John O'Shea Interview

John O'Shea Interview

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Eve Goodman meets 'dagunman'.

BoylePoker Pro John 'dagunman' O'Shea has been representing the cream of Irish poker for years now. Just the other week, he won a PLO SCOOP event for $147k against arguably the best player in the world. But his poker career hasn't always been so rosy. O'Shea talks frankly to Bluff Europe about million-dollar downswings, sports betting, and living the Vegas lifestyle.

Congratulations on winning a SCOOP a couple of weeks ago. How did you feel?

Brilliant, delighted. It hasn't been the best past year or two in poker, but this year seems to be going a bit better, and that just capped it off.

You ended up playing heads-up against Phil Galfond, which is a spot that most people would try to avoid at all costs. What was that like?

Well, I would consider 'my game' to be heads-up PLO, and I've played up to 100-200NL, so I'm not a complete novice! I've played hundreds of thousands of hands. I'd never played Phil Galfond before, but years ago I played people like Jungleman and Brian Townsend, so it certainly wasn't a completely foreign experience for me playing a 'big guy' heads up. I remember hearing an interview by Padraig Harrington a few years ago, and he was talking about playing Tiger Woods. He said, 'I'm a realist, I know he's a better player than me; but all you can do is play as well as YOU can, and maybe he'll be having an off day.' You might win a few flips, and hopefully reduce the edge they have on you as much as possible.

So, I kind of tried to put it out of my mind that it was Phil Galfond, and tried to think of it as a random player – his strengths, his weaknesses. He obviously thought he had an edge on me, so he'd probably be less likely to call in marginal spots, which would let me apply some pressure. In fact, he doesn't have any weaknesses, so the only thing you can really do is use his strengths against him! He is widely considered to be the best PLO player in the world, so I was just trying to find some way to get close to him, I suppose.

You tweeted afterwards that you'd cleared your make up – exactly how much make up were you in?

About a hundred grand.

The win must feel pretty good, then!

Yeah, a bit of spending money for summer, like! Now when I win a bracelet in Vegas it will all be mine!

What's on your Vegas schedule?

The main thing is I plan to play all the PLOs, and the Hi/Low as well – and maybe a few of the $1,500s. I'll probably play around 15 bracelet events, a few other tournaments, and a bit of PLO cash. All that and maybe a few nights out!

You're a self-proclaimed gambler – is Vegas a bit of a kid in a candy shop situation for you?

No, not really. I get no real kick out of table games, I'm more about sports betting and poker. I've had one or two run-ins with the table games and they haven't been pleasant, so I tend to leave them well alone. I love the nightclubs there, and I love the fact you can play a tournament there every day and have anywhere from a quarter of a million to a million for first. I just love Vegas. I love the climate, chilling out there, and being able to go out during the night and play golf during the day. So, in some ways yes, it is a bit of a kid in a candy shop type thing. But I stay away from table games!

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Is it difficult to stay disciplined with poker when there's so much cool stuff around?

Yeah, I try and avoid doing it too much. The problem is that one night in Vegas equates to about three normal nights. You might start drinking at 6, and not finish until 36 hours later – it can go on for a while! I try and leave it all to the end, but you have to crack a few times and go out. It's definitely one of the tougher things, managing going out and trying not to get too completely written off for like the next week. A night in Vegas doesn't end for a long time!

Irish players have had a decent amount of success recently. Do you think there's going to be a lot of Irish success at the Series?

I'm hoping so. There's like eight of us down in a house, there's Gavinator as well, he's number one and has had an unbelievable year. There's Rory Rees Brennan who final tabled the $10k PLO last year and has just crushed online. There's also four or five other lads staying in the house, so we're certainly hopeful. There hasn't been an Irish bracelet winner since Marty [Smyth] a few years ago, so maybe this'll be the year we bring one home!

If it's an Irish winner, that definitely demands an Irish celebration.

I remember a few years ago when Marty Smyth won the $10k PLO, I don't think I've ever seen the likes of it. There was about 50-60 Irish people on the rail, and about the same number of security guards trying to control us. If we do get an Irish winner you can expect a pretty wild night.

A couple of years ago at the Series you had a film crew following you around who were making a documentary about you, what was that like?

It was pretty cool. Unfortunately I did my absolute bollocks when they were following me! At the time, I'd started off the year well, then lost a lot of money in high stakes heads up games. But it was definitely a cool experience and something to look back on. I cashed in the Main Event, so it was cool that they saw that – I went deep and made Day 5 or Day 6, I can't remember, and made about fifty grand. But generally I've got to be fortunate in poker, and I've got to do a lot of different things. So having done a documentary, even though I lost a lot of money when they were following me, it was pretty cool – I got on a few talk shows in Ireland, and got to promote poker and BoyleSports.

Was there much pressure?

I suppose there was a little bit, but I didn't let it get to me too much. I was just doing my thing. Obviously I would've loved to have made the November Nine while having the cameras follow me, but I would've loved to have done that anyway! I just tried to be myself as much as I could, and wanted to do well for myself anyway.

You said that 2012 was a pretty bad year for you – how much exactly were you down?

I ended up losing like a million for the year I think. It's the way it goes sometimes. Every gambler probably has a year like that. It wasn't the most enjoyable thing in the world, but I learnt a lot from it. It was the first time I really went 'broke' as such in poker. But failure is definitely the key ingredient to success! I think that was my fifth year playing professionally, and I learnt more about myself and about the game in that year than I had done in the four years previous to that. I suppose it's just about taking the lessons for that year and moving forward. But at the time, everything just went wrong!

I think once I'd lost half a million I lost my head a bit. I started making mistakes and doing things I wouldn't normally have done. When the pressure comes on, you start making mistakes. The whole thing was a bit unfortunate, but I've recovered from it, and I'm a better man and better player now.

Are you able to deal with variance better nowadays?

Definitely. Even recently I had a slightly bad run, and you just learn to shut down a bit quicker. You can't try and fight it. If you're going to be a professional gambler, and want to last, then you have to accept when you lose money you might not get it back the next week or next month. If you take a month off and then come back, you're probably going to be much better placed to get it back; if you just keep going, you just do yourself more damage. There's no rush – there's always going to be people gambling, another poker game, and another tournament.

You're into sports betting – is that pretty high variance?

Yeah. Sports betting is still not as high variance as tournament poker, but there definitely are swings. You go on stretches where you lose maybe 20 bets in a row, or win 20 bets in a row. But whatever level of gambling you're into, there's going to be variance. There's a premium for taking on variance, though – if you're willing to face it head on, in the long run you'll end up better off.

How much time would you say you spend on sports betting compared to poker?

It really depends on the time of year. Over the course of a full year it'd probably be 60% sports betting, 40% poker. During the summer months, though, I'll do very little to no sports betting. The season has wound down. But from September to March it's nearly all sports betting, although I might play poker 1-2 nights a week.

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You used to be an accountant – does that seem like another life now?!

I was only an accountant for four months, and when I was in there I was gambling hard. I didn't do any work. I'd come in late, leave early, and do very little in between. But I did a few useful bits for it in college – I did a commerce degree, then went on and did a Masters in Accounting. I found that all very beneficial to my poker game, even just for accounting wins and losses and stuff like that. You need to run your poker career like a business. Planning, forecasting, and setting goals.

So, spending four months being an accountant wasn't really beneficial to my career as a poker player, but my education was. I even did my thesis on the regulation of online gambling, so that gave me a really good insight as to what I was going into. I'd done my homework, and knew there could be a future for me in it.

Can you imagine doing anything else?

If I didn't do this, I'd probably be in some form of financial trading. I could never be a bean-counter, an accountant, ever again. I knew before I'd even got in the door that it wasn't me. I wouldn't want to do anything else, but who knows – the game is always evolving, and one day it might move away from my particular skill set. You see so many old players who used to be good, and now they're not. Some people can adapt, and some people can't. Some guys go on forever, and some guys have three or four years and they're done.

I'm always conscious that the game will probably pass me by at some stage, and if that day ever comes I'll have to move on and do something else. Not out of choice, but I don't want to be one of those broke old guys, hanging around the casino and talking about the good old days!

Is it true that online poker is as hard as it's going to get?

It's hard to know. People said that a few years ago, and then it got harder still. There's still an edge, but the percentage is shrinking all the time. I find it hard to see it getting tougher, but who knows. At the moment, regarding your edge mathematically, you're probably talking single figures. I remember at one point I'd expect my edge to be 50-100% in some tournaments, but now it's only probably somewhere between 5-20%. The margins are closing, but back in the day it was pretty insane. 5-10% is probably what is sustainable in the long term. Poker is far from being a solved game.

Tags: John O'Shea, dagunman, interviews, Eve Goodman