Wednesday, November 3, 2021

An eternity of a blink

As I walked into the Bonnington for my first live tournament in 20 months, my mind flashed back to February of last year when the Unibet Open followed the European Deepstack. The pandemic has messed the very fabric of time for all of us, and it simultaneously felt like the blink of an eye and a lifetime separated me from that event where we talked about the looming threat of COVID-19 and what it would mean. Looking back it’s clearly there was a lot of COVID in the room (lead commentator Henry Kilbane went down with it, but he was clearly the top of an iceberg that took a couple of weeks to reveal itself). It’s also fair to say most people including myself greatly underestimated what the effect would be. Most people scoffed when it was suggested the WSOP might not go ahead that summer. I’m pretty sure nobody in the room could have imagined that not only would that come to pass, but that it also wouldn’t happen the following summer, and that it would be 20 months before the next live event in Ireland. 

When we did all meet up again, we were wearing masks and sanitising our hands frequently (kudos to the organisers for the ingenious idea of using sanitizer bottles as buttons, encouraging us all to sanitize once an orbit). Nevertheless everyone seemed to be thrilled to be back, and the general atmosphere was one of the friendliest I’ve ever witnessed. 

Online day 1

I’d played the online day 1 and made it through as the shortest stack (2.5x starting stack). I was surprised by the number of people who asked if I’d fire again because I was “short”, or didn’t ask but just assumed I would. I’ll never see the “logic” of forking out another buyin when I’ve already got over 2.5 in equity. Best case scenario I bust the second bullet. That’s not a typo or a brain fart. If I bust the second bullet I’ve only blown a buyin in equity, whereas if I get through with more and have to surrender my first stack, I’ve lit over 2.5 buyins in equity on fire. Not to mention the negative hourly on the time wasted on the second bullet.

Super High Roller

Having made day 2 that freed me up to play side events until day 2 on Sunday. First up was the 1k “Super High Roller” which attracted 63 runners. I had a good day one getting up to 2.5x starting stack at a tough table that featured Max Silver, Seamus Cahill and Johnny McCullagh. I lost a few standard all ins against shorties to end the day back at starting stack, and bust early on day 2. My bust out came on the feature table: Craig Burke opened in the hijack, a shortie shoved for 5 bigs in the cutoff, and I find black aces in the small blind with 18 bbs. I decided to flat for a couple of reasons: I wanted the full double from Craig, and I have some hands that want to flat the shorty shove but will fold if Craig shoves. He didn’t, electing instead to flat. 

The flop wasn’t exactly what my black aces were hoping for: KQ4 all hearts. With an SPR of one though I’m never folding so the only decision is how to get the rest in. I elected to bet another 5 bbs to give Craig room to get worse hands in. He shoved a not worse hand: a set of 4s. A queen on the turn gave me a couple of additional outs but it wasn’t to be.

Recovery runs

I recently coached Daniel Dvoress to his first ultra race, a 50 mile adventure race in the wilds of Canada. When David asked him on the Chip Race what surprised him most about the training, he replied the amount of filler recovery runs. Most people’s intuition on how to train for a long distance race is to just try to run hard and long every day. It turns out that not only is this not good, it’s very very bad. The proper way to train is to focus on either speed or distance in your hard runs, and to recover from them with an easy run the following day. You should either be training at high intensity, or recovering at low intensity. The in between zone, where you’ll invariably end up if you just try to run hard every day, achieves nothing in practise. It’s not hard enough to improve you, or easy enough to help your body recover from a hard run. It’s a bit like only ever betting 10% of pot. What’s the point?

I also advised Espen “Shawshank” Sorlie who was training for a 10 km prop bet (he won). Training poker players is fun so if you are training for something athletic feel free to hit me up for advice. 

Since I started balancing poker and running almost a decade and a half ago, I’ve tried different ways of combining them. After much trial and error I’ve decided :

(1) Long runs are a good way to basically reset and shrug off a major disappointment 

(2) Short recovery runs are a good way to recover from minor disappointments like a live bust out 

(3) High intensity speed training is a great way to get your body and mind hyper focused before a big tournament or session 

So I went for a short recovery run around the pitches across the road from the hotel to clear my mind.


After a quick shower and change of clothes, I headed down to do some commentary with The Tower on the Super High Roller final table. It was one of the more fascinating FTs I’ve commentated on. Mark Buckley came in as chip leader, and anyone who knows Mark knows he’s guaranteed to drive the action in those circumstances. He didn’t have it all his own way with Martin Olali and the talented Gary T in particular fighting fire with fire and giving as good as they got. Ivan Tononi, probably the most technically adept and ICM aware player at the table, played a patient waiting game and eventually claimed the win in a style reminiscent of Martin Jacobson’s WSOP FT.

Book Signing

Barry and I found time to do a book signing for qualifiers claiming a free copy of the book as a bonus for qualifying for the main event on Unibet (and anyone else who wanted to buy a copy). I also took great pleasure watching Barry scurrying around to bring me books to sign while I was playing, and delivering them to other players.

Barry’s main role in the books has always been to act as a proxy for the readers: to ask the questions they would ask and to make me keep explaining my answers until they make sense to him (and by extension them). In recent times I’ve become concerned his skill level might be getting too high to fill this role. I needn’t have worried, based on what people who played with him reported to me.  For example, Luckymo:

“Who is the English lad with The Chip Race patch, Doke?”

“That must be Barry, the guy I write the books with, Mo”

“Lovely guy. Really lovely”

“He’s not bad”

“Yeah. Really lovely guy. But....shite at poker!”


“Really really shite. Like I thought he’d be good because of the patch. But he’s absolutely shite”

Day 2

I started day 2 roughly half average, but not for long when my aces coolered queens and held. I kicked on from there through the bubble to be well above average with 50 left, but then I barely won another hand, ultimately busting in 27th. No particularly interesting hands. Overall I was happy that I still remembered how to play live poker.

High Roller

I max late regged this the following day. After an inauspicious start where I lost a third of my stack very first hand (and to add insult to injury the table immediately broke), I recovered to be well above average and looking good for another cash. A couple of lost all ins later I was short nearing the bubble, and my AJ losing to A8 finished me off. That just left the....

Mini Main

Another late reg saw me on a pretty sick table with Paul “uwannaloan” Delaney, Paul Carr, Keith Tuohy and Paddy Power streamer Tom Parsons. Paul Carr had been given a ticket for the seat Keith was in, so they had to switch. Keith was then immediately coolered, much to the amusement of Paul who realised he’d have been gone first hand but for the switch. Keith took it in good sport: he’s good craic to talk to.

One table move later I found myself at a new table featuring another man with an Irish Open final table, Dixie Dean, and a French lady with a glare almost as piercing as my own French lady. She made a good fold with aces when I turned a straight and she gave me the full glare down. 

I played my most interesting hand of the weekend against Dixie. After a good young English guy raised under the gun, Dixie flatted in mid position (he was playing almost every hand) and I called in the big blind with 65 suited in clubs. The flop was J73 with two clubs, so I have a flush draw and gutter. After I checked, the opener cbet third pot, Dixie raised big, and it’s back to me. I had just over three times Dixie’s raise behind, so it seemed like a good spot to shove with lots of fold equity and equity when called. 

The opener folded quickly, while Dixie went into the tank. He asked me if I had a set of threes (no comment), saying he was dead if I had. He went on probing, then switched tack saying he had a flush draw and I could have a worse one. Not exactly what I wanted to hear, so I just sat there while he ruminated. After counting out the call from his stack to see what he’d have left, and looking at the clock to determine he’d still be average if he did call and lose, he eventually called with AQ suited in clubs. He started celebrating the call when I sheepishly turned over my hand. His celebration was dampened when the turn was an eight making me open ended, and when I missed it on the river he took a while to realise the innocuous looking five made me a pair which beat his ace high.

I continued to chip up until the legend that is Mick McCloskey moved to the table to my immediate left. When he opened under the gun and it folded around to him, I joked that he never could resist the temptation to raise my blind before I looked at my cards. Black aces again, the hand of the weekend. I threebet, Mick shoved and groaned when he saw the aces. He tabled kings muttering to himself how unlucky he was. Cue the king high flop to general groans at the table, cut short by Mick’s “It’s not over yet”.

As the dealer counted down the stacks to ascertain I had fumes left, I thought back to a similar spot deep in the European Deepstack in 2008 that Mick brought up several thousand times over the next decade. Maybe Mick’s did too, as he looked at me and said “Look, nobody did anything wrong”, as if to pre-empt a decade of retaliatory moaning. Truth is that’s poker though, sometimes we dish out the beats, sometimes they are dished out to us, and if someone in that seat is destined to suck out on me, I’d prefer it to be a friend like Mick rather than a foe.

Final thoughts

One thing was very clear: after 20 months without live poker, the Irish poker public are gagging for it again. People you wouldn’t expect to see at the IPO like Max Silver and Eoin O’Dea played the 1k, and Steve O’Dwyer fired two bullets at the 500. When someone at my table remarked it was amazing someone who was 12th in the all time money list was playing it, I pointed out that if he won he’d.....still be 12th.

A big thank you and congratulations are in order for Nick O’Hara, his team and all the dealers who made the event a huge success. David and I are off to the WSOP on the 8th if we can fade getting COVID. Wish us luck!



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