Thursday, 28 May 2015

Counting Down (pt3), Day Two

So after ten days break, some confidence from previous wins, and several more hours practice in the tank, I was ready to go again.

On arrival at the studio reception, I got chatting with the new contestants, and didn't feel particularly great about my chances today. First up was a young lad who had arrived back from a lengthy tour of South America just two days before filming, having adjusted his schedule to get back for Countdown. I figured that my journey of 140 miles paled into insignificance now, and that he must be serious about his chances of doing well. Also on the list for the morning was a young English tutor from Loughborough - again, assumptions made about his abilities for Countdown, and my new-found confidence was lurching a little.

Game 4 was a turgid affair, where I gained an early lead, and tried to stretch away with chancy words (ok, made up words then) that were disallowed - in fact I had three zeroed word rounds in this game, as well as a zeroed numbers round.  So, with four zeroes on the card, my score of 76 was actually a little more respectable than it appeared on face value - I could easily have picked up another 18 points with safe words.

After the game, a review of the leaderboard suggested that I only needed to score around 50 points in the next game, without even needing to win it, to move up into the #8 seed position and secure a quarter final place. That brought a whole new world of potential problems to near reality, and would give me a logistical headache with our travel plans for Glasgow on Wednesday.

The schedule of play for the finals was two QFs to be played on Tuesday afternoon - #1 v #8, and #2 v #7, and then the other two on Wednesday morning, with the semi's and final to follow through Wednesday afternoon, ending at 6pm.   I figured that if I landed in the #8 or #7 seed position, I would stay over in Manchester on Monday night, play the QF on Tuesday afternoon, then drive home. Rebecca and I would then leave early on Wednesday morning to either drive to Manchester for the semi final, or straight on up to Glasgow, dependent on performance in the QF. The nightmare scenario would be if I worked my way up to #6 seed and have to play QF on Wednesday morning, but  as the #6 spot was occupied by an octochamp, I had some way to go before I could worry about that.

So - there was a plan, and I could relax a little and focus back on Game 5, which came and went with no real issues, although I did feel that I played a little better than game 4, and I was now 5/8ths of the way to octochampdom, and had confirmed my QF berth.  English teacher up next for game 6 - would that be the end?

Game 6 would prove to be one of my better games with several maxes scored, an opponent pulverised, and no zeroes for a change! A score of 99 and I was gutted not to get the conundrum to finally break the 100 point barrier.   Six games won, a place in the quarter finals secure, and octochampdom looking like a realistic target.

Game 7 was against a lady who's husband was Mark Davies, an octochamp and #2 seed finalist in the previous series. In the green room I didn't get the sense that she carried the same confidence that Mark clearly had, and despite a decent game, that proved to be the case.  I was disappointed that 'vaseline' was disallowed due to it being a proper noun, particularly when I found out afterward that it was indeed legitimate as it could be spelled with a small v - that caused some interesting debate on the Countdown forum.

I now found myself one game away from being an octochamp and knowing I had a finals place to come, and started to look at the scoring - at this point I realised just how poorly I had scored compared to the other finalists. Clearly I had run pretty well with the opposition I'd come up against, and had not needed to play massively well to secure victories - this left me adrift as a low scorer on the leaderboard, and if I were to overtake Jordan Barker as #6 seed, I would need to score 130 in my 8th game - highly unlikely given the absence of any 100+ scores thus far.  However, taking the positive spin for a moment - being the #7 seed would mean my QF would be on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, which would make things far easier when considering Glasgow, unless I managed to win the QF of course!  My biggest fear was a very low scoring 8th win could leave me as the lowest scoring octochamp of all time - something to be avoided, and certainly helped to focus the mind ahead of game 8.

With a touch or irony given my conversation with Nick at the end of game 1, my 8th game would be against a professional poker player - Dan Bland.  This was far and away my best game, with 37 points in the numbers rounds, and my lowest letters round scoring 6 (aside from a zero when I tried to stretch to a 7 with 'fumiers').  A successful conundrum round put my score over 100 for the first time - chuffed with that, and also relieved to be confirmed in the #7 seed position for the QFs.

I am a Countdown Octochamp. Not bad given that my ambition since the early 90s had been to get on the show and win a teapot!

Up next, a Quarter Final against #2 seed Gerry Tynan, to be aired on Thursday 4th June. This will undoubtedly be my biggest test to date - Gerry scored 100+ in 6 of his 8 wins, with 91 and 99 in the other 2.  Underdog doesn't come close to describing it!

More to follow.....

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Counting Down (pt2), Into the hot seat.

Games one and two came and went and game three was up next, and I was called for final prep. Gulp!

It all got a little awkward for a few moments as there seemed to be an expectation that we contestants knew what to do and where to go, and I felt a bit silly asking, but was duly guided back to the green room for a few moments, and then on to the dreaded challenger's hot seat.

All my life, I've had a fear of talking to large groups and have often struggled when presenting to a room full of people I don't know. A lack of self confidence and elements of shyness were not the best mix when I sat in the chair and saw seven TV cameras staring me down! Knowing that there were going to more than half a dozen people watching this on TV at some point scared me witless. I just hadn't prepared for this feeling at all, and had a huge sense of rising panic - for a moment I actually wondered if I would be able to continue, such were the nerves.

With make-up ladies doing last minute touch ups, and sound engineers fitting microphones, it was all a little hectic on set - probably for the best as it was a distraction. And then we were ready. Oh, hold on.... Floor Producer - "can we change the challenger's shirt please - bad camera test". Oh crap - remember the bit in the applicants pack about not wearing stripey shirts? I was wearing a stripey shirt. My case from the green room appeared next to me and I was asked to pick another shirt - well, no way on earth was I changing my shirt in front of cameras and setting myself up for future out-takes, so took the easy route and stuck on the jumper I'd travelled in.

Clothes sorted, mic sorted, head powdered - just needed to stick my reading glasses on now. I wear glasses for close up stuff such as reading, laptop, etc, but cannot see a thing beyond three feet away when wearing them as the world goes as blurry as it does after a bottle of whisky. This didn't help in the TV studio where I needed to see both close up and distance, and didn't want to be donning and removing specs every two minutes as my hands were shaking so badly. I elected to go without - I could cope with close up if I squinted a little, and given the intensity of the lighting, squinting was the order of the day anyway.   It felt like a universe of stars above, with a couple of pretty severe lights shining on the contestants chairs - like Mastermind but bigger!

Camera's rolling, lights up, the monitor showing the opening credits, and Dudley (the warm up guy) drumming up the audience applause. This was like sitting at the top of the Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool, staring out over the abyss, knowing that the huge drop was coming - heart in mouth, and sweaty palms.... shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit here we go!

Len Hughes was the reigning champion having beaten David Pooley the day before. Nick Hewer's intro for Len was pretty harsh - basically saying that he had only won because David had messed it up. Before I knew it, my intro interview and come and gone. A bit of chat about being a swimming ref, and then the game started.

Now I was desperate to not go behind too early as I think I would have just fallen apart - I really need to stay at least level during the opening rounds until I could gain some composure and get over the panic. The panic was know longer a rising panic - it was pretty much all consuming now. I managed to level the first two letters rounds which helped calm me down, and I always fancy my chances in the numbers rounds..... but it felt like disaster had struck when stared at my very first set of numbers and couldn't make head nor tail of them, and didn't even manage to get anything close enough to declare. It was such a relief to hear Len declare nothing before it came to me!

After the break, the game came much easier, and I spotted a couple of nice 8s, and won a numbers round to take a decent lead into the end game, which ultimately was won well before the end.

That was it - I'd done it, and achieved a lifelong ambition to be a Countdown champion and to win a coveted Countdown teapot. Katharine was peeved that after all this, my contribution to the household was an ornament, rather than the thousands of pounds on offer from other gameshows!

My next problem was no longer one of panic - I'd overcome that and settled down. My problem now was the headache that was growing out of tiredness, from not wearing my glasses, and from the ridiculously bright lights.

Next up was Patricia Hill. This game came and went in a blur and I was never in trouble, but by the end the headache was becoming a significant problem, and with all the adrenalin of the first game gone, I was thoroughly exhausted. I don't just mean a little weary from a long day after a sleepless night - I was having real difficulty focussing my vision, and the letters and numbers I was writing were moving around on the page. I totally under-estimated how tough it was going to be to play multiple games back to back like this.

Next up, a young maths student, and Mason Duke was a name I recognised from Apterous. Clearly this was going to be the end of my run, but I had enjoyed it immensely, despite feeling pretty rotten by this stage. The first two letters games saw me drop 14-0 behind, and it was looking pretty desperate. If this guy was going to destroy me in the letters rounds, what chance would I have given that he is a maths student and should crush me in the numbers rounds? It seemed though that he did not cope well with the pressure as he was unable to declare anything in the first numbers game, and I had a solution, albeit 3 away...... until oops, I'd mis-declared my result. He then declared nothing in the second numbers game too, and I found a 2 away result, although missed a really easy solution.

It was a poor game that came down to Mason having a spectacular falling apart. In the final numbers game he had not written his solution down, and then proceeded to state an incorrect number when calling out his method. Now it was plain to everyone that this was nothing more than a verbal slip as the numbers he required were obvious, however the filming was paused and the situation was sent upstairs to the production team for an adjudication - their decision being to disallow Mason's solution on the grounds that he hadn't written down his method, and had then mis-declared. I declared my method  (exactly the same method as Mason's was supposed to have been), and that put me out of reach and meant the Conundrum round was superfluous.

So that was it - three games, three wins. Totally unexpected, and felt great, despite feeling like I had been several rounds with Mike Tyson by this stage! At least the filming crew were getting a week off now, which meant that my next round would not be until Monday 23rd March.

There was some discussion at this stage about my availability for the Quarter Finals. I needed five wins to get a place in the last 8, and that was now a growing possibility. I would need to consider arrangements for getting home from Manchester and then straight to Glasgow with Rebecca - this was going to be a challenge if it occurred!  But, still at least two more challengers to get through yet, and not going to count any chickens.

Detailed recaps of the first three games can be found here, courtesy of the 4cCountdown forum site.

It was after 6pm, and I had the rush hour traffic to contend with, and a drive home from Manchester to Droitwich and bed, ready for an early start at the work in the morning. I felt like I could sleep right through to March 23rd!!

More to follow....

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Counting Down (pt1)

This blog had been unintentionally mothballed, not for any reason other than I had lost interest in writing entries, however after recent events, I had a desire to post something that I could read in time as a reminder of what's been an adventure.

In my opinion, Countdown has become part of British culture since its inception in 1982. Just about everybody who's ever watched TV has seen or at least heard of Countdown, and many will have played along from the safety of their living rooms.  In 1990 and 1992, I applied for a place on the show and reached audition stage, but failed to get through both times - at that point I had given up hope of ever getting a place.

In the ensuing years, I would watch occasionally and play along, and usually do ok against the majority of contestants, but generally fall over against the better players. I was always somewhat in awe of the prodigiously clever youngsters that would come along with an extraordinary vocabulary and a ridiculous ability to spot mysterious words.

In late 2014, I happened to come in early from work one afternoon to find Anthony watching Countdown and joined him on the sofa. After a couple of rounds of out-scoring the contestants, we got talking about my failed attempts to qualify, which ended up with me filing a new application. Two weeks later, I had an audition which was now over the phone rather than face to face... this was significantly less nerve racking, and words and numbers came much easier to me - in fact, barring one round, I maxed the audition which led to an invitation to appear!

I was told I would be going to Salford in around 6 weeks to record - it later turned out to be over 3 months to wait. Whilst this was disappointing at the time, it turned out to do me a huge favour with loads of extra time to learn, rehearse, and practise. I joined up with Apterous, an on-line gaming site that follows the Countdown format, and is frequented by many past champions, and contains a membership made up mostly of avid Countdown aficionados.  Several hours per week on Apterous, coupled with closely following the TV game and I was as well prepared for my recording as I ever could be.

The applicants pack arrived in the post, and much to the amusement of Katharine and myself, I had to familiarise myself with a number of contestant requirements, including never asking for numbers by saying "Can I get...", rather it has to be "Can I have..."; not allowed to say "please" after each letter selection, only after the first and last letters; ensuring correct pronunciation of "consonant".  There were others which I can't recall now, but these 'rules' were mandated due to viewer complaints! Some people clearly don't have enough in life to worry about if they spend their daytime afternoons judging TV contestants by their use of language and grammar and taking the trouble to complain having been offended by innocent errors.

With further rules around what shirts could and couldn't be worn, I had to start digging through the wardrobe for shirts that weren't pale colours and were without stripes, checks, patterns, or logos - that was a challenge!

The pack also included filming dates - I would get to play three games (if I survived) on 11th March, and a further five on 23rd March if I were able to sustain a run. If I were to make finals, they would be filmed on 24th and 25th March. This was a problem as I was due to take Rebecca to Glasgow for an International Para Swimming meet on the 25th, ready for a 7am start on the 26th. If by some fluke, I were to make the finals, I would be stuck. I had two choices - pull out and ask for a later filming date in the next series, or go ahead with the proposed dates and take the risk of making finals. I chose to be realistic - there was no chance of me making finals, and I really didn't want to wait any longer, so agreed to go ahead.

So March 11th arrived - it was a Wednesday morning that followed a sleepless Tuesday night, and I needed to be at the studios in Salford by 09:30. Full of fear of the morning commuter jams through the roadworks on the M6, 5am was the departure time (commonly known as ohmygoditsearly o'clock). Clearly nobody was commuting that day, and I arrived in Manchester before 7am and had two hours to kill. Subway do nice breakfast subs.

Sat in reception from 8.30, and chatting with the other new contestants - the nerves were coming on strong, particularly when the reigning champ (David Pooley) arrived and was so cool and confident. Meet and greet at 9.30, and taken to the green room - an observation at that point... the green room was actually green in most aspects. Quick coffee, and confirmation of the stuff Nick would be talking to me about, then off to make up.

I was to be entering the fray for the third show of the day, with five shows filmed in total throughout the day. The contestants for the first two shows hit the make up chair first, and were both done and dusted (literally) in less than two minutes.... my powdering took a little longer for some reason.

Now I discovered the benefit of playing the third game of the day rather than the first - I got to sit in the audience for the first two games and gain some experience of the atmosphere and of the proceedings in general. Nerves were killing me at this point, and were made worse by the fact that I played against the players in those two games, and came nowhere near their scores - this did not feel like it was going well at all. I was looking at letters and numbers from the audience seat, and I may as well have been trying to decipher ancient Martian.

Games one and two came and went and game three was up next, and I was called for final prep. Gulp!

More to follow............

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

ISPT Satellite frenzy

If there's anyone reading this who is serious about poker in any way, and you aren't playing the ISPT satellites on DTD Poker, you're missing out on some serious free value.  The overlay in these satellites is just ridiculous!

I'm not rolled to play the €30 events consistently, however they are so soft and should not be avoided - I've invested in many of the €2r feeders for the past week, and have built up a stack of six €33 tokens thus far. Many of the €2r feeders run with the same dozen people every hour of the day, and I can count on one hand the number of regs who have a clue how to play these effectively.  I fear that the traffic will increase over time as we get nearer the event - but for now I will enjoy taking free money.

The most productive feeder sats are daily at 19:30 - a €3r, with 50 seats guaranteed.

The Sunday night €30 (1R1A) Mega Satellite last Sunday had 200 day one €300 seats guaranteed, ie €60k gte.  It attracted only 488 runners, and ended up with significant overlay. It's running again this Sunday - I shall be there to have another bash at taking some more free money.

The Facebook and Twitter freerolls were actually harder to cash in than the daily €30 satellites! I finished 21st (10 seats) in the Facebook freeroll, and around 80th in the Twitter Freeroll. The blogger's freeroll next week should be interesting - hoping for very low numbers :)

Despite all that, I still only have a single day one seat so far - I'm aiming for at least three to give me the best chance of getting to Wembley.

Come on peeps - get in and fill yer boots!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

ISPT - Wembley

When I was a kid, I used to watch England play at Wembley. Like other kids, I dreamt that one day I would play at Wembley - but sadly I was crap at football, and it never happened.  Fortunately though, there is a poker event set to happen, with day two onward taking place on the hallowed turf!!

It's a bit of a weird concept to think of the ghosts of my numerous England heroes, looking down at a bunch of poker degens sat at card tables, playing poker in pursuit of a mere €1,000,000 first prize.

When the ISPT (International Stadiums Poker Tour) was first announced, I scoffed at the concept. The whole ISPT train then seemed to be going off the rails, and it looked like it would probably either fail to happen, or go ahead but be a failure of epic proportions.

In recent times, the mighty DuskTillDawn took over the mantle of delivering the concept, and overnight it became an attractive prospect, such is the faith that the poker world has in DTD, Rob Yong, and Simon Trumper.

I have been fortunate to gain a €300 day one seat for my win in the recent APAT WCOAP, and I intend to play that day one at the DTD club.   As the desire to make day two and play at Wembley is growing, I suspect that this won't be my only attempt at a day one - it's likely that I will take multiple punts (if needed) to get myself into what is now looking like being a part of poker history for all the right reasons. 

DTD have made a massive financial commitment to this event, guaranteeing first place prize money at €1m. It's up to us in the local poker community to support DTD in making this a success, whether that be through stumping up buy ins, or simply through spreading the word! 

1,000 International Stadiums Poker Tour Seats Guaranteed

The International Stadiums Poker Tour is your chance to say you played at Wembley. €1 million is guaranteed to the winner. Day ones start live and online from May 11th and day two takes place at the iconic home of English football, Wembley Stadium, between May 31st and June 5th.

You can qualify for free at Dusk Till Dawn Poker, where 1,000 €300 Day One seats will be guaranteed in satellites between May 6th and May 24th.

To win your seat, all you have to do is:

1. Visit the International Stadiums Poker Tour Schedule Page for details on qualifying.

2. Register an account at Dusk Till Dawn Poker, where you will be automatically credited with a €2 satellite token.

3. If you win a €300 day one seat you can use it online or live in one of 10 day ones being held. You can win multiple tickets as this is a re-entry event.

Good luck and see you at Wembley!


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

WCOAP 2013

Forgive me for I have sinned, it's been 8 months since my last confession blog update. Coincidentally, my last blog update was in celebration of a good England performance at APAT ECOAP in 2012..... and this blog update follows an ever better England performance at WCOAP 2013.

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!

Day One

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.

Day Two

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.

Day Three

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!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


When I was invited to select and skipper the England team for this event, it was a surprise and a shock, even though it was I that had proactively taken the liberty of applying for the role.   That was several months ago, which left a huge time gap for the initial shock to die down, and a feeling of excitement and anticipation to brew.  I've played for England twice before, so I guess I had gotten over the usual excitement that comes with representing one's country - but this time it was different, and much more intense. I was so determined that England would do well on my watch.

Having invited and received many applications (28 in all), I made three selections based on criteria that I had decided upon in advance - 1) Results in and around APAT, 2) Results away from APAT, 3) General contribution to APAT.  I think the selections I made all conformed to those criteria. The fifth member of the team was decided by his position as the highest scoring English player in the APAT national online league - and having scored to highly in that event, his place on the team was hard earned and well deserved.

So the team to represent England at Nottingham's DuskTillDawn was:
  • Me
  • Richard Baker
  • Alan Armitage
  • Dan Patterson
  • Tony Trippier
With hotel booked well in advance, and living relatively close to Tony, I offered to share transport and hotel room. This was my first negative EV move of the whole escapade. What I had failed to recognise is that despite my avoidance of excessive alcohol during the festival, my game would still be hampered by lack of sleep - the 1 metre gap between the beds just wasn't enough to the stop the vibrations caused by Tony's snoring!

For our team, the structure would be four players playing each round and one person on the rail. So - with running order in hand showing who would be asked to play which round [1: HLNE STT, 2: PLO STT, 3: NLHE HeadsUp, 4: NLHE STT, 5: NLHE MTT], we hit Nando's for lunch. Now, I've heard so many people, including my own kids, telling me how great Nando's is. For what it's worth, I disagree. The food was dry and tasteless, and I won't be back.  Frankie and Benny's is next door, but the food was a million miles away from Nando's.

Once the cards were in the air for the first round, I really started to the feel the pressure. The last time I played in this international team event format, I crashed out first in almost all of the games, and with my team mates fairing no better, we finished near the bottom of the pile.   The pressure was relieved before too long when I called a raise on the button in the first level holding As2s. The Italian in the BB also called, and the flop came down 3c4h5d. The Italian lead out, the initial raiser folded, I raised, the Italian shoved - I sigh-called expecting to see 67..... but he showed 6c8c for an open ender. The turn was another club to increase the sweat, but the river was friendly to me. From that point I just never looked back, and went on to win the STT beating Franke Baille of Ireland headsup.  With a couple of mid place finishes from the others in the team, we were placed a healthy mid-table after round one.

Round two was Pot Limit Omaha, which I tend to favour, albeit I prefer the play Hi/Lo. I fully expected to do well in this round, so getting it all in with KK78 on a K69 flop might have seemed ok, that is until the other guy's flush draw came on the turn. First out for zero points. With very few points scored overall in this round, England was now second from bottom of the table and in trouble.

As the HeadsUp round started, it was clear that we needed to do well - I told the team that nothing less than 100% winning record in this round would be good enough. So, huge credit to the guys that delivered six wins from six games. Back up to mid-table for us.

Bouyed by the HU successes, we returned on day two to play round 4 - another round of NLHE STTs.  Another amazing round for us as we took maximum points in two of the four games. My own win came after another headsup victory against the Irish, albeit NI rather than the Republic this time.

Having been second from bottom of the table after the first two rounds, we now found ourselves entering the final MTT round in third place, just 4 points behind Ireland, 1 point behind NI, and just 1 point ahead of Wales, with Italy and others very close behind. It was all to play for in the final, and with scaled points for the  last 18 players (18 for 1st, 17 for 2nd, down to 1 for 18th), the winning country would likely be the one that carried the most players to the final table.  With 14 players left, the gold medal was going to either Ireland or England - we both had three players each remaining.  As the structure was shallow and fast, hand ranges were quite wide at times, but ICM was becoming a major factor to shove/calling ranges for all those teams in the medal hunt.  I found myself UTG with 9xBB holding A8dd - not the best shoving hand, but early position shoves were generally getting more respect than they probably deserved, and I didn't want to let the blinds go through me with this stack. My shove was called in mid position by an Italian holding a stack of under 20xBB - I figured he must be massive to be flatting in this spot, so was pleasantly surprised when he flipped KJo. The two diamonds on the flop were massive blockers to protect my hand, however the black jack on the river was a gut wrencher. With only two English left, our challenge for gold effectively died in that moment - to say I was gutted is an understatement. If I had won that hand, I would have fancied the England chances.   Alan crashed out in similar style shortly afterward, leaving us needing Tony to finish 5th or better, or to outlast one of the two remaining Italians, to secure silver. With 7 players left, including Tony and both Italians, the tension in the room was immense.   Two quick bustouts, 5 left, and Tony still in, and the silver medal was ours.

Playing alongside the team event were the Stud and 6max side events, both of which I would have played if not part of the team event. Day 3 of the festival was next, and the 300 runner Main Event - for me, it was a heck of a come down after the previous day's efforts and became a turgid affair of crap cards combined with  distinct lack of focus and energy.  My starting position was awful, finding John Murray on my immediate left, following by Andy Duncan on his left, followed by one of the Italian team on his left - a pretty horrible spot.  I crashed out after 6 hours of play, having never got above my starting stack.

The final day was all about the Pot Limit Omaha tourney - one that I previously looking forward to, but with the major come down after the team event, and the lack of sleep, both Tony and I would have been happy to just go home early. We committed to each other to play it hard and fast, and either be massive, or out.  Six hours in, and down to 30 runners from the original 100, we were both still alive!  Tony busted and went to rail Brian Yates who making a valiant attempt at the main event and was just hitting the final table.  I figured I wouldn't be much longer as I had just lost a hand and was UTG with 4.5k whilst blinds were 1k/2k.  I shoved my 2.5xBB stack, and got 5 callers - and binked the river to get a quintuple up. By the end of that level, around 10 hands later, I had 188k and was chip leader.   The wheels came off with 16 left when I got a one orbit penalty for folding out of turn (the guy on my right kept picking his cards up off the table and leaning back with them out of sight - I saw empty felt and played my turn, four times ffs!  The guy lifting his cards got a warning, but still persisted unpunished). Returning from my penalty a little tilted, I called a raise in position with KQJTds, which caught some draws on the flop, but ultimately bricked out - down to 140k. Next hand I called a raise in position with AKQTds, and got 60k in on a AK2 flop - the other guy had AA. So from 188k, down to 80k in two hands, straight after a penalty. TILT!    Got it together, and survived to the final table and the payouts, finishing 7th for just under £200, and my 3rd APAT PLO final table in the last four E/WCOAP events.

And that was all she wrote. The weekend was over in a flash.  Great to see all the old faces, and to meet some new ones. Chuffed to bits for Carl Pilgrim to take down the Main Event - justly deserved.

Congratulations to Ireland on their team gold, and to Italy on their bronze.  I get on really well with the Welsh team, but it was nice to see someone else in the winner's enclosure for a change!

Massive thank you to APAT for the chance to lead the England team. A very proud moment.

The guys on the England team all justified their selections. Alan was strong and scored well in all rounds having declined beer all the way; Dan was new to APAT but fitted right in and played a great game; Rich was so unfortunate and ran like a duck with no legs every time he got in as a 70% favourite; I won two of the three STTs I played; and it was Tony's final table heroics in the MTT round that completed our campaign and secured our silver medal.

It was an absolute privilege and an honour to lead this team.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


When DTD announced their new ChipLeader concept a few months ago, I was hesitant, and not particularly bothered about playing it.  The concept being that chips for the live final are accrued by playing online games over a period of several weeks in the build up to the final date.  This is a brand new concept, and one that I'm sure will be tried again, albeit with some tweaks.

Having said I wasn't going to bother, I found €50 in my DTD account, and having busted all my regular tourneys one night, and having nothing left to play, had a go at the first ChipLeader qualifier, and won! With entries and rebuys, I picked up 18k for the final. The next day I played another, and won that too - now up to 32k.  And a few days later I won another - up to 45k. Then the dregs of $50 ran out, and I took a conscious decision to not deposit and play any more - after all, 45k was likely to be an above average stack, and I was in pretty cheaply.

That's where the competition started to go pear shaped. Those with bigger bankrolls were able to attack the concept in style, and some spent hundreds, and probably thousands in some cases, playing every qualifier there was, and building mammoth stacks. At the start of the final, my 45k was a tiny stack compared to the 659k of the ChipLeader. I was ranked 120th of 220 starters in the final - so in essence, there were almost as many below me as there were above me - not too bad a place to be I guess..... Just needed a decent table draw.

On a 9 handed starting table, I had more chips than one single player - everyone else had me outstacked. So much for being halfway up the field!  The biggest stack on our table was 220k, and after a few hands, it became clear how he had built that stack!

The very first hand of the day saw 220k matey limp UTG, and with three more limpers before it got to me on the button, I found QQ and went for the big overbet and raised to 1800 (blinds were 100/200). Not sure why I made it so big, but suspect I feared that everyone would call from them mahoosive stacks with any raggy hands, and that I might end up in a tough spot post flop, even with a premium hand and in position - probably a mistake with hindsight.  Matey was the only caller. On a flop of 238sss, and me with the Qs, I figured I was in reasonable shape, but managed to ship him around 7k of my 45k starting stack when innocent red cards came on turn and river - he had called my 9x raise preflop with A6ss.

The day never really got any better than that, although after that I decided to just have fun and see where it might get me.  I ended up busting in level 7 - I called a min raise on the button with QJs from a stack of 30x. Flop was JT8. The raiser made a small c-bet, and I made an equally small raise - he called. Turn was another 8 - he checked, and I made a big overshove, thinking I would make him fold all better Jacks, and possibly overpairs if I could sell the 8...... he insta-called with A9, and rivered a Q for a straight.  Ho hum - that's why we play poker I guess.

All in all the concept works, but does need to be tweaked before the next one. A couple of changes I would like to see:

1) A cap on starting stack - not ideal, but keeps things sensible and is more inclusive to those that can't put in tremendous hours and money online. A capped starting stack could perhaps increase over time as the number of qualified players increases.

2) In the online qualifiers, half the starting stack should go as cash prizes to top three, and the other half to produce chips for the final - this will keep those with shorter bankrolls playing qualifiers, and not make the qualification stage just about who's got the deepest pockets.

I hope DTD run this event again, and I am sure I will give it another go. I do hope they tweak the format a little though.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The friendly face of the civil service...

About a week or so ago, I received an email telling me I had been granted a place at a training academy event. First thought was that this would mean another marathon session trying not be be bored whilst listening to an online presentation, however it turns out that it's for a three day event at HP's head office in Dallas! I had to book my flights at the earliest opportunity - and that's where the fun started.

To book my flights through the corporate agency, I had to confirm my passport. Not a problem - until I discovered it expired six months ago. Cue panic and an emergency passport application! I filled in the form yesterday, and after some online research, was able to print off my passport photos (correctly sized, plain white background, no facial hair, no glasses, no smile, etc etc).  Off to Newport at the ungodly hour of 6am today for an 8.30 appointment.

Having arrived in Newport at 7.15, I had time to kill, so figured that there's nothing better in the morning than a gut full of e-numbers, preservatives, and fat - the full McDonalds fayre!  It almost turned into the most expensive McDonalds breakfast in history as I left my application envelope, complete with expired passport, on the table when I left. The 600 yard dash back to McDs was just about the quickest I've even run, and I was only just in time to extract the envelope from the bin as the kind lady was clearing up.

Foolishly, I arrived at the passport office 30 minutes early at 8am - now the lady on the phone last week told me to arrive 10 minutes early.... I should have taken heed.  When I opened the door, I was confronted by The Friendly Face Of The Civil Service. With a sneer, I was told to leave the building and return 10 minutes prior to my appointment as I would have already been told.  Flippin good job it wasn't raining - there was a growing crowd on the pavement, all for 8.30 appointments. I did smile when a lady turned up and someone asked what time her appointment was, and she said it was 9.30, but she was busy and needed to be seen early - I didn't fancy her chances!

Having gotten through security - yes, security.... inclusive of emptied pockets, removed belt, body scan, etc, I was booked and processed and given a ticket. This felt like a cross between the departure gates at the Airport and Tesco's meat counter!  

With ticket in hand, and my number called, I approached the lady at booth number 2 - and there it was again.... The Friendly Face Of The Civil Service. I handed over my envelope, only for it to be thrust back at me with an instruction to empty it first. FFS did she think I was carry sharp blades along with my passport application? Perhaps a needle or two?   She saw the photo's I had painstakingly printed (and she wouldn't have realised that they were the fourth set I had printed, in my efforts to get them just right!), and passed them back - "they won't do, you're smiling."  Now I probably don't smile often enough, but I do know when I am smiling - and in these pics I definitely was not smiling, as I pointed out to her.... however, as she dutifully observed, the corners of my mouth were higher than the rest of my mouth, therefore the pics were rejected due to a smile. Unbelievable. Onsite photo booth - £5, 3 extra pics I don't need, and we were sorted.

So - paid the price at the cash desk, and was given a receipt with a collection time of 12:34. I really don't know why the lady put six underlines beneath the words that said "Ready for collection no earlier than.." - perhaps she was trying to tell me something. The Friendly Face Of The Civil Service.

Somehow managed to kill four hours - well not quite, I went back early, and collected my new passport at 12:10. (Please don't tell the lady on the cash desk)

I learnt three things from today:

1) Don't let your passport expire without replacing it via postal methods in good time.
2) Don't try and pass friendly conversation with a civil servant during a morning shift - it doesn't work.
3) I will never voluntarily go to Newport again. Apologies to any of my friends that may live there, but four hours was enough! 

Texas in July - weeeeee. If nothing else, it will be a welcome break from the British rain!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Inside out omelette sandwich

An omelette sandwich is a delicacy of my youth - I never thought I would ever cook one inside out, which is what my first eggy bread lunch looked like today!

I think I have a new favourite snack.  Strange that the simplest of things can be so satisfying and desirable.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

APAT Cardiff, and England Announcement

It always amazes me that those that live in England have to pay for the privilege of travelling to Wales, yet those in Wales are allowed into England for free. I suppose in that regard, England is following the general Euro mantra of freedom of movement and immigration, whilst Wales takes the more sensible approach.

Luckily for me, I live in a part of England that negates the need to pay the exorbitant bridge toll when I travel to Wales - I get to use the two lane racetrack that is the M50. Like the M45 in Northamptonshire, I've never seen a police car or a speed trap on the M50, and it's a great opportunity to test Peugeot's claims to the top speed of my car. For this reason, I like travelling to Wales. I'm sure there are other reasons as well, but as my Welsh wife no longer lives there, I can't really think of any other good reasons right now.  What a pain in the ass it was on Saturday when I trudged along the M50 at 40mph through the seemingly endless single lane average speed check area with neither another vehicle in sight, nor any workmen to be seen behind the the cones. In fact, if it wasn't for the odd vehicle trudging equally slowly in the other direction, I might have thought I had entered some parallel universe devoid of life, yet still I crawled along at 40mph.

Still, at least I had the 40mph single lane trudge to look forward to on the way home at 1am.

I found the casino at the first time of asking. Now, given that I have TomTom in the car, this might not sound as much of an achievement as it actually was - on the two previous occasions that I've been to the Cardiff Grosvenor, TomTom has misdirected me to the point of being utterly lost (yeah I should have learned ahead of the second trip I guess) - however it seems a map update has actually put the centre of Cardiff properly on the TomTom map!

Back in 2008, in APAT's season two, I played my very first APAT game, and coincidentally it happened to be at Cardiff, which is actually quite lucky as if it was elsewhere, this whole paragraph would have been a bit pointless. I was completely hooked with the whole APAT live tour from the very moment that I joined that event in 2008, and what a journey it started for me. For that reason, I like going back to Cardiff to play.

On a more sour note though, Cardiff holds painful memories. In Season 3 in 2009, I was flying in the APAT event when I got the call that my Dad was in intensive care, and had to abandon poker to be at his side. Luckily he survived that scare, and lived more than six months afterward.  It now holds another painful memory though. In 2008 the first player I ever played an APAT hand with was a guy called Rich Stevenson who was sat on my immediate left, and was my absolute nemesis for the whole day. I've met Rich many times since, and hugely enjoyed my converations with him - his humour and dry wit are just amazing. It was an awful moment just before the start of play on Saturday when Des announced the death of Rich. Although I never knew him well, I will cherish the memories of him.

The tournament was a strange one for me. Within two orbits I had caused the first exit, and was early chip leader. Having raised in early position to 125 with AQs, the button and blinds called, and we saw a flop of QQJ. Nirvana thought I.   The blinds checked, and I elected to slow play and also checked, allowing the button to have a stab, which he duly did, betting 250 into the 500 pot - the blinds folded, and I called.  The 5 on the turn was inconsequential, and I checked again - now the guy on the button was itching to get chips in, and I was quite sure when he bet 400 into the 1000 pot with shaking hands that he also had a Q... but I had the best kicker so was highly likely to be in good shape unless he had a full house already - and his demeanour was setting off alarm bells. For me now, the right play was to check call the turn with a view to doing the same on the river - far too early to get coolered unnecessarily.  However, the A on the river just about gave me the nuts, unless he had a very unlikely AA.  Praying that he did indeed have a Q, I tried to make my hand look like an Ax hand that just got there, and bet 3000 into the 1800 pot - and was then faced with an immediate min-raise!  Stacks went in and he flipped QJ - unlucky for him, and very cold deck, but I'll gladly ship the early double up.

From that moment on, I never got involved in any significant pot, and my 600bb stack dwindled through the day until the tourney reached 50 players remaining around 11:30, and I was down to around 20bb. Raises were rarely getting through, squeezes and bluffs were always called, and the best hand I saw all day after the AQ was AJ, and that was only once! Never have I been so utterly card dead, and so completely unable to manipulate proceedings with chips rather than cards.  Eventually I open shoved AKs for 15bb, and the young lad in the small blind then asked for a count and scratched his head and ummed and arred before calling with AA!! Yeah I know there was still a player to act in the big blind and the lad wanted the big blind to come along, however when the big blind insta folded, and the cards were flipped, it sure did feel like a horrible slowroll, and not a nice way to end the day.

On a more positive note, the APAT ECOAP (European Championship of Amateur Poker) is scheduled for August bank holiday weekend at DusktillDawn, and will once again be a four day festival.  I've played for the England team twice before with varying degrees of success - a bronze medal in 2009, and wooden spoon in 2010. Having played before and so recently, I would not be applying for a team place for a few years yet - the English player pool is so huge that the opportunity should be spread around - however when Des asked for applications for country captaincy, I found myself responding and applying. This was done with the mindset that if one doesn't ask, one will never get..... and I certainly did not expect the application to be successful, however to my complete surprise (and I really do mean that!!!) a week later I was confirmed as England captain.  It's actually quite hard to convey how proud that makes me feel - my vocabulary doesn't contain words that do the feeling justice.   Selecting a team for this from the applications received is possibly one of the hardest things I've done in recent times - I hate saying no to people, or feeling like I've let anyone down, but the team can contain only four selections (the fifth player gets a place by default by virtue of online APAT league placing). Hopefully the team that I select will take up the challenge of taking England to glory.

No more live poker for a while - back to the online grind!!

Edit: Footnote. Congratz to JP Round on his runner up finish - would loved to have seen him win this, and am sure that one day he will. One of the good guys!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Recovery. PLO8. Progression.

When Paul Jackson offered me the chance to stick with it at BRS, but on less demanding volume related terms, I started to give more focus to my PLO8 MTT game, and for a while this became my exclusive game of choice. I had found reasonable success on occasion in the past playing PLO8 MTTs, but probably only because I had slightly more clue than the multitude of clueless players out there. I was winning, and that was important for confidence, as well as for the recovery of my P&L.

One night, having busted a tourney from a decent position, and missed the money, I got a pretty intense email from Paul telling me just how badly I had played a hand, and how my starting hand range needed some serious review. It was at that point that I decided to try and really learn the game properly, and spent some considerable time reading strategy articles, exploring forums for hand reviews (not that many around for PLO8 though), and attending sessions with an experienced PLO8 mentor.

I know my game improved dramatically, although I still have moments of stupidity. It seems that to win regularly at PLO8 in online low stakes MTTs, one does not have to be a complete master of the game, but simply to play a tight conservative range, to play cautiously, and to just stay one step ahead of the masses of morons who frequent these tourneys. In Holdem MTTs, over a large sample, I figure I can hold my own to some extent, and am probably better than half the players out there.... however that means that the other half of players out there are better than me. In any given Holdem MTT online at the $10 type stakes, there will be a mix of morons, good players, and experts, and lately the bar seems to be rising steadily - there are still gamblers and bad players around, but the standard of play is generally increasing, and the good players getting better. In a PLO8 MTT, in my opinion, 90% of players lean more toward the moronic end of the spectrum, with less good players around, and very few experts, and that makes the game so much more beatable.

Playing PLO8 MTTs on iPoker and MicroGaming every night, tends to mean the same players show up with regularity - both good and bad players, and the fields are much smaller than Holdem MTTs, therefore it becomes much easier to build up player profiles and to stack up decent hand histories on players. Profits this year are far healthier than they've been for some time - from $3k down to $2k up. It was a pretty good feeling in March to actually get paid at the end of the month - that's not happened for a while!

I don't much like the downswing that's come in April, but on reflection and review, I know with some degree of certainty that it's come mostly from running bad rather than playing bad, and I have every faith that it will recover again.

Live exploits at the latest APAT event in Coventry were going really well, until a massive call preflop with 88 against a 30xBB shove - based on reads, and actually pinpointed his hand to 55/66/77 - went unrewarded after he showed 77 and outflopped me. Next live outing is in late May, with a trip to Cardiff for the next APAT leg. Looking forward to it already.

Big night out tonight with BCPC as we play out the live final of the BCPC Premier League III, for which I have qualified as joint chip leader. During the league format, over ten rounds, I manage to finish 2nd on five occasions - seems there is a trend with my headsup game that I need to review and attend to! That said, was chuffed to finish so high on so many occasions in a field of pretty strong players.

A couple of seats for major events picked up recently as well, having won a satellite for the Genting Tour for a £430 main event seat (the one I was supposed to play in January, but will now play Sheffield in November), a Genting seat won through BRS which will be played at the Stoke leg in August, and a £220 seat for coming fourth in the latest BCPC season - no sure where to play that yet though.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

MPF and DTD 560

Firstly, following my previous post, the relief of no longer trying to grind out SNGs around a day job and busy family life is immense. That said, when I resigned from BRS, I was kinda chuffed that Paul Jackson offered me the chance to stick with it and just play selective MTTs. For me, quality seems to be better than quantity, and my P&L is recovering following several cashes and several final tables - I just need to run better on final tables and turn small cashes into a win for a decent payday.

In the midst of 2011, Dave Allan created a great new poker community for Midland based poker players - The Midland Poker Forum was born, and as part of the promotion to get the site off the ground, and in conjunction with new sponsors RedBet poker, he created a short league for all forumites, the prize for which was a £336 seat in the Dusk Till Dawn monthly DeepStack event. Despite not actually winning single round, my consistent second and third places earned enough points to win the league and the £336 seat.

Now, the seat was supposed to be played in December but I was otherwise engaged in Manchester with APAT, so pushed for entry to the January event instead..... but forces conspired against me when DTD upped the buyin for the January event to £560, and my meagre bankroll meant the uplift of £224 was beyond me. I posted on Facebook to see if I could sell some shares to raise the difference - didn't really expect much positive response, and was gobsmacked when I managed to sell 30% within 5 minutes of posting! Huge thanks and gratitude to my stakers for their confidence!

So, off to DTD on 7th Jan.

The day started with the strangest possible moment which almost felt like an omen. On arrival at DTD I couldn't find anyone I knew to pass the time with, so went for the big screen to watch the Wolves v Bham cup game. I perched against a seat by one of the poker tables, and watched the pretty poor game wishing for something better on TV. The seat draw was made, but not yet posted on the screens, however the TD was distributing papers to each tournament table with the draw for each table so the dealers would be able to check they had the right players in the right seat. I happened to glance at the sheet for the table I was on and by some sheer fluke spotted my name.... now for the weird but, I was drawn in seat 5.... and that just happened to be the seat I was perched on to watch the footy! So out of 282 entries and 282 seats, I had happened to sit on the seat that would become mine for the rest of the day. Surely an omen of sorts.

I knew nobody at my table by the names on the sheet, although I thought I recognised the name in seat 1 from somewhere - Anthony Kendall - but couldn't recall a face. Of course when Tikay turned up, the connection was made. Funny how we can know someone by their nickname, but fail to recognise the full version of their real name. I've spoken with Tikay a few times, and he's a proper gent - spending several hours playing poker with him was a privilege... what a nice guy, and huge fun at the table! It was a bit of a bonus that it would eventually be me that took him out :)

The tourney started with a monstrous 30,000 stack - bigger than I've ever started with before. For four levels I hardly played a hand in anger - there were many limps pre followed by folds when missed the flop, and I shed a few chips and cultured a nice weak/passive image. By level 5 and the antes, I had pretty much figured the table out, and knew I had the ideal seat - the two fish at the table were seat 2 and seat 3, and I had position in seat 5. By the end of level 6 I had almost doubled my starting stack without ever reaching showdown - mostly by 3 or 4 betting pre.

By the end of level 9, I was double the average, biggest stack on the table, and generally crushing! I had never played this well in a live tourney before, and almost felt that I could see everyone's cards face up. At this point I had only been to showdown once with a top two pair hand that I checked back in position after a scary river card hit - to be shown that the other guy had called me pre, flop, and turn, with an underpair to the board and no draws. Easy money!

There was a flurry of small stack bustouts and four new players with biggish stacks arrived - I failed to switch gears here, and assumed that my uber-aggressive game could continue to get through, and before I knew it, my 100k was down to 70k, and I was folding pre to a 5 bet, only for the guy to flash a 3. Time to tighten up and re-evaluate.

Hand of note for the day came in level 11. I min-raised in mid position with 66, and Tikay called in the BB. Flop 456 (two clubs) - about as wet as it could be, and could easily have smashed into the BB's hand. Tikay had around 28k behind to my 70k. Rather than getting fruity and allowing the board to get any wetter, I bet almost full pot - around 9k. Tikay flat called! Turn was a 2 - now any 3 wins. Tikay checked - I shoved, he called, and showed 44 from a slow played smaller set - unlucky.

End of level 12, and I'm back to around 88k - the average was 82k, and if I didn't play another hand I would would finish the day near average stack... I was set fair to hit day two with at least 30 to 40 big blinds.

We had a 5 minute break before the last level and I went outside for a breath of air, and to ring Katharine to say goodnight. I also needed a pee rather desperately. Back in the cardroom and heading for the loo, but there was only 20 seconds left of the break and I was in the small blind first hand - better to play the hand, then go for a wee after.

The table folds round to me and I find AKs. Now, the guy on my left has a similar stack, and has played in the true fashion of an old school player - always open-raising 3.5x, yet folding to any resistance, and always squeezing from the BB in a limped pot. Three times today I had limped in the SB, and he had raised big from the BB forcing me to fold. Also three times today, I had open-raised from the SB and he had folded. So, in this AKs spot, I figured the best action was to limp to induce, and sure as eggs is eggs, he obliged. With a bet of 8k on top of the 2.4k blind, there was a total of 15.5k in the middle and I had 85k behind. I didn't want to be playing the hand out of position post flop with a hugely bloated pot so elected to shove the lot here, and take down the 18% increase to my stack. I, and the rest of the table, were abso-gobsmacked when he snap called the 35x shove with KJo. Naturally the flop was QT9 and I was out. I congratulated him on his expert play, and used a few expletives that I should probably have saved for other circumstances. I loved his call before the flop was dealt - just have to hang on to that thought.

All in all, I have never played better. I stayed away from usual distractions - alcohol and iPod - and found a new zone. I didn't lose a single hand at showdown until the end, I won several hands that I knew I had no right to win but was able to make the right plays at the right time, and I made two significant and correct read-based laydowns preflop (JJ and QQ), both to single raises.

I can't wait til next week for my next live venture, back at DTD for the Grand Prix (£100k gtd prize pool, and I bagged my £60 in a €2 satellite!)

Sorry to those that staked me - I was in a great spot to pay something back, and feel pretty bad about the outcome.... however I couldn't and wouldn't play anything differently.

Thanks to Dave Allan and the MPF for the opportunity - here's hoping there is another promotion soon :)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

End of an era - new beginnings

Around 18 months ago, I thought I was taking my poker to a new level when I joined up with BankrollSupply, and became a "Sponsored Pro", or semi-pro in my case. To be bankrolled to play poker, and to be able to play with zero risk, was liberating, but came with it's own different pressures - playing with someone else's money took some getting used to.

During that 18 months, I have strived to improve my STT game, have developed a decent understanding of ICM and of the general push/fold strategy and assocated range parameters, but for whatever reason, have never managed to sustain any decent level of profitablity in STTs.

The lack of sustained profits, and therefore lack of payback, meant I was spending hours upon hours upon hours playing a pretty boring format for no return, and justifying that to Katharine became harder and harder. I'm a career person with a good job and a reasonable career future, however with a massive mortgage and other debts, the concept of earning a bit on the side through poker is always attractive as it's the only way we can afford those little extras (like holidays, new car, renovations around the house, etc) - hence I am always prepared to put the effort into my poker game to try and improve the reward. However, despite playing with zero risk on my BRS accounts, I just couldn't seem to make it pay.

Early in November, I measured a run of ~500 STTs where my actul chip return at the point of a hand being All In (pre river) was around 10% of chip EV - this was just about the worst bad run I have ever experienced, and it was painful to say the least. So much so that I decided to take a break for the rest of November and just play my own accounts.

During that time playing on my own dollar, I finished 7th of 5325 in the Pokerstars Sunday $200k for $6000, won two small MTTs on 888 for around $2000, had some fun splashing around the .25/.50 PLO cash tables for a small profit, won satellites for seats at the DTD Grand Prix, and Genting Poker Series, and won the Midland Poker Forum league for a seat at the DTD Deepstack - over £800 worth of tourney seats for total outlay of £7.

Away from the daily STT grind, poker has become fun again. I know it won't always be that hot, and I will have the downturns to offset the good months, and that this will be at my own risk, however I actually feel like I can play my own game under my own steam, without the added pressure of having to achieve certain rake volumes, and can actually enjoy the game for what it is again.

I appreciate the chance Paul Jackson gave me, and for sticking with me for so long given that I wasn't delivering any signficant return other than rake paid. I also value the mentoring received in the last month or so from Dan Morgan - the guy has an incredible mind for the maths of poker.

I would love to be able to play poker full time, but sadly the mortgage and debt profile means my job and career are exclusively vital to me. So, back to the search for the one big Sunday night success... pay off the mortgage in one go, and then re-evaulate.

Off to Manchester for the APAT UK Open on Saturday, and going full of confidence and in decent form.... can't wait.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Blackpool rocks!

This was a fun weekend! The APAT contingent descended on the G Casino in Blackpool for the UK Pub Poker Championships, and resplendent in our new branded shirts, I joined with members of the (in)famous Black Country Poker Club to represent our sponsor - The New Talbot.

This team tournament was all about 8 members surviving as long as possible to ensure that each individual player could contribute the highest possible number of points to the team's cause. With 128 runners, only the top 50 would score points (1 point to 50th place, 50 points to 1st place, and a sliding scale to all places between. We scored 98 points, which on the face of it sounds ok - however considering that only two people made the points and just happened to finish 1st and 3rd, kinda suggests that the rest of the team were an epic failure.

Massive congratz to Tony Trippier on his tournament win, and to Brian Yates on another APAT final table... both hugely well deserved.

I finished a paltry 98th, but bad as that may sound, I reckon this was probably one of the best games I've played, certainly in terms of where my head was at and some of the reads I made. My game was summed up into 5 key hands:

Hand 1: Blinds 50/100. UTG aggro maniac who had played almost every hand since the tourney started, and who had already been seen to 4-bet preflop with 88 and TT, opened UTG to 300. I raised in mid position to 850 with QQ. He re-raised to 2000. At this point I consider I'm never folding here, but didn't really want to shove knowing he could have AK and I don’t really want to race for my stack this early... I decided to flat call, and play the flop in position, ready to be wary of an A or K on the board. Flop was 743 rainbow. He checked, I bet around half pot, and he insta-shoved. I called, albeit a little reluctantly - I knew his range included a fair amount of hands that QQ beats, but his body language was strong - he did indeed show up with AA...... and I binked a Q on the river.

Hand 2: Blinds 75/150. UTG tight player opened to 350. I re-raised to 900 with QQ. He flat called. Flop was J82 rainbow. He checked, I bet 1000, and he called. Turn was another J. He checked, I bet 2000, and he shoved. I couldn't put AJ into his range - didn't think he would have flat called out of position pre-flop with AJ – but I just knew I was beat. I told him he didn't have a J and that I would fold QQ to his overpair - he showed KK! Really happy with the read and laydown.

Hand 3: Blinds 75/150. New player to the table raised UTG to 450. Changing tack a little, I flat call in mid position with QQ, everyone else folds. Flop is J94 rainbow. She checks, I bet half pot, and she min-raises. This one was easy - I just knew she had AA and folded my QQ face up - she did indeed show AA. Even happier with that read and laydown, although getting a bit pissed about having to fold QQ on J high boards!

Hand 4: Blinds 100/200. I open on the button for 400 with QJ, the SB folds, and the BB calls. Flop is ATT and the BB checks. I figure this isn't the best flop to c-bet as although I can reasonably represent the Ace, he can check-raise and represent the 10 - it could get pretty messy at this point if I then re-raise with air, so I take the pot control safe option and just check behind. The turn is a 2, and he checks again - I now figure that after two checks, my Q might actually be good, and take a stab at closing the hand here with a 400 bet into the 900 pot - he flat calls. The river is a K and of course this is my gin card giving me the broadway straight. But here it all gets weird - having taken the passive line all the way, the BB comes out with a 1000 bet into the 1700 pot. I figure that I have the best hand here almost all the time and have to raise for value, hoping to get a call from any random A or K hand - I raise to 2600..... the BB shoves for 13k! Shit! I need to call around 10k to win 16k, and have 15k behind. This one takes a while, and I actually end up calling a clock on myself - I eventually fold knowing that he isn't shoving with anything that I can beat - at best I'm calling to split the pot. We both agree to show, and he had AT for a flopped house!! Now I'm cooking, and the table image is pretty immense after some decent laydowns. What's more, after three potential coolers, I still have 15k, whilst the tournament average is just over 12k.

Hand 5: Blinds 100/200/25. For nearly two hours, I've been trying to summon a valet so I could order food - frankly, I was starving! 13 tournament tables, and only 1 valet - service was slow. A hand evolved where two early position players limped, and I looked down hoping to see a nice squeezing type hand - AJo was good enough to squeeze. At that exact moment a hand tapped my shoulder and the valet asked what I wanted to order - I politely asked him to wait a second whilst I played out this hand, but he said he would come back later.... NO don't do that, I've waited too long already - back at the table, I'll fold, no I'll raise, oh too flustered now, I'll limp as well. Sigh what a bad move. Club sandwich and chips ordered in a hurry, and the flop is dealt in a 4-way pot. Qc 9c 6c, and I have the Ac - happy days thinks I! The player in the SB donk-leads 600 into the 1250 pot, the BB calls, as does one of the limpers - actions gets to me with a pot of 3050, and I have 13k behind. I hate flat calling here, as if I hit another club, I probably don't get paid off with 4 clubs on the board. I want to make a standard raise, but two of the players in the hand are unlikely to fold top pair, and at this moment I only have Ace high. I take the aggro stance and semi-bluff shove (although I know it effectively turns my hand face up to some degree) hoping to fold out all one or two pair hands - the guy in the SB tanks and eventually calls for most of his stack with 3c 5c. OK he had a made flush, but not a great one, and with two players to act behind him, and with the obvious tight image that I had shown throughout this tourney, I think his call was probably not the best. I missed my draw, and was out. C’est la vie – I wouldn’t do anything different in that spot next time.

So – disappointed to be out, but not disappointed with my play.

With cash tables and evening tourney to console myself, I headed for a spot of BlackJack and made enough to pay for dinner and drinks.

With two of our team players still in the tourney, a stay for day two was obligatory. A morning in the sun on Blackpool prom with some really nice people and great friends, drinking Magners over ice – how much better can it get than that?

Sunday afternoon was spent on just about the craziest cash table I’ve ever played, along with Steve Bayliff, Craig MacInnes and Andy Overton. Playing a round of each – one round of No Limit Holdem, followed by a round of 4, 5, or 6 card Omaha, was just about enough to confuse the locals into giving us all their money. I spent four hours turning £140 into £540, then 10 minutes turning it back into £140. Ho hum 

APAT weekends are usually great fun, and there are so many great people that I just love spending time with at these events….. when we end up in a casino as good as the G in Blackpool, it just makes for a perfect poker weekend away.

Special mention to Aneurin Venables for spending hours and vast amounts of money playing Arabian Derby on Blackpool pier to win an array of soft toys, that he then assigned as bounties on the heads of a number of BCPC players - cheers mate... good for a laugh!

Back to work today, and to the STT grind tonight. Reality beckons.

Monday, 28 February 2011

UKIPT Nottingham 2011

When I started writing this blog, it had been my intention to post an update after every significant poker event or achievement I experienced - whilst the intention is still good, finding the time between work, family, and poker is not so easy. That said, here is the next load of tripe.

Whilst playing a monthly league game with the Black Country Poker club is primarily about friendship, competition, and having a laugh, there is a serious undertone. For winning the league in Season 4, I was granted a £560 seat at UKIPT Nottingham which I would play on behalf of BCPC, and if I should make the money, I would keep the value of the buy in, plus 50% of the remainder - the rest going to the club to be split equally amongst all members.

I played UKIPT Notts last year, stumping up the buy in myself from recent tournament winnings, and having managed to get into a good position, proceeded to donk off most of my stack with a huge mistake. This time round I was desperate to do better, particularly as I had the BCPC club rooting me, and knowing that I would have to explain any silly donk failures - that added pressure helped me tremendously with focus.

My starting table was a bit weird - playing 10 handed, we were already tight for space, so having David Vamplew at the next table, surrounded by TV crew, it made for a real squash. My starting table would be the same table I would play at for the next 8 hours. I've tried to recall some hands of note - let's start with the very first hand of the day. With starting stacks of 15k, and blinds of 25/50, I'm in the big blind. There is an early position raise to 150, and three callers - I look down to find AA. Memories of last year are immediately flooding back!! I re-raise to 650 and get two callers. A rather attractive A82 rainbow flop, and I decide to make the donk lead of around 800 to try and induce some action - which comes with a raise to 1800 .... now, guessing that my loss with AA is now affecting my thinking, I 3-bet to 4000 when a flat call was quite obviously the better move - the other guy tank/folded claiming he had 88! I didn't show, but was feeling pretty good with a 20k stack after one hand!

The table turned out to be extremely tough for all those at my end of the table - the other end was where the action was developing, and chips were moving in one direction - away from our end! With Nick Slade at the table and prepared to play any two cards in or out of position, and seemingly careless about his stack, I was finding it really tough to get in a good spot to play back at him. During the early evening session of play, with blinds around 100/200, and my stack sat around 12k, I found a perfect spot - or so I thought. A loose aggro player raised to 450, and two people called - in the big blind I found 66 and chose to just call the extra 250. On a flop of a KKA, all four players checked - I was ready to insta-fold to any action at this point. The turn was a 6, giving me a full house. I checked again, and the original LAG raiser bet around half pot - the others in the hand folded, and it was back to me with my full house - I decided to raise, and given the relative weakness of my hand on that board, and knowing that he would never fold a K, I decided to make the raise a fairly large one in an effort to get stacks in the middle here and now, with him hopefully overplaying AQ/AJ, or any K - obviously if he has AK I'm on the way home - my raise was half of my stack, which left me a little surprised when after some thought the other guy flat called. A nightmare on the river as another K came, completely counterfieting any strength I may have had in the hand - now I'm losing to any A, the case K, and any pocket pair bigger than 66.... luckily for me the other guy lead out with a shove and I was able to get away, showing my 66 - he showed KQ :(

Now down to less than 15 big blinds, it was time for short stack ninja - and with many shoves and one double up I survived to the last level of the day. Now, for me to get home and then back to Nottingham, I would need to drive around 180 miles round trip, and would get little sleep - so going into the last level, I decided that if I was to come back it would be with a decent stack, and not with dregs - I lost count of the number of times I was all in during that final level. I started the level with 9k, and ended it with 36k - but remarkably, I was never at risk, and never took a hand to showdown. The comedy moment of my day came once the TD announced last three hands of play - I openly declared that I would be all in during these three hands, possibly as many as three times! I fold the first hand, but in the second I'm UTG and find AQs - shove and take the blinds and antes..... in the last hand I'm in the big blind, and ask politely for a walk - the whole table snap folds round to the small blind who starts to think about his action and counts out chips for a raise.... I moved my stack to the line and announced that I would not be folding. He duly raised to 3.5x, and I shoved blind - he sighed and folded AQs face up - I just flipped one card for good measure, it was a 3 :)

So with chips bagged up, I made a sharp exit at 1:40am, planning to race home, hit the sack, and then be back on the road for 10am ready for am 11:30am seat draw. I didn't count on the A453 out of Nottingham being closed for roadworks, meaning I had to go back through Nottingham, back past the door of DTD, and up the A52 toward Derby to get on the M1 at J25 - it's now 2am..... 90 miles in 50 minutes (!!!!) and I was in bed before 3am. Lying in the dark, seeing streetlights flash past in my mind's eye, I started recalling all those espressos and Red Bulls I'd drunk through the course of the evening. By around 5am, it became apparent that sleep was not going to come, and it was almost a relief when the alarm sounded at 8am.

Play started at noon, and with blinds at 1k/2k, my stack of 36k was short enough to only allow one move, but not so short that I couldn't wait for a hand. The table draw for day two was not too bad - no massive stacks, and no aggressive maniacs - a couple of 3-bet shove re-steals and I was beyond the 50k mark without any real danger. People dropping like flies at this stage, and tables breaking all over the place, including mine. This move was to be my last. Taking my seat at my next table, I wasn't overly chuffed to see a 300k+ stack on my immediate left, followed by two 100k+ stacks beyond that, and with 50k, I was easily the smallest stack at the table.

What happened next was a complete shock. When I started this tourney, my first goal had been to survive to the dinner break, and after that to make day two. In making day two, I had not really considered the next goal, and had just played hands as they arrived without really considering the context of the tournament in any way.... so when the TD announced we had reached the bubble and were now playing hand for hand, I was more than a little surprised to find myself on the brink of cashing. OK - time to play uber-tight and think about the money for the club, especially with the big stacked crazy Italian on my left.... first hand and it folds to me on the button and I find AQs..... so much for folding to the money - all in! Italian gives me a nervous moment when he asked for a count and stares me down, before folding. Next hand and there's a min-raise on the way round to me where I find AKs in the cut off - again, so much for folding to the money - all in! He folds, and I find myself being the one to pick up chips around the bubble.

Once the bubble burst, the usual deluge of exits occured and we were down to around 90 left. I find AA and get a huge double up to over 130k - happy days.

Then what turned out to be my last hand of the tournament unfolded. I found QsTs in early position, and having only played one hand for around three orbits (the AA hand), I decided to open to 2.5x. Everyone folded to the big blind who flat called. Now I had him pegged as a very weak player who would fold easily when pressurised, and I was more than happy to play a pot with him. A flop of 3h6s7s was exactly what I was looking for - he lead out for a full pot bet which given the way the table had been playing, was a little odd. I figured he might make that bet to protect any top pair hand, or indeed a low overpair - so with my overcards and my flush draw, I fancied I was in good shape for a big shove..... of course he snap called with 67 for top two pair, I missed my flush, and that was all she wrote.

The £1375 won, of which I kept a a little over £900, was very welcome..... but if I had won that final hand, I would have had a stack of over 250k, been up in the top 10, and fancying a tilt at the £109,000 first prize. C'est la vie - totally happy with my play all weekend, and wouldn't have done anything different at any stage. Definitely going to find the funds to play this one again next year.

Now one week to wait until my next live adventure - the live final of the Vegas Team Challenge at Star city in Birmingham......