Friday, 13 December 2013

Escaping the British Winter

As the weather in England to continues to decline and the nights seem to get endlessly darker, I've found myself in a very fortunate spot to be heading for warmer climates again this year through mid-December through to early February.

One of my very close friends, Rishabh, who was one of my housemates during university is getting married in Bombay next week and I've been lucky enough with a friend to be invited to his wedding. He didn't have to ask me twice, as soon as he mentioned it I was immediately checking out the first flights over to India in December. I've never been to an Indian wedding before, so I'm not entirely sure what to expect but I do know it's a multi-day event spreading over 7 days so I'm sure there'll be lot's of good food and alcohol involved in the mix. This will be my second trip to India and it's definitely one of the countries which has left a lasting impression on me. Everything from the culture, the climate, the people and of course the food is like nothing I'd ever witnessed before. It's not an ideal holiday destination for everyone, but if you have an adventurous side and are open for new experiences, I couldn't recommend the country anymore. It honestly feels to me like stepping into a different world. Hopefully I'll have some great stories and photos to share in a future blog entry.

After the weeks wedding celebrations in Mumbai, I'll be heading to the beaches of Goa to spend the last few days of the year sipping beers and chilling in the sun. That does mean I'll be spending my second year in a row away from family on Christmas day which definitely has its downsides but a sacrifice I'm currently very happy to take.

Directly after the Indian trip I'll be heading to the other side of the world to participate in the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure, which could well be my favourite stop on the poker tour all year. I went 2 years ago and it was amazing. The poker schedule looks amazing for it and I've sold a fairly large package including lots of side events. I'm hoping that I can add a few more Bahamas flags to my hendon mob on the trip, but even if it all goes horribly wrong on the poker front, there are far worse places to be stranded for a week in the world!

Finally, in late January and early February I'll be jetting off to Vancouver for a ski trip to Whistler with a big group of friends. I love skiing, it's definitely among my top hobbies and I hear the Whistler resort is one of the best in the world. I'm debating getting an instructor to tackle some of the more challenging off-piste runs available at the resort. There's something about off-pisting which has always drawn me despite the obvious dangers associated with it. The feeling of going through fresh powder no-one else has skiied down is one of the greatest feelings and often the adrenalin of whizzing down slopes coupled with amazing scenery gives you such a rush almost unmatched anywhere else. Oh, and you can't flick in a trip to North America without a cheeky detour via Vegas on the way home of course!

So a very busy, hopefully fun, probably expensive few months coming up!

As far as the poker's concerned, things have been going pretty decently lately. No huge scores but nothing catastrophic either. I managed to get supernova on pokerstars for the first time this past week which is somewhat of an achievement for me. Prior to 2013 I'd never really played that much on stars, always tending more towards the lower variance, smaller fields on the euro sites. These days though I feel that large parts of the pokerstars schedule are pretty unmissable for a mid-stake MTT grinder like myself. I plan on keeping up my stars volume heading into 2014 and hopefully if the stars align can land myself with a few decent scores on there once I'm settled back in England again in the spring.

On the live front, things have been relatively quiet recently. With so much travelling going on in the next few months I fancied some more time at home to spend playing online and seeing my girlfriend and hanging with my other non-poker friends in Nottingham. This all changed when the UKIPT rolled into town a couple of weeks ago which was certainly an experience. I somewhat naievely decided that my new bungalow that I'm living in is more the size of a mansion than it actually is, so after inviting 6-7 people round to crash at mine during the series, only on the first night when everyone arrived did we start to realise there may be somewhat of a logistical problem. And so the Nottingham poker homeless shelter was established! At least temporarily... Even though everyone was huddled together slightly more than we all had planned it was great to have so many friends staying at mine for the week with the highlight being Jon Spinks using some of the house run-good and shipping the £2k high-roller with Mickey Peterson coming in a close 3rd. Represent guys!

For me personally, I just played the £1100 6-max main event. Whilst it was a ton of fun, I didn't get much going in the tournament and sizzled out on the last level of day 1. To everyone's somewhat surprise there was an overlay on the £500k prizepool that Pokerstars guaranteed. Whether that be due to the 6-max nature of the event not attracting as many players, the tournament just coming up to Christmas which is always a difficult time for families financially or that there were less satelittes due to the huge promotions Pokerstars were offering for the previous stop on the tour in the Isle of Man. Most likely it was a combination of all the factors. Huge props to Pokerstars though who after acknowledging the overlay immediately sent press releases out advertising the next seasons stop in Nottingham boasting an enormous £1million guaranteed prize pool. Perhaps the Nottingham poker player homeless shelter will open it's doors once again in April for this event...that's if I haven't put everyone off staying at mine in the meantime!

With that all said, I'll be using my travels over the next few weeks to really evaluate my year and set my focus and goals on what I want to achieve in 2014 and where I will want to be.

 Here's hoping for big things in the future.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and of course good luck at the tables!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Heating up for Christmas


After last months very hectic online schedule, it was time to take a little break and hit the live felt hard. I always seem to find myself having a bit of a love-hate relationship with live poker. On the one hand, the thrill of going deep, building huge chipstacks, travelling to glamorous events and getting to play for huge sums of money in often relatively soft fields is a huge draw for me. On the other hand, live poker can be a draining, withering and expensive experience. I've played a lot of live poker over the years in various parts of the world in various game types, and for me, it is what you make of it. After realising the huge opportunity cost and expenses often associated in a live tournament series, I've come up with a few rules I like to try to stick by when playing live poker.

If I can't comfortably drive home in less than 2 hours then the event needs to meet the following criteria:

1) Be in a nice setting with a good climate
 -Vegas ticks all of these boxes. Part of the huge draw I have to Vegas every year is the amazing weather. A lot of people don't like it, and a Nevada summer certainly can be unbearable. But coming from England, there's something that just makes me smile every day when I wake up and look out of my window and see blue skies and can get away with wearing flip-flops, shorts and a tshirt every day (until I walk inside the Rio poker-room but that's another story!)

2) Have great cuisine on hand
 -This isn't just about bingeing on comfort food after making a day 3 without cashing, but at various poker stops it's pretty common to meet up with lots of friends also travelling to events and going out for meals. I'm a fat-bastard at heart and food is always really high-up on my priority list. Fortunately, I'm also not a fussy-eater so I can usually tick this box in most places in Southern Europe (mmm Italian/French), Asia and America. 

3) Have outdoor activities to do outside of poker
 -This is something I've really tried to work on more the past few years, living a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. I think focus at the poker tables can be greatly improved, even if just by going on a small 1-2 hour hike and getting fresh air the day before being sat down at a poker table for 12 hours. I think going out and drinking with friends is always going to be great fun, but it's about getting the balance and having alternatives to indulge in. Plus, does anyone ever play their A-game with a hangover? Certainly not me!

So with that, it means I'm going to be looking much more at playing tournaments in places like Vegas, Italy, South France, PCA in the Bahamas and much less likely to want to fly over to places like Ireland or Germany for a tournament. If I didn't live and grow up in England, I certainly wouldn't be flying here for tournaments either, that's for sure! 

I made somewhat of an exception to my rules in early October and decided to venture out and play the full UKIPT/EPT schedule in London. It was my first proper live tournament grind since Vegas in the Summer and I was starting to get that itch again. Sure, London doesn't have the greatest of weather, it's seen as one of the tougher stops of the EPT and it's REALLY expensive but it does tick the right boxes in a few other categories. From a purely financial perspective, it was probably a little irresponsible to go given I'd had to rent accommodation for the week in central London, but fortunately this time I ran pretty hot and managed to win 2 tournaments :)

The series had a ton of side events which is always a plus for me and they're pretty much all in a range that I'm very comfortable playing (£300-£1000 buyins) where I treat the tournament very seriously but at the same time feel very comfortable with the buy-ins and won't be nervous leading up to bubble situations. In total, I played 8 tournaments on the trip securing a win in a £1k turbo tournament for £22k after a chop with good friend Timothy Finne, a win in the £300 turbo "win-the-button" event and a min-cash in a £1k single re-entry tournament. Live poker's a lot of fun when you run good! Neither of the fields in my two wins were particularly huge, especially in comparison to other EPT stops on the tour such as Barcelona or Deuville. I'm not sure whether that's to do with the current state of live poker in the UK or whether a lot of people were put off by the fairly high travel expenses required to stay in central London to play these events. Regardless, the schedule was amazing, and I have to give big props to pokerstars for including some other fun events in the mix like an affordable 8-game. When the general public realise how much fun playing live 8-game is compared to NLH grinding I think, or hope at least, that there'll be a big boom in mixed games particularly in Europe. Already PLO is catching on a lot so it'd be nice if that extended over to the mixes too. I expect that without the TV-coverage and the intimidation factor that even a £500 buyin can have, this might be more hope rather than expectation that the games start to pick up in popularity however. 

Outside of the poker I managed to visit a lot of old friends in London and had some great meals out and about town including a night out with friends to the London leg of Oktoberfest. I'm sure it doesn't compare remotely to the real-deal in Germany, but I had a great night regardless. I was also really happy to see the introduction of both five-guys and shake shack to London. Hopefully that'll be the start of the expansion of amazing fast-food in England. The English love burgers and fast-food, but are options are SO bad compared to what you can get in America. So seeing two of the best US chains setting up shop in London AND being really popular is great! I was most impressed with Shake Shack - it might well have been the best fast-food burger I've ever eaten and if anyone's around Covent Garden I'd say it's a must to try it out. 

All this burger talk is making me hungry, so back to the poker. One thing I'm really excited about that DTD is leading the forefront in is combining live and online poker together. Now for the monthly deepstacks you can play day 1 online! Not only is it amazing for the players like me, who often find live day 1's a bit of a grind but it makes perfect sense for the club as I assume they generate far more money on their online skin than the live club itself. It's really awesome being able to play a regular MTT schedule and have an online day 1 on the side which collaborates with the live day 1s and comes together at the club on day 2. Not only is my hourly significantly improved, but it should also reach a wider audience. Going back to my point above, who'd want to spend a 3-day weekend in Nottingham if you could just make day 2 online from the comfort of your home and then travel up for day 2 when the poker's a lot more fun and intense and you're playing for decent money without anywhere near as many expenses on the side. 

Following on from this, with the launch of the online poker brand in Nevada, it would be amazing next Summer if whilst in Vegas you could relax by the pool in the evening and play a quick $150 online satelitte to jump into the following days live $1500 buyin. Especially if they could generate decent exposure and get some nice megas with 50 seats guaranteed etc. ala pokerstars do for their WCOOPs. Hell, the WSOP might even have online day 1s in the future where you could play the first x levels online and then rejoin with the live day 1 crowd on day 2. Although that's probably several years off in reality. But I can still see it happen. Like many industries, it makes perfect sense to combine both live and online platforms especially as online should in theory be more profitable from charging the same rake but with significantly reduced expenses and having the ability where people can be playing and paying rake in multiple tournaments or cash games at once. Exciting prospects in the next few years I believe!

November so far has been quite relaxed, I've been spending a lot of time with friends and family and chilling in my new house. I've been trying to spend a lot more time working on my game away from the computer, specifically my NLH game. I'm still not at the point where I think I'm one of the best regs in the stars games I play and it's something I really strive to be and I understand how much work I have to do and put in to get to that point. Poker's such a crazy game. After playing so many millions of hands over so many years and there is still so much more to the game that I don't fully understand and areas that I still need to improve on. In a way, it's a good thing as I think that if I thought I was at the point where I was the best or had solved the game, I might have very little motivation to continue ploughing forward. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case maybe, I'm far from that point yet!

So on with the grind...

Gl at the tables all.

Friday, 4 October 2013

September: the month of close calls

September is always a huge month for online poker and in 2013 it was no different. In fact, it was probably my biggest month to date with me wagering more on tournament buyins than in any month prior. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be a pretty frustrating month with a lot of close-calls but to act as if months like this aren't going to happen (and with some frequency!) as a tournament professional would be a huge naievity on my behalf.

 I have to say, despite the frustrations, I did have a fun month hardcoring on the grind. I can mainly thank Pokerstars for this and their excellent World Championship of Online Poker series that they held for 3 weeks this month. Alas, this time I didn't manage to reach one of the elusive final tables, however, I did manage a 3rd place in the 5card PLO8 6max second chance tournament. I had close runs as well coming in 12th in one of the big $320 NL events (which I final tabled 2 years prior) as well as a couple of other top 1% finishes which don't always guarantee too much money given how many runners in the field and how small payouts can be outside of the final tables!

I decided this month as well to step my game up and really try to give some of the better structured $1k, $2k and the main event a try. Despite no real success I had a really good time playing the super-deepstacked structures and felt very comfortable in them. I had top 20% finishes in the big Sunday $2k, $2k HORSE and the $5k main event but fell short of the money in all of them. Bit of a shame, as a cash in any of those would have been my biggest mincash to date online but I'm not too disheartened as I feel I played well (oh doesn't everyone think that!) and will keep trying to put myself in these positions so with a little added run-good can make a run for the final table and victory!

Alongside the Pokerstars WCOOP I was also playing my regular schedule as well as the Winamax series and partially selecting some of the MiniFTOPs series. The Winamax series I loved, the MiniFTOPs less so. I think that FTP with their MiniFTOPs series really need to cut down on all the novelty tournaments like Irish, Courcheval, 6-card PLO and go back to a more traditional series replicating more the WSOP. Sure it can be fun playing some of these weird poker variants, but they're often hard to multitable and there's usually a reason why the games never run as cash-games or are popular outside of the series. With the lower buy-ins of MiniFTOPs as well I was finding myself less and less motivated to play on the site as the series progressed.

The Winamax series on the other hand was a lot more fun. Their series is much more NLH-focussed and I believe to be much better representation of what the players actually want to play. Myself, Alex Goulder and BobaFett did a little motivational prop bet on the series working playing all NL events 6max+ and to see who cashed for the most. To tell the truth, we all performed quite poorly without a single final table between us all! I managed to secure the win in the prop-bet by making a few deep-runs final 2-tabling four of the tournaments but falling short just before the big money. C'est la vie!

I always find it funny how heater and downswing cycles work. I regularly play on 7-8 sites throughout the week and it's interesting to see which sites I find myself running like Usain on whilst simulataneously finding I can't win a showdown on other sites. This month I seem to be heating it up on Party Poker which is really ironic as after their latest update it's probably my least favourite site I grind on now. My ROI in their nightly $100 turbo (which is more like a $100 hyper on any other site) is way over 100% at the moment, seems sustainable..!

So after a long month of being a slave to my computer, I'm giving myself a bit of a break and heading down to London for the UKIPT and EPT series. This is the first proper series I've played live since Vegas and I'm really pumped for it. I've sold action for all tournaments above £500 and can't wait to get back into the action.

Interestingly, I've noticed that buying and selling action is starting to dry up a little bit, and I'd say it's probably about time. I'm noticing more and more in the 2p2 marketplace packages that used to sell out very quickly stalling for days and often not selling out at all. Over the past couple of years, from my observations alone, I feel that the marketplace has really been a sellers market with a lot of over-valued packages, very few "good" buys and lot's of "bad" buys that are quickly selling out. Naturally, as the long-run progresses, a lot of these "bad" buys tend more towards their natural EV and a lot of buyers either run out of money or become disheartened at constantly losing money by paying such premiums for peoples action. Now, whether it is because there's less money in the poker economy (which after WCOOP and the WSOP isn't suprising) or people are becoming more educated and knowledgable about buying action and reasonable markups the demand for packages has slipped a lot. Whilst this does effect me, as a mid-stake grinder, who semi-frequently sells action to live events, I still think it's a good thing.

I'll be quite happy to see the marketplace transition more towards a buyers market, with a lot more good value packages on offer so that investors can get exactly that; an investment rather than a roulette spin. In the current climate, there's really not that many good short-term investment opportunites as there is. Hell, even short-term saving rates in banks at the moment are often running below inflation (so the actual value of your money is decreasing even in a savings account) so to have more investment opportunities in an industry that I understand and feel confident in for myself is a good thing. Similarly, I'd go as far to say it's better for poker too. There are some professionals out there, without naming names, who rely day-in and and day-out for selling action to tournaments. They're not elite regs in the games and certainly not players that you fear at the table but they're also not big losers in the game either. If in tournaments you get a big influx of marginal regs who need to sell action to get into the game and all have between 0-15% ROI in the tournament, it does significantly reduce everyone else's edge in the tournament itself. That return has got come from somewhere, either by reducing other regs ROIs or further increasing a weaker players loss rate. And when these players can charge a 25% markup on their action it's generally just reducing the overall profitability and money being spread around the poker community.

Bit of a long-ramble there and I'm not sure all of my points are totally accurate as I have no figures or evidence to support them but I'd be pretty suprised if I was wildy off-point too. I also think these points and the trend will only continue and become more apparent as the number of higher-buyins on the online and offline circuit increase requiring players to have increasinly large bankrolls (or backers pockets) to support the events. As an example, you only have to look at highrollers to see how saturated that market is becoming. In London this month there's a EPT super-highroller £50k re-entry, £100,000 WPT Alpha8 as well as the usual £10k highrollers and £2k UKIPT highrollers. This is a trend that can only be exaggerated at the lower limits. So where will the money come from to support players in these events?
So an exciting couple of weeks ahead of me in London with the poker festivities. Then I'm debating going up to Edinburgh for a few days to see my Dad and friends up there and after that depending on how things are going it will probably be time to head back to the online grind again and try to earn some money to pay for all of this!

Good luck at the tables

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

I'm Back!


After a long hiatus I've decided to return to the blogging  circle to document the swings and swongs in my life as I  continue to try and make a living playing tournament poker!

It's been over a year now since I last posted and I can't  promise that the updates will be regular but I'd like to try  and do at least one blog post a month.

So what's been happening in my life in the last 12 months?  Well, a lot. Here's a some-what scaled down version.

I made it out to Vegas for the 2012 WSOP - did not return home  with a gold bracelet, but had a great time. Played my first  non-NL hold'em event; $1500 PLO 8 or better and it was the  most fun I had playing a live tournament for a long time. I  was also shocked at how soft the field was in comparison to  the NLH events.I made it my goal over the next year to learn  mixed games and get better at them for next years WSOP.

Came back to England post-Vegas, got back on the MTT grind,  studied mixed games on the side. Had a few personal issues  with the girlfriend and was becoming increasing burnt out from  just grinding tournament poker so snapped up a chance when a  good friend of mine living in Guangzhou, China invited me to  come out and live with him for a few months.

I left England in October, headed to Hong Kong, Macau and then  finally mainland China with not much of a plan other than a 6 -month visa.

Still feeling burnt-out from poker and wanting to develop  myself in other ways I started to live a polar-opposite  lifestyle for a few months from my previous poker playing  ways. My childhood friend, Atti, a sereal-entrepreneur owns a  successful English teaching agency and was interested in  starting up another project on the side with me. We decided to  venture into the (soon to be found out) topsy-turvy world of  real-estate in a communist country. And I thought there was a  lot of variance in tournament poker...

I was going out every night, meeting lot's of people, learning  Mandarin and a bit of Cantonese, eating amazing food and  working on our ideas and start-ups in my friends office in  downtown Guangzhou all week. Often we'd then end up heading  over to Macau to go partying and gambling at the weekends.

After a couple of months of living a more "normal" lifestyle,  the poker itch started to come back. Due to the time-zone, my  social commitments and the office work, MTT's were pretty much  out of the question. So I spent most of my free-time studying  and playing small stake mixed games trying to improve and  become a better player.

Come March, my visa was coming to an end. I really had the  most amazing 6 months out there and felt like I developed some  really strong friendships with the ex-pat community living out  there scraping by a living one way or the other. One of the  highlights definately being a big group of us going to  Cambodia over Chinese New Year and then road-tripping up to  Bangkok afterwards. Unfortunately the multi-million £ business  idea was starting to show some serious flaws and we were  having some real legal issues being foreigners trying to  establish a business in a country that prides itself on  keeping as much money within it's borders as it can.

I had a lot of time to reflect on where I wanted to head in  life, where I see myself in the next year and what I wanted to  achieve. Although in many ways it pained me to leave China and  my friends that I developed over the past 6 months, I decided  to come back and stay in England for a little while, refocus  on poker and really give the game another shot. Afterall it  was and still truly is a huge passion of mine and without  trying to sound too much like a cliche I am blessed to be  doing something that I love for a living.

I returned to England and with all of my stuff being in  storage and no place to live, spent the next month or two with  friends. I'm especially grateful for Jon Spinks who I stayed  with during SCOOP (Pokerstars Spring Cup of Online Poker);  he's had such a huge impact on my game and I really feel has  helped progress me a lot as a player.

Although SCOOP itself didn't treat me too kindly, I was loving  being back in the tournament scene again, grinding hard  everyday. As soon as 2 weeks of SCOOP was up, the very next  day I was off to Vegas for the full 6 weeks of fun in the sun.

Feeling ever-more confident in my mixed game ability I put a  much greater focus on the WSOP and the mixed games offered  there. I found myself getting deep-runs in a lot of events  including the $2500 OE (limit o8/stud8), $5k HORSE, $2.5k 8- game but falling short before the money. Fortunately, I ran a  little better in the $2500 10-game tournament placing 22nd  from the 372 entrants that started. I have to say, other than  winning a tournament, it was the most fun I think I've ever  had playing live poker. I felt so zoned in and comfortable  that even though it's only September, I can't wait for next  years world series to have another crack at some of these  events.

I also managed to get a deep run in a couple of the NL events  out there coming in a slightly frustrating 14th from 1819 in a  $1500 event but again feeling very happy to get a decent 5- figure score under my belt ensuring a small, but profitable  trip out to the states.

So now I'm back in England, I've moved into a new place in  Nottingham and I'm getting set up and ready to re-commence the  grind. I feel like I've come along way in the past 12 months  not only as a poker player but also as a person. It'll be  interesting to see what the next 12 months bring...