Leading from the front, getting it in behind

Experience has taught me at least one thing: it always take me a while to re-adjust to playing live in Ireland after Vegas.

Doke's PocketFives Poker Player Profile

Click image above to check out my PocketFives player profile

Do you wanna be in my gang, my gang?

As you may have read elsewhere, I've been appointed the new Team Irish Eyes Poker captain. Click image above to find out more.

The end of the dream.....for now

Maybe I should stop writing mid tournament blogs as it never seems to end well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

WSOP main event, Day 1b

As I walked through the Rio on day 1b of the WSOP main event with two of my friends on my way to play my ninth ever main event, I told them there was really no need to get involved early without a big hand. Sit back, get the lie of the land, get your reads on your opponents, and learn everything you can about them before getting involved in your first big hand.

Twenty minutes later, I reflected wryly how little I'd heeded my own advice, as I raked in a large pot won with a flop threebet having put in 125 big blinds with ace high. One quarter of my stack. It's all well and good going in with a plan, but you have to be flexible enough to change it in running sometimes.

The hand in question started with an elderly gentlemen (not me) opening in early position to three big blinds, as he had done quite a lot already. Another guy playing almost every hand called, as did a young guy who looked like he had identified the opener and the caller as the two fish at the table. Around to me in the small blind with ace queen, and I figured myself to usually be in good shape against three very wide ranges. Playing the hand out of position against three players didn't seem too appealing however, so I decided to go for a play I use sparingly, the big squeeze.  I bumped it up to 2300, expecting to pick up the 1000 in the middle most of the time. The opener grudgingly folded, the second guy unexpectedly called, and the third guy quickly folded. Not quite the result I was most hoping for, but a very good second choice, as I found myself headsup against a single opponent who it was difficult to imagine was holding a premium hand. My optimism grew when we saw a JJ6 flop, one where it was difficult to imagine my opponent had many hands that improved. I cbet small, 2200, again expecting to win the pot there and then, and was again surprised when my opponent not only did not fold but actually raised.

A year ago in this spot, with ace high facing this kind of aggression, I'm pretty sure I'd just have hoisted the white flag and surrendered the pot. A lot of the study I've done in the last year has been in these deep stack spots, and I've come to realise that your range is far more important than your actual hand. When I stood back and looked at the hand from this perspective, it was still difficult to believe my opponent had much of a hand. If he had a monster, surely he would just call and let me keep firing? Even if he just had a jack, wouldn't he just call? And how many jacks could he actually have?

In a previous hand , he'd called preflop, and when the flop came eight high, raised the opener in a five way pot, and shown 66 like it was the nuts when everyone folded. After that hand, I pegged him as a raise for information see where I am kind of guy. Given this read, I figured his most likely hand in this pot against me was a weakish single pair hand that wanted to win the pot without further resistance and wouldn't be able to withstand much heat.

So I decided to bring the heat. Raising to 9500, I sat there impassively while my opponent looked pained. He eventually decided he wasn't willing to put any more chips into the pot with pocket sevens or whatever he had and folded. As I stacked the chips, I had reasons to be cheerful.

A couple of hours later, I was even more cheerful, having continued a great start to chiplead my table with 85k. I found myself in a flip against a shortest stack to get close to 100k. Given how I'd been flipping this summer (1/18) I wasn't feeling too optimistic, and wasn't too surprised to lose the flip and find myself back around the 70k mark. Still a great start, but for the rest of the day I was totally card dead.

A few hours into this, I arose from my folding slumber to threebet light with a good hand to do it with (A2s) and a good target to do it against (a very good Dutch online pro who was opening a lot). I didn't get the preflop fold I was rooting for, but got a good looking flop (Jack high, bottom pair, backdoor flush and straight draws). So I bet when checked to, again expecting to win the pot there and then most of the time. Unfortunately on this occasion I got check raised and folded, concluding I'd run into a hand.

After the great start, it was a bit disappointing to find myself bagging up less then starting stack, but on the other hand 48k wasn't exactly a disaster, and meant coming back for day 2 with a very playable 80 big blinds

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Torpedoes and lifeboats

David Lappin asked me once what the hardest part of a 24 hour race was. After some thought, I gave an answer that wasn't intended to be funny, even if he seemed to find it hilarious. The hardest part of a 24 hour race comes about 6 hours in, because you've already run farther than you ever do in training, so you're very tired, and you know you're only one quarter of the way there. It's not the 6 hours you've been running that sap the energy from you, it's the 18 hours you know you still have to keep running for.

There's an equivalence here to poker. Peak poker performance is about being able to play your best at all times. That's pretty easy when you're fresh, optimistic and positive because everything is going well. It's not quite so easy when you're downswinging, losing every flip, tired and frustrated because it seems everything is going wrong. But that's what separates the pros from the boys.

Most online pros experience this every week. Or, more specifically, every Sunday. You find yourself starting the day full of optimism this is the day you ship a major and/or make six figures. Then you lose a few flips, take a bad beat in the Kickoff, get crippled in the Warmup, and you have to keep focused on optimal decision making as you hit your maximum number of tables. The beats and bustouts keep coming thick and fast, and before you know it, 14 hours after you started, you're one tabling a $10 rebuy, 56/70, and you're down more in buyins for the day than first place pays. Now comes the real test: can you keep playing your best, or do you just punt your stack?

The nearest equivalent to an online Sunday live is a WSOP where you are bricking everything. The bad thing is that it goes on for so much longer, six weeks as opposed to 16 hours. This is also the good thing. You have time to sleep it off every time you bust, and mentally reset and focus the next day before you start. With experience, you get better at this. The first time you do a long series, and it goes bad, I guarantee you will be feeling punch drunk by the end. But every year it gets a little bit easier. Another good thing is that at the WSOP you don't end up one tabling the $10 rebuy: you end up one tabling the biggest best structured event of the year. And of course, this can also be a bad thing...

I walked by one of the original and more durable online beasts in the corridors of the Rio the other day. He was on the phone, and from the snippet I overheard, I assume his series is not going great either.

"I'm just focused on not being results oriented, on being totally indifferent to outcomes"

Most pros know they have to do this. Most recreational players will never understand why it's so necessary. They look at a guy who just won a big score who looks about the same amount of happy as a small child about to undergo a dental extraction and wonder "What's wrong with him? Why can't he rejoice in his success?" But to stay afloat in this game where there are more torpedos than lifeboats, you have to learn to dampen your emotions. Even if the emotional flatline may not be achievable (or even desirable), at the very least you have to look for the positives when things are going bad, and the pitfalls in times of success.

I go into this year's main event off the back of a series which if not disastrous is lackluster at best. 3 small cashes in bracelet events, two other small cashes in non bracelet events, no truly deep runs. Most of my tournaments have followed the same script: I chip up to roughly double starting stack in the early going, and then I lose the first flip. The positives I take from that is I'm doing well in the bits that are at least to some degree within my control, and not so well to those that are beyond my control (1/19 in major flips). My deepest run came in the Marathon, the best structured event I played so far, so that's also a positive to take into the best structured event of the year. My mood has remained positive and despite the lack of poker success I've enjoyed my time here this year more than any other previous Vegas trip. My housemates are good people to be around, and I've met lots of old friends and made some new ones.

Mistakes, I've made a few, but then again, too few to mention. I've learned what I can from then and moved on to the next one. Much of the work I've done in the last year with my study buddy has been with the solvers and game theory, designed to adjust the one glaring weakness in my game. Like most tournament players who didn't serve an apprenticeship in cash, I have often been a bit at sea against better players in the early stages when everyone is deepstacked. My approach in game was to cut my losses by playing a lot tighter than optimal so as to have fewer tricky decisions. Away from the table, I ran spots by the best deepstack cash player in my circle of friends. The advent of the solvers have allowed a more systematic and reliable approach to study: in fact, my buddy joked to me recently "I just realised that I used to be your PIO before PIO".

Before the series started, I wrote about the power of pessimism. This was to prepare myself for exactly the situation I find myself in now: facing into the biggest tournament of the year off the back of a long, lackluster and potentially demoralizing campaign. As I wrote then, you have to prepare mentally for bad outcomes, so they don't destroy you psychologically when they do come.

My running coach used to say that the best approach to a 24 hour race was to start as slow as possible, and then slow down. Because no matter how slow you go at the start, you will slow down. The key is if you start slow, you'll have to slow down less. I believe I prospered in ultra marathons because when we all lined up at the start, I was one of the most negative thinkers there, with a strong sense of dread as to what was about to happen. This stopped me from going off too fast, and meant as the race progressed and the end came closer, the dread lifted and put an extra bounce in my step. Twenty four hours races usually start at midday. By 4 AM, the field is generally looking the most demoralized and drained you'll ever see (at least until you find yourself in the Rio towards the end of the WSOP when everyone is both under it and over it). What used to look like a race now looks like a tortuous death march of tired injuried bodies that want to be sleeping forcing themselves to keep shuffling one foot in front of the other.

Then the sun comes up, the end is now only 3 or 4 hours away, and the zombies come back to life. Bodies that could barely shuffle four miles an hour in the wee small hours suddenly have a pep in their step. With the end in sight, most people cover the most distance they have in an hour in the last hour than they've done since the first hour.

This is the mindset I take into the main event. There is no longer a need for pessimism, to prepare mentally for failure, because this is the final sprint and what's the worst thing that can happen? I bust, it hurts, but it's over, and I get on with my life. I can allow myself a period to recuperate before I have to face into my next big challenge. So for now, all I have to do is clear my mind, and be ready to try to play my best as I have all summer when I hear those magic words:

"Shuffle up and deal"

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Vegas: Like, literally

Seat draw is an often overlooked form of variance in poker. It's less easy to overlook on transatlantic flights, something that became clear to me within minutes of takeoff from London. I was wedged up against a window, hemmed in by some ladies of Indian origin from Essex, whose hen party numbers were bolstered by the entire rows directly in front and behind me.

That meant nine hours of listening to the same conversation on loop.

"He's fit though innit"
"Yeah Innit"
"You can't say he ain't Innit"
"Yeah he's fit innit"

The only break from this came every twenty minutes or so when it was selfie time. Selfie time took a little longer than it strictly needed to because each of the participants had to decide which of the three pouts in the pout palette to go with this time (the sexy one, the surprised one, or the surprised and sexy one).

Oh, and one of the girls in the front row was wearing two penises on her head.

Like, literally.

Somehow in the midst of all this I managed to write my last blog. Thanks to everyone for their kind comments, retweets and shares which made it one of my most popular in a long while.

Tumble dryer turbulence

It's fair to say I was pretty relieved when we finally touched down in Vegas. As we approached, turbulence made the experience a bit like what I imagine being in a tumble dryer to be. As I watched us about to touch down, I was torn between relief that it would soon be over, and concern at how wildly we were still lurching. I started to wonder if my last blog might be my last blog.

Like, literally.

They say that in such moments strange things pass through your mind. The strange thing that passed through mine was that if we crashed, I hoped my iPad would be recovered and the blog, so that my wife would know I was thinking of her in my final moments.

As it happened, what looked like inches from the ground the pilot must have lost his nerve and we lurched back skywards. Twenty bumpy minutes later we had circled back to the point we could go for it again. This time we touched down safe. I immediately retired to the rest room to recover. When I emerged there was good news and bad news. I sailed through immigration (no line) only to find my baggage hadn't made the trip. A stressed out airline employee took my details and told me it would most likely be delivered the following day.

It wasn't.

My brother from another mother Carlos

Four days later it still hadn't shown up. I'd watched the website lie to me for three days promising delivery in 4 to 6 hours. I tried ringing them but the phone cut out within thirty seconds. They tried ringing me but same thing. I got good at optimising what I could communicate in 30 seconds but not good enough to get sorted out.
When the bag finally showed up, only my brother from another mother Carlos was at home in the Big Brokos house. The delivery guy seemed suspicious. 

"You don't look like a Dara or an O'Kearney"

In the mean time I'd been forced to buy whatever emergency clothing I could find in the Rio, including two of the same trousers in different sizes. When the helpful checkout lady pointed this out I told her I was allowing for weight gain over the series. Well, it's important to be realistic.

My rather motley wardrobe attracted the mirth of my housemates. Andrew compared the experience of living with me to a Tennessee Williams play with my increasingly eccentric attire a barometer to how far I had descended into insanity. I ran into Sam Grafton in Starbucks in the Rio who offered the view that with my age comes the possibility I could carry off the look of a businessman with so much money I was just dressing however the heck I pleased. When he heard I was still waiting for my luggage he said he assumed I'd look less rich eccentric once it got there. Having seen the fruits of Mrs Doke shopping expedition for this year's Vegas attire I assured him this was not a given.

Running in Vegas, like literally

I have been trying to run since I got here but I don't go for more than three miles at a time. It's quite hot so dehydration is a risk, and I'm told the road surface is a lot harder here than back home to prevent melting. Since I generally run on grass at home and have lighter shoes when I run here injury is a real worry, but so far so good on that front. I'm lucky that due to some weird genetic anomaly I don't suffer in heat at all. I ran in 48 degrees one day with the media telling everyone to stay indoors (and they did: I didn't see one runner or pedestrian on my entire run) and felt just fine.

Running bad

So far the script of this trip as far as my poker tournaments go is work my up to roughly double starting stack in the early stages then lose all the flips and coolers. With the shorter starting stacks than we are used to at home (5 times the buyin, so 5k in the $1k events and 7500 in the 1500s), you can't lose too many pots before you find yourself in push fold territory, and even if you start well it'll be time to flip sooner rather than later. I don't think it's a coincidence that the one event so far I got a deepish run in was the Marathon with its 26200 starting stack. And even there a big lost flip late on day 2 was the difference between having a punishing stack that could attack the bubble and a shortish one whose main objective was to get through the bubble.

Hopefully I'll get a change of scriptwriter at some point this trip but the most important thing when running bad is not to let it affect your play, and on that front at least I'm reasonably confident I'm succeeding. This is the most I've enjoyed Vegas outside of the poker ever: it definitely helps that when I look out my window I see Red Rock rather than the lights of the Strip, and my housemates are all very sympatico.

Getting arrested, almost

One new thing I've been dong this year is recording some short Facebook Live clips. Unlike most vlogs the main focus is not me or my results but just to show different typical tiny bites from a poker player's day at the WSOP.  So there have been clips of me waking to my table at start of a tournament, bagging up chips at the end of the day, milling around the corridors of the Rio with the other locusts at the break, and almost getting arrested in the Gold Coast. Turns out it's actually illegal to film in a casino here, despite the fact that Daniel Negreanu does it all the time on his Youtube channel. I considered making this point to the cops but rejected the notion. American cops are not like our nice friendly cops back home: I always get the feeling it wouldn't take much to trigger them going full Rodney King. So I stuck to respectfully answering all my questions as they rifled through my passport. The conversation (and my thoughts in parentheses) went something like this:

"Where are you from?"
"Ireland" (hence the Irish passport, Einstein)
"How did you get to the United States?"
"I flew" (do I look like I swam here?)
"How come there's no stamp? Did you even go thru customs?"
"Um...yeah...I did. I had an ESTA" (is stamping passports even a thing any more?)
"What Middle Eastern countries have you visited?"
"Ummmm.....when..like in my life?" (not sure I like where this is going)
"Like November 2016"
"Huh?" (Huh?)

The cop is jabbing his finger at a stamp in Arabic dated November 2016
(Shit, where did that come from?)
I draw a total blank for about thirty seconds while the cops look like they're about to draw something else before I remember MPN Mazagan last November. I always knew Clodagh Hansen would get me arrested some day. But not like this
"Oh. That's Morocco" (which isn't in the Middle East, but I'm thinking it wouldn't be helpful to point that out).

After that the whole thing fizzled out into a lecture on how it's against the law to film in a casino. Which I'd kinda gathered by now.

A dream comes true

Another highlight was getting to go into the commentary booth for the first four hours of the Seniors final table alongside Lon McEachern and Norman Chad on PokerGo. A lot of people are understandably annoyed at having to pay for something that was always free until now, and it's certainly a shame that casual viewers aren't able to tune in any more as that helps grow the game, but I get that the WSOP is a business and if they can make money from something they will probably look to do so.

It was pretty surreal to find myself sitting beside two icons of the game. Shoutout to Tatjana Pasalic for pushing my case to the producers.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The poker wife

I married a treasure.

As much as I joke about her, I never lose sight of that. When I persuaded/tricked the world's least likely wife (who had rebuffed dozens of wannabe husbands before she unexpectedly agreed to marry me within weeks of meeting me) into marriage, I pulled off the coup of a lifetime. I got as a lifelong companion the funniest smartest most ferociously unique person I've ever known. I also got someone with a unique capacity to put up with and support my foibles eccentricities whims and mad notions.

In the run up to Vegas, her wonderful qualities came to the fore. I needed new clothes. Knowing my deep and abiding hatred for shopping, she went to the shop herself and got what I needed. The jacket wasn't right so she brought it back, and returned with two other candidates.

The wheels literally came off my bag on my return from Copenhagen. She went and got a new one. When I complimented her on how perfect it was, how easy it is to take my laptop out and put it back in, she said it took her a minute to choose and she was in and out of the shop in three minutes. I believe this as she is without a doubt the world's most efficient shopper, as David and Saron will testify. In Vienna recently she needed a new top. As we walked into the store, she announced she saw what she wanted. Before Saron even had time to start browsing, she had paid and we were leaving. I have traumatic childhood memories of following my mother from shop to shop for entire days only for us to traipse back to the first shop to buy something horrible, so there's no overstating how attractive her shopping efficiency is to me.

She has gradually turned my grinding room at home into the perfect place to grind. Once the desk and computers were set up, stuff gradually started appearing to improve my lot. A TV on the wall above the computer for when I'm down to my last few tables. A stereo to my left (I'm left handed). A coffee machine. A fridge with all of my favourite foods. Grapes and nuts (my snacks of choice) and cups of coffee appear as if by magic on my desk, and the dishes magically disappear as do the yogurt cartons and tubs of bustout ice cream.

Things are always a bit tense before my annual pilgrimage to Vegas for the WSOP. I'm at my narkiest, and also feeling guilty because I know how much she hates it when I'm away. So much that after a few weeks she can't take it any more and puts herself through the ordeal of Vegas. And it is an ordeal for her: she hates it like she hates no other place she's been, and probably more than any other person on the planet hates it. I hate being away from her as much as she hates me being away, but from a deep dark place in my psyche there's a demented insatiable desire to succeed at whatever I'm currently obsessed with. Her distress at my imminent departure manifests itself not in sniping or complaints but in manic restocking of my fridge. As I leave home it's filled with  yogurts ice cream and other treats that will have spoiled by the time I get home. This is one of the many things I still don't understand about her after three decades by her side. Is it denial? Is it a comfort to her after I'm gone? Or is it her way of reminding me that no matter how badly Vegas goes there will always be a fridge full of treats waiting for me at home?

Throughout my years as a fanatical Bowie fan, she followed me around the world from concert to concert. She hates crowds but she found herself in mosh pits. She found the fanatical fan type tough to be around but there she was. At least she grew to like the music.

Through my years as a journeyman turned international class runner, she followed me from race to race as my masseuse/coach/nutritionist/support staff. She hated travelling by now, not enjoying the experience of being herded around airports like cattle. But at least she enjoyed the races and the athletes. Her kind of people: self reliant, mutually supportive, healthy, uncomplaining, and even a little bit spiritual.

It's fair to say the poker phase of my life has been the toughest for her. She has no love for the game or most of the people it attracts. She hates the Get Rich quick it's all about EV mentality. She hates that the only real yardstick in poker is filthy dirty money, that the first question people ask when you win is "How much?" She understands it well enough to realise that winning a poker tournament is not really an achievement. Thankfully, she also understands it well enough to recognise that making a very good consistent living for a decade is a real achievement. When our bank manager expressed surprise at how much I make from poker she said in a rare expression of wifely pride "He's one of the best".

I know she hates all the attention whoring I do as part of my career. She's a hermit at heart, someone who likes her light hidden under a bushel. She never wanted to be dragged into this life, but she accepts it and supports me in every way she can. I think people sometimes think when I call her Mrs Doke that I'm being old fashioned or chauvinistic or patronising (and maybe I am unknowingly), that I'm reducing her to the wife of Doke, but I'm actually trying to put distance between the wonderful person she is in her own right and the character she is in my poker story.

The night before I left for Vegas, she packed all my bags with Alsatian efficiency as our shared sadness hung in the air. I told her that a few days after Vegas I'd be off again to Manchester for an MPN stop. She pointed out that if I made the final table of the main event I'd miss Manchester. Then she said something unusually poignant for someone so unsentimental.

"I hope you win the main event this year because then you could quit poker and we could spend more time together"

I married a treasure.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Handbags and confused Danes in Copenhagen


Friday was 1b, which meant a day off, from playing at least. After breakfast, David and I did promo video for the Chip Race (Ian was there too, kind of). Daiva and David filmed interviews. Daiva wandered off after hers, leaving her handbag behind. David, miked up for his interview, started complaining about a crushing headache and asked me to retrieve some headache tablets from Daiva's bag. It's fair to say I'm as clueless as it gets when it comes to inter gender etiquette, but even a bewildered buffoon like myself was pretty sure that rooting around in a lady's bag is not really acceptable, so I was more than reluctant. David and the film crew assured me it was fine, so I eventually caved and gingerly lifted the flap of the bag to see if the pills were on top and could be retrieved unintrusively. As I did so, Daiva arrived back and Lappin obviously shouted "Look, Dara's rooting in your bag!!!"

"How are you going to explain this to me, Dara?"

Daiva's words, but thankfully not on this occasion (she actually said it to me a few days later in our next study session when I reported some rather unexpected analysis of a hand by PIO). Fortunately Daiva is the polar opposite of a drama queen, so she brushed off the bag invasion without having a fit. We should all be blessed with female friends so reasonable.


"Hvem Helvede er den fyr?" 
"Og hvorfor I alverden er der et filmhold som filmer ham?" *

We all headed back to the street food market with Daiva and John. The film crew showed up and I disappeared off with them to a suitably picturesque location to film my ambassadorial interview. It was a little distracting and a lot funny to keep seeing confused Danish faces looking at me thinking "Who the Hell is that guy and why on Earth is a film crew filming him".

After that I headed back to the hotel with David, Saron and their infant son Hunter Sebastian Kilmartin Lappin Harford. David and I jumped into the commentary booth to relief the A team of David Vanderheyden and Marc Convey so they could go to dinner.  It's always a good laugh with David and even if most of the content was Ian Simpson trolling we did do a little analysis too. You can watch it on replay here.
(We come in around the 4 hour 48 minute mark)

Day 2

I was the only ambassador back for day 2, but with my sub twenty big blind stack I was hoping to get going early. I lingered around for a couple of hours surviving on uncalled shoves. Before I knew it I was down to ten big blinds and couldn't get a decent spot to get my chips in. As the blinds escalated about 25 places from the bubble, my stack dwindled to five big blinds. With little or no fold equity it was now a case of waiting for a spot where I was either priced in or better yet ahead. I found one shoving queen ten from the small blind over a button limp, but wasn't able to hold against nine four. Suited.

Once my bustout blues had cleared I went with John and Daiva to Tivoli, one of the few (I imagine) city centre entertainment parks in the world. Espen and Chris showed up to do some filming and I told them the story of my unlikely victory over Firaldo in a drinking contest in Prague two years ago (relived in the latest episode of The Chip Race).

American inhibitions

That out of the way, John and I scooted off to find a sports bar to watch the FA Cup final. We gained admittance to the downstairs part of The Southern Cross. The formidable lady in charge of admissions made such a point of how we could under no circumstance access the upstairs portion (for which people were backed down the stairs) that I started to worry that the downstairs part might be a bit of a dungeon. But it was perfectly fine and thankfully not overcrowded.

Most of the people in the pub were Arsenal fans (myself included: as a United fan John was there as a neutral observer), including one very vocal young American. I quickly got the feeling that a big part of the appeal of watching English football for him was it is one of the few milieus in which it is socially acceptable to throw off the American norms on swearing and cuss words, and he didn't restrict himself to swearing at opposition players ("CLEAR IT, YOU SHITHEAD").

My speculations on the psychological and cultural reasons underpinning his love of the Gooners only grew when John asked him what brought him to Copenhagen, and he admitted rather sheepishly that he was on a cruise with his Mom. As John remarked later, if that's the truth of the matter, maybe you should be making up a lie.

Late night dining Lappin style

After another brief stint in the commentary booth (we come in around the 8 hour 15 minute mark), it was time for the players party. But first,  Lappin was hungry.

Inside the club the first person we ran into was the wonderfully warm Viktor Blom. Lappin and I followed him out to the smoking area where we chatted for a while about everything and anything, including Viktor's latest protege five time World of Warcraft champion Alan "Hotted" Widmann. Alan is already a formidable poker player (he won the Esports sit n go in London), and Viktor was fulsome in his praise of his natural talent and potential.

Chip Race and six five sooted

Another late night before another early morning to do some Chip Race interviews. David and I agreed the rough script over breakfast, and then went in search of our first victim Nick O'Hara. He was followed by another tournament director, one of the last ever November Niners, Kenny Hallaert. I don't want to give away spoilers before the interviews appear, but it was fascinating to hear Kenny talk about his preparation with Fedor Holz for the final table.  We were also hoping to interview Alan Widmann but he was either too under the weather after the party (my view) or he just big timed us (Lappin's). I'm still very hopeful we will get him in future as I think his is a fascinating story.

Next up was the only side event I found time for in Copenhagen, the progressive KO. I chipped up a little early on. It's fair to say the tournament had a refreshingly fast structure so even having chipped up I found myself with just under twenty big blinds pretty quickly. I thought I'd found a great spot calling a 20 bb shove under the gun with Kings. I was in good shape against the shovers ace eight off, but the small blind woke up with 65s behind us to claim a double KO when he rivered a gut shot. I went for a run to clear my head and then arranged to go for food with Timmy. Before that could happen, Davitsche and Marc needed dinner relief, which myself and Daiva were happy to provide. As my study buddy, Daiva is the person I talk the most hands with these days, so it was a bit like one of our weekly afternoon Skype sessions, but in person.
(We come in around the 4 hour 48 minute mark)

I spent the rest of the day socialising after deciding that the legal situation in Denmark made an online Sunday grind a little dicey, but was glad of that in the end with some interesting chats in the bar with the usual crew, Fredrick Bergmann who has a very interesting background and Gerry and Louise.
The company whittled down to a few diehards before I headed to bed around 4.30. Another early rise for breakfast and some more filming (me running in the park). I hope and pray they speed up the footage because as effective as my running style was for winning 60 mile races and breaking national 24 hour records, it isn't exactly poetry in motion, or even impressive viewing.

After that it was time for goodbyes, which were a little bittersweet as I won't see most of these wonderful people for quite a while again (proximity to my departure for Vegas forced me to skip the next event in Glasgow). A massive thank you to all the staff and players too many to name individually who made the event the most fun one where I didn't cash a tourney.

In the cab to the airport the cab driver asked me which airline. When I said Ryanair, he chuckled:
"This cab is gonna cost more than your flight".

Turns out that dry Danish wit isn't confined to petrol stations at 3 pm.

* Thanks to my Danish friend Niels for providing this translation of what I imagined I heard the locals saying

Monday, May 29, 2017

My new Danish pen pal (Unibet Open Copenhagen 2017)

In 2010 I spent some time with the late great Liam Flood at the Villamoura EPT, one of my first EPTs. Suitably depressed after getting knocked out a bit before the bubble by eventual winner Toby Lewis, I decided to spend the rest of the trip sulking in my room clicking buttons. Liam lured me out telling me he had swapped 10% with an inexperienced player who was running deep.  He said he was a bit worried that this guy might play a bit too tight in the latter stages, and asked me if I could have breakfast with them and give the newb some pointers. I reluctantly agreed to postpone clicking buttons that day and joined them for a late breakfast. The newb in question turned out to be Teddy Sheringham (the footballer). Shortly after I got there, Liam made his excuses and left us to it. I felt the notion of me dispensing advice to Teddy was slightly ridiculous, so I didn't bother. Instead I enjoyed a very pleasant breakfast talking about football, golf, sport and life in general. He asked me who I supported and when I outed myself as a Gooner grinned "you must have hurled abuse at me down the years then". No point in lying to the man: given that he played for Spurs, United and Engerland, he pretty much ticked all the boxes in that department. Hopefully cheering for him on the final table was some sort of amends (he ended up coming fifth).

As we were finishing our breakfast, we were joined by Tony Cascarino (the footballer). Teddy didn't hang around, and I decided just leaving Cas on his own might be perceived as a little rude, so I postponed clicking buttons a little longer. I decided to make the minimum of conversation that would satisfy politeness standard while he wolfed down his bacon, but not get dragged into another heart to heart that might go on until another ex footballer appeared out of the woodwork. Well, you can never be too careful, can you?

It turned out Cas was vaguely aware of me not just as a poker player, but as an ex runner. But only vaguely. Very vaguely.

"You're the former runner, right?"
"Yeah yeah. I remember you running in the Olympics".

My mind started evaluating the two possible lines I could now take. I could check raise him by pointing out that I never ran in the Olympics. In my experience though, people tend to get a bit upset when you check raise them, and they rarely just fold quickly and leave it at that. I anticipated being asked for clarification, which would lead to me having to explain that ultra running wasn't in the Olympics (and possibly why not, and maybe even a lengthy discussion about what ultra running even was). So I decided it was safer to just Call, and hope that ended the conversation.

"Yeah, yeah, I remember it well. Moscow, right?"
"Um.....well.....Moscow, yeah"
"So what was it like? Moscow?"

Suddenly, with no real idea as to why, I found myself backed into a tough conversational spot, having to describe what the Moscow Olympics were like. Despite never having been to the Olympics. Or even Moscow. But here I was having to talk about the weather there, the food, the women, the sights.

I had a somewhat similar experience on my flight to Unibet Open Copenhagen. As we were taking off, my seat neighbour turned to me and said something in Danish. Instead of doing what any normal person would do (make it immediately clear I don't understand a word of Danish), for some reason I smiled and nodded before returning my attention to my IPad. A few minutes later I became aware my neighbour was talking Danish at me again. Figuring nodding and smiling had worked so well last time, I decided to stick with a proven strategy. A few smiles and nods later, the IPad had my undivided attention again. At least for a few minutes. As I turned my face to Danish again, I started to question the effectiveness of this whole smiling and nodding strategy. But I figured I was now pot committed to the pretence that I understood Danish in much the same way as I had been to Cascarino's belief he had seen me in the Moscow Olympics. So I spent quite a lot of the rest of the flight smiling and nodding at my new friend.

This wasn't the most pleasurable in flight experiences ever, at least from my perspective. As we disembarked he insisted we swap email addresses. I fully expect an email in my inbox when I get home saying he actually realised I have no Danish and the whole thing was a windup.

On my first full day in Copenhagen, I walked with Daiva and Ian to the world famous street food market. Food trip reports are more a Daiva thing, so I'll leave the full details to her blog, but the food and company was excellent. On the way we passed a wishing tree. I rather selfishly wished for a WSOP bracelet, while my friends proved to be more selfless.

The following day was day 1a. I made a decent start for once adding 50% to my starting stack over the first few levels, before a combination of card death, escalating blinds and a light threebet that didn't work saw me dip below 20k. A much needed double up was secured when my jacks held all in on the turn against A4dd on a TT8hhd3d board. Our table broke shortly afterwards and I was moved to the feature table for the rest of the day. If you want to see what happened it's available here:

I come in around the 7 hour 34 minute mark. It wasn't particularly eventful for me personally but after a tough grind of a day I was reasonably satisfied to bag up just under 35k. Afterwards I stayed at the bar a while celebrating with Daiva's husband John and my future son in law Tim Davie both of whom I hadn't seen in a good while. Honourable mentions for bloggers Tom and Josh who I was meeting for the first time, voucher supremo Simon Steedman and Gerry and Louise from Scotland.

The evening culminated with a 3 am walk to the petrol station for late night food. The hot dogs there are surprisingly good, and unsurprisingly sold out at that hour. I decided to go with Nacho crisps to ease my hunger pangs, but John was keen on something hot. A poor crop at best was on display, so John sought the local knowledge of the guy behind the counter:

"What would you recommend from this lot?"
"I can't decide for you, mate"
"But imagine you were trapped in a petrol station at 3 am"
"I am"

Turns out Danish wit can be dryer than any Danish pastry you might find in a petrol station at 3 am.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Could be a stress fracture

Every time I find myself in Dublin airport on my way to a poker tournament with Mrs Doke, my mind flashes back a decade to when we would find ourselves on the way to an ultramarathon. As crazy as I am now, she had to contend with even more crazy during my days as an international runner. As my unpaid helper handler guru masseuse nutritionist psychologist, she was basically charged with everything from booking the flights, getting us to the airport on time, packing my bags, to dealing with my various neuroses and psychosis that always came to the fore as the stress of a very long run approached. 

She also had to deal with me whining and embellishing every little twinge I felt.
"I think my foot is broken"
"It can't be. You're walking fine on it"
"But it's sore"
"You always feel this way during your taper"
"It could be a stress fracture"

As a runner I was trained to nip injury in the bud by actively seeking out every twinge and RICEing the bejesus out of it before it became a proper injury. At least during training. On race day, I switched to completely ignoring all the pain and discomfort before it tried to nag me into stopping.

Looking back now, I feel that weirdly neurotic state I found myself in the days before a race was a vital part of the mental preparation. Running a 24 hour race is tough, no matter what anyone tells you. There's no point trying to kid yourself: your inner bullshit detector just won't let you. My coach used to say you needed to feel real and present dread when you stood at the starting line. That dread that swamped over you stopped you from charging off like a muppet because you have lots of nervous energy, at a pace you can't sustain for an hour much less 24. That dread sucks the pep from your step, pep that might cause you to pound the road a little too hard in hour one of the race causing you to pull up in hour eleven injured. That dread stops you getting into dumb "I'm in front for now" games when there are still 23 hours and 58 minutes to go.

My coach also used to say that best approach was to start as slow as you possibly could, and then try not to slow down too much during the race. Because no matter how slow you go at the start, you will slow down. I sometimes wonder if a similar approach to poker tournaments might be GTO. After all, more than 99% of the time it will end, if not in tears, then at least in mini death and disappointment. So maybe going in thinking positive thoughts is just setting yourself up for a fall.

James Stockdale ended his life as the seemingly senile vice presidential candidate to the positively nuts Ross Perot, starting his VP debate with words which did little to dispel his image as a bewildered old man ("Who am I? Why am I here?") But several decades earlier, he was a US war hero, whose experiences as a POW in Vietnam gave birth to what is known as the Stockdale paradox. 

Stockdale was one of eleven U.S. military prisoners known as the "Alcatraz Gang". Because they had been resistance leaders they were separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement in a special facility in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, located about one mile away from Hoa Lo Prison. Each of the prisoners was kept in an individual windowless and concrete cell measuring 3 by 9 feet with a light bulb kept on around the clock, and locked in leg irons each night.

When author James Collins asked who didn't make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

This is a sobering message as we live in a time when a lot of nonsense is written and talked about the "power of positive thinking", with little concrete evidence offered as to its benefits other than giving us an unrealistic sense of well being. Yes, if you go into a poker tournament thinking positively that you're going to win, you might feel great. If nothing goes wrong and you do end up winning you'll go on feeling great. But in terms of preparing mentally for the battle ahead, how useful really is getting into a mindset that only works if nothing goes wrong?

Many poker mind game gurus recognise the power of pessimism. Jared Tendler has written about it. Dr Tricia Cardner talks about the power of the pre mortem. A pre mortem is like a post mortem (where you think about everything that went wrong after the event to try to learn from it), except you do it before, visualising everything that could possibly go wrong. By visualising problems and setbacks in advance, you can mentally rehearse your response to them, rather than fall to pieces in game because you expected nothing to go wrong.

I used to just turn up to a poker tournament (or turn my computer on) and play. That was fine when poker was new and fresh and less of a routine. These days I feel the need to do some mental warm ups. These generally take the form of meditation after I wake up, then a run to get the blood flowing while I listen to a poker podcast to start my brain thinking about poker, then some study, and I go on thinking about poker until I sit down to play. I try to imagine all sorts of horrible things. What if I take a bunch of bad beats right out of the gate? What if my internet or PC dies? What if there's a power cut and every alarm in the estate screeches to distracting life? What if I misclick early in my session? What if....

If you're going to have a lot of What ifs in your life, I feel it's best to have them before rather than after. Pessimism is a bit like Clonsilla, on the periphery of Dublin, where I live now. I hated it when we moved here first, but once I got used to it, it's not a bad place to live. The same is true of Clonsilla.


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