Thursday 15 November 2012

Fired Up? READY TO GO!

I'm sat in the departure room at Milwaukee airport waiting for a flight back home. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write. It's just the final chapter in what has been one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences in my life working on President Obama's election campaign in the battleground state of Wisconsin. In case you hadn't heard, we won.

About two weeks ago I got a Facebook message from one of my best friends Nick Roberts who had been based out here for a month working full-time (but unpaid) in Obama HQ in the small town of Waukesha, Wisconsin. I'd met up with him just before he left, he'd told me all about his plans and I left feeling quite envious about the adventure he was about to go on - I also left him nursing the biggest hangover of my entire life, but that's another story.

Nick said the race there in Wisconsin was neck and neck and that they needed all the volunteers and help they could possibly get. I didn't have any plans and knew I'd regret it if I didn't go - and so suddenly I was on a plane bound for the American Midwest...

I've always had a big interest in American politics - especially so after completing my degree in American Studies at uni - but had never done any volunteering or campaigning before. I had no idea what to expect. I got picked up at the airport by 79-year-old volunteer Bob Posner (a Korean war vet who told us the most incredible story of being shot down from his plane in the war and being rescued from the Koreans by the actions of a sole Marine) and we drove into Waukesha and straight to the campaign HQ, met everyone and then went to the pub for the evening where I got incredibly excited and geeky about American IPAs. 

Meeting Michelle in the Waukesha HQ.

Working hours each day were typically 8am-9pm. Our purpose in the last week of the campaign wasn't to persuade people to vote for Obama - that part had been done a long time ago - but instead to ensure that citizens who are traditionally Democrat supporters actually get up and go vote. It involved tons of phone calls and lots of door knocking. I found it fascinating to see inner city America, how it's political system worked and I was so encouraged in how immersed the whole nation seemed to be in the race. Whether they were Democrat or Republican supporters everyone seemingly had an opinion. It was a refreshing change from here in the UK where we are so apathetic towards our politics (myself included).

Two days after I arrived we found out that Obama himself was coming to Milwaukee for a rally! He also brought along Katy Perry in a spandex mini skirt to help secure those vital extra votes. 

K-Peps with a cool outfit on.

I got to work the event meaning I was there to recruit volunteers to help our team out, but also got to see Barack speaking in person. He's incredible. Such an inspiring, charismatic and likeable guy. He must be the greatest speaker in political history too - just in the time I was there he cut two speeches that brought a tear to my eye. It's worth checking them out below.

Obama (in white) speaking at the event I went to.
Speech One from Des Moines, Iowa (check out the last 20mins specifically): 

Speech Two, his acceptance speech on election night: 

I was in downtown by myself for a few hours after the event finished at about 5pm so naturally I went on a solo bar crawl. I was already pretty wasted by the time Nicko met me. The legendary Peter Fox soon joined us and we got to bed at 2am an absolute mess before leaving for work the next morning at 6am. Ugh.

The last three days of the campaign were spent in an area called Brown Deer. It was a much poorer area than Waukesha (which is predominantly white and middle class) and had people from all demographics working as staff or volunteering. Some had been doing it just for a few days or weeks, some people had been volunteering all year. It was remarkable how much time, effort and commitment people were willing to put into Obama's re-election campaign. We had former lawyers, submarine captains (!), crack Marines and all sorts working alongside people from below the poverty line.

More than anything else, the people that you meet on trips like these are what you remember. I'm sure I'll forget somebody here but Peter Fox, the boss Sam Rikkers, Sam Byker, Charlie Young, Mike Peters (the submarine guy), John Schlitz, Dawn (who housed us for free), Tim Rayburn, my good mate Nicko and many others were all great, incredibly talented people that I would love to stay in touch with. 

There was a huge push on election day itself to canvass the streets like mad men and get out the vote. I was mostly stationed in areas populated by black families and most of them had already been to the polling stations by the time I arrived. It was quite damning for the Republicans to see that 93% of the black US population (hope the stats are right) voted for Obama. Nobody wanted to say it out loud but there seemed to be a distinct inevitability of victory on that last day. As soon as the first polls started coming back it was nearly certain that Obama was going to be re-elected. Specifically for us the state of Wisconsin was also staying blue. In our office there were cheers of joy and tears of happiness for all of these people who would have been strongly impacted in a negative fashion if Romney had got in power. 

Just some of the Brown Deer staff - including Krystal, Dominique, Tim, Michelle and Naomi - celebrating victory! 
No one person or volunteer can ever know how much or little difference they made but it’s a fact that the Democrat’s vast, vast nationwide network of volunteers absolutely made a huge difference in a close campaign. Again, this type of campaigning that involves and doesn’t exclude the individual citizen is something UK politics will surely have to embrace in time.

Election night was fun – we went to the Democrat victory party in a large hotel downstairs and immediately Peter bought us all a half pint of neat Jack Daniels. The night started as it meant to go on – and continued that way for three days before the flight home. It was definitely something worth celebrating though and one of the best experiences I’ve had the opportunity to do. When unique, slightly weird opportunities like these crop up in life you should seriously consider doing them. Nobody wants to have any regrets.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Running Like Obama

The last time I made a blog post, two months ago, I wrote about the recent passing of my Dad. In the days and weeks after I was incredibly grateful and moved by the ton of condolences I received on here, Twitter and Facebook. I’d just like to thank each and every one that contacted me – even if it was just a quick message – because thoughts like these are incredibly helpful during the grieving process. So thank you.

Since then life has got back to normal, as it usually does. To start with we went to the south of France (Aix-et-Provence) for the wedding of one of Hattie’s friends. It was in such an amazing setting that I’m not sure these pictures fully do it justice.

An oasis of calm as the ceilidh storm surrounds me. 

The front of the Bastide where the wedding took place. 

Being in France, the food was typically amazing. There was all sorts of food madness happening, with chefs at individual BBQs creating mini steaks, foie gras, prawns and tons more before we moved onto the formal dinner. Obviously this was awesome too. And then came the dessert buffet – at which point there was a strong possibility Hattie was going to collapse from happiness. Smoothies, profiteroles, crème brulee, ice cream, crepe suzette…= FAT ROSS. 

There was also a free bar obviously and the combination of beer, champagne, wine and a spirit that the barman couldn’t even identify led to a painful day after. Hats, two of her friends and I then spent a week in a house near Nice which was pretty cool too – the highlight being a day trip to St Tropez, where I one day wish to own a super yacht and drive round the harbour honking my horn.

Hattie discovering the dessert buffet. 

Speaking of super yachts (it’s seamless), poker is going exceptionally well this month. I’m playing pretty good but my God I’m running well too. Literally winning every flip. Always having Aces when they have Kings. It’s a beautiful thing. I know there’s a small chance that putting this news down on paper will magically reverse the process but let’s hope not. As of the 19th I’m up about $10k in online cash games so far and even won a little live tournament last week for £4,000. This good run simply reminds me of just how large a part variance can play in poker. As I wrote in the blog I went on a 3-4 month losing/break-even stretch recently too. I’d certainly say I’m playing a little better right now but I’m still effectively the same player, yet my results are radically different. Despite being a pretty experienced player now variance still has the ability to shock and confuse me – I’m pretty sure many players new to the game will have no idea of what is about to hit them one day…

Results so far this month.

The tournament I won was cool. It was a little £220 Heads-Up side event at the recent Unibet Open in London. Basically a series of mid-paced HU sit-and-gos we played a mini league of five matches each – it had 44 runners – then a semi and a final. I won all 8 games in a row. It definitely helped that I’ve played a lot of HU online, mainly when trying to start 6-max games, and I felt pretty comfortable throughout. Walking through Stratford waiting for a cab with £4k bulging out of my pocket wasn’t the ideal ending to the night but I got away with it. I also played UKIPT Newcastle a few weeks before and was doing pretty good until I ran Kings into Aces four hours into Day Two. I’m not complaining though. As usual, a fantastically run tournament and I’m looking forward to the next one in Bristol.

I’ve been reading about Mitt Romney’s ginormous amount of idiocy with huge glee and delight too. After doing American Studies at uni (and even before that) I’ve had a huge fascination with America and an interest in its politics. While he’s not done a perfect job I really think that Obama needs to get elected for a second term or the world will be in trouble. Every day that goes by with Romney making another major fuck-up only reinforces this. This year I’m more invested than usual because I stuck £1,000 on Obama to win the election on Betfair. I wouldn’t usually bet that much but the price they were offering – 1.53 – was just hugely inflated. He’s now down to 1.36 and for the first time ever in my betting life I feel like I’m beating the game. Now, Barack just needs to avoid any gay dwarf sex scandals and we should be OK…


Finally, I’ve decided that it is time to leave Black Belt Poker as a sponsored pro. Neil Channing, Snoopy and everyone at the site have been fantastic in the year I have been associated with them and it’s purely a personal decision. I was just finding that with my journalism commitments (PokerPlayer magazine FTW!) and usual large amount of online grinding I was getting quite stressed retaining my Blue Belt status, and that this was impacting on my general level of play all round. It’s been a huge privilege to wear their badge, get invited to some unique events such as a charity tournament at The Ritz and meet great guys like Jamie Burland and Kevin Williams along the way. While unfortunately I didn’t get any results under the BBP banner it’s been a great experience and I’d hugely recommend it to any other pro player looking to play more live tournaments.

Here are some final thoughts which I will leave you with without any justification at all. Just believe me.

-Barrafina is the best restaurant in London. GO.
-The Imposter documentary was excellent.
-Hattie’s BBC3 documentary Tourettes: Let Me Entertain You has been airing this month. Catch up with it on iPlayer, it’s fantastic.
-Anderson Silva vs Stephan Bonnar is ridiculous but also very fun.
-Baskin Robbins sucks.
-Don’t eat a key lime pie, home-made white chocolate mousse and a series of croissants in the days before playing squash. It won’t end well.

Good luck at the tables everyone!

Wednesday 18 July 2012

My Dad

Me, Dad and my brother Matt in Vegas, 2008
On the morning of June 23rd my Dad died of a sudden heart attack. He was only 58, in seemingly good health and had only just got back the night before from a holiday in Italy with his wife Carol.
Unless you've lost a parent it is almost impossible to describe the emotions that go through your mind. Initially it's shocking, heartbreaking, scary and it makes you angry - what did I do to deserve this? Why hasn't someone else's Dad died instead? Of course there are no answers to these questions, and now that time has passed I wouldn't wish that experience on anybody.
I started thinking about all the major moments in my life that I'll miss not having my Dad there for; the huge space he will leave at my wedding to Hattie next year and that he'll never meet his future grandchildren to silly things like seeing me make a major poker final table or playing in the WSOP together. Unfortunately no amount of wishing, praying or money can bring him back - even for one day - so all I can attempt to do is make him proud through my actions in life, much like I was proud of him. 

Dad and wife Carol
My Dad was a huge poker fan. He'd play every week in a £10 home game with at least 5 of his siblings (he was one of 11 children) and played low stakes cash online a few times a week. His support when I learned the game years ago is probably the main reason I was ever able to first work in the poker industry and eventually play as a professional. If he had been anti-gambling, judged my intentions or failed to stake me in the early days I'd be doing something else with my life right now.
One of my favourite memories that I'll always have is that Dad would always seem to call me right when I was in the midst of a big hand online. He'd offer to call me back but I knew that he really wanted to be given some play-by-play over the phone on what was happening - I think it was because he'd have quite fancied playing poker for a living if he'd been born in a different era.
We went to Vegas twice together, along with my brother Matt. The first time was back in 2008 because my Dad was marrying his long-time girlfriend Carol there. The wedding was fun in a Vegas type of way and then we had a great meal overlooking the Bellagio fountains afterwards at Mon Ami Gabi. We hit Vegas again in 2011 and, while I spent about 60 hours playing $2/$5 at the Venetian my Dad managed to earn almost as much money playing $1/$2 for a few hours every night at Bally's. There's a great image of him in my mind sitting on a $700 stack, a double whiskey in hand and telling jokes to the rest of the table at 4am as I walked past to go to bed. We were going to travel to Vegas together again this summer while I played some events at the WSOP. However, I went on a massive downswing and didn't make it in the end. Despite all my moaning during this period Dad was always 100% positive and encouraged  me not to give up, that it would work out in the end. The next time I go to Vegas without him is not going to feel the same. I'll miss ringing home and telling him stories or taking him out to overpriced steak houses.
Playing poker has often felt like a pointless endeavour in the last few weeks. It's hard to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. I played in the Fox Poker Club's £275 event last Saturday and was crushing it all day, despite running bad in a ton of big pots. I made it down to the final 20 and got moved to their 'feature table', streamed live on their site. Dad always used to rib me about never having played poker on TV. I've been on to analyse poker loads of times - I've even played blackjack on there despite barely knowing the rules. Well, this was finally my time (I know it's a stretch to call the Fox website 'TV' but bear with me here). I had a top 5 stack, about 40BBs. On the second hand a guy opened and I 3-bet with AK. He just about covered me and shoved. I called and he somehow had Aces. As I got up to leave all I could picture was my Dad watching the live stream and laughing to himself before picking me up by telling me I'd get them next time.
I'm lucky to have had such a great Dad. I wish we'd had a lot more time together but I want to thank him for so many brilliant memories and all his support. I hope I can grow into half the man he was.

Turning Point

Poker has the unique ability to turn confident people into quivering wrecks. About every six months or so I tend to have a mini breakdown where I grab a large, stiff drink and talk at my girlfriend for a few hours about how poker is getting me down. She in turn mutes the TV and pats my shoulder at points when it seems appropriate.

The latest of these sporadic blips occurred towards the end of March when my online game was really suffering. I don't tend to have many losing months and so it still affects me whenever one crops up. Last month wasn't too bad numbers-wise; I lost $4K but that's just a day or two's natural swings when you're regularly multi-tabling $400NL.

I could rationalise it even further when I really looked at the details of my play in Hold'em Manager. At the start of March I had a coaching session with Black Belt Nik Persaud on six-max Pot Limit Omaha. I already felt my PLO game was competent enough to do well in softer $200NL games, and after a really productive session with Nik I was excited to start playing a lot more PLO.

While I may technically be a decent PLO player, I am an absolute fish in terms of appreciating the variance involved. Over just 4,000 hands I dropped $6,000 - a pretty impressive reverse win rate. I'm still not even sure if I was playing poorly or just getting unlucky. However, I definitely wasn't enjoying this scale of losing to find out the answer so PLO quickly got put on the 'ban list'.

Anyway, that $6K loss meant I was never going to make a profit in March, despite clawing a bit back from some mid-stakes NL games. No, the main reason why I was frustrated - and worried - last month was because I no longer felt I had a huge edge on the competition. There were certain regs I had always found incredibly easy to play against in the past that were now routinely outplaying me. I was also making errors against the fish, overestimating how loosely they'd be happy to get all-in preflop and so on. As you can imagine, this is a much more serious problem for a poker player than anything to do with variance.

A load of my poker friends are always surprised and impressed when I tell them how much volume I put in each month. I routinely play 70-100,000 hands, a lot of those on a network where it's tough to get much volume in. Playing that amount takes a hell of a lot of time. Motivation for poker (or work, as it is) definitely isn't the issue - but I do feel as though I'm not making the most efficient use of my time.

I hardly ever watch training videos, no longer get regular coaching and don't often look at stats through my HEM. To be honest, I find all of this stuff pretty dull, especially when compared to the ease of just sitting down and grinding. Fellow Blue Belt Jamie Burland recently posted a very interesting link on the Black Belt Poker forum about this topic. Here's the link again:

It's a long article but basically MTT supremo Tony 'Bond18' Dunst is explaining how time is a poker player (or anyone's) greatest resource and how it is vital that we make the best use of time. In a poker context he goes on to discuss the importance of finding a good balance between playing poker and improving as a player - from activities which often occur away from the table.

My mini breakdown occurred because I suddenly realised that I had stopped improving at poker. I was so obsessed with playing a lot of volume and earning a monthly wage to satisfy the short-term that I was putting my long-term future as a winning player at risk. From now on I'm going to make a big effort to rejuvenate everything I do to get my game back on track. If anyone has any ideas on what they have done to improve as players please, please let me know.

The WSOP is nearly here and I don't really have an idea what I am doing yet. Twice last month I bubbled WSOP satellites worth $4K each, which was quite frustrating. I'm sure I can't stomach more than two weeks out in Vegas so I'm probably going to go out around the time of the Main Event and just play that - so long as I can get backing obviously! Besides that I'm very content to just grind out the live cash games and eat in nice restaurants. Also, around that time there's a very big UFC happening in Vegas which I need to go to. Is it wrong that I'm probably more excited about that than the poker?!

The month was pretty low-key besides poker. I just returned from a wedding in Belfast which was good fun. I'd definitely recommend the city to anyone - make sure you take a taxi tour around the outskirts where you get taught about the troubled history of the city. It's really fascinating stuff. There's also some great bars of course.

While March wasn't great for me I'm hopeful that long-term it could be a real turning point in my poker career. Good luck to everyone at the tables and I hope to be reporting from a more positive position next time out.

The Sultan of Swings

Two days ago, on Monday 6th March, I tweeted (@Starch_Jarvis): ‘Holy sweet Christ I ran so good in that session. I almost feel guilty.' It was one of those beautiful two-hour spells where everything goes to plan – you constantly hit hands, play brilliantly and always, always get there. In a mix of $1/2 and $2/4 six-max cash I was up $2,300 in less time than it takes to watch White Men Can’t Jump.
In the midst of these sessions - and afterwards when I’m going to sleep with a wry grin on my face - I often think, Why isn’t everyone doing this? Why isn’t everyone playing poker for a living? $2,300 is such a huge sum of money to be won in that short space of time. I’d hazard to say it’s substantially more than I was taking home per month from my old journalism job once taxes were deducted. I learned a long time ago, however, that if you get complacent or cocky then poker has a nasty habit of knocking you back down very quickly.

At 8pm on Tuesday 7th March, I’d lost all the previous day’s profits and was now operating at a -$1,050 loss. At that point I realised why the poker profession isn’t for most people. Daily swings like this used to really bother me. On my very first day as a ‘pro’, the Good Luck card from my girlfriend fresh on the desk, I dropped $1,200 – I think it was the most I’d ever lost in a day up to that point. Instantly the irrational side of your brain kicks in and wonders if quitting your steady job was a huge mistake, whether you’ll ever be able to win at poker again, whether you’ll ever be able to earn money again.

Losing cash has that effect on most people. No matter how much or how many times you have won in the past, a big loss hurts much more and somehow the brain finds a way to override the clarity of thought that knows if you continue to play better than your opponents the money will come back eventually. Instead, all you can see is that your online bankroll is much smaller than it used to be. Thankfully, with practise, your tolerance for such wins and losses grows considerably with the more experience you get.

Having been pro for about 18 months I’d still consider myself to be a bit of a rookie at this. I’ve only experienced one significant downswing and haven’t yet reached the level that I want to be at skill-wise. The one thing I’m especially happy with is my changed attitude to [poker] money. Daily losses used to rock my confidence and, conversely, I’d get too happy when I had big wins. Experience and training – Jared Tendler’s book The Mental Game of Poker is instrumental in this – have completely altered my mindset to these things.

A personal goal is to attempt to have the same demeanour to other people no matter whether I’ve been winning big or dropping tons. Not only does this make me more bearable to be around when it’s going badly, but I also think it’s pretty solid advice for anyone taking poker semi-seriously. You cannot get embroiled in the money swings at all. They’re just numbers on a screen. (Or clay discs in a casino for you live folk.) If I could offer one piece of metagame advice from my brief pro experience it would be to work on managing your relationship to money. When you aren’t emotionally invested in the game it helps you play much better and avoid tilt.

So things weren’t going so well at 8pm. I don’t think I’d ever bet-folded so many rivers in my life before. And I definitely hadn’t hit a set. However, the beautiful thing about poker is that it can all turn around so quickly. The epic comeback began with this hand...

***** Hand History for Game 2027410243 *****
Seat 1 is the button
Seat 1: MrStarch ( $2015.89 USD )
Seat 2: blinDDuke ( $498.01 USD )
Seat 3: callmebabe ( $1107.10 USD )
Seat 4: WillyBanaan ( $865.00 USD )
Seat 5: cevzy ( $1127.00 USD )
Seat 6: Najammq ( $1331.50 USD )
blinDDuke posts small blind [$5.00 USD].
callmebabe posts big blind [$10.00 USD].
Dealt to MrStarch [ Td Th ]
WillyBanaan folds
cevzy raises [$30.00 USD]
Najammq calls [$30.00 USD]
MrStarch raises [$110.00 USD]
blinDDuke folds
callmebabe folds
cevzy folds
Najammq raises [$265.00 USD]
MrStarch raises [$1905.89 USD]
Najammq calls [$1036.50 USD]
MrStarch shows [Td, Th ]
Najammq shows [Kc, Ac ]
** Dealing Flop ** [ Kd, Jc, Tc ]
** Dealing Turn ** [ 6h ]
** Dealing River ** [ 6d ]
MrStarch wins $2705.00 USD from main pot

I think my play is definitely questionable here; T-T is certainly the very bottom of my value range for making this play. The reason why I went with the hand was that the villain had been getting run over by me a little on this table and others and I thought he’d be looking for good spots to play back. Also, to my detriment, I didn’t give him credit for being able to flat a monster in the cut-off purely with the intention of back-raising a squeeze. With hindsight, it’s a great play by him. Obviously I had a mini heart attack once I saw the flop – he with a pair+gutshot+flush draw and me with my set – but somehow I held up to win the $2,700 pot.

Soon after I played another big pot vs. a different opponent who most certainly didn’t cover himself in glory.

***** Hand History for Game 2027416686 *****
Seat 1 is the button
Seat 1: callmebabe ( $745.95 USD )
Seat 2: Najammq ( $939.07 USD )
Seat 3: MrStarch ( $753.65 USD )
Seat 4: kanapes ( $654.00 USD )
Seat 5: flagginfinger ( $1490.55 USD )
Najammq posts small blind [$3.00 USD].
MrStarch posts big blind [$6.00 USD].
Dealt to MrStarch [ 9c 9s ]
kanapes folds
flagginfinger raises [$18.00 USD]
callmebabe calls [$18.00 USD]
Najammq folds
MrStarch calls [$12.00 USD]
** Dealing Flop ** [ 9d, As, Jc ]
MrStarch checks
flagginfinger checks
callmebabe bets [$36.00 USD]
MrStarch raises [$108.00 USD]
flagginfinger folds
callmebabe calls [$72.00 USD]
** Dealing Turn ** [ 5s ]
MrStarch bets [$182.00 USD]
callmebabe raises [$619.95 USD]
MrStarch calls [$437.95 USD]
callmebabe shows [8c, Tc ]
MrStarch shows [9c, 9s ]
** Dealing River ** [ 4d ]
MrStarch wins $1509.90 USD from main pot

I think preflop and flop are quite standard plays by both. When deeper (we started at 125 big blinds effective or so here) you really need to start building a pot early with your big hands to have any hopes of stacking someone. Also, I really have nothing to fear on the flop. Given that my opponent just flatted a raise on the button, A-A and J-J won’t be in his range, yet many two pair and straight combos will be. I’m not a fan of his turn ship over my (nicely-sized, I feel) bet. Am I ever pure bluffing here? Does he get me to fold out J-9, which is perhaps the bottom of my check-raising range? I don’t think so. His best option is surely to just fold, but I’m not complaining.

After these hands, and a general spurt of running hot, I was back to where I started. Back to my +$2,300 from the day before. As it was 2am and I’d been playing on and off for 14 hours, I should have called it a day and gone to sleep. The games were just too good though and I had visions of a historic all-nighter where I emerge victorious with a new personal best score. So I made a coffee, took five minutes and sat back down. With the coffee still hot I logged off 20 minutes later after losing $1,500 by running Q-Q into A-A (I actually should have folded given the action) and losing K-K to 5-7 in a three-bet pot among other things. Despite clawing back $1,500 from my low point I couldn’t help feeling it was a missed opportunity. #sadface

Here’s the graph to show how it all unfolded:

Rather than do a traditional blog where I talk about how things are going in the wider picture I thought you may appreciate an insight into the regular ups and downs that a poker player experiences in a short space of time. It can be stressful sometimes and – unlike the glamorised image – it involves hard work and very long hours. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. See you at the tables.

Guerilla Journalism 101

I've never written a blog in conditions quite as absurd as this before. I'm currently sat in a €1/2 cash game typing away in the 'notes' section of my iPhone after busting out of the UKIPT Galway earlier on Day 2. Guerilla journalism 101.

The game is pure madness. Everyone is limping every hand and talking in thick Irish accents that are completely indecipherable to my (slightly crappy) hearing. In one hand, I three-bet the table fool with A-A. He called in 0.1 seconds before check-raising the K-T-J flop, betting €100 on the 2 turn and then moving all-in on the 3 river for €200 more. He is such a loon that I was tempted to call but he kind of gave the game away by staring me down, then flirting with the waitress, then making jokes. Suffice to say, he showed a set when I folded.

The very next hand I got dealt A-A again and won a €600 pot. So now I'm sat on €800 in a €1/2 game when everyone else on the table has about €100 except for Looney Tunes who is playing €600. Please, please let me get him before my flight home! I'll let you know if anything exciting happens later...

Oh God, he's now just told the only woman at the table that she should be home cleaning dishes. I now know two things about him: he's shit at poker and he's a raging sexist.

Let's rewind a few days. Getting to Galway is a massive pain in the arse - flight to Shannon followed by a two-hour bus journey from the airport - but the event has been a huge success. It's crazy that the UKIPT can now draw 700 players to a remote part of Ireland. It's also really cool that you can win over €100,000 from just a €700 buy-in!

Unfortunately, my bank account won't be getting a six-figure boost this time around. However, I think I played some great poker on Day 1 after getting what was undoubtedly the toughest table in the room. On my direct left I had Rupinder Bedi, online MTT superstar Jono Crute, Andrew Teng and Max bloody Silver. Argh!

While it's obviously better if you can draw a table full of fish, there are positives to getting a Table of Doom too. I find it really helps me to raise my game and have complete focus. In the early stages of a big MTT it's sometimes difficult to find motivation and refrain from playing too many hands - that's not an issue when you know there is quality opposition all around.

The most interesting pot I played was a big bluff versus Silver. We both had around 16,000 at the 150/300 level when I opened 7c-9c to 700 from the cut-off and he called from the big blind. I bet 700 on the Jc-6d-6h flop and he check-raised to 2,000. Now, he's obviously a really aggressive player and when he does this he will often have air, so I call and have a good stack size to shove over a turn bet if I pick up equity such as a club or gutshot, and can expect him to fold a high percentage of the time.

Instead, he checked the Ts turn and I bet 3,000. He called, and his hand looks a lot like something he really wants to get to showdown with now as I'm sure he'd bet all his really strong hands 100 percent of the time on that turn. The river was an off-suit king. He checked again and I bet 5,500 into the 12,000-ish pot. He tanked for ages and finally folded. I was really happy with my line in the hand and it gave me great confidence for the end of the day.

I finished on 28,000 which was just below average and translated into 35 big blinds for Day 2. Play finished at 9pm so I then went out for a few beers in town and chatted with Crute, Rob Angood, Sam Razavi, Sam Holden, Owen Robinson and lots of others - they're all really good guys and great players too.

Despite a small hangover I was up at 9am to go to the gym and prepare for what was going to be another long day of playing. As it turned out, I only lasted one hour. I lost most of my chips when a young guy min-raised the button (he had 16 big blinds) and I jammed from the small blind with J-Q. He tanked for a while, eventually made a good call with A-8 and held up for a 36 big blind pot.
I liked his remark afterwards: "If you were 20 years older I'd have folded." I rarely play online MTTs so my knowledge of these sorts of situations isn't perfect but I asked a few magicians what they thought and everyone seemed to think we both played the hand well. Phew... Anyway, that left me with 10 big blinds which I promptly shoved when I picked up T-T, only to lose a race versus K-J.

It's always disappointing to bust out of a tournament but it's a lot easier to handle when you know you played well. I'm already itching to get home and start playing online again as I'm sure the good results are coming.

The rest of the month has been pretty good; online cash games are going okay, and I'm up around $4000 or so after a few very swingy days playing $5/10. I've also finally started beating $100NL on Black Belt Poker for a really good rate, so I'm looking forward to putting in more volume there in March.

I celebrated my 27th birthday this month too. My awesome girlfriend booked a gastro pub/hotel for us in the Cotswolds which did great food - I had octopus followed by venison - and even had Anchor Steam beer on tap! I'm a huge US craft beer freak so any establishment that sells either Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn lager, Anchor Steam or Sam Adams automatically gets five stars.

Hitting 27 is a little odd though. It's pretty old for an online poker pro these days, and I really have no idea how long I want to keep playing poker full-time for. I love it now, and am doing well and hugely improving, but it's a little scary to think of supporting a family through poker or doing this for the next 50 years. I'm just taking it one year at a time at the moment.

And as for this cash game I’m currently in? Well, I'm €32 down at the moment and it's the epitome of excitement. Actually, it's not: our sexist friend left an hour ago so there isn't really much need to be here anymore.

I'm off to my bed to dream of home - and winning the next UKIPT.

Friday 27 January 2012

The Men Who Stare At Graphs

Christmas is a strange period when you’re a pro poker player. You go through all the annual festivities – drinking and eating with my girlfriend’s family for Christmas Day before driving up to Chesterfield to drink and eat with my family on Boxing Day – and it’s generally great fun but at the back of your mind are all the drunk fools online waiting to give money away while you are busy socialising. 

While I probably missed out on a ton of value over Christmas, the enforced week-long break from poker served to get me hugely motivated for the new year. Since I started playing again on December 28th I’ve put in some heavy hours, 45,000 hands, and had decent results too. As of January 12th I’ve won $8,000 in that period and really played well on the whole. After a demoralising final quarter of 2011 the timing couldn’t be better. My love for the game has never really gone away but these last few weeks have really reminded me how it felt the first time I learnt the rules of Hold’em eight years ago and all I wanted to do was play every hour of the day. 

It’s not always like that. Poker has a strange ability to severely mess up your mind when things are not going well. Though I’ve made decent, steady money in the last two years any sustained downswing always makes me question my abilities. When it’s been going really badly for a month or more my confidence will be completely shot, even though in theory I understand the massive fluctuations in variance that poker brings about. The damaging aspect of this mindset is that a loss of confidence brought on by variance usually results in you not playing as well as you can also. For me, that means I 5-bet jam air at the wrong times or just generally make decisions that aren’t rational. 

One of my major goals for 2012 is to try and distance my play and mindset from results more than I ever have in the past. A poker friend of mine once taught me a good tip to use every time you are in the midst of a crisis of confidence; load up your entire career graph on Hold’em Manager and stare at the (hopefully) upwards-curving line. If you look closely at the graph’s deviations it becomes clear that most winning poker players have been through this a host of times before and came out the other side in more profit eventually. The 2012 mindset is all long-term, the short-term is for losers. 

Some decent results from 28th December 2011 to Jan 5th 2012.

I played my first live tournament as a Black Belt Poker sponsored pro a few weeks ago, a £330 event at the Fox Poker Club in London. For my column in PokerPlayer magazine I wrote how I was looking forward to sticking on the Black Belt patch and representing a site that’s shown faith in me. 

On the day I definitely had that sense of pride yet it was also surreal and strange too. I don’t feel like I’ll be fully comfortable as a sponsored pro until I’ve had some good results (or at least played great and got unlucky) and repaid that faith shown in me. The Fox tourney wasn’t the grandest of debuts – I was KO’d inside three hours. Still, while I was competitive with Audley Harrison in so far as quick exits go, I was generally happy with my play and unimpressed by the majority of the field. It bodes well for similar-sized events in and around London in the future. I did play one hand that I regret which I posted on the Black Belt forum. 

You can check it out in more detail here:

The next two events I have lined up are a £550 Asian Poker Tour the last weekend in January (again at the Fox Club) and the first UKIPT of the season in Galway which conveniently coincides with my birthday in mid-February. Hopefully I’ll get to meet the other Blue Belts and above at Galway too.
I’ll just leave you with a few hands from a pretty crazy $5/$10 heads-up session I played this week. My 6-max game online is far more solid than my heads-up and I shouldn’t really have been playing versus this villain, who specialises in heads-up. Still, it all started well… 

Seat 3: MrStarch ( $1974.00 USD )
Seat 6: ElJardi ( $1104.00 USD )

ElJardi posts small blind [$5.00 USD].
MrStarch posts big blind [$10.00 USD].
Dealt to MrStarch [  6h 4h ]
ElJardi raises [$20.00 USD]
MrStarch raises [$75.00 USD]
ElJardi calls [$60.00 USD]

I’d won a buy-in right away when he 5-bet jammed Js-Ts on me when I had K-K and definitely had the momentum in the match. While 6-4s isn’t the best hand in the world it’s cool to 3-bet with occasionally, especially when you’re in control of the match and it’s unlikely to be dominated ever. 

** Dealing Flop ** [ Jh, Th, 2d ]
MrStarch bets [$100.00 USD]
ElJardi calls [$100.00 USD]

Standard c-bet with the flush draw. His range can still be pretty wide here. He’s going to call with any T or J, all pocket pairs and a lot of Ace-highs. He’s rarely going to just flat K-Q, or two pair combos here and he’d just have 4-bet TT, JJ, AA, KK and QQ so I feel likle his range is going to be vulnerable to me barrelling all streets.

** Dealing Turn ** [ Qs ]
MrStarch bets [$225.00 USD]
ElJardi calls [$225.00 USD]

Pretty sweet turn card to barrel as I can very feasibly have AK in my range and he cannot. When he calls I’m planning on shutting down a lot of rivers. 

** Dealing River ** [ As ]
MrStarch bets [$1564.00 USD]
ElJardi folds

But not this one. It’s going to be super-difficult for him to call me with anything but a straight now. I suppose if he thinks I’m not sophisticated enough to value bet a set or two pair here (not sure if it’s +EV or if I would actually) then he can make a hero call with his Q-T type stuff but that seems unlikely. I’m glad that he folded :)
MrStarch wins $819.00 USD from main pot
After that it all started to go downhill though, starting with me losing a big $3,500 pot in what was essentially a cooler. I then played this final hand really poorly and logged off. 

Seat 3: MrStarch ( $1103.00 USD )
Seat 6: ElJardi ( $3290.00 USD )
MrStarch posts small blind [$5.00 USD].
ElJardi posts big blind [$10.00 USD].
Dealt to MrStarch [  Kc 8c ]

MrStarch raises [$15.00 USD]
ElJardi raises [$70.00 USD]
MrStarch raises [$185.00 USD]
ElJardi calls [$125.00 USD]

The 4-bet is fine. I wasn’t expecting to get flatted very often as it was the first time I’d seen the villain do this instead of just shove or folding. I think I completely misread his range here and perceived him as strong when I should have known he was more likely to be set-mining or attempting to crack a big pair himself. 

** Dealing Flop ** [ 5d, 6s, Qd ]
ElJardi checks
MrStarch checks

Terrible check, I need to bet here. It doesn’t even have to be big – anything between $180-$220 will do. 

** Dealing Turn ** [ Jd ]
ElJardi checks
MrStarch bets [$228.00 USD]
ElJardi calls [$228.00 USD]

I should just give up at this point but no… 

** Dealing River ** [ 7s ]
ElJardi checks
MrStarch bets [$670.00 USD]
ElJardi calls [$670.00 USD]


MrStarch shows [Kc, 8c ]
ElJardi shows [6c, 7c ]
ElJardi wins $2205.00 USD from main pot

I guess it would have been interesting to see if he would still call if the river hadn’t given him two pair. Still, I should either bet flop and turn or river or just give up completely. This check flop, bet turn and river line is pretty weak. The honourable Nik Persaud is taking charge of a 1-2-1 Enlightenment with me this weekend where we are going to go over a ton of heads-up hands so I’m really looking forward to that.

Finally, I took my girlfriend Hattie to Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner for her birthday right before Christmas and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had – highly recommended! The meat fruit (a piece of chicken liver parfait dressed up as a tangerine) is probably the coolest starter I’ve ever seen. Poker simply has to go well in 2012 so that I can keep up with my penchant for eating out in nice places. Good luck at the tables everyone.  

The amazing meatfruit starter at Heston's 'Dinner'.