Mad For The Live Grind
Monday, 26 January 2015
Dara O'K's eventful trip to Manchester.
The most beautiful word in the English language, at least if you’re a tournament poker player, has to be ‘overlay’. The word in the air as I flew over to ‘Madchester’ for the first Paddy Power event outside Ireland was that added money was almost guaranteed due to its proximity to a number of other live events.
I flew with one of the most amiable characters you could wish to meet in Peter Campbell, who, since the sad death of Liam Flood, may well be filling the vacancy of ‘Gentleman of Irish Poker’. Ciaran Cooney (head honcho at Irish Poker Rankings) was waiting for us at the airport, joking that I shouldn’t be there but rather back home in Ireland chasing rankings points as I currently sat second on their leaderboard…where I’ve finished for three of the last four years. No prizes for second, but as I argued, why should I change?
The hardest part of switching between playing online and live is the time shift involved. At home I rarely start playing online before 5.00pm or get to bed before 6.00am. My early morning flight to Manchester was on zero sleep, but there were two Day 1 flights. However, arriving at the hotel exhausted at 11.00am, and having spent three of the last twenty-four hours completing an eighteen-mile run, playing the first flight at midday didn’t seem sensible. My plan to get a few hours kip and play the 8.00pm flight might have been scuppered by the hotel insisting that I couldn’t check in until 2.00pm. However as I was looking down the barrel of a few hours of zombified lobby-loitering, tournament photographer and all-round legend Danny Maxwell appeared as if by magic and lent me his room for a few hours.
My only previous events in Manchester were a GUKPT and a UKIPT in the Grosvenor Casino, so I was pleasantly surprised by how sophisticated and central (translation – enjoyably far away from Strangeways Prison) the Manchester235 Casino was located. As I walked in, Padraig Parkinson was walking out. He had just busted the first flight, but was nevertheless in fine fettle.
Paddy Power had done a great job decorating the poker room with an Alice in Wonderland theme, all of which helped to contribute to the friendliest and most fun atmosphere I’ve ever encountered at a live UK poker event. Unluckily for Paddy (or rather luckily for the players) the anticipated overlay did materialise, but from talking to Paddy’s Patrick Thornton at the break, they seemed happy to take it on the chin. In times when other online sites seem to be cutting corners wherever they can, it’s not unknown for organisers to bend the rules in running to avoid an overlay. Fair play to Paddy then, for honouring the extra money without a second thought.
The only thing that went wrong in the tournament was the poker! With the starting stack a generous 30,000 chips, I managed to lose over 20,000 of it in the early levels. If it was a UKIPT, I’d already have been out the door. A significant chunk of those chips disappeared in one big pot to an aggressive American to my immediate right. From the table chat, I gathered that he was known to most of the English players at my table, and had played all the bigger events at the recent WPT Nottingham. He was playing almost every hand, so I couldn’t just wait for a big hand before getting involved. I lost chips after he check-raised me in two pots on the turn. But then I finally found a hand, [As-Ks] under the gun. It was the American’s big blind and I was not anticipating a fold, so I raised bigger than I would normally, to 525 at 100/200. A loose-passive player called on the button, and the American pumped it up to 1,900. I elected to call, and after the button folded, the flop came down Q-6-6 with two spades.
To my surprise, he checked, setting off alarm bells in my brain. Queens, really? I postponed my aggression until the turn and checked behind. Next came the four of spades and my opponent checked again. With the nut flush now made, it seemed like high time to bet, but I was still a bit suspicious, so I bet less than a third of pot. My opponent now clicked it back, and the alarm bells grew louder. However, getting odds of five to one on the call, against an opponent who had already pulled this move twice successfully, I couldn’t really just fold, so I called again to re-evaluate on the river.
That river was a fourth spade, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing if my opponent bombed into me. Thankfully, he checked, and after rejecting a value bet on the grounds that the best hand he could have that might call was jacks with the jack of spades, I checked behind. He rolled over queens for the flopped house and I was relieved to have escaped so lightly.
“I guess you have too much information on me!” The American chimed, smiling ruefully. I assumed he meant from the fact he had played almost every hand to date.
“You do like your check raises!” I said, but at the break I found out that my neighbour was none other than Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi, who I had not recognized, probably due to jet lag, possibly senility.
Things went from bad to worse for me as I found no good cards or spots and drifted, and after going all the way to Manchester, I was determined to go down fighting. My patience was rewarded when I shoved pocket eights over the top of an opening bet from a loose-aggressive player in early position and a flat call by both a loose-passive player in late position and Mizrachi on the button. My eighteen big blinds were doubled when Mizrachi called for value with 6-2 off-suit.
“I have a really bad hand. Show me ace-king or ace-queen”. It was my turn to smile. A two on the turn made things slightly sweaty, but my eights held to put me back in the game.
The table broke shortly afterwards and my new table featured Chino Rheem, who was doing a decent impression of The Grinder by playing every hand, and Coronation Street’s Qasim Akhtar. I recovered to sitting comfortably over average by close of play, which, given the first few hours of misery, felt like a real result.
Having recently broken my duck of never having cashed a Paddy Power live event when I finished fourth in the Spooktacular in Dublin, I went into Day 2 optimistic of another deep run. Sadly, I trod water for a few hours with no help from the deck and lost my first all-in to bust. The highlight of the day was renewing acquaintances with my Mancunian friend Asif Warris, one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve met through poker. He doesn’t even hold it against me that I dogged him out of an EPT Deauville package heads-up when we first met. He busted just before me, and gave me his personally guided tour of Manchester at night, taking in a wonderful Pakistani restaurant and shisha bar. Asif was such good company that the night flew by and before I knew it, I was heading to the airport for my flight home.
No cash for me, but kudos to Paddy Power and the Manchester235 for the most fun event I’ve played in a long time.