Football, as the cliche goes, is often a game of two halves. And 2015, in a poker sense, was very much a year of two halves for me. At the end of May, I had a long chat in Hamburg with David Lappin about how the year was shaping up. The general outlook was gloomy: the first 5 months of the year had very much continued the trends identified in my 2014 wrap up blog, where I admitted to having my least profitable year online in over half a decade, with a slight uptick on the live front but nothing spectacular. Dave and I concluded our chat with the thought that the kind of good living we had enjoyed for almost a decade as online pros might no longer be possible, and it might be time to move poker from full time profession to lucrative part time sideline.
Approximately 6 months later, I'm on a train into Dublin to meet David and several of my other closest friends at a party in my honour which I (and absolutely nobody else) was referring to as the YOTD (Year of the Doke) party, to celebrate my best ever year in poker (big thank you Gary Clarke for organising this). So yeah, you could say the second half of the year went better than the first.
LiveThe first half of the year was similar to all of 2014 for me: decent but unspectacular. On my first poker trip abroad, I min cashed FPS Deauville. The following month I was third in the Fitz End of Month, and at the start of April I chopped the Mini Irish Open. In Hamburg, my last trip before Vegas, I ran deep but ultimately fell short of the final table in the Hamburg Cup.
So then I went to Vegas. Not having gone there in 2014, and having a very lacklustre year online, it may seem like an odd decision to go this year, but I was lured there by the prospect of being able to play the Seniors for the first time. That didn't go to plan, and after bricking that and my first "normal" side, I found myself doing livestream commentary on the Seniors final table. That finished just in time for me to go late register Event 45, a run of the mill mid week $1500 NLH event. And, well, I'm guessing most people reading this already know I ultimately ended up getting headsup for a bracelet and coming second after some business was done headsup, for easily the biggest score of my career. That in itself made 2015 my best ever year, but I followed Vegas by cashing the next three EPTs (the only three I played this year), coming third in a UKIPT High Roller, ninth in a WSOPE side event, tenth in a UKIPT main event, and a bunch of other results that saw me become the first Irish person to get past 100 results on the Hendon Mob. To illustrate the year of two halves thing, I cashed in 18 live events this year, but only four of those were pre Vegas.
OnlineOnce again this year, I made over twice as much in the second half of the year as I did in the first. It's starting to look as if online poker might actually be seasonal: that post Christmas, there's not as much recreational disposable income around, then it's summer and people have better things to be doing than staying in to play online, but as autumn turns to winter and ESPN shows the WSOP, they start playing again. My thinking on this is that I might be better off accepting poker as seasonal and spending the first half of the year studying, concentrating on fitness and other stuff and playing live, rather than putting in volume online fretting about lower win rates.
However, it's worth pointing out that the difference between both halves of my year online came down to one bink (my Supersonic chop). My natural tendency mentally is always to pull back to the middle: when things are going badly I try to focus on how they could get better, and when things are going well, the opposite. I think that helps to avoid getting too depressed in downswings or too full of your own greatness in upswings, so I recognize that as great as this year has been (and it has been my best ever in poker overall), I've been the lucky beneficiary of considerable positive variance. Without the variance of my two biggest results, it would have been a very ordinary year indeed.
WritingThis is my ninth year of blogging. Given that most poker blogs don't get 9 months, I guess that's some sort of accomplishment in itself. I also reversed something of a decline in that every year recently has seen me make less blog posts than the previous year. From a high point of 2008 when I was blogging more than twice a week (110 for the year), in 2014 I published barely one a month (14 in total). This year it climbed back up to 23.
Given how my year shaped up, one might think my most read blog would have to come from the second half of the year when I got headsup for a bracelet and was on the feature table of a couple of EPTs. But no, easily my most read blog of the year (and one of my most read ever) was my Irish Open blog, "The Last Supper", as the points I made about the decline of this once great event got considerable attention across the poker world.
The reason why most poker blogs don't last very long is you run out of new stuff to say pretty quickly and that will continue to be the challenge in 2016 I suspect. All the more challenging given that I also have a monthly column at Bluff Europe to fill, and since people actually pay to read that one, I feel more of an onus to provide interesting content. But as long as people keep reading this blog, I'll keep writing I guess.
I do enjoy writing the Bluff Europe column, and the reaction has been very good, so will try to keep that up too as long as they'll have me. Going forward into 2016, there is one other possibly exciting writing project in the works, but I don't want to say anything more at this point in case (as is often the case with me) it comes to nothing.
CoachingI did a lot less of this this year as I decided to concentrate more on my own study away from the tables, which I felt was necessary to avoid being left behind. So besides sessions with the guys I stake and a few others who were particularly persistent in their requests, not a lot. I did however make my first publicly available video. I recorded this while I was in Prague a few weeks ago with Andrew Brokos. It's available for free, but the hope is also to raise money for the Bay Area Urban Debate League, a charity close to Andrew's heart.
The Bay Area Urban Debate League is a non-profit organization offering fun and high-quality educational opportunities to students, mostly from low-income backgrounds, in San Francisco, Oakland, and the surrounding area. Joining the debate team changed my life when I was in high school, and in my 15 years working with urban debate leagues in cities across the US, I've seen it change the lives of hundreds of students who were on a far worse path than I was. It engages students in fun but genuinely intellectual competition and offers them the opportunity to take ownership of and responsibility for knowledge. A single year of debating has been shown to improve reading skills by 60%, and each year in an urban debate league improves a student's GPA by 8-10% on average. Best of all, debate appeals to kids who "talk back", many of whom are in danger of dropping or failing out of school for lack of opportunities to channel their strong opinions in a constructive way.
You can contribute to the campaign at https://www.crowdrise.com/baudl500bringthepowe/fundraiser/andrewbrokos or by clicking the link at the end of the video.
StakingI'll avoid repeating what I said last year because it hasn't really changed. Cliffs: while I'm very happy to go on staking the couple of guys I'm currently involved with, I have zero appetite to take on anyone new. I've done okay financially but I just don't enjoy it as much as playing myself, and time spent coaching or sorting out transfers tends to eat into my energy and playing time. For the foreseeable future, my main focus is on working on my own game.
Other poker stuffI did less livestream commentary this year than in previous years (in keeping with my overall policy to focus on my core of improving my own game) but it was a real thrill to commentate alongside David Tuchman, Mike Leah, Tatiana Pasajic and Ash Conniff on a couple of WSOP final tables.
My binks this year also got some media coverage, and my favourite interview of the year was with Samantha Rea for a runner's mag. I also appeared (again) on the Thinking Poker podcast while I was in Vegas, and did another PocketFives interview.
The main extracurricular poker activity of my year was The Chip Race. This was a lot more work than I imagined it would be (David did most of it though), and was also a lot better received than I thought it would be. We wrapped up the first season shortly before I headed to Vegas, with the intention of returning after I got back from Vegas. Unfortunately by then, the company who had commissioned it was in receivership, which sadly prevented our return at the nut best time to do so (with not just my own WSOP final table to talk about but also six other Irish players).
The popularity of the show has lingered long enough for it to be one of the first things most people ask me when I play live at home or abroad ("When is it coming back?"). I've fallen into the stock answer that I would address it on my blog. When I said this to David recently, he suggested "David lives in Malta now" :)
The fact is we don't own the rights to the name or the show. We were initially hopeful of getting them quickly and getting a potential sponsor, but neither has materialised so our hands are effectively tied (for now at least). And even if we were to get those issues resolved, well....David lives in Malta now.
So while it's not impossible we will return at some future point, don't hold your breath. In the mean time, I'm proud to have been involved to whatever small degree in its shortlived success (most of the credit has to go to David: he not only did most of the work but it was very much his vision to create something less like "a couple of guys talk poker on Skype" and more like a traditional radio talk show than typical poker podcasts). I also think that even if we never come back, we will at least have gone out on a high with a final episode that was our high point with a great Andy Black interview that presaged his exploits in Vegas, and a truly outstanding interview Fergal Nealon conducted with Annette O'Carroll which numerous people have identified to me as not just their favourite on the Chip Race but by anyone ever on poker. Full credit to Fergal on that one (and Annette for being such a wonderful interviewee).
Other life stuffThroughout this year I focused more on off the table study and fitness and nutrition than I have ever before (since I started poker). I think my results this year, notwithstanding what I said above about positive variance, have been helped greatly by both these things, so the plan going forward into 2016 is to continue and even increase my efforts on these fronts. I'd like to pay tribute to my wife who takes care of pretty much everything than doesn't involve running or cards so I can concentrate on those.
As tempting as it is to try to keep the good live form going at the Aussie Millions and PCA, I've decided to stay at home in January and concentrate on online and off the table work and study. This will be my major focus in the first few months as I hope to get to Vegas this year in at least as good a shape physically and mentally as I was last year. As a runner, I tended to follow my biggest wins with my worst performances (and vice versa). I never successfully defended a title, and tended to do best immediately after a bad performance that had everyone questioning if I was done. This has continued to some degree through my poker career where the typical year by year pattern goes Good Bad Good Bad. So 2016 would be a great time to buck that trend and follow a great year with an even better one. It may not be possible, but at the very least I intend to give it my all.
Finally, I'd like to thank all the people in poker who have supported me throughout the year (you know who you are). This year was my best ever in poker not just because of the results, but also the reaction of friends, family and supporters. May you all have the 2016 you all deserve, and I hope to see you all at the tables at some point.