as a predominantly online player who uses live poker to break up the monotony. At least that’s the live positive view: at other times I’ve seen live as an annoying disruption distracting me from achieving my full potential as an online player. At different times I’ve definitely wondered what might be possible if I didn’t have that distraction and disruption to my routines every few weeks. So I went into lock down thinking this was the opportunity to find out. 

The short term answer was “like gang busters”. I crushed the start of lock down as I game slipped back into a routine of playing online every evening, and results were so good that I joked to my in group one night that it was a bad night because I was “only 1k up”. 

That comment came back to haunt and jinx me as I immediately seemed to enter into the biggest downswing of my online career. I came through that though to finish the year very strongly, and though there were no standout six figure scores to report, I ended having my best year online in several. 

More importantly, I feel my game reached new heights and is stronger than ever. I put  this down mainly to a much more regular study routine that has seen me putting into 30-60 minutes most of the days of this year, with some longer study sessions thrown in. I think I’ve also streamlined and focused my study much more effectively on the things likely to have the most impact. In particular in the second half of the year I drilled down on ICM. This is an area that was historically my strongest, but I probably took for granted in reasons years. It’s also the area I think that makes by far the biggest impact in the bottom line of any tournament player. I’ve always preferred solvers to humans when it comes to strategy guidance, I was often frustrated and unmotivated in the era before solvers where the done thing was to ask the five strongest players you had access to what they’d do in a spot, and then made a judgement call on which of the five different opinions you received to believe. With post flop solvers like PIO and Monker now ICM aware, that’s given me fresh motivation to run more sims and study the results. 

The other big factor in my success online this year even in the absence of any one big year changing scores was my switch over to PKOs as my main game. Having put tons of study and run thousands of sims for my second book on them, it was good to be able to put the knowledge I gained not just into the book but also into practise.

Which brings me on to....

The difficult second book

After the success of our first book, “Poker Satellite Strategy”, Barry and I knocked a few ideas around on what to tackle next. We initially started with another idea, before settling on PKOs, because of the absence of existing books and other content on them, and the fact that they’re becoming increasingly prevalent online (to the point of dominance). 

The process took a lot longer than we thought. With satellites, the challenge was condensing everything I knew inside out into something useful to general readers. PKOs on the other hand I was still very much learning myself, so the process was more about running the right sims, drawing the correct conclusions, and arranging it all into a useful framework. 

"PKO Poker Strategy" was released in late June and I'm very happy with how it was received.

We are already well into the process of writing the third book, which should appear at some point around the middle of 2021. Barry and I also have another non literary collaboration in the works, and I’m kicking around a few autobiographical ideas for a book, so watch this space. 


2020 was also the year that everyone found themselves with more time at home to fill, and a significant number of those decided “I know what I’ll do, I’ll get some coaching from Doke”. My coaching has changed over the years from tentative efforts to improve the guys I staked as part of the Firm through focusing on guys trying to go pro or climb the stakes to what it is now, a mix of wannabe pros, a healthy dose of recreationals who want to improve but never want to go pro, and some real ballers.

I did a lot more coaching this year and finally figured out how I can add most value to recreationals who come to me. Many of the players I coach ended up having better years than me online: between them there was a SCOOP Main event chopper, two WCOOP champions, and 5 Sunday majors.


I was a bit lazy or rather uninspired this year on the blogging front, writing only nine new ones all year, two of which were a review of 2019. The sameness of my schedule once live poker stopped made it difficult to think of anything worth writing about. In previous years I’ve tended to use my downtime on planes and in hotels abroad to write.

I did write a number of strategy pieces for, and kept up my free strategy newsletter, which you can subscribe to if you haven’t already using the link in the header to this blog. 


Every year David and I think we have peaked with The Chip Race, yet every year it gets bigger. We recorded 39 shows in total, with The Chip Race episodes consistently hitting over 20,000 downloads. We made the ITunes Charts in 26 different countries around the world, and in most of those we are the only poker podcast on the charts. 

At the start of lock down we launched a new YouTube show called The Lock In. The original concept was a looser longer version of the topical chat between David and myself that kicks off every Chip Race episode. After a couple of episodes we realised that we were going to need guests to keep it fresh, and the show steadily gained an audience to the point where most of the episodes now attract about 2000 viewers on YouTube and a further 6000 downloads on ITunes. 

Speaking of YouTube, the strategy clips continue to be our most popular content there. We put out 12 new strategy clips this year, and they notched up about 35k views collectively. The strategy clips as a whole continue getting views, and accounted for 70% of the 100k views the channel got in 2020. 

In addition to the Chip Race, I also appeared on a number of other podcasts, including Thinking Poker, Chasing Poker Greatness, Chasing Passion, Talking Global Poker, The Poker Mindset, Fish To Final Table, RecPoker and Cardschat (not released yet). 

Hopes for 2021

Being at home for most of the year, I’ve been able to maintain a much more consistent study routine, doing at least an hour a day and 3-4 hours once or twice a year. I genuinely believe this has resulted in greater improvements to my game than in any other year in recent history, and even though I’ve had a great year online I honestly think it could have been a lot better given some run good at the vital times. So I’m very optimistic going into 2021. I don’t have any specific ambitions other than to keep doing what I’m doing, and I’m definitely looking forward to the return of live poker at some point.

I hope to see you all at some point in 2021!



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