My WCOAP journey started several months ago when I was invited to follow up my ECOAP England captaincy with another crack at gold in the forthcoming WCOAP. Naturally, I was chuffed and proud etc, but this was also tinged with a little embarrassment at having a second tilt in succession, when there are so many other worthy contenders desperate for their chance. Having taken the team to a silver medal last time, anything less at this series would be feel like a failure, and I was worried about the reaction my appointment might receive.
Team selection was just as tough as last time with so many applicants who were all so deserving. Tony Trippier would join me in the team by default having earned his place by topping the APAT National Online League. Carl Pilgrim was atop the APAT live rankings and nailed on for Player Of The Season (which he was duly awarded during the WCOAP festival), and Asa McGrath was leading the Online Rankings - both were very easy and obvious selections. To complete the team I went with Stuart Ward on the basis of his consistent performance over so many years with APAT which culminated in a very strong showing and silver medal at the recent home internationals tournament.
After the team was announced back at the end of February, the countdowns started, and in typical fashion (for me), it was of course based on the number of sleeps to go. It's fair to say that my last day at work before the event was fairly unproductive!
Franky and Bennys was the scene for team meeting and lunch. Aside from Tony, this was my first social experience with any of the team. It was immediately obvious that we would click well, and a week later, I'm so chuffed to have these guys in my circle of friends. Lucy and Emma also joined us as our mascots and railbirds - and I have to say, they did a grand job and made a helluva difference!
I had a set of well considered tactics for this event, based on experiences at previous international team events, and I pushed these tactics hard with the team. In my opinion, although some commentators thought we had got it wrong, our approach was absolutely the right one, and this was borne out by the ultimate success. We entered the event, and took care to ensure we had the right players in the right STTs, based on the other countries involved in each game. Throughout day one, we scored heavily, and aside from a brutal cooler in one game, we scored well in all games, and ended the day at the top of the table.
Day one ended relatively early as we took care to be ready and prepared to do battle on day two - in bed for what proved to be a record early time of 2.30am.
With no MTT in the event this time, there was far more emphasis on each of the STTs with every single point carrying significant value. Some of the teams at the wrong end of the league table were already dismissing their chances, despite the fact that 60% of the points on offer would come during day two. We were top of the table, but took nothing for granted, and knew that it could turn around in a heartbeat.
A strong first round saw us consolidate at the top, and all was looking good. With three rounds done, and two to go, we were now firm favourites to finish in the top two, and to be in the final HeadsUp playoff round for silver/gold.
However, just to make a decent sweat of things, the wheel nuts were loosened when I lost my head in my PLO STT, and managed to get a full stack in preflop against an Italian player - I was looking for an opportunity to take him out as Italy were our nearest rivals at the time.... I didn't pay heed to the fact that doubling him up whilst knocking myself out was a distinct possibility. AA78ds v KK93r, and board was 56K2T. Stupid move, and I knew I was better than that. With wheel nuts loosened, Tony then had a similar exit getting in with AAxx and losing, and our wheels were in danger of coming off. However, this is a team game, and the rest of our team pulled us over the line.
Going into the last round, it was ours to lose. We were still top, albeit the gap behind had narrowed significantly, and many teams had bunched up to be in contention for a top four spot. That last STT was one of the most stressful moments I've ever had in a poker event. Asa's performance on the feature table drew criticism from several quarters, however he was playing that particular STT with all the teams immediately below us engaged, with a remit to outlast at least three of the four teams, and that meant him folding many hands that he would normally play. Asa had a job to do in this situation, and did it exactly as we had agreed. We reached a point where myself and Carl were the last England players alive, and were watching the Min/Max scores of the other teams on the live updates. Asa, Stu, and Tony were running round like headless chickens calculating and recalculating where we were and how many places we needed to ladder. There came a time when Asa told me we were assured of a top two spot just as I looked down at JJ in the SB in an unopened pot - I asked if he was sure, but he had to go and check to be positive..... I folded the JJ and waited. Our top two berth was subsequently confirmed - whew!
The HeadsUp final with Italy started as a hugely nervous affair, and by some twist of fate, I had drawn Luca, the Italian captain. Our game was a very slow and small ball affair, with both of us not prepared to take risks until we saw what would happen on other tables. It was almost funny that we had hardly taken a hand to showdown yet, but both Stu and Carl had both reached all in showdowns. It wasn't long before both of their games were won, closely followed by Tony, and we had taken the play off 3-0. England were World Champions!
Lucy and Emma were there ready with plentiful hugs, kisses, and loads of woops - the rest is a bit of a blur if I'm honest. Suffice to say, I'm sure our attempts to sing football fan fashion drew some odd looks from the locals.
The stresses of the day were so immense that even staying to celebrate with beer was difficult. We had a few quiet drinks, then said goodnight.
We had all committed to wear our bracelets to attend day three - naturally!! For some, day three was about the HORSE event, but for me, it was my chance at the Main Event in day 1a. Within the first 30 minutes, I realised just how bad a table draw I had. With Ian Burnett and Tik Vaino on my left, conversation was great.... but with three young hoodies on their left, the play behind me was ultra-aggressive. After a few early forays and vain attempts to play back at the hoodies, I found myself nitting up and waiting for hands that just didn't come. Eventually, I'd had enough, and with my table not being scheduled to be broken at all during day one, I was totally disillusioned, and completely tilted. I knew the new cash tournament was due to start at 6pm, and wasn't quite full, so by 5.30 I started taking the shit or bust approach, and figured I would either have a big stack or would be out, hopefully before 6pm. I event managed to 'get rid' of my stack with just two minutes left to register for the cash event, and managed to squeeze in.
The cash tournament was a brand new event in the APAT portfolio, and as far as I'm aware, is probably a new event on any UK tour. 40 people paid up their £100 entry and sat down to play three hours of 50p/£1 cash. Everyone had a single £100 reload opportunity, which could only be used in the event that they had lost their entire stack. At the end of that three hour stint, the largest 8 stacks would be moved to the final table, and would play £1/£2 for a further three hours with the game being streamed live on the internet, with hole cards on show and full commentary.
The tournament aspect of the game made for some pretty interesting situations as people were prepared to gamble far more than they normally would in a cash game in a bid to make the final table. I was fortunate enough to find good hands to hoover up chips in those gamble moments, and finished the session with a £383 stack that was placed fourth overall, and secured my final table seat.
The final table was full of players I recognised as good cash game players, and I was somewhat overawed. Couple that with the attention of the lights and cameras, and the whole feature table environment that I had never experienced before, and my nervous attention was piqued. That heightened state of awareness, and pumping adrenalin, left me in a position that I've never found myself in before - I felt like I could see everyone's cards! In my opinion, the next three hours was the best session of poker I've ever played (by many miles!). I knew I needed to find out what my table image was as soon as I could, and was looking for an early spot to make a move to see how it would be received. In the third hand Liam Batey raised UTG (~£7) from his leading stack, and Chinese Frankie 3bet (~£15) from mid position. I knew Frankie was more than capable of re-raising light and was also probably looking to make early moves to develop his own image, and decided that I was 4betting this spot if it folded to me, regardless of my cards. J5 was what I had, and I 4bet to something like £29, and both Liam and Franky folded. Exactly the start I was hoping for, and I now knew that I could get away with playing late position as aggressively as I liked, and people would mostly respect my raises.
The big opportunity came very quickly when I turned the nuts in a pot against Liam, and he called my check/raise. I made a £150 value bet on the river, which he called quickly with two pair - happy days, and I was now chip leader at the table.... and that situation would remain for most of the tournament!
There was a massive hand during the session that effectively secured me victory. After an early position raise, I 3bet in the cutoff with QQ. The button calls, and all others fold. The flop was 347, and I made a half pot cbet which was called. The turn was a 10 and made a larger cbet which was also called. The river was a 5. Now, I paused for thought. The guy on the button had around £380 behind, and there was around £150 in the middle. I had around £600 behind. If I check now, and he bets, I may find a fold. If I bet and he raises, I have to fold. I couldn't see a spot where he ever has a 6 in his hand, so he couldn't have made a straight, however with the action and his body language, I just didn't feel that QQ was ahead.... but given the lack of aggression in the hand from an aggressive player, I suspected he may have hit some raggy two pair that he hoped to get to showdown cheaply, and which he should find it tough to call with if I ask him to play for his whole stack.... so I shoved. The shove was effectively a bluff, and I craved a fold. I hated that he didn't insta-fold, and went into my hoodie. After what seemed an eternity, he called. I shit myself (almost literally, and after swallowing the bile that was rising in my throat, said I only have queens and flipped my cards). I was gobsmacked when he confirmed that was good enough, mucked his hand, and walked away leaving me with the £150 in the middle and the £380 he had behind. I'd just bluffed, and been called by a worse hand - a really strange spot to be in. At that point, I knew I was never losing the tournament! That hand proved to be the subject of many lengthy discussions over the next two days.
Closing it out, and taking a second bracelet was a really special moment. What was more important was that I realised I had just been reborn as a poker player, and had re-discovered elements to my game that I had thought had died long ago.
Day Four and Five
After the thrills and successes of the first three days, I found it difficult to keep things afloat and played pretty badly in the PLO event. Then ran like a dog in the Razz event (had more picture cards and more Bring Ins than I care to recall). My quest for a triple bracelet success was now down to the HeadsUp event.
Tony wasn't going to bother with the HeadsUp game, however I talked him into it at the last minute. Having travelled together, and having shared a hotel for the week, how weird it was that out of 64 runners, we were drawn together in the first round. As expected, the game eventually came down to a flip which I was lucky enough to win. The weirdness continued with my draw for the next round, where I faced Luca (the Italian captain with whom I had shared an unfinished HeadsUp game in the Team Event medal playoff) - I confirmed English victory by dispatching Luca :) Now the draw got messy, and I had to play George Bedi - FML! I figured I just wanted to take the skill out of the game at the outset and was looking for a way to get stacks in preflop - AQ very early in the game was plenty enough to 4bet shove, but not good enough against George's AK. Game over, and no third bracelet.
All in all, I'm glad to be back home with the family, but I will never forget the memories of WCOAP 2013. The camaraderie of the England team and our railbirds was exceptional, and produced some really emotional moments. Winning gold for England, and captaining the first England team to ever win APAT gold, was one of my proudest moments (I'm not actually sure that it's really sunk in yet!). And lastly, that Cash final table was just ridiculous - I can't wait for the stream footage to be shared on the web, and am sure I will watch it extensively.
I hope Des, Matt, Leigh, Tighty, etc, find time to read this blog, so that they fully understand the depth of gratitude that I have for their efforts in everything that they do to make APAT one of the most exciting and friendly poker tours around.
Bring on season 7, and the next live events, as if nothing more, it will give me a chance to catch up with Carl, Tony, Stuart, and Asa again.
As I posted on the APAT forum way back in February when I announced the team, we are England, and this is our day!