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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

But it better not be shite, David

Two years ago to the day before I flew out to Brighton for the Unibet UK tour, the first episode of the Chip Race launched. Lappin, Daragh and I felt we had given it our best and hoped it would be well received, but nothing could have prepared us for the reaction over the course of its short run. For the next two months, everywhere we went people told us how much they loved the show. The reaction in Ireland was overwhelming and heartening: the reaction abroad was astonishing. Everyone I spoke to in the UK when I played there seemed to be listening and loving. When I went to Vegas that summer people recognised my voice and told me how much they loved the show. Genuinely baffling for a podcast that was intended for the Irish market.

We recorded only seven episodes over seven Monday afternoons. Given that Sunday is the busiest and often most tilting day for online players, Monday is not necessarily the best of days to be dragging yourself into a studio in Clonskeagh hoping to speak intelligently about poker. One day on our walk from Lappin's pad in Portobello, a total stranger stopped us on the street to tell us how much he loved the show. That's the only time in either of our lives someone has stopped us in the street because poker.

We wrapped our first season (or what we thought was our first season) just before I flew to Vegas for the WSOP. The plan was the company who commissioned the podcast would line up a sponsor over the summer to make it worth everybody's while to go on dragging our tired tilted Monday asses to the studio in Clonskeagh.

Vegas went well, and when I chopped event 45 headsup for almost 300k, one of my first thoughts was this should make it easier to get a sponsor for the Chip Race. My profile had never been higher. The first season went on getting downloads and rave reviews. Some big players in poker expressed interest. Even random Americans in Vegas were talking about the show.

It didn't happen. The company who owned the Chip Race had gone into liquidation, leaving us in a legal limbo. We put the relaunch on hold until the legal situation was clarified. By the time it had, it seemed the moment had passed.

When I go abroad to play live, and a total stranger at the table looks me in the eye and clears his throat in such a manner as to suggest conversation is about to break out, I can generally predict the opening line as one of the following:
(1) You're such a luckbox/fish/donk online (followed by some bad beat they expect me to remember)
(2) I read/like/love your blog
(3) Is your study partner Daiva as beautiful as she looks in photos?
(4) Is Lappin really that much of an idiot/gobshite/dickhead? (Or if I'm in the US, "Does this Lappin guy actually exist, or did you just invent him to make your blog more interesting?")
(5) Will the Chip Race ever come back?

With trademark arrogance I no longer get surprised that people read the blog. It's been the one constant throughout my career. This is my 460th entry, I've written close to a million words as I went through my poker career here, and have been seen by over a million eyeballs (the traffic counter on the front page only tracks the last few years). Add in the fact that most blogs fizzle out after a dozen entries and it's not too surprising most people see me as "blog dude".

It's more surprising that two years on people still ask about something we only made seven short episodes of. It's a testament to the incredible work David Lappin put into designing the concept and the format, writing scripts (seriously, who scripts a poker podcast? Lappin, that's who), and painstakingly editing my jumbled verbal Grampa Simpson ad hocs (we quickly realised I'm not a person who can stick to or even read a script) into coherence.

So when David came to me and said Unibet wanted us to make a comeback, I felt a bit like Ewan McGregor when Danny Boyle asked him to do Trainspotting 2. I of course immediately agreed, as did Ewan, who reportedly added "But It better not be shite, Danny". It's fair to say I feel a certain trepidation that we run the risk of tarnishing the memory of something that was pretty good if we are not careful. I guess it's up to us to work our balls off to make sure that that doesn't happen. That it isn't shite.

Actually, come to think of it, it's David's balls that will be doing all the work. They say you shouldn't mess with a winning formula, so I'll just keep showing up, saying whatever random stuff passes through my head, leaving David the hair pulling task of extracting some pearls of wisdom from my verbal dung pile. Good luck with that, David.

One of our first guests is Ian Simpson, and it's fair to say the interview was not without its contentious moments, as this picture of David literally taking it on the chins from Ian immediately afterwards implies. So tune in to see what got Iany so riled up.

Monday, March 13, 2017

No friends at the poker table

Irish Open Online championship

Before I wind up my Unibet London trip report, first the Irish Open (which is always one of my favourite events of the year) is just around the corner, and for the first time ever there's an online event. If you fancy becoming the first ever Irish Open online champion, it's a two day event starting next Sunday at 8 PM GMT and concluding the following day. It's on Micrograming skin Guts and there's an Irish Open main event package (€1150 seat to the Open and 5 night accommodation) added to the prize pool! Unfortunately I won't be able to play it myself as I'll be in Brighton (fortunately having a great time at the Unibet UK tour event there) but I will be doing commentary live on Facebook and Youtube on day 2.

OK, back to London...

After busting the main, I went with Lappin and Daiva for some food. Afterwards we all regged the 300 buyin side event together, which meant we were all put on the same late reg table. A bit of a rookie mistake as these kinds of tables tend to be much tougher than random ones. I had Daiva to my immediate left, Lappin next to her, and the table also included two other ambassadors, Espen and Dan Murariu, as well as Stuart from Glasgow who ended up chopping the event. So in Ev terms, the table from Hell, but at least the banter was considerable.

I decided I'd better tread lightly out of position to the two pros who best know my game, my current study partner Daiva, and previous study partner David. As it happens, I got off to a good start, winning a big pot first hand. Second hand, Daiva min raised utg, and after everyone else folded I defended pocket fours. The flop was pretty good for my hand, j32r, meaning I can beat second pair and have a back door straight draw, so I called a small bet. The turn was an inconsequential low card, and we both checked. The river looked ok too, a queen, so I checked figuring whoever was ahead on the flop was still ahead, and there was no point betting my hand as Daiva won't call with worse. So I checked and she bet quickly. The bet seemed fishy as she has very few queens in her range (I didn't think she'd bet ace queen for example on the flop), and she looked unusually nervous as I considered the call, but again I figured this might be her cunningly trying to reverse tell me, so I let her have it. This is an exploitative divergence from game theory (otherwise known as a mistake), as it's hard to make a pair and I'm so far up my range on the river if I fold this hand I'm folding too much and Daiva can profitably bluff any two cards.

Daiva mischievously showed a nine as she raked in the chips, an odd card as I didn't think she'd value bet pocket nines. She admitted it was 98s. I happily laughed this off, I have no problem acknowledging when I've been outplayed, even by a close friend, so well played Daiva. I jokingly tweeted that I needed a new study partner. Daiva twisted the knife being quick to point out the lack of immediate applications for the position :)

I recovered my composure to make day 2, as did Lappin (who took out Daiva with his underpair to her overpair to prove he doesn't just run well against me).  After another sleepless night under duck feathers I hung on grimly with my short stack until I got a full double up through Renee Xie (my ace king held against her ace queen). Unfortunately that was as good as it got, and I exited four from the bubble in a standard blind on blind spot.

An Irishman, an American, a Lithuanian, and some lads from Oop North

The High Roller was starting and my original intention was to jump in, but I was really feeling the effects of the sleepless nights by now so decided to skip it. Instead I rested up for the Players party, which is always a highlight at Unibet events. I started with some predrinking Chez Daiva where I had the pleasure of meeting her husband John's Bury crew, a truly great bunch of blokes. They do that particularly Blokey thing of relentlessly taking the piss out of one of their number, then as soon as he leaves the room going to considerable lengths to point out the many great qualities he has. That continues until Best Bloke Ever comes back into the room and immediately becomes Bloke We Take Piss Out Of Nonstop.

The only other invited guest going on to the Player party was the ever charming Kelly Saxby, which meant that I got to walk in with the two most beautiful ladies at the party. Or at least behind them filming them walking in on one of their phones.

Ain't no party like a Unibet party

The party was truly epic and the personal highlight for me was emulating my friend Mick McCloskey who got to hang out and have his picture taken with Viktor Blom a few years ago in Galway. Viktor is easily the nicest and most down to earth poker God I've ever met.

We stayed until the end, at which point Lappin did what he always does in these spots: tried to assemble a crew to join him in his pursuit of late night chicken. We made a half hearted effort to find him a Chicken Cottage until we were reliably informed that they were all shut.

He took the news with profound sadness.

Estonian Jesus

The following day I played my last event, the turbo deepstack and never really got going. As I played that, news from the main event was that a player the media was dubbing Estonian Jesus was performing miracles. I quickly realised this was Estonian Ben, with whom I shared commentary duties in the last 12 months in Tallinn and Mazagan.

Around this time I was also getting trolled on Twitter by my fellow ambassador Lappin who had spotted a statue on his London walkaround he felt bore a certain resemblance to a certain someone.

Ben ended up busting his final table around the same time I bust the turbo. Unibet's livestream commentary A team of Marc Convey and David Vanderheyden were in the market for someone who could come in for a couple of hours to let them grab some dinner, so Ben and I jumped in. After Ben's stint, Lappin joined me for the next hour. Two pretty enjoyable hours for me personal with two very different commentators. My stint starts at around the 5 hour 9 minute mark:

Really feeling the effect of sleepless nights under duck feathers now, I was intending an early night, but the hospitality of Unibet at their events makes a quick getaway almost impossible to execute. I got waylaid to the bar, and then the staff tournament, which was great fun despite the fact I was so tired I could barely see the cards and I got outrageously nit rolled by eventual winner Marc Convey (just kidding Marc: well done and I certainly don't hope you fall off the new bike you bought with your winnings).

The following day Mrs Doke flew in to chill out for a few days. We went to dinner with Daiva, John, Sameer and his lovely wife Fran, and hung out quite a bit with Daiva. Whatever her downsides as a study partner, she can't be faulted as a hostess.

Roll on Brighton!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chinese whispers, duck feathers, awkward hugs

The morning after

The morning after the ambassador's SNG I got out of bed and promptly fell over. All the more alarming because all I'd had the night before to drink was a couple of beers and a shot of tequila. I'm well below average for an Irishman at drinking, but even I should be able to handle that. After crawling back into bed struggling to breath, I decided the best course of action was to catch an Uber to the nearest Accident and Emergency. But I ended up aborting that mission once I started to feel better and realised the long wait in A&E would present a bigger threat to my health, and in any case I was feeling better and breathing more freely. When Mrs Doke arrived the following Monday she quickly identified the cause: the duck feathers in the duvet I was sleeping under had triggered my asthma which I rarely get these days. Despite being incredibly allergic to these, I somehow hadn't noticed them, even after several sleepless nights coughing and wheezing.

Having decided to abort the hospital visit, I sent Marc Convey a message hoping to wind him up, saying his peer pressuring me into drinking tequila the previous night had led to my hospitalisation. I then headed off to meet my friend Sameer for brunch.

2 fellow ambassadors express alarm

A few hours later I can back to the world of wifi and a barrage of "Are you still alive?" messages. It seems my attempt to wind up Marc led to greatly exaggerated accounts of my "health scare". Lappin was so relieved when he saw me back at the hotel he felt compelled to hug me, something he does as rarely as Ian Simpson folds to threebets. While still very much alive and kicking, I was still feeling poorly so I had to skip the Welcome party in favour of an early night.

Obviously the early night didn't help a great deal as it was also a largely sleepless night wheezing under duck feathers, but I'm not one to make excuses and in any case I don't think it adversely affected my play in the main event the following day.

The main event

I found myself at the same table again as Ian Simpson  (the only player I recognised). After a couple of up and down early levels we got moved to the feature table. The hands that caused the most discussion afterwards:
(1) my decision to threebet 53s from the big blind over a button raise. Normally I'd just fold this hand as it feels a little too weak to defend. But this specific opponent seemed to be opening far too many hands and not defending or four betting often enough against light three bets. I had a very tight image because of my age and the fact that I'd been card dead up to this point. A hand that feels slightly too weak to call is always a decent candidate to turn into a light raise, so this seemed like a pretty good spot to go for a light threebet. This hand in particular has a lot of merit: it can flop a very well disguised monster on low boards (and I can represent high boards). He tank folded (k9 I later learned)
You can watch that hand and see my "5 high like a boss" face at around the two hour 27 minute mark:

(2) the same opponent raised under the gun and I again found myself with a hand not quite strong enough to flat (ace ten). For exactly the same reasons, I decided to threebet light again. This hand doesn't flop quite as well as 53s, but does benefit from having a blocker. The fact that I'm holding an ace makes it less likely either the opener or someone behind has a very strong hand. This is more important in this case where there are seven players yet to act (all of whom could potentially have a strong hand) after I raise rather than just one in the previous hand. Once again it worked.

Apart from that I was pretty card dead on the feature table and hovered around starting stack. After the dinner break, we were moved off the feature table. Unfortunately I lost half my stack first hand back. I opened a9s to 2400 at bb1200 in the cutoff. An inexperienced player on the button flicked in a 5k chip without saying anything, then after the blinds had folded said "Raise". Obviously this didn't count as a raise, but suddenly we are in one of those weird spots where it's unclear who the preflop aggressor is, as my opponent clearly intended to raise. Despite this, I decided to cbet the 985 flop, he threw in a 5k chip saying Raise this time, and I called his min raise getting getting five to one. The turn came a 6 and I can probably check fold to a normal sized bet now, but he again threw in just one 5k chip. Getting 4 to 1 on the call again, I still didn't think I could fold, so I didn't.

The river was a 7, so now I'm playing the five card straight on the board and can fold if he bets big. But he again threw in one 5k chip. Getting 5 to 1 on the call and losing only to a ten, I again called. As played I felt the only hand with a ten he could have was pocket tens. Unfortunately this is exactly what he had.

That left me with about twelve big blinds looking for a good spot to get them in. When a player opening too many hands opened early and was called just behind, sixes on the button seemed like a decent if not fist pump shove spot. Unfortunately the caller snapped with eights after the opener had folded, and promptly flopped a set to end my involvement in the main event.

I was sorry not to go further as it genuinely was a very fun live event, but as a consolation I was freed up to play side events, go to an epic Players Party, and do some livestream commentary.

In the next part of this trip report, I'll talk about the other event I played (the 300 buyin Deepstack), and how it led to me wondering to find a new study partner :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Unibet Open London (part 1)

My first outing for Unibet as an ambassador was Unibet Open London. Home to my favourite football team and birthplace to both my favourite singer and the first love of my life, London is a place I've been visiting all my adult life making memories. Some of the happiest from my early 20s are from a flat I shared in Hampstead with my first love Julie, and following her around the city like a lovesick puppy. After her untimely death, I found London a tough place to be, as those memories made me sad and lonely. In more recent years I've made some much happier memories, including coming second in the last ever UKIPT here. So no better place to make my debut.

First up on the felt was the Ambassadors SNG, a 10k prize pool freeroll being streamed on Twitch. We were up after another freeroll for Esports Twitch superstars. This kicked off in the afternoon, and the fact that they managed to get over 12k viewers at different points shows just how big Esports are on Twitch relative to poker (12k is a massive number for poker on Twitch: as a comparison one of the most popular poker streamers who is normally number one when he streams was number two with less than 4k viewers). Numbers dipped a bit for the ambassador SNG but we retained the number one spot.

I watched a bit of the Esports stream and had two strong impressions of the play. First, it was clear many of them had played little if any poker before. Second, despite this, they played surprisingly well, much stronger than a random selection of players of their experience. It seems that the skills that makes them world class gamers are transferable to poker, and I imagine that with minimal coaching most of them could play at a professional level. Chatting to one of them Thijs in the bar after, he said he had a newfound respect for poker players and the level of emotional control required.

The first SNG overran a bit which meant a bit of hanging around a bit. Once we got started I didn't exactly have the best seat sandwiched between the two favourites to win the event, Viktor Blom and Dan Murariu. I was unfortunately feeling under the weather and this coupled with me being card dead didn't make for particularly compelling viewing for the Doke rail.

The most interesting hand I played was against Viktor and Lappin.  Viktor opened in early position and I elected to flat call with aks.  Lappin flatted with Kings, at which point the Twitch chat was apparently divided into two camps, "What the Hell is going on here?" and "Why is this pot not bigger already?"  So I guess I should talk about my decision to flat here. I would often raise in this spot but I decided to flat instead for a number of reasons:
(1) This early and deep, my hand doesn't feel strong enough to get the lot in, especially versus Viktor who had barely played a hand at this point
(2) the hand plays very well as a flat. It's not a disaster if it sets off a chain of flats. The fact that it's suited means it flops a lot better multiway than ace king offsuit
(3) having a hand this strong in my flatting range protects it from light squeezes. If the action goes open flat flat flat and someone I know likes to squeeze light in these spots, I have a hand that plays well enough to get in versus that range with fold equity and lots of dead money in the pot
(4) it also protects my flatting range postflop on ace and king high flops. Many people won't put me on AK in this spot
(5) I don't particularly want to build a pot against the best player on the table

I can't speak for Lappin's thought process but from my point of view his decision to flat is understandable. I think he felt both myself and Viktor would play correctly if he squeezed (continue with the hands we are supposed to continue with, and fold the rest) but more importantly he had the most likely players to squeeze light still to act behind him. By flatting he set up a potential dream scenario where, say, Ian or Charlotte squeeze.

As it happens nobody takes the squeeze spot and the three of us see a qj4r flop. Not the flop I was hoping for but I do have four outs to the nuts so I won't necessarily be folding just yet. Viktor declines to cbet, I also check, and David takes a stab at the pot. Viktor folds and I elect to call. I'm not calling here just to hit my gutshot (or ace or king which are tainted outs that improve some of Lappin's hands to two pairs or straights). If I do hit my gutshot that's great and I could potentially win a big pot as David may struggle to put me on ace king. Most of David's range at this point is marginal at best one pair hands like ace jack, king jack, and underpairs to the jack, which I feel I can bluff him off by either check raising the turn, or betting the river if he checks the turn. (As an aside, the fact that most of his range is weak on this kind of board is another advantage of his flat preflop: flatting Kings preflop means he can also have overpairs on this kind of board). The turn is a 2, I check, and David fires again. We have now reached the point where I need to decide whether to bluff or not: with one card to come calling isn't a great option. I watch David as I decide. He sees me looking at him and starts pulling theatrical faces. He looks very relaxed and he's not talking (something I've noticed him doing in the past when he's at the bottom of his range) so I decide he's probably towards the top of his range and it's time to abort the mission. After I fold he jokes to Ian "You ruined that hand" which puzzled me at the time but made more sense after my friend watching the stream told me he had kings.

I was pretty card dead for much of my time at the table. With seven left I exited shoving pocket 3's from the hijack. A lot of people expressed surprise that I decided to go with the hand. It is the rock bottom of my range and I would certainly fold it at an easier table with a slower structure.  In this case the structure was fast and the competition tough, so I felt less inclined to pass profitable spots, even close ones. Another factor was that in the same spot one orbit earlier I'd opened AQo, Charlotte defended with 76o, and outdrew me. 33 is not a good hand to open when most of the players behind will threebet wide (it has to be folded to a threebet, and with two low cards and no blockers you will get threebet more often than when you have A3), and the blinds defend wide. So I thought the only way to play the hand profitably is to shove it hoping to get it through most of the time if the others don't realise I've been mostly card dead rather than just nitty up to this point.

Lappin tanks on the button and eventually made the correct call with AQs. I think most people probably don't realise that this is actually a very close spot. I ran the maths on the spot later, and AQs is only a slightly profitable call when you factor in ICM (AQo is a fold). When I saw David's hand I wasn't feeling too optimistic about winning the flip. Even after he bricked the flop and turn I wasn't optimistic as I have never won a major flip live against David and he's flipped me out of numerous tournaments. And so it proved once again on the river.

I was obviously disappointed not to go further but given the cards and spots I was dealt didn't feel there was much anyone sitting in my seat could have done. It was some consolation that David put my chips to good use coming third. Well done also to Viktor, undoubtedly the best player I've ever shared a table with and the most amiable and down to earth superstar I've ever met, who came second and Charlotte who continued a pretty sick record in these type of one table tournaments.

You can watch the entire thing on replay on Twitch with some outstanding expert analysis from Daiva Barauskaite on the early stages. If you enjoy hearing a pro level player clearly breaking down hands and logically explaining lines, do yourself a favour and listen carefully to Daiva's analysis.

Next up for me was a day off which proved to be more eventful than I imagined, before the main event, which will be the subject of part 2 of this trip report.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman and Paddy Irishman

My first Unibet Open was in Citywest in Dublin in 2011. Looking back six years later, I have four abiding memories:

(1) It was the first time I played a tournament where I felt like a foreigner in my own country. Exactly how much the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent austerity affected the Irish poker economy was made clear that there was a tournament in Ireland that got less than a dozen locals to buy in.
(2) It was around this time I started staking a young Irish player nobody had heard of at the time called Daragh Davey. As I recall, Daragh and I ended up chopping the Last Longer for Irish. Daragh seemed a little hesitant to chop presumably on basis that he fancied himself to win it outright
(3) I spent part of day 1 on the feature table. When I got home IrishPokerBoards was ablaze with some comments the livestream commentator (a well known local pro) had made about me, or more precisely the size of my head which, with just a hint of exagerration, he suggested could be seen from space. I laughed the comments off and then started answering the numerous texts people were sending me asking me about them
(4) The following day, I scooted off to Lemongrass with Daragh at the dinner break. We were three away from the bubble and I was, surprise surprise, short. After being shown to our table, Daragh brought my attention to a nearby table where a friendless commentator sat alone (the same one who had described my head as a celestial object).
"Do you see....?"
"Yes. The man himself"
"So you heard....?"
"Yes. Not a big deal in my opinion, although it does seem to be a minority opinion"
"But how....."
"Not a big deal Daragh"

Daragh seemed a little surprised by my reaction or lack thereof, and did what any good friend would do in the circumstance: glared disapprovingly at the man himself. Or maybe it was just his natural scowl. This was pre happy Daddy Davey: he had not yet worked out which facial muscles were required to smile.

A few minutes later, the man himself dropped over.
"I hear you are short and not to jinx you or anything but if you do happen to bust, I was wondering if you might join me in the commentary box"
"Sure thing"

Daragh's mouth was wide open at this stage. After the man himself had returned to his table:
"What the Hell?"
"The brazen faced cheek of...."
"Not a big deal, Daragh"
"You did hear what he....?"
"Yes. At least 20 people told me"
"And....but.....the cheek...."
"Not a big deal Daragh. Just banter. Banter is good"

After scraping across the bubble, I did find myself in the commentary box: a fun end to a fun weekend. It turns out feeling like a foreigner in your own land doesn't have to be a bad thing, if the atmosphere among the visitors is as friendly as it was at the event.

Fast forward five years and I'm in Bucharest at the biggest ever Unibet Open. The first thing that stood out was the friendliness I'd seen in Dublin was there still in abundance. In the intervening five years I'd grown accustomed to less friendly and more testy atmospheric conditions surrounding live poker, so this felt like a refreshing return to the good old days of live poker. I was also surprised how many faces I recognised from Dublin: Unibet had clearly done a better job retaining players than other sites and operators. After shooting the breeze with some of the Unibet staff, it was easy to see why. The whole ethos and culture of the company is geared towards the recreational poker experience. This is something that ties in with my view of how poker should be. It should be fun for the so-called fun players: if not what's the point? Live poker in particular shouldn't be 9 robots sitting at a table wearing hoodies shades and Beats grinding GTO ranges. Unibet clearly recognizes this, which is why I'm delighted to announce that I will be representing them as a brand ambassador alongside my good friends Ian Simpson and David Lappin starting at the Unibet Open in London. Watch this space for more announcements as to what that will entail.

First up, we all get to play an ambassador sit n go on Wednesday evening at 7. I believe it will be streamed on Twitch. If nothing else, there should be some good banter. David has already gone on record pointing out he's played more stts than the rest of us put together: he seems to believe grinding out a solid 0.2% ROI over a couple of thousand 6 max hypers will give himself a decent edge over the rest of us. And Ian has taken to the social media to point out that being English makes him innately superior and the only conceivable outcome here is Paddy Englishman will box the two Paddy Irishmen around.

We shall see.....

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Can't be SlowDoke

So I'm on the final table of the Low Roller (as Richie Lawlor dubbed it) at MPNPT Vienna and there's a typically boisterous Irish rail. One of them yells "Cmon the SlowDoke", which prompts the following table talk in German between runaway chippy Dennis Wilke and his partner, WPT Vienna champion Jamila von Perger:

"SlowDoke? SlowDoke is here?"
 "I think they mean the Irish guy"
"There's no way that's SlowDoke. They must have been joking"
"SlowDoke is Irish though"
"Yeah but he doesn't play tight. He's a maniac"

Not for the first time, I didn't let on I understand German as the argument raged on as to whether the oul lad in seat 5 could possibly be the online maniac known as SlowDoke.

I got to the final table with barely over starting stack, so with only 4 paid it was going to be a battle to get to the money. I fancied my chances though even at a tough table as I genuinely believe my final table game and understanding of the intricacies of ICM are the strongest parts of my game.

The stacks and payout structure (min cash was almost three buyins, first place less than nine), plus an unfavourable seat draw was the main reason I played like an old nit. I had online cash Twitcher Espen Uhlen (check out his Twitch stream at https://www.twitch.tv/uhlenpoker some time if you want a change of pace from all the tourney streamers) to my immediate left for the entire tournament, which was fun because he's very friendly and entertaining, but not fun because he's very good at poker. First hand I opened at the final table had to be folded when he threebet. My hand wasn't good enough to call but was almost good enough to turn into a light four bet shove, but after some consideration I decided to stay disciplined as I was a pip or two too far down to go with my hand. Note to self: no more light opens.

I nitted it to the bubble with even less chips than I started with, at which point the runaway chipleader had run further away, Jamila was also prospering and myself Espen and a German kid were eyeing each other wondering who was going to be bubble boy. Bubbles when the short stacks understand just how tight they have to call and the big stacks just how wide they can open or shove can be torturously long, and this one dragged on for almost four hours. I had pretty much the worst seat with the chipleader to my immediate right meaning I never got to look at my cards in the big blind without hearing the words "all in", but I kept my discipline patiently folding all the hands I'm supposed to fold in such a situation. When I folded 88 in the big blind to a shove from the chippy (who showed ace nine) that seemed to be the final straw for the German kid who was the one playing a little too loose already for the situation. A few hands later he made a light shove into the chippy, got snapped off, and bubbled to sevens.

That allowed myself and Espen to start climbing out of the ICM coffin we'd been in for the last four hours, but not entirely. Lagging so far behind the other two meant trying to outlast each other to lock up third was the main priority. Thankfully that mini bubble didn't last as long, with Espen falling to a marginal shove that ran into a dominating hand. He asked me afterwards if I thought it was the right side of marginal or not and I answered honestly that without running it through an ICM tool I wasn't sure. The very definition of marginal.

Finding myself three handed with barely over 5% of the chips meant the handcuffs were well and truly off and I could flip with impunity. A couple of won flips later I was actually able to start playing poker, and clawed myself past Jamila and close to Dennis in the chip conte. Game on. Then game off. Dennis offered an ICM chop and I snap accepted. Even though the three handed was going well up to that point, it's important not to get carried away and think you're suddenly a poker God when the prudent thing is to deal rather than flip for thousands. By now it was 7.30 am and even if I felt less tired than the other two (Dennis seemed barely able to make change at this point), the thought of locking up more than second place and more than a third of the remaining money before heading to bed had a lot of appeal. I also didn't feel this was a good spot, sandwiched between Germany's power poker couple.

I know some people (mainly recreational players) don't like the idea of chops and view agreeing to them as a form of cowardice, but when you're a professional, your job isn't really to gamble for thousands when there's little or no edge to be had and it's inevitably going to come down to who runs best. Your job is to claim your fair share of the equity provided by the players you have a genuine edge on (usually the very same people who shout "Chops are for pussies" :)).

There was other success for the Irish travelling contingent, with Richie final tabling a turbo side, Keith Cummins continuing his recent impressive live run with a second in the last side event, and David Lappin was unlucky not to go further when he bust the main event three tables out. Sean MacCarthy also cashed the main.

There's always a great atmosphere around MPN events, something the MPN live team and skin reps like Nick and Sean work tirelessly for. Poker tours ultimately stand or fail on the recreational player experience, and special credit as ever to the very ladylike and demure Clodagh Hansen who leaves no stone unturned and no photo unbombed.

Vienna itself is regularly towards the top of lists of great places to live, and it's not hard to see why. On my day off Mireille and I went sightseeing in the centre, and with lots of palaces, churches and great places to eat and drink, there are few better places in the world to have a day off. David and I weren't too impressed when the girls forced us to pose for this photo, but it was a small price to pay for finding ourselves in one of the greatest cities in the world.


So all in all a very enjoyable trip, and it's good to get the live year off to a profitable start. I always enjoy catching up with old friends and making new ones on these trips. David and Saron have a baby on the way so this might have been the last trip me and David make together for a while, which makes me a little sad as we have had some truly great times together on these trips, and I just want to pay tribute to him as a great friend and travel companion.


I'm looking forward to a few weeks grinding online. Next up live is the Dublin Poker Festival, centred around the tenth running of the European Deepstack. This event will always have a special place in my heart as my first live score came with my win in the first running in my first year playing poker. After that it looks like my next event will be the Unibet Open in London at the end of the month. Unibet events are always great fun too so that's definitely one to look forward to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Health and ecosystem matters

Life update

This is my first blog of the year because it's been a quiet start to the year: not much to blog home about. I came out of Prague reasonably happy with how the second half of my year had gone live, but also a bit jaded with live poker and looking to a spell at home.

I've gotten better over the years of eating well and trying not to lose too much shape on the road, but the fact remains whenever I am away I can't eat as well or exercise as regularly (more on this later). So periods at home recharging are much needed.

I felt a little out of shape as an online player too given how little I'd played in the last six months, but got back into the groove easily enough with a PocketFives Triple Crown and an otherwise satisfactory start to this year.

As I write this on the eve of my first poker trip of 2017 (to MPN Vienna), I'm quietly pleased with both the work I've put in online and studying the game, and getting back into physical shape. With three 30 mile training runs under my belt already I'm in a lot better shape physically than I was this time last year.

The reason I've waited this long to write my first blog of 2017 is that's pretty much all I've got, so  I'm going to fill it out with some stuff I get asked about a lot, and stuff I've been thinking about lately.

Health matters

This is going to sound like a brag (maybe because it is) but I'm in a lot better shape and healthier than most guys in their 53rd year on the planet. It's not entirely a brag as I think luck plays a large part in it, but I also think I've improved my chances with my lifestyle, in particular exercise and diet. I get asked about these periodically, so I thought I might as well put my answers here.

When I was running competitively, a typical training weak consisted of:
1. Two long runs, one 25 to 30 miles, one 20 to 25 (usually both done on same day, or on consecutive days)
2. Three speed work sessions, a tough one, a lighter one and an easier one
3. Seven recovery runs, 8 miles, in 1 hour

Total weekly mileage 125 to 135 miles, done as two runs a day 6 days a week. Besides running, there was some gym work and other cross training.

The first two years of my poker career overlapped with the last two of my competitive running career (I was still representing Ireland internationally and trying to win races). During this time I definitely struggled with maintaining energy levels and recovery. Prior to poker I slept and rested a lot to recover from training. As poker took over I slept less and hoped sitting at a desk clicking buttons was sufficiently restful for recovery (it wasn't).

At the end of the two years I realised it wasn't possible to juggle the two, so I retired from running (by this time I was a successful online player making multiples of what I could ever make from running).

For the next five years or so, my training was 5 or 6 easy runs a week (weekly mileage 40). Basically just enough to keep ticking over.

Two years ago I became aware that I was a lot less physically fit and had less stamina than before. I think I maintained both residually for years after quitting competitive running but by now it was gone, and I felt the lack of stamina in particular was adversely affecting my poker.

I switched to:
1, one long run (25 to 30 miles)
2. two speed sessions
3. three easy recovery runs

Total weekly mileage 65-70 miles. So nothing like what I did when I was competitive (and younger), but the most I can too without feeling drained when I play poker. My routine is to run once a day before breakfast, and I start my online grind after breakfast. I feel the run wakes me up rather than drains me, but generally don't play on the day I do my long run as this does take too much out of me. This schedule also goes out the window when I go on live poker trips. When I'm away the most I can do is try to slip in a short easy 4 to 6 mile run whenever I can.

As for diet, my typical food intake in a day at home consists of:
A large bowl of fruit
A large bowl of porridge
Two boiled eggs
A tuna salad baguette
Meat, veg and rice or pasta
A large bowl of grapes
A small amount of walnuts
Cheese and crackers or a tin of sardines

I should point out that I have zero qualifications as a nutrition or exercise expert: at best I'm an autodidactic lay person, but this combination seems to work for me.

Ecosystem matters

In Bucharest last year at the Unibet Open, we had a lively debate with the always informed and interesting Kat Arnsby on the new Stars "Beat The Clock" format. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's basically a coked up version of the old Time Tournament (another truly pointless format: basically a cash game with bigger rake masquerading as a tournament) with rapidly escalating blinds and an unbeatable rake. After I'd moaned a bit about the format, Kat sharply countered with "sod you pros, it doesn't matters what you guys think. It's a fun format recreational players will enjoy".

While I agree in principle with the view that recreationals should drive the bus, I don't feel that raking them to death in a new format is the right road to take. But I was unable to mount a coherent argument as to why. Then a few days later I heard an interview with a Daily Fantasy Sports pro, and I remembered why.

He was talking about the sweet spot DFS operators are trying to find between maximising their revenue while minimising the drain on players funds. He used an example from Sim City where you can destroy a vibrant successful city by increasing taxes to the point you lose citizens, and revenues go down rather than up. This is a lesson some poker operators, certainly Amaya, seem to have forgotten. If you take the myopic view of increased rake increased profit, you end up cannibalising your player pool faster than you can gain new players. If it's not clear how let's try a little thought experiment.

Imagine a site with 300 players. The only game the site offers is a $50 game aggressively raked at 10%, lasts 15 minutes, and is unbeatable long term.

Each player deposits $1000 at the start, and they hope for 20 hours of enjoyment in a week. That means playing 80 games.

Due purely to variance, 100 of these players run well and win (excluding rake), 100 break even, and 100 lose all their money.

It's easy to see how the losing players lose. In point of fact, they are the least affected by the rake, as even if there was no rake, if they have a negative ROI of 25%, they'd lose the lot anyway. All the rake does is speed up the point at which they go busto.

Now let's look at the "break even players". They break even excluding rake. Including it (ten per cent of $50 times 80) means they actually lose $400, ending the week with $600.

How much do the winning players "win"? Well, since money doesn't disappear we can work it out. At the start of the week, each player deposited 1k, so that's 300k into the system. The losing players lost the lot (100k between them) while the break even players lost 40k when we adjust for rake. In total each player paid 400 in rake, which adds up to 120k, which represents the site's profit. So of the 140k lost by losing and break even players, 120k goes to the site, and only 20k to the"winning" players, who therefore win $200 each on average to end the week with $1200.

So how about it, recreationals? Does that sound good to you? Deposit and a week later there's an equal chance you either are up 20%, down 40% or down 100%? I think we'd agree you'd have to be a mug, and while there are undoubtedly mugs out there, they are in limited supply, and you eventually run out of them. Yet this is exactly the model Amaya seem to be pushing.

A couple of years ago after the dust settled from the Amaya takeover, a Stars employee told us that the new strategy revolved around eradicating the pros. I don't think we fully believed it at the time, but we do now. There are a number of problems with that strategy (it's hard to maintain liquidity when everyone is a long term loser, for instance) but even if there's some sense to it, the implementation has been nothing short of disastrous. Spray bombing insecticide on the player pool in the form of worse structures and increased rake may eliminate the pros, but you end up killing recreationals even quicker.

Just as increasing rake does not lead to increased profit, reduced rake does not necessarily reduce profit. What it does is give losing players more bang for their buck. They will still end up losing in the long term, but if they do so more slowly while having fun, they are much more likely to be willing to redeposit. There will be much less "I deposited a grand and it was all gone in a few hours" stories to dissuade new players. There will be much more liquidity and much less need to keep finding new players to replace those going bust. This is a lesson DFS operators seem to be learning, and the online poker industry needs to relearn.

Up next

I generally plan my poker career in six month chunks (before and after Vegas), and the plan for the first half of 2017 is a fair amount of live poker in February, then a break until late March. Then four or five weeks concentrating on live poker again (mostly in Ireland) and another break before Vegas. I'm planning a longer WSOP campaign than in recent years, maybe even getting there as early as June 3rd.


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