November 28, 2013

1 millllllion VPPs & My biggest ever downswing

Last week I passed the one million mark of VPPs earned since I began playing on PokerStars. Although there is no tangible reward, aside from my lobby and VPP count sporting the 1 million Hall of Fame badge (booooommmm), it's kind of a cool milestone to reach.

The good sports at PokerStars support provided me with a lifetime audit so I could work out a yearly breakdown of VPPs:

Reaching this milestone would have felt rather underwhelming had I not recently managed to dig myself out of my largest ever downswing (or at least after my high stakes cash game days pre-2008). It has been quite the most extreme ride on the variance rollercoaster over the last 2 months.

It all started after I binked a $109 turbo on the 4th of October. I have been doing particularly crap in $109 turbos all year, and this was my first outright win since January. Consequently I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I even made a couple of frivolous purchases; something I rarely do just because I happen to have experienced some positive variance. Little did I know I was about to be brutally punished for this. I went on an absolute death run in everything.

Those of you that have followed my blog (when I used to update much more regularly!) will know that I am generally somewhat of a variance nit. I was always pretty proud that my Sharkscope graph never shows me going on more than a $10k downswing. Still, I've taken a few swings that felt kind of rough before. Actually in October 2012 I grinded through a $7k downswing and wrote a small article about mental fortitude and such (see here). In late 2011, I asked Father Christmas for my sick graph back after a long break-even stretch, featuring a 200 buy-in downswing in $60 18-mans (see here). I've never experienced anything quite like this, though.

Perhaps I have been particularly fortuitous in my poker career to have avoided such a death run until now. I can't deny I have had the odd particularly lucky bink (Winning the Sunday Supersonic was ridiculous, so was my 3rd place in the Monte Carlo although it was kind of due but that's a difficult claim to make when it comes to live poker tournaments), but when you go on a death run, any previous fortune is quickly forgotten.

Epitomised life-time graph on PokerStars

Whenever I encounter someone who questions my job, or the ability to support my kids via gambling (a fairly common occurrence when speaking to those who know little about poker), I tend to throw them the statistic that I hadn't had a losing month in 4 years. I suppose I was technically stretching the truth, as I did actually have a losing month in February 2012. However I only played 500 games that month because my daughter was born then. Other than that though, it was true.

Monthly Profit Chart (does not factor in rakeback)

Well October changed all that. I sat down at my computer and just started losing. For the first few sessions it was a bit annoying (as anything other than winning tends to be!) but it was standard and to be expected. But then it kept happening. Repeatedly. Not just losing but on a complete free fall where I couldn't win anything. The more it went on, the more I struggled to believe it was possible to run quite so bad. We've all talked about the mythical "doom-switch", well I was starting to become a believer in its existence. Had someone at PokerStars read my petulant comments aimed at the  PokerStars SNG rep on 2+2 and pushed the button on me??

It's a common theme amongst recreational players to say that sites are "rigged". You see it all the time. The "Poker is rigged, collected threads edition" on 2+2 has 60,000+ posts and 2.5 million+ views. Obviously this is a completely ridiculous notion, and it's difficult to show anything but complete contempt for people that say anything like this. However, I got a glimpse into the mind of someone that does think like this last month. What I mean by that is, I am extremely well educated in variance, I have been a professional poker player for ~6 years, I've played more than 80,000 SNGs/tournaments. I've seen it all. Yet I ran so bad in October that I was seriously beginning to wonder whether there was some kind of virus on my computer or something! If a fish was to run anywhere near as bad as me over a short space of time (which is more likely assuming they are playing much worse than me...well, probably!), I can see where this unreasonable train of thought might arise.

$25k for the games I was playing was pretty ridiculous, with an average buy-in around the $35 mark. I wasn't doing anything too much different than I had for the previous couple of years. I guess the only thing which did change was I really went for it on each Sunday. Under the guise of working harder to try and grind through the downswing, I think I was looking for the easy way out. Just a quick-fix Sunday bink to get out of it.

Unfortunately Sundays went disastrously, and were pretty soul destroying. I kept getting to 2 or 3 tables out in huge fields where there were big prizes on the final tables, but I diddn't quite get there.

Sunday November 3rd seemed to be no exception. Except this time I was blanking everything. I had just a handful of tables left, and it wasn't looking good. My cashier balance was $25k down on what it had been just a month earlier, and I was psychologically preparing myself for a drop in stakes, and heading to Grindsville Central for the rest of the year.

Epitomised 2013 PokerStars graph
After a month of running like death, I finally had a turnaround in fortune, and managed to run really well in the $109 Cubed Turbo (not a tournament I recall playing before. I played it as a squared, but still, I wouldn't recommend flicking this one in, the field is ridic) which was one of the few tables I had left. Something strange was happening, I was winning showdowns, left right and centre. Even a couple where I got it in kind of bad! I could easily have finished 7th for $4k when I jammed A9 into tens, but I caught a miracle A on the river, which inevitably led to me finishing 3rd for $13k.

Although it only dug me out of half of my downswing, that bink was pretty damn good for morale, and was definitely a huge turning point for me. I had got to the point where I didn't feel like I could win anymore, and I certainly missed that feeling. That bink made me feel like I might actually win again. Although I'm sure that feeling doesn't help you actually win, coincidentally this time around I actually did start winning again. I'm not sure 'momentum' is really a thing in poker, but I seemed to have it, and November has ended up being really kind to me, and I dug my way out of my worst downswing ever.

Normally two months of breaking even would feel prettttty shitty. On this occasion though, I'll definitely take it. It actually feels like a pretty good achievement grinding out of such a hole. I definitely feel like I have learnt a lot from the experience. I think in the future I will be even more battle hardened against variance. I also learnt the perils of shot taking, something I tended to avoid most of the time, so I think I'll go back to being a more careful in this regard.

My online results this year haven't been all that spectacular, obviously this 2 month blip hasn't exactly helped, so I'm hoping I can end the year on a high note in December.

Win Coaching
Just quickly, on another note, I will be donating a couple of hours of my time along with a bunch of other UK Pros to raise money for the charity Crisis. It's £21.84 to enter the draw (which is the cost to give a place to a homeless person in a Crisis centre over Christmas) to win a couple of hours coaching with one of us. If you are interested, check out thread here:

May 14, 2013

Monte Carlo

I have yet to blog about my 3rd place finish in the Dusk Till Dawn Monte Carlo tournament in April for £45k, which is the biggest result of my poker career. Given that the big tournaments at DTD are my only real chance to play live poker without being away from my kids (it's only a 50 minute drive away), I tend to play the bigger tournaments there when I can. Having said that I was taking a bit of a shot buying in direct and not selling any action given that it was a £1,000+£100 buy-in. I also dropped $3k in my online games immediately prior to it, so it really felt like taking a shot, and given that I'm quite a huge nit, I could easily have decided not to play.

However, I did. I played the first live Day One, and bust out to John Eames in a standard rejam spot after getting short somewhere in level 7 or 8 or so. So that was Game Over. Except that there was a satellite for the second Day One (re-entry was allowed), where late registration was just about still open as I bust. There was some overlay in the satellite, so being the grinder I am I sought out the small amount of value there was in playing, despite the dejection from busting out and that inevitable feeling of just wanting to "go home" that I tend to get when busting a big live tournament. Fortunately I ran like God in the satellite and won a seat. I would have never re-entered the tournament if it wasn't for this!

It didn't look like my second shot was going to go much better. I was down to a 10k stack from 30k starting stack on the first day. Somehow though, I avoided an all-in showdown for the whole day, and grinded my way back to 50k. I really don't know how I went through so much of the tournament without being all-in and called. My only single all-in confrontation until Day Three was a double through AIPF with AKs vs QQ at the beginning of Day Two.

I played pretty solid without getting too out of line, at least as far as I recall. I do remember making a six bet shove with AQ from the button versus the big blind where I felt pretty sure he didn't have it, and he snap folded. I didn't get much going my way towards the end of Day Two and ended up coming back 25th/30 and about 18 big blinds.

I travelled back to Dusk Till Dawn fully expecting to bust out in a short space of time, as I have done many times in the past. This time, though, I went into full on God Mode. When we merged into 3 tables I made a standard cut-off jam with J9s for 16bbs or so (antes were in play of course). In a spot of irony John Eames woke up on the button with Pocket Tens and was ready to bust me for the second time, but I managed to spike a Jack. 

I then (quite literally) went on to bust a couple of Fish. First, I bust the legendary Devilfish when he squeeze jammed the big blind after I had opened with 99. It was a pretty close spot, but I went with it. He had AK and I just boomed a door card 9, and had him dead on the flop. I then went on to bust local legend 'Rastafish', who had previously won this event. I 3-bet his cut-off open from the big blind with JJ, and he jammed over a c-bet on a 246 rainbow board with A7os. Rastafish has a reputation for running rather well, so I was somewhat relieved to hold there, even with ~85% equity!

I think it was the next orbit of the table where I opened the cut-off with Pocket Fours, and had John jam on me again for about 12bbs. I made the sigh call, and he tabled Pocket Sevens. I somehow got there again and bust out John in brutal fashion.

Now with chips, I sort of cruised through to the final table bubble, picking my spots with a decent chip stack to utilise. I then made a fairly standard rejam with 66 with 10 left, and managed to run into Aces. Nevermind though, a miraculous 6 on the board gave me the chip-lead going into the final table.

The final table was really tough, with 4 heroes (Kevin Allen, Richard Trigg, Ben Jenkins and Jamie Rutherford), and everyone else was pretty decent as well. I wasn't overly pleased with how it went, basically because I kept giving chips to Kevin Allen, who went on to win. On 3 separate occasions I called him down 3 streets and he just had me by the conkers each time. In each case I could have folded the river, as my hands essentially shrivelled up into bluff catchers. But he was opening so wide, virtually ATC at times, it felt so difficult for him to have the top of his range each time, but I guess I may have made a misjudgement about his 3 barrelling tendencies vs me.

Thankfully, to offset this, I was fortunate enough to run really well with the cards I was dealt preflop, I got in A9s > Q8s to bust 9th place. I picked up KK in a spot where I could have been abusing my chip position, and was able to 7-bet jam vs Trigg and pick up a bunch of chips. I also cold 4-bet AK and made Allen, who had opened, fold AK.

My luck sort of died out 4-handed. Trigg doubled through Allen with ATs vs KK, where if he bust in 4th it would have enabled me to come 2nd really often as the other guy (Rutherford) was short. Also a bit of a misunderstanding occurred at a bad time. A few minutes after my 3rd aforementioned 3-street call down of Allen, I was heckled by a DTD reg that I had played with a couple of times. What I heard him say was; "How could you call down there with Q9-off". This is the hand I was holding in the hand, and I assume he had seen the live feed. This was about the most brutal thing he could have said at that very point in time, and I had a pretty major rant at him from the table, and was pretty steamed. However it turns out that he couldn't possibly have known this, as my cards on this hand didn't show up in the feed. I saw him a few weeks later and did my best to offer an apology and explain what I thought he had said. It turns out he had said "How could you play Q5" or something similar, where he was jokingly referring to a completely insignificant hand in a different tournament he'd played with me where he though I'd played Q5 questionably. Oops :-/

I guess it didn't really affect things as I bust in a standard spot a few hands later, where I raise/called off about 20bbs with 55 3-handed. I couldn't hold vs Trigg's KJs and I was gg'd.

After I bust out, I was completely mentally exhausted. I'm not sure if it was the feed, the high pressure situation of so much money being at stake, or the quality of the final table, but I was completely knackered and almost in a trance.

As is generally the case with poker tournaments, especially those you go deep in, I was pretty disappointed not to win. I certainly had a very decent chance of it, and it sucks that a couple of questionable decisions I made perhaps restricted my chances. With the payout jumps being so massive (£120k, £70k, £45k) it's hard not to think about what might have been. On the other hand, I played great poker for 3 days and ran the hottest I ever have in a live tournament, and had my biggest ever pay day, so I can't really be too disappointed.

The live feed was uploaded onto YouTube if you're interested, but it's bloody long! (I join somewhere at the 2:12:00 mark, and it's 9 hours long in total!)

March 26, 2013

Overdue (but brief!) update...

I'm very aware that it's been a long time since I've posted, but I'm managing to finally update when I'm really short on time, as I'm about to take the wife and kids to Disneyland Paris for a few days, so I'm going to have to be brief  (I realise I could have posted sooner when I had more time, but this is pretty in keeping with my reputation to leave everything until the last minute).

Year so far...

I'm doing decent overall this year, but it could certainly be going much better. Unfortunately I'm also getting absolutely pummelled in >$80 buy-in games, down a whopping $11.5k for the year. I actually didn't know it was quite that much until I just looked it up. Ouch. That's a result of not doing well in my $109 Turbos, the hypers I've played, and I've taken a couple of Sunday shots that went rather badly.

Also, my finish distribution in scheduled tournaments this year absolutely sucks, which isn't helping at all.
PokerStars scheduled tournaments 2013
 It's a wonder then that my 2013 graph actually looks pretty reasonable, a break-even February aside:

PokerStars rep vote

Back in October I entered a vote to become a player representative at PokerStars meetings on the Isle of Man and bubbled. I'm giving it another shot for the April 2013 meetings. Voting is open now on 2+2, and I would really appreciate any votes. I think I'd be a great person to represent SNGs and MTTs.

Vote here:

My first 10k

I'll be entering my first 10km race, the Lincoln 10k (conveniently located where I live), on April 7th. I have run 10km a couple of times in my training which is a great milestone to pass, and I'm really looking forward to my first race. I haven't sorted out sponsorship just yet, but I'm sure I will when I get back from Disneyland.

That's all I've got time for! I'll try and get back to updating more often (and in more detail!). GL at the tables!