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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Intense and emotional in Vegas

After my close shave with US border security in Dublin airport, I was pretty relieved to touch down on US soil in Atlanta. I was hoping to hook up with local resident Breyer who I house shared with at the WSOP this summer. He had very kindly offered to pick me up at the airport and give me a whistlestop tour, but as it happened we arrived late and I had barely enough time to get between planes, as I bobbed and weaved my way through the airport, a runner in a race of moseyers.

I was the last to board, and as my eyes scanned the plane to locate my window seat the plane seemed full already. Then I realised my seat was obscured from view by two substantial ladies: I never learned their names so let's call them Waynetta and Waynetta's Mom (copyright the lovely Saron). They were mother and daughter (though I never figured out which was which). They were at least as disappointed to see me as I was to see them. Once we'd all gotten over our collective disappointment it took a few minutes for them to unwedge and hoist themselves out of their seats, and shimmy out into the aisle so I could gain access. Once I had I realised I was going to have to content myself with a lot less room than normal as the teo ladies overflowed from their seats.

So first world problems, which soon got worse. Waynetta and her Mom seemed to have a less than idyllic Mom daughter relationship, sniping at each other verbally almost non stop, until a full scale elbow battle broke out between them that had me assuming the crash position.

While I've been coming to Vegas for a decade, this was my first time there in a month without a J in its name. Noticeably cooler and less crowded, I checked in at the Encore, and met the rest of the Unibet team for some foods and drinks.

The poker followed pretty much the same script I've been working off live this year. Slow steady start, build a bit of a stack, then lose a couple of big pots to be in shove or fold mode, lose the first shove. I managed to stick pretty religiously to this script not once but twice (day 1a and 1b). Most of the pots and spots were very standard, and the few that were in any way interesting will be covered in the strategy segments of The Chip Race and my free strategy newsletter so I won't bore you with repetition. I will admit that by the end of both days I was as tired as I ever have been at a poker table, with the jetlag really biting hard. My podcast compadre David Lappin got here earlier but was in a similar boat as Rauno discovered when he went to join him in the commentary booth.


On Sunday David and I interviewed Andrew Neeme and my WSOP buddy Alan Widmann. I love Alan to bits, he's one of the nicest people I've met, and it will be very interesting to follow his transition into poker. After the interviews concluded, everyone left while I started my online Sunday grind, but Alan hung around a while to hang and rail. By now it was near the bubble of the main event, so I was getting texts from David while Alan was railing MethodSco. Sco was very short so Alan was relaying just how tight he needed to be on the bubble. Both got into the money.

After my Sunday grind was complete I went for food with David, Saron and Rauno, and then headed to the commentary booth with David. This weekend in Vegas will not be remembered for anything that happened in the Wynn or at the poker table but for something that happened at the other end of the strip. While we were starting our commentary stint, the horrific Mandalay Bay mass shooting was taking place. As news filtered through to us, we were unsure how much we could say but did our best (we come in at 7 hours 53 minutes): 

The upside of this heavily social media dominated world we live in is that information on events like this travels much faster than it used to. The downside is that it's not always reliable information and we see feedback loops fuelled by paranoia and embellishment spread like viruses on the social media. As reports of multiple shooters and locations spread, panic gripped the entire strip and all the major resorts including the Wynn were put on lockdown. Play in the tournament was suspended and the collective opinion was the optimal lime was for everyone to go back to their room.

Simon from Unibet trolled us back down to the lobby with reports of free drink being dispensed by the Wynn, a Sasanach ploy guaranteed to work with the Irish. It would have been a nice gesture by the Wynn but they were still charging $18 a Corona. We somehow ended up in a cash game with Alan, Sco and Djarii, which I believe was my first live cash session in several years (on an aside I played three short cash sessions this trip, three more than I have in most recent yeas, and achieved a decent hourly). I booked a decent win before heading back to the room to watch further coverage of the carnage. Even though it was happening about a mile away I might as well have been back home in the sense that my entire experience of the event was watching CNN and checking the social media. In the world we live in, it's not real until we see it on a screen and tweet about it, even if you know you could see the scene you're watching on your screen if you looked out your window.

My last full day in Vegas was mostly about the Chip Race. We recorded an amazing interview with Jennifer Tilly's lesser half Phil Laak, we also interviewed Sco and Djarii, and some strategy segments with Daiva who bossed a feature table that included Chris Moorman and Henrik Larsen with some interesting hands. Look for those in future episodes.

Daiva showed up for the session with what looked like cranberry juice and Perrier but was actually cranberry juice and vodka. The evening progressed with the lovely Saron and John  through Endless Pours at the buffet to cocktails at a cash table where I got to see Daiva's ditsy blonde impersonation (at one point she shamelessly asked the totally buying it guy to her left if an ace was a better card than a queen) and a hair raising check raise all in river bluff. She turned middle pair with two blockers to the nut straight into a bluff which unfortunately didn't work for her on this occasion (despite her blockers the guy had the nut straight anyway) but her ability to recognise the spot and her willingness to go for it indicates why she's a formidable force at any table these days. It was reminiscent of Fedor Holz turning tens into a bluff three handed in the finale of the Poker Masters against his German compatriots (which also didn't work in this sample).

A couple of hours sleep later I was very hungover and packing for my Uber to the airport. Unable to face breakfast I gave my poker son Rauno my breakfast voucher. 30 minutes later I'm waiting for him to turn up to share the Uber. It got there before he did so I went outside to stall. As I came back in to look for him, my bags were searched, a sad reminder of how the atmosphere in Vegas had changed over the weekend. An even sadder eerier one presented itself as I rode past the now ghostly empty Mandalay Bay, still officially a crime scene.

My thoughts and best wishes are with the loved ones of the victims, who will never leave our minds when we look back on this intense and emotional week in Vegas.

Friday, September 29, 2017

In praise of shouty women

The first time I visited the UK on my own was to visit my first girlfriend, Julie. I was 20 years old, and struggling through college on many different fronts: financial, social and academic.

After landing in Heathrow, a weaselly officious looking gentleman asked me the purpose of my visit. Confused and alarmed by the question, my response (a mumbled "Visit') apparently aroused more suspicion or maybe got misinterpreted as smartass sarcasm, because before I knew it I was in a small room being told the powers that the Prevention of Terrorism Act had over me. Terrified out of my wits, I had no idea how to even begin to argue my case.

Julie never claimed psychic powers, but she had a keen understanding of human behaviour, and her 177 IQ generally meant she figured stuff out before the rest of us even realised there was anything to be figured out. About the time I was being ushered into the small room, she was turning to her best friend out in Arrivals where they were waiting for a clueless young Irish man to emerge and saying "The poor fucker has got himself detained under the PTA".

A few minutes later she had somehow shouted and barged her way past security demanding to see me. God love the English, they have a sense of deference to their social superiors ingrained at an early age, and Julie was posh folk and had spent all her life ordering less posh folk around. As such I saw her before I heard her, as did the two officers in the small room. Suddenly they looked more terrified than me.

The door flung open and Julie made a gloriously shouty entrance.

"I KNEW IT!" she crowed triumphantly to the doubting Thomases in her wake.


Closing in on the officer in charge, the one who had pulled me aside, with her piercing blue eyes, her tirade continued.


I was almost disappointed they went with the Release Right Now option, as I was totally enjoying the spectacle. I followed Julie and Sara out to the car meekly, without a word being said, unsure as to how much of the anger Julie felt was towards me.

In the car, she cracked a rare smile.

"Are you ok, Daraling?"

I muttered something about yes and sorry.

She laughed.

"Don't be sorry. That was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed that"

I flashed back to that day in Dublin airport yesterday as I was ushered to one side by US border security in the Preclearance area. I was slightly alarmed as it appeared to have been triggered by me telling them how much cash I was carrying, which was below what I knew to be the limit that requires declaration.

I was told to fill a form and wait to be called. I breathed a small sigh of relief when it was a female voice that called me, as one of the ways my own peculiar brand of sexism manifests itself is a lifelong belief that females are much easier to reason with or at least get on the good side of when dealing with authority.

The charming young lady asked me a number of detailed and pointed questions as to how I made my living and the exact details of my relationship with Unibet and the purpose of my visit. I did feel a sudden pang of alarm when she whipped on the rubber gloves, but it turned out she just wanted to count the cash I was carrying. She then explained that because Unibet was not an American company I didn't need the kind of clearance foreign athletes need to ply their trade in the US, but had they been I would. She asked if I had any American sponsor or had ever been approached by one. I could have said that was unlikely given the legal status of online poker in the Land of the Free, but that would have been the smartass answer, and smartass didn't feel like the way to go here, so I stuck to a simple negative.

As she escorted me out of the interrogation area she chatted amicably about what it's like to be a professional poker player. She seemed genuinely intrigued, and I was genuinely relieved to be on my way to Vegas without having to unleash my secret weapon (another shouty woman, this time in the form of my French wife who I had already primed to come back to the airport and start shouting and barging if necessary).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bunny boilers

Most UK and Irish poker players have very fond memories of the PokerStars UKIPT tour. Myself included. What many may not remember, either because it was before their time or they have simply forgotten, is that the first season was a pretty dismal failure. Satellites didn't run, it struggled for numbers, and failed to appeal to both recreationals and pros alike with small prize pools and tiny side events.

I gave up on the tour a few stops in after a particularly grim stop in Coventry. When the highlight of your week is almost getting stabbed in an underpass, it seems like a good time to call time on following the tour. I shared a cab to the airport with a Stars employee who was in charge of the tour. He admitted frankly the tour was failing and grilled me for my thoughts on why and what could be done. I answered honestly and made some suggestions, specifically that bigger side events were needed to encourage more serious players to travel, and if they allowed multiple seat and packages to be won players like me would grind satellites and provide more liquidity to ensure they ran.

Back then, players like me and Stars staff both felt like we were on the same team, so when I was asked for input, I didn't just say what was in my own interest but what I genuinely felt was best for everyone. Stars encouraged and fostered a relationship with high volume grinders. Myself and David Lappin were invited to a get together with other grinders and Stars staff in Galway where they plied us with food and booze, solicited our feedback and ideas, and wrote it all down. It was there I first met other grinders I played against every night for the first time like Timmy and Hefs. At the Isle of Man stop we were invited to meet live events staff looking for further feedback. I'm not saying the subsequent success of the tour was all down to this, but it surely didn't hurt. David suggested new formats for satellites that proved popular, and I put forward the idea of a leaderboard which encouraged people to grind satellites and side events with new vigour. UKIPTs were always a pleasure to attend because you ran into a wide range of recreational players only some of whom complained about bad beats at the hands of SlowDoke and PHISHINBOY, and Stars staff who were always friendly, solicitous and expressed admiration for our results and work ethic.

After the tour took off, it seemed our feedback was no longer needed or heeded. The first major mistake Stars made was moving the buyin up to over 1k. That proved a step too far, moving even the satellites out of the reach of recs. The satellites became less attractive for everyone, and there were some I played only because I was chasing the leaderboard. Stars staff starting joking that I was to blame for the overlays. As the satellites got smaller and smaller with more regs, many smart recs began to realise they were a heavily losing proposition for them. Internally in Stars, it seemed that people needed scapegoats, and instead of putting their hands up and saying "We messed up increasing the buyin", it was more prudent to blame the satellite grinders. "Those guys are stopping recs from qualifying" Never mind the fact that they were still heavily incentivising us to play the satellites with an expanded leaderboard prize pool and other perks.

This spin started to percolate out to recreationals. It was essentially a PR own goal: "No point playing satellites any more, they're full of sharks" This was even before the Stars brand started to turn toxic after the Amaya takeover. Cuts across the board made UKIPT stops less glamorous more miserable affairs. That exarcerbated the decline of the tour, sending it into a death spiral.

The Amaya strategy was quickly revealed to be to squeeze as much profit as possible from everywhere, accompanied by propaganda that this was in the best interest of recreationals (more rake is better) and that anything that was bad for pros was good for them. The vast majority of recreationals are far smarter than the spin merchants gave them credit for and saw through this nonsense, and the cancer that had killed the smaller Stars regional tours spread to their flagship EPT brand. Contempt for the customers and their experience plumbed new depths in Barcelona last year, and continued into Prague.

After Prague I (and most of my friends) just gave up on AmayaStars live events. I haven't played a Stars satellite this year and don't intend to. This made the recent oddly worded PR statement from Stars on their reasons for restricting multiple seat and package winners all the more bizarre.

To be fair to the Amaya propaganda machine, they have managed to ram the idea in that grinders like me were killing their satellites so effectively that immediately after releasing this latest propaganda piece, a number of players tweeted to the effect that it meant I was scouring Situations Vacant for a new profession. The reality of course is that I had already found one, at the start of this year, when I announced that because I would no longer be playing many satellites (nor any on Stars), I was finally willing to share the secrets of my success in a course* I was developing. I simply shifted my volume to other sites and normal mtts, and at time of writing I am having my best year online since 2013. in truth I wish I'd stopped grinding Stars satellites years ago.

After Barcelona last year I compared what was going on in Stars to my local shop when I was a child which went into terminal decline under new management. Right now, it seems like Stars response to dwindling numbers and increased customer dissatisfaction is to simply change the name of the shop, and when sales still continue to decline, to blame it on ex clients who had already moved our business elsewhere.

Let's clear something up though. I understand that Amaya is a business. I understand they have a fiduciary responsibility to make as much money as they can for their shareholders. I don't think we have a right to expect that "the good of poker" (whatever that might be) be their objective. If they came clean and said "look we paid too much for Stars and we need to increase profits to get our money back" I'd say good luck to them. What irks me is that instead of saying that when they increase rake, reduce benefits and make the customer experience worse for everyone, they lie and they misdirect and they try to distract us with chests and they insult their customers. They insult those of us who paid them millions in rake down the years and provided much needed liquidity by suggesting we did something underhand profiting at the expense of recreational players. They insult the intelligence of recreationals peddling this nonsense.

I totally accept that they have the right to change their satellite policy without regard to how it affects me and my kind (which it doesn't since we moved our business elsewhere already). I even accept that it might work as a long term strategy to encourage more recreationals back to the pool. But I have my doubts. I wonder where the liquidity will come from. It's not just me and my kind who have dropped out of the satellites: now any recreational is forced out of the pool after they lock up their first seat. And let's make something else clear: it wasn't just pros who benefited from being able to win multiples. Many good recreational players enjoyed the chance to make money in satellites, and cleaned up in them too. As a direct comparison, the first stop after Stars announced their policy change (London) really struggled for satellite liquidity and they ended up qualifying LESS unique players than last year. You can't blame me and David Docherty for that overlay, guys.

Talal Shakerchi pointed out in a recent Thinking Poker podcast interview just how much the general view on Stars has shifted in the last five years. Five years ago they were the good guys. If you went on 2+2 and started a thread complaining about Stars, almost all the feedback would be pro Stars. Now they are your psycho ex, blaming all their current woes on a former lover long since departed. A lover they courted vigorously and seductively, and then turned bunny boiler on us when we wouldn't just lie down and agree that more rake is better.

Stars may have changed the shop name (and rumours suggest they are about to change it back to EPT), but until they stop blaming ex customers and start focusing on providing better service to existing ones, the decline will continue, and we can expect it to get ugly.

* I naively assumed when I announced I was developing this satellite course that it would take a few weeks for me to develop. It ended up taking 6 months and as announced here I recently delivered it as a webinar. The reaction has been overwhelming, I sold out 4 sessions and could go on doing more but endlessly repeating the same material isn't appealing to me, so instead I recorded the last webinar and it is available to buy at $75. Send me the money (Stars (SlowDoke), Party (okearney), ACR (Doked), Paypal, Skrill, Neteller or bank transfer (details on request)) and an email confirming you've done so at dokepokercoaching@gmail.com and it's yours.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leaving Las Vegas (for now)

It's a Wednesday afternoon in Vegas. I'm sat at a poker table playing my last event of the WSOP, the Little One Drop. Late the previous day I bust the Main event, and sulked off home. I know from past experience that it's not a good idea to play something else the day I bust the main, but I wake up ready to get on with life the next day.

After I fold my latest garbage, I look down at my IPad to read the latest updates from the main on the WSOP blog. I read that the WSOP's favourite pantomime villain, Will Kassouf has just bust the main much to the delight not just of his own table but pretty much the whole room, who stood and applauded his demise. I know Will quite well (we even had him on the Chip Race) and have almost found him friendly and likable so I'm thinking "Kinda harsh", when I hear a familiar chirping voice above me.

"Well look who it is! Mahvellous. Now we've got a game"

I look up and do a double take as I find myself looking at the same face from my IPad. Will, obviously made of sterner stuff from me, has gone straight from having his demise greeted by a standing ovation to late regging the Little One Drop. The next few hours, I'm treated to the Will Kassouf show, essentially a rerun I've seen many times already, with little or no new material. 9 high like a boss. Good fold. Save your money, I know I'm ahead. You've only got one out if you call, the door. Coconuts. But a handful of fans on the rail lap it up like the greatest hits of a declining lounge nostalgia act.

I'm card dead through it all, until I find a good spot on the button. 17 big blinds, ace queen suited, a late position raise, I'm all in.

Will has the chips ready to call the open but stops in his tracks when I shove. He starts the speechplay, designed to figure out where I am on my range. I say nothing. He rabbits on, looking for a reaction. I'm now certain I'm ahead or at worst in a flip. Any better hand has called by now, and probably had to at least think about three betting the open rather than preparing to snap call. So I try to look nervous to get the hands I dominate in.

Eventually he does call, and it is a hand I dominate, ace two suited. I'm quite surprised to see this hand. I figured I could get some worse aces in, but not all the way down to ace two. But I know from past experience that while Will has a lot of strengths, basic understanding of preflop equities and short stack play is not one of them. This is a pretty common leak a lot of live pros have. I know that Will doesn't really grind online, so despite having live results stretching back a decade (at time of writing, he's averaged roughly 7 live cashes a year over his career according to Hendon Mob so he also hasn't a ton of experience deep in big tournaments), he doesn't find himself in these spots as often as your typical online grinder who plays twenty thousands tournaments a year. He's also never played headsup (except his match with Stacy Matuson last year in Rozvadov where he was roundly trounced and surprised viewers by how weak he played), which is where a lot of grinders build their short stack shove/fold range muscles.

An online grinder probably finds himself in this spot a few hundred times a year, so he quickly learns A2s is an awful call. The problem is you are just dominated so much, but even against an any two card shove, A2s isn't much better than a flip such as queens against ace king. Against my actual range in this spot, A2s is more than a two to one underdog, because it's dominated so often.

As I prepared to table my hand, Will made another comment that suggested he doesn't understand preflop equities: "Just don't show me an ace". Apart from the fact that any ace I have dominates him, so do all my pairs, which should also worry him. Against my hand, he has only 29% equity, but even if I roll over pockets fives, he's still worse than a two to one dog.

Online players quickly learn this the hard way if necessary, but live the sample is never big enough. You don't find yourself in the spot often enough to have a huge incentive to go off and study the exact equities. You make the call once, and you might even get lucky and win and think you made the right call.

Which is what happened on this occasion. He flopped two pair, turned a house, and as I shook hands and wished him continued good luck he said something to the effect that he was sad to see me go as I'm a nice guy.

Hopefully he still thinks that.

Last chance salon

I fired another bullet at the Little One Drop the following day. There's not much to say about it except that it ended appropriately enough in another lost flip near the close of play. A ten on the river brought down the curtain on a pretty miserable WSOP campaign for me.

I've compared a long WSOP campaign to a typical Sunday online in the past, but there are some crucial differences. In point of fact I actually play at least twice as many tournaments in a Sunday as I did in my 6 weeks in the desert. The WSOP tournaments are also obviously a lot bigger and more prestigious, and take longer, so it's harder not to get emotionally invested when it's the thing your entire day is based around, and the highlight of your year, rather than just another box on the screen to be quickly replaced if you bust.

Another key difference I only became aware of as the barren summer went on was how much harder it is to keep perspective on the big picture when you're showing up day after day to do your job as well as possible, and not only are you watching it end every time in a bad beat or a lost flip, but all around you players who put a lot less hard work into their preparation and honing their skills are luck boxing their ways to big stacks and scores. It is of course the height of silliness and futility to envy the success of others in poker (unless they are better than you and your jealousy drives you to work hard to emulate them), but it's also human nature. Entitlement tilt and a sense of injustice is very hard to shake off when a little voice in your head is saying "You worked harder than anyone preparing for this, you've logged tens of thousands of hours of study to get to this point, you've whipped yourself into better physical shape than most guys half your age, only to show up here, lose all the key flips, and go home poorer". But that's poker, and if it weren't so it wouldn't be long term profitable, because the weaker players pouring alcohol into themselves at the table while they splash around making bad play after bad play wouldn't keep playing if it wasn't possible for positive variance to paper over all their flaws in the short term.

In the long term, I've been amply rewarded for my efforts in poker. I've made millions online, chopped a WSOP event, a Super Tuesday, a European Deepstack, come close to winning an EMOP a UKIPT a WPT and a GPPT, won two majors and six online Triple Crowns, and a few weeks before I headed to Vegas final tabled a SCOOP. This year's WSOP is but a  fraction of 1% dip in a career graph that has trended up and up over a decade. I've been a bit spoiled by my last three campaigns which each included a deep run (2nd, 9th, 13th) to the point that this campaign feels a lot worse than it actually was. Five cashes, but only one day two.  But if I'd won even my fair share of flips I'd almost certainly be looking back on this campaign as a latest career highlight, and patting myself on the back for having executed so well. I take a lot of consolation from the fact that as bad as it felt to run that bad, I never let it affect my actual play. I went the entire series without a single major mistake, and kept the minor ones to a  handful. I found some very good folds, calls and raises at times when I could have just let myself think "What does it matter? I'm still going to lose the key flip or get a bad beat".

As I left the house where I had spent the previous six weeks, I could still feel the disappointment at how it had all gone down, a painful contrast to the buoyant optimist who walked into the house looking forward to spending the summer with Andrew and Carlos. When I got to the airport, the contrast switched to one with the feeling of accomplishment I felt leaving Vegas in recent years after successful campaigns. But then I remembered my first two departure lounge experiences in McCarran airport. Back then, I felt not just disappointment, but fear. Fear that I wasn't good enough to make it ever in this game. Fear that my livelihood was under existential threat. Fear that I would be one of the ones who wouldn't be back the following year. Fear that I left as a loser, and a loser I would remain.

This year I leave a loser (in the sense that I lost money this year in Vegas), but a winner in another sense. Knowing that I've made enough money in my career to allow me to keep coming back every year for as long as I want on my own terms, without having to beg for a stake or worry that my losses could threaten my financial wellbeing or that of my family. Knowing that I'm still good enough to compete with the best. Knowing that I still want it enough to keep working as hard if not harder than ever before.

Several years ago, I wrote that every year in Vegas there are players having their last Vegas without realising it.

I feel pretty confident that I was not one of those players this year.

Unless I die.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A tale of two Dokes

"You worked harder and prepared as well as anyone and better than most for this year's WSOP, only to lose every flip and get nowhere. You'd have been better off staying at home printing online at the softest time of the year and saved yourself the ordeal of watching guys who put in less than 10% of the effort flip donk and dog their way to success"

I know from past experience that I always come back from Vegas drained, both mentally and physically. If my preparation has gone well, the version of me that gets on the plane to vegas is the fittest and healthiest all year. Irrespective of how it's gone, the version that gets off the plane in Dublin at the end of summer is always the unfittest and unhealthiest. The only questions are exactly how unfit tired and run down, and how long it will take to recover.

A few days after flying back from Vegas this year, via Manchester where I spent a tired eight hours waiting for a one hour flight to Dublin, I found myself back in Manchester, playing poker at the MPN stop there. Somebody at the table asked when I'd gotten back from Vegas.

After opening my mouth to answer, I realised I didn't know the answer. After another minute of wracking my brain, I was forced to admit I still didn't.

That's how tired I was after Vegas this year.

A few days later I found myself in Malta at the Unibet Deepstack Open there, still very much unrecovered from Vegas, still battling with jetlag, and still looking forward to getting home to what Tommy Angelo calls "real food". The happy fit optimistic version of me from just two months earlier that set off for Vegas off the back of a Powerfest win and my best ever SCOOP didn't just seem like a distant memory: it seemed like a whole different person.

I pride myself on having a strong mental game, without having to work particularly hard at it. One thing that pleased me from the WSOP was despite running almost as bad as is possible, I kept plugging away and playing my A game. But I was a little ashamed to find myself listening to an inner voice expressing the injustice tilt contained in the first paragraph of this piece.

Then I remembered that
(a) that's not how poker works
(b) the work I put in and the benefits reaped in terms of improving my game didn't expire like lammers at the end of the WSOP

So back to the online grind.

The fact that I basically picked up where I left off back in May is more than heartening. I may have forgotten how to win flips in Vegas, but I still remember how to play the game. The final tables and profit started to flow again, and I chopped the Party major for over 23K wiping out the losses of Vegas in a night, if not quite the memories.

It's good to be back.

The Chip Race

With the Chip Race on hiatus for a few weeks, it's worth reflecting on how that particular comeback is going. We'd be the first to concede we got off to a somewhat shaky start when we came back earlier this year after a couple of years away, but the first half of season three has seen us go from strength to strength, both in terms of listener numbers and our own satisfaction with the show. For this, a lot of credit goes to a lot of people (Unibet, technical people behind the scenes, guests, contributors, helpers, supporters, listeners, retweeters, critics) but most of the credit goes to one person: my cohost David Lappin who works and frets tirelessly over every episode, and whose vision we largely follow. What started as an Irish poker podcast has now grown into something that must hold the attention of poker fans outside of Ireland, and we are grateful to have that new audience. Most podcasts vlogs and blogs see their number dwindle rapidly once the novelty wears off, but we are thankfully moving in the upward direction. We have a number of exciting guests already lined up for the second half of season three, the most special of whom we will be interviewing in london on our way to UKPT Nottingham.

If you enjoy the podcast, please take a minute to rate and review us on iTunes as this greatly helps promote it there, which makes it easier for us to continue getting great guests, and encourages us to continue.

Strategy Newsletter

Every so often I get a random request for coaching. I generally know even before writing back that the rate I charge is too much for this person, and even though I have to charge a reasonable rate both to compensate for my time and making the games I play in tougher, I always feel a little guilty.

So my objective in starting a free strategy newsletter (which will remain totally free for as long as I keep it going, with no hidden catch) is to offer a helping hand to people who either can't afford to pay for coaching, or for whom it doesn't make much sense to do so (because they don't play high volume or whatever). The good news is there has never been a better time to learn poker for free with a wealth of good online content out there. The bad news is that there is also a glut of really bad content and for people at the start of their poker journey it can be daunting sifting through it all and deciding what's good and bad. Learning bad habits can be very detrimental to a player's development as they have to be unlearned before you can learn the good stuff.

The main focus will be to direct people to good free content (my own primarily, I am not a modest person on this front, but will also throw in shoutouts to content from other guys I think you could find useful), but from time to time I hope to provide some free articles or videos I make exclusive to newsletter subscribers. And I'll include one MAILBAG response per newsletter that is content that won't be available elsewhere.

In the latest newsletter that went out last Friday, I included a secret I guarded closely for years even from my closest friends and players I staked (and if I  had to guess I'd say it netted me close to six figures of profit online).

You can sign up to the newsletter by sending me an email with SUBSCRIBE as the subject at dokepokercoaching@gmail.com

Satellite course

Almost six months ago I announced I was developing a course on advanced satellite strategy which I would deliver as a webinar. Yes, it's taken me that long, as I wanted to run all the sims I felt were needed and written all the materials.

The webinar will be delivered next Thursday (August 17) and again on Saturday (August 19) at 8 PM GMT (9 PM CET, 3 PM EDT, Noon PDT). I have no idea how long it will take but I'd guess somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours.

I'm capping the participants both days to a dozen or so to reduce the risk of technical issues and allow audience participation, on a first come first served basis. To attend you will need:
(1) Send me an email at dokepokercoaching@gmail.com saying which day you want to attend (the same material will be covered both days)
(2) Ship $100 to me on Stars (SlowDoke), Party (okearney), ACR (Doked), Paypal, Skrill, Neteller or bank transfer (details on request)
(3) Skype. Send me your Skype ID so I can add you (mine is dara.o.kearney)
(4) TeamViewer. Download latest version at www.teamviewer.com

All participants will receive a recorded video of the webinar afterwards.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I guess I better take this

"OK, whose thing is beeping?"

I'm on a Skype call with my fellow Unibet ambassadors David Lappin and Daiva Byrne, recording some material for The Chip Race, the podcast I cohost with David. One of our computers or devices starts making the ringing noise. I'm about to scold whoever didn't turn off their phone or mute notifications when I realise it's my computer. Someone is trying to ring me on Messenger.

I look at my screen to see who is calling, then say to the guys:

"John Hesp is trying to call me. I guess I better take this"

The previous week, I'd sent a message to the man who had gone from obscurity to the most celebrated man in poker in less than a week, saying we'd love to have him on the show. He responded saying he'd love to come on once he had time to recover from his recent exploits, and jetlag.

Earlier that day, I sent another message saying we'd love to have him on the next show before we went on hiatus, but if that wasn't possible, then in September when we came back.

After quickly hanging up on David and Daiva, I spoke to John, and he said he could give us 20-30 minutes. At the time I assumed that was due to tiredness or other commitments, but the reason turned out to be different (more on that later). I arranged to ring him back in ten minutes, which gave us ten minutes to brainstorm some questions. Kudos to Daiva who outperstormed the two of us on this front.

Ten minutes later, David is grappling with technology trying to figure out how to transfer the Messenger group call between me, him and John to his phone (he eventually gave up and stuck with his phone). With John on his IPad making me the only one on a computer with recording software, I crossed my fingers and toes that the connection and sound quality would hold as I started to chat with a man I had never heard of two weeks ago, but wanted to talk to right now more than any other person in the world right now.

Daiva started her recent Vegas memoir blog with the observation that watching a new WSOP main event champion is a bittersweet affair. We all roll into town in June or July dreaming that this will be our year. By the time the final table is formed, we are generally not only out of the tournament, but out of town, watching the final table of a tournament we played from another town. You have to be an optimist to plump up ten thousand dollars to play a tournament with 8000 runners, but as professionals we are realists too. We know the chances of victory are thousands to one, and the chances of even final tabling hundreds to one.

So we think, well even if I don't make it, I hope someone I swapped with or bought a piece of does. And if not that, then a friend, or even just someone I know vaguely. We all think that if that happens, we'll cheer for that person, and if it doesn't, we will cheer for nobody.

This year changed all that. By the time the final table started, I was in Manchester, cheering for a man I'd never even heard of before. John Hesp. A 64 year old charmer from Hull, who had taken the tournament and poker world by storm with his swashbuckling unorthodox style both of play and dress sense. I could never really have imagined myself cheering for a recreational player I'd never heard of before this summer let alone knew, yet here we were.

I'd gone into Vegas on a high on many fronts, happy with how my year was shaping up. In March I was very happy to sign a deal with Unibet, a company whose vision of bringing the fun back into poker I very much believe in, to represent them as an ambassador. Part of that deal was the return of The Chip Race, the podcast I'd hosted with David Lappin which had folded after one season, not due to lack of popularity or listenership, but due to legal difficulties after the company who commissioned the podcast went into liquidation. In April I did livestream and TV commentary alongside Padraig Parkinson on the Irish Open final table. I enjoyed a fair degree of online success in May, culminating with winning a Powerfest series event and my best ever SCOOP series, where one fourth place finish provided my biggest online score in years. I went into Vegas as healthy and fit as I'd ever been, my weekly long run on Wednesdays having reached 36 miles, at the end of which I felt remarkably fresh.

That optimism, health and fitness gradually waned and drained away over the course of 6 weeks of losing almost all the crucial flips in the desert, eating good food but not as good as the food I eat at home, and getting out to run for a few miles a few times a week. I came back from Vegas demoralised and a little depressed at how my summer had gone, figuring it would take a couple of months to shake the blues. As it was, it took a lot less than that, helped in no small measure by Mr Hesp's performance both at the tables and in front of the media, a timely reminder that poker even when it's your job is a game, and supposed to be fun.

With so little time to prepare scripted questions, the interview which ended up being longer than the 20-30 minutes we were pledged was by necessity the most spontaneous we ever conducted, and the most fun. John was every bit as charming as I imagined, as he told us the story of how he made playing the main event go from his bucket list to reality, before the battery on his Ipad ran out. Ever the consummate professional on this front, he gave us as three minute warning so we could wrap the chat up inabruptly.

We asked him what his remaining ambitions in poker were, and he answered with characteristic modesty and generosity that he didn't want to become a professional (as he felt that would suck a lot of the fun out of the game for him) but would welcome the opportunity to play 6 to 8 events for fun a year. He added that he'd also like to see a big poker event in his home town of Bridlington, which has been heavily affected by recession. It would be great to see some site or operator step in to make the modest ambitions a reality. In a time when there's a lack of poker personalities and heroes who can carry themselves in front of the media, John Hesp is more than a breath of fresh air, he's a potential new lease of life. He's a much needed reminder to those of us who have lost sight of the fact that poker should always be fun, and a clarion call to those who haven't yet given it a try to do so.

The full interview is available now in the current Chip Race episode

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

WSOP main event, day 2

My day 2 table could have been a lot better, but also a lot worse. I did have to contend with one of the best players in the world, Adrian Mateos, and two other decent regs, one of whom (Jamie Risen) I knew was staked at one time by Chris Moorman. This was confirmed when I tweeted for information on my opponents, and got this typically restrained Firaldo response.

My day got off to a shaky start when Jamie defended his big blind against my button raise, called a turn bet with a bare gutshot, and got there on the river. It could have been worse though as he elected to check the nuts to me on the river, and smelling a rat I checked back two pair.


A few hands later I found myself allin for the first time, anxiously waiting to see if I was drawing dead. The hand started with the third reg on the table opening hijack. I elected to call on the button with KQcc, and Jamie defended his big blind. I was pretty happy to see an all club J84 flop. When the opener cbet, I flatted, and Jamie check raised big. The opener quickly folded and I again called, hoping to keep his bluffs in, and hoping not to see another club on the turn (since a lot of his bluffs would contain the ace of clubs). The turn was an offsuit king which was as good as I could hope for (I was also hoping the board wouldn't pair obviously), Jamie shoved all in, and I quickly called. While it's possible I'm drawing dead against the nut flush, he has too many other hands that could play this way (sets, ace high flush draws, lower flushes) for me to seriously consider folding, so I called, tabled my hand, and hoped not to see the Ace high flush. As it was he had a hand that had outs, or rather one out against me, 56cc, but I managed to dodge the one outer to get the full double back up to almost 100k.

Unfortunately that was as good as it got. The rest of my day 2 was remarkably reminiscent of my day one, with long periods of card death punctuated by losing a pot with the second best hand. Late in the day I found myself down to 12 big blinds. I doubled (kings versus queens) but another lost race saw me short again and I got my last twelve bigs in with jacks against ATs. A ten on the flop and another on the turn brought down the curtain on my main event for another year.

That busting feeling

In other years, busting the main has hurt so much that I've stumbled out of the Rio back to wherever I'm staying in a mental daze. Maybe it gets easier with time, or maybe it was easier this year because I ran so bad for so long that I had more time to come to terms with the fact it wasn't destined to be my year, but for whatever reason I was able to pick myself up to hang around to offer moral support to my friends who were still in. Daiva was clinging gamely to her tournament life, as was Elena. Daiva managed to scrape through with not much more than half of starting stack, but Elena lost her battle in a flurry of lost flips.

As I reflected on my main event, while utterly disappointed at the outcome I took some heart from the fact that I had played my best. I remember Alex Fitzgerald saying after he bust day one last year that he felt anyone in that seat would also have bust, and I had a similar feeling.

Bubbling the rungood ticket

The day before day 1, I'd queued with Daiva to register. She started behind me in the queue, but by the time we got to the head of the queue was ahead of me, so I let her on ahead. Afterwards I wondered which of us got the seat that would run the better. As it was Daiva pulled out an amazing performance to squeak into the money. There's no guarantee I could have done the same in her seat as it really was a top notch gritty performance, but I do feel there is nobody in the world who could have cashed from the seat I ended up in.

I was delighted and proud for Daiva on her tremendous performance and result. She's one of the loveliest people I've ever met, and one of the most naturally talented poker players I know. She never panics or gets flustered so even when she had barely half a starting stack at the start of day 3 I'd have backed her to cash. On the bubble I tweeted she was the least likely person In the whole room to do something stupid.

At the end of my Vegas one of the few consolations I could find was that despite running as bad as it gets I kept plugging away and didn't let it affect my play. I patted myself on the back for that, but looking back much of the credit really belongs to my friends for their support and help keeping my spirits up, and none more so than Daiva. You'll never be stuck for people to come to your celebration dinners, but your real friends are the ones willing to provide company and emotional support and hugs when you are at your grumpiest and most down in the dumps. Having friends to support you in these times and be willing to put up with your moaning about variance and general frustration is vital.

Getting by with a little help...

The nature of tournament poker is that if two people are friends, then a lot of the time both of them will be running bad. It's vital to be able to keep each other's spirits and standards up when this is what's happening rather than getting sucked into a downward spiral of negative feedback and self defeating habits and attitudes. And as vital as that is, it's even more vital when one of you is running well and the other not so much that the person running well doesn't rub salt into the wounds or trivialise how bad it feels to be on the flip side of variance. The third possibility, that you both run well at the same time, is a rare thing indeed, so almost all of the time at least one of you is running bad and needs a sympathetic ear from someone willing to accept moaning, whining and the expression of negative emotions. I'm a grin and bear it put on a brave face type at the best of times, and try not to drag my friends down, but it is always good to have someone like Daiva around who can not only see through the brave face as quickly as she can sniff out a bluff at the table, but is willing to indulge me at my most pathetic.

Daiva came into Vegas on a very bad run herself not having cashed live this year, but kept working and smiling and showed great determination and grit to grind out a really good Vegas. Besides cashing the main, she cashed her first three events in the Wynn.

Also massive congrats to World of Warcraft legend Alan Widmann who hasn't been playing poker for very long but is showing early signs of beastliness. He played two events in his first WSOP, and put on a tremendous amount of work and preparation in the run up. He was rewarded with a cash in his very first event, and he was unlucky to bust about 100 from the money in the main having built a stack several times. Alan is as lovely as guy as I have ever met, and is someone with tremendous talent when it comes to games. Alan has reached the top 1% of every game he's ever taken seriously. I expect poker to become just the latest example of that, if he wants it.

For once I swapped and bought well in the main event this year. Apart from Daiva and Alan, I also had pieces of Smidge, Andy Hills and Kevin Williams, all of whom cashed and did their best to get me out for the summer.


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