Thursday, February 6, 2014

State of the poker nation

A recent tweet by well-known Irish poker player Chris Dowling a few weeks back has been resonating in my head since I read it. I’m not sure of the exact context it was said in, but Chris tweeted something along the lines of “your average professional poker player these days is “not” someone that people want to spend time with”.

I agree. I’m not having a go here at current poker pros. The fact is the pro of today is far more; well professional and extremely better at playing poker than their predecessors. But I believe evolution has given us a top tier of poker professional that ultimately have an adverse effect on the attractiveness of the game to a wider audience.

The game has become to some extent a causality of its own success. Wave after wave of young smart people have turned the game into an academic exercise. If you’re not playing thirty tournaments a night, with a ‘rain man’ propensity to assimilate and make decisions on vast quantities of HUD information, you’re simply not at the races.

The end result of this is that while the standard of play within the game has improved exponentially. The game itself is losing its appeal to a wider audience, is not attracting new people into the game and also losing the battle to keep current recreational players.

If we look at the live scene in Ireland the decline in major prize pool events has been dramatic over the last five years. While there can be no doubt that the wider economy has played a role in this, I believe how the game has developed, and the type of player this has spawned is every bit as much to blame.

It’s not the present generations fault, but today’s pro is a stockbroker if you will, purely motivated by monetary gain. The problem with this is sustainability. In the past poker attracted new people through the wide array personalities that played the game. Today’s pros are falling into a very singular demographic group.

The poker million final used to air for seven hours live on skysports one, this was on top of the multiple weekly two hour heat shows. It was filled with poker players from numerous demographic groups with personalities the public found interesting.

The Irish Open final table was screened live on skysports in 2006. In 2007 it was aired on RTE, the national network in a type of ‘match of the day’ format after each days play. All these shows attracted massive audiences, ergo legions of new people were introduced to the game.

It’s a sad fact that these broadcasters wouldn’t dream of putting on those shows today. The reason? Unfortunately the fun and personality has left the game. Who wants to watch clone twenty year olds talk jargon about merging their ranges, barring the already converted and devoted.

The Irish and UK markets are relatively mature and what has happened here will undoubtedly also occur in those poker markets that are currently at an earlier stage of the cycle.

I don’t know if this deterioration in the appeal of the game to newcomers will or can ever be reversed. If it is to happen, a paradigm shift in the mentality of the current crop of pro players needs to occur. They will need to engage with recreational players, they need to become more extroverted and less exclusive to other pros in the time they spend at the table. They need to simply be nicer, it’s really not that hard and they may be surprised with how interesting people from outside their normal networks actually are.

The future of the game needs your average professional poker player to become someone that people “do” want to spend time with.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Galway UKIPT - get there by hook or crook

Two months ago there was a tournament held at Wembly stadium that had a €600,000 overly. It's a tournament that I have herd discussed a lot in poker circles since. Any of my friends that played the event were of the opinion that it was the best tournament they had ever played. The majority of players including myself have regrets of not playing that tournament.

This week in Galway the organisers for the UKIPT have assembled a purpose built world class poker arena in the heart of the city. They have guaranteed €1,000,000 for €1,100 buy in which is a colossal commitment on their behalf given the current trends of poker here in Ireland.

Much of the talk here in Galway is how big the overlay will be. The numbers being spouted about are ranging up to €400,000. My advice is don't be like me and all the other players after Wembly regretting not playing. This one is just a drive away so if it means raiding the kids piggy bank, mugging a granny or skimming the Xmas diddly club, every effort has to be made to get to Galway this coming week.    

I've been here a week now and it's all been socialising as was the plan. I've had a great time that involved racing, golf, swimming most days and drinking, lots of drinking. I've basically had a nice weeks holiday but the serious poker starts tomorrow with the €2,500 Irish Poker Championship.

As with the main event, it's a difficult call on what kind of numbers the IPC will get, but hopefully it's a good turnout. I've registered for day one B of the main which is Friday. The plan for the week is a deep run in the IPC and if that doesn't happen it'll be the same activities as last week minus the drinking, the liver has spoken.

Just to say again if you are in anyway considering attending Galway this week, just go for it. Even if the budget seems a stretch take the punt, if just to play one of the many satellites that run all week.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

WSOP Nostalgia

The Internet is currently awash with WSOP related nostalgia. Nolan Dalla covered the landmark 2003 WSOP in a wonderful sequence of blogs for it’s tenth anniversary. The ever-entertaining Jesse May is on top form in his blog “Ya Luckbox” providing us with daily anecdotes and video clips of WSOP gone by.

All this reminiscing had me remembering a funny little incident that occurred during my first visit to the WSOP in 2007.

I was playing my first ever bracelet event, a $1500 NLH and we had reached the dinner break. Anyone who has played at the WSOP will be familiar with the dinner break dilemma of where to eat.

Remember this was 2007, a year where major bracelet events were decided in a freezing giant tent in the area currently used as the outside smoking area. Lets just say the ROI wasn’t as tuned into player need as today and the “poker kitchen” close to the playing area ‘now’ wasn’t in play back then.

Some sustenance meant a rushed two-mile trek to the main casino and inevitably a long line at one of the dining options the Rio had on offer. My companion on this endeavour was Gavin Kelly a young Internet phenom whom I was sharing a house with for the series. We decided on “Gaylord” the Rio’s Indian restaurant.

Upon entering the restaurant the Maitre’ D approached us and asked, “Were we playing the poker tournament”. When we replied yes he ushered us straight to a seat and immediately produced menus, we ordered quickly.

At this stage I noticed Devilfish, Marcel Luske and Mel Judah sitting at the table next to us. Back then TV name poker players were the stars of the show and I felt like a right baller to be dining in so close quarters to such esteemed ‘names’.

Our starters arrived and I noticed some rumblings from the stars table that I thought were directed in our directions. Almost immediately once the appetisers were finished the plates were cleared and our main courses arrived.  This caused rather more commotion on the opposite table and now I was sure it was directed at us.

When the Maitre’ D arrived with our coffee and bill, he was accosted by Mel Judah. Mel in rather colourful language pointed out that our table, which had entered the restaurant fifteen minutes after his table, had now finished their full meal, yet his table had yet to be served starters. The Maitre’ D reply was priceless; ” but sir, they are poker players”!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The 40 Guns/Masters weekend

The 40 guns was a rather novelty name for an innovative tournament run in Tramore last week. €1,000 buy in, limited to 40 players and run over one day. I liked the idea a lot and loved the fact it was on my doorstep. The only drawback for me was a clash with the Masters that I was prepared to sacrifice for such a good tournament.

The field was a mix of players from the region and a few shrewdies who had travelled to the event. There had been many satellites run in Clonmel, Waterford, Dungarvan so for a lot of the field it was a buy in outside their usual range.

Looking at the four starting tables I’d say I got the short straw but ran well in the seat draw, having direct position on Padraig O Neill and Liam O Donoghue.

With 30,000 starting stack and 45 minute clock there was heaps of play and I did my usual party piece of spewing half my starting stack over the first two levels. Having knuckled down I picked up a few hands and played a few pots well to be among the chip leaders after level four on 60,000. 

After a very nice three-course dinner, it became obvious from the low attrition rate that this was going to be a long grind. First place was €16,000 and ultimate pain was guaranteed for one player with the bubble being €4,000 for fourth.

My VPIP definitely dropped a chunk when the full Masters coverage started on TV. I have UPC at home so was grateful to Chris Dowling for his iPhone with skygo and it wasn’t even tactical generosity as he was on another table.  

The game had become very slow and the blinds definitely caught up with the structure with 20 BB average and two tables left. I lost a big race 77 v AK with 12 remaining for which would have given me 16% of total chips. I shoved a lot to get those chips back and had a little under average when the final table started. The table draw ran against me this time with a decent stacked Padraig and big-stacked Liam now having direct position on me. 

I had a clear strategy in my head at this stage. With such a big bubble under no circumstances be short stacked playing it.  Basically, take a punt if possible to get chips. For the first two rounds of the FT I had no spot and we lost two players.

The first time it was folded to me on the cut off I had 12 BB’s and the blinds were going up in a couple on minutes. I felt it was an ATC shove as the BB seemed tight and was shorter then me. Liam woke up with a hand and I was lucky to be in a 40/60 but not lucky enough to win it.

Well done to Liam on the victory and commiseration to Padraig who was the unfortunate 5th. 

The Masters didn’t go great, I got a few quid out of Westwood top Englishman which would of covered my pre tournament bets. I had kind of avoided Tiger pre tournament but when he stiffed his drop on the 15th on day two after unfortunately hitting the flag and water the previous shot; I decided this was a ‘pivotal’ moment and ploughed in. How right I was!  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Irish Open 2013

This was my 8th Irish Open, having first played the event in 2006. As poker years are akin to ‘dog’ years, I played those eight tournaments over a 56-year period. The tournament didn’t change that much year to year in that time, a gradually improvement in structure occurred and arguably the standard of play.

This year there was a significant structure change and ignoring registration fee a 37.5% drop in buy in. The tournament may of lost a few big names because of the smaller buy in and the bubble may of broke on day three rather then day two. However all in all, for me it felt as big a tournament as any other Irish Open I have played.

courtesy of Danny Maxwell
This was my third year to cash in those eight attempts and certainly deep and around the bubble if felt exactly the same as previous years. Actually scratch that, there was one notable difference. Former TD, Dave O’Neill was sorely missed running frantically around on the bubble roaring at players and spectators alike to return to their seats and get behind the rail.

My tournament went ok. Unusually for me I can’t actually recall much of day one. I know from my twitter feed I had starting stack with two levels remaining and ended the day on an above average 74k without playing a big pot.

I had a good table draw on day two. The only person I knew was John Stokes who I used to play a lot with in the old ‘Blazing Aces’ club in Waterford. I steadily amassed chips all day and hit 250k with two levels remaining. A lot of things had went my. I remember calling a few big barrels turn and river with ace high and being good. Barrelling myself with 44 on a scary board and being good. Getting to showdown holding queen high and being good and most memorably check shoving turn with 66 on a 2235 board, getting snapped and holding verses a king flush draw.

It then turned on me. I was probable a little rash to 3–bet commit A2os losing 75k to this particular gent from the bigblind, his raised AK from the smallblind held. Within 2 minutes I raised called KQss and lost another 75k to A8. I was still comfortable on this table and confidant I could recoup until a few minutes later the floor person informed me I was moving tables.

My internal reaction was “oh no”. I had been on the table ten hours and to move now relatively short-stacked, I feared the worst. My new table had a few familiar faces including Noel Hayes, Liam Flood and Andrew ‘ulduffer’ Sweeney.

Flood was running the show here and it was a pleasure to see. I can honestly say for the last 90 minutes on day two Liam was by far the best player I had played with over the three days I lasted in the tournament. He had a 3-bet percentage of around 60% chipped up from 120k to 400k; it really was delightful to see.

My chip count improved in tandem with Liam’s for the same period but in a much luckier fashion. Firstly I got my 100k in with AK verses QQ and win. Shortly after I picked up AA and the same unfortunate player who held the queens picked up the kings. Day three would start with a healthy 375k, which was 9/64.

We started day three ten off the money. I wasn’t in great shape; it wasn’t the usual Irish Open hangover complaint but rather radiator problems. I was a big loser of the Burlington room roulette and got a horrible old one, 7th floor at the front. The radiator wouldn’t turn off and made a constant noise akin to Niagara Falls. I didn’t get much sleep.

Things got worse when I sat at my table a saw the five hero’s lined up on my left. Derek Wall and Andrew Sweeney, two pretty unexploitable young pros. Mad Mick McCloskey and Liam Flood whom although having a combined age of over 300 were probably the two most frequent 3-betters in the tournament and an English based gent who’s only English seemed to be raise or re-raise. I couldn’t see a strategy of opening a lot of pots working here, as all were decently stacked. Well that’s not exactly true, I’d lost 100k in small pots before I actually decided that. 

I remember two hands in the run up to bubble time. One I opened one of my few pots light from early position, Liam put in a chunky 3-bet. I considered this a good spot for a light 4-bet as Liam has a merged range with his 60% 3-bet percentage he folded and showed AJ. The second hand I 3-bet AK chunky from the small blind verses the English gents early open, call. Flop AK10cc I lead and he at least 4x’s it, I shove and take a nice pot.   

The bubble dragged and I mean dragged, it must have been 90 minutes. We were the feature table and it must of made for boring viewing as everyone was decently stacked and chip movement was minimal as at this stage ever one realised the table couldn’t be run over. It finally popped and I had 450k about 1.5x average and in great shape to make a run for the final table I felt.       

Unfortunately this was where my good fortune in this tournament. For the next four hours I was dealt complete trash and any time I tried to make something happen I lost another few chips. At dinner I was left with a reshove stack of 200k, which was 18 big blinds. Upon returning from dinner the blinds went through me and I shoved 16bigs holding K9cc over a cutoff raise. Declan Connolly woke up in the big blind with AQ o it was out the gap.

Looking back there was no mistakes, maybe two hands I’d of played different with hindsight but these were marginal spots. I wasn’t gutted upon exit, you become pretty pragmatic when you’ve played the Irish Open for 56 years and I didn’t feel I had actually played particularly well but just did the standard stuff correctly. I got a hell of a lot of support from people via twitter/text and at the event, I’d like to thank all for the well wishes      

Saturday, February 23, 2013

UKIPT Cork – A philosophical paradigm shift

My exit has been bothering me from the UKIPT in Cork last Thursday. It was the second last level of eight played on the day. I was low stacked (18 bigs) on what looked a tough active table with plenty chips. I decided to punt my stack in a bad spot with pocket two’s.

There’s nothing unusual there for me; you know the Father Ted episode set on the aeroplane where Dougal’s finger hovers over the red button with the “Do Not Press” sign. Well I’m a bit like that historically with the ducks. I’ve knocked myself out of so many tournaments with them over the years they’ve become a bit like my own red button, but it really was a bad spot this time.

A couple of things brought home to me how stupid it was to punt those chips. Firstly, Tommy Finneran winning the event having returned for day two with 7,500 chips, less then I lost in that hand. Secondly was remembering the only UKIPT I have cashed in to date, the first ever one in Galway which was a €2,200 buy in.

I described my starting table in that 2009 tournament in my blog at the time as “the toughest starting table I ever played on, and I didn’t know a player on it”. As it turned out it contained an unknown, Jake Cody, Toby Lewis and Chris Brammer. The table never broke and I got nothing going all day, scraping through with 40% of starting stack.

I finished 15th in that tournament, never having chips but losing a race on the last two tables for 1.5 times the average. Basically I gave myself a chance in an event I never really should have had. Fast-forward to last Thursday and I showed an opposite mindset because I considered it necessary to take a bad spot to gamble because “it’s a tough table”.

That may seem long-winded way of describing losing 18 bigs in a 400-player field but as I said at the start, the hand has been bothering me and represents to me how my mindset has changed for the worse over the intervening years.

The day had started well getting my 15k starting stack up to 32k on one of the more difficult tables in the room. It went wrong after the second break. I had lost a couple of small pots and then a big one when I picked up Jacks on the small blind while Aidan Connolly held the button and the boots. This brought me back to starting stack and over the next hour I had four table moves, which is never ideal.

I managed to lose small pots on all my new tables before arriving on my last table with 6,000 chips, which was 15 bigs. I got a temporary stay of execution when I shoved Fours on the button into the BB’s Aces and flopped quads. I then lost some raising A6s and betting two streets and checking back the river on an ace high flop, the bigblind held A10. My exit was within a couple of hands from this.

I did follow events closely online over the remainder of the event and was delighted to see Tommy Finneran take down a major Irish title. My first memory of Tommy is from the 2007 Irish open and him 6-bet shoving on, and showing A3 to Peter Eastgate. You have to remember this was 2007, when this wouldn’t of been that prominent a play, and Tommy was a quiet rural looking lad, so it made a bit of an impression on me.

We’ve been good mates ever since, travelling together and sharing a house in Vegas in 2010. Tommy has been a constant in the latter stages of big Irish tournaments over the last six year only to run bad late. To say he deserved this one would be an understatement.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

D4 DeepStack

The 6th instalment of European Deepstack Poker Championship took place in Dublin at the weekend. I’ve played the tournament every year bar the 1st but have to admit I have no love for the event. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great event run to the highest standards and brings a huge amount of value to these shores. I’ve just always felt the structure for this one a bit gimmicky, you get a mass of big blinds on day one to mess around with, but the subsequent days play out like any other tournament. However, you can’t argue with the turnouts over the years of which amazingly 80% travel from overseas.

The majority of overseas visitors to the event were French, with a healthy sprinkling of Danish, Belgian and Germans. I really don’t understand the bad press French players get, I always enjoy playing with them as they’re generally funny, cordial and make for a very active table dynamic.

I guess my main problem with the event is a personal one. Give me 500 big blinds at the start of a tournament and I just can’t stop spewing. I sat down to my table on day one and it became obvious early that it was a great table. A couple of capable players and the rest were average at best. Within an hour I had lost half my stack spewing and was by far the worst player at the table.

I knew I was playing terribly but just couldn’t seem to stop. I left the table for an hour to clear the head before I blew the lot. Upon return the rest of the table must have been confused as I played some super stuff trebling my stack within an hour and not putting a chip wrong.

I returned for day two with 90k and had increased this to 110k when I lost the lot in flopped set verses flopped straight debacle in the second level of the day. I wasn’t that disappointed, over half the field was still in at that stage so we were still a long way from the money. Also, for some reason getting it in bad makes for easier emotions upon exit these days for me.

Three Irish players made the final nine. The always-impressive Marc MacDonnell was first out of the final table. Marc had yet again held the chip lead after play on day one, something he seems to achieve with abnormal consistency. I can honestly say Marc is the most impressive person I’ve ever seen to gather chips and when he starts to put his end game together live the rest of us might as well not turn up. He’s that good he’ll probably win everything.

 Pat Smyth finished in 8th position. I played with Pat on a final table in Tramore last year in a small tournament he won and he is a sound chap with a lot of game. I guess that’s to be expected as the pedigree is there with him being an uncle of Jason Tompkins.

This left the home hopes on the capable shoulders of Declan Connelly. Declan final tabled the Irish Open in 2010 where he finished 7th after losing a massive race to Paul Carr so wasn’t going to be phased by the task at hand. After a gruelling battle he would come out on top taking the €50,000 1st prize and title of 2013 European Deep stack Poker Champion.