Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Book Review: Swimming With The Devilfish

When I first heard word of this book, I got a horrible sinking feeling. My gut reaction, based purely on the title, was 'poker boom cash-in'.

As it happens, I needn't have worried. A glowing back-page testimonial from friend-of-the-author Anthony Holden set my mind at rest, and within a few pages I was hooked.

The title in itself is slightly misleading. This book is not purely about The Devilfish, though he does merit several chapters to himself. Which effectively comprise a concise biography of his life from larcenous teenage years through to his current luxurious lifestyle as a poker personality, as well as player.

Instead what the reader is treated to is a series of mini-biographies of many of the old timers from the UK and Ireland scene - who blazed a trail on Late Night Poker, and who are collectively labelled The Usual Suspects by the author.

Players such as Dave Colclough, Simon Trumper, Lucy Rokach, and The Hendon Mob are covered in detail.

Newer arrivals on the scene, such as Andrew Black and Paul Jackson, are also given their due.

It is one of the strengths of the book that each story is told predominantly in the words of the subject. The author, Des Wilson, spent a lot of time with the players and clearly gained their confidence.

The narrative thread which brings these biographies together is a history of the UK poker scene covering casino venues such as The Vic in London; the underground 'spielers', where poker really was played behind reinforced doors in run down buildings; and more recently the quasi-legal poker rooms such as Gutshot and The Western; and the online exploits of both old and new generations.

Wilson also examines the dark side of life on the poker circuit. The strange hours, bad eating habits, financial strains, and destructive effect on family life which the lifestyle can impose on the full-time pros.

He investigates the way some spieler games were built around a solitary 'star'. Not a great player, but a weak one. Usually a rich amateur on whom the pros feasted.

The biggest strength of this book is the honesty of the players to whom Wilson has gained access.

While they clearly love the game, they do not shirk from their woes - be they going broke, a compulsion to gamble winnings away on craps, or in some cases, brushes with the law which have led to jail time.

The difference between cash and tournament poker is explained, and the author offers his own thoughts on the future of the game - which you may, or may not, agree with.

This book is a great behind-the-scenes insight into the life of the pros. Less glamorous than one might expect, and laden with pitfalls.

Personally, I was amazed by the diabolical bankroll management skills some pros exhibit, but in awe of their ability to bounce back, and envious of their freewheeling approach to life.

There is, however, a note of caution for those who idealise the poker pro lifestyle, as several of the older players confess to having no financial planning in place for their retirement, and instead foresee their playing career extending well into their elderly years.

My one criticism would be on the production side.

While the book is well written, it would have benefited from a more scrupulous proof reading by someone who knew the poker scene well.

Several irritating mistakes on things such as the spelling of player names, and sudden switches between $ and £ signs disrupted my concentration on the narrative.

Still these are relatively trivial complaints. On the whole this is a compelling read, and a worthy addition to any poker library.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Time Flies...

...when you are enjoying yourself.

It feels almost surreal to recognise it's a year since I became a dad.

In that time our daughter has progressed from this...

to this...

to this...

She isn't walking yet, and she hasn't got any teeth, but my goodness she can crawl like a demon, and she eats better than some adults I know.

She also has a personality that isn't to be messed with! Much like her parents.

There have been plenty stressful moments over the last year, but Mrs Div and I wouldn't change it for anything. Nothing makes us happier than seeing our daughter happy.

Just writing that brings a tear to my eye.

Monday, June 26, 2006

How To Scramble Your Brains

Attempt to play simultaneous Pot Limit Omaha SNG.

One High/Low. One High only.

Much the same as trying to rub your tummy whilst patting your head.

Well, at least they weren't turbos!

Monday, June 19, 2006

I Think I'm On To Something...

...with my 'better to get killed in the little games and win the big ones' theory.

If it's running true, I should enter the Sunday night biggies this week, as I must have a karma stockpile larger than Everest by now.

Closes eyes, counts to ten, repeats mantra '85% means you still lose 15-in-a-hundred, 85% means you still lose 15-in-a-hundred, 85% means you still lose 15-in-a-hundred'

Seriously, it's all good fun. The only major hand I won tonight was when I got shortstacked and pushed into a reraise with 77. The guy insta-called with 99 and I hit my 7 to survive. So it's not all one way.

The daft thing is, I thought to myself, I'll play some micro games to get a few wins under my belt and build up my confidence before I play a bit higher, but I'm barely even cashing in the micros!

I'm not playing at 100%, but I'm playing well enough to beat people who open limp for 20% of their stack when the blinds are high, people whose play is so transparent I can name precisely what they are betting (the bare ace on a flush board into my made baby flush), people who have no strategic thought whatsoever.

All it needs is a few friendlier turn/river cards and all will be well again.

Recently I read an interview with Andy Black in which he cites discipline as the key attribute which made him a success in his early days.

Paraphrased he states that when you are playing lots of bad players, all you need to do is play solid, wait them out, and you will show a profit.

It's an approach I intuitively adopted when I first started playing, but then I got fancy move syndrome for a while.

Tonight I felt I was back to playing the basics well. Which is a good foundation to build on for the rest of fun month.

Hopefully I'll get some time at the weekend to take a shot at a few of the Stars 180 seaters. I like the look of them in terms of duration, buy-in, and scope for hitting a decent payday.

Famous last words!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Benefits of Blogging

This site isn't ever going to make me rich, but it does have some nice perks.

I've met some great people, had some fun nights out, enjoyed the writing challenge, and every so often there are additional benefits.

Like tonight's blogger tourney, which I completely forgot about until I read Mean Gene reporting he had been knocked out.

So I quickly logged in - 90 minutes late - and saw I still had 500 chips left, and had just been dealt 77 UTG. Err, all-in.

Called by 98s. Race. The Stars RNG saw fit to throw up another two sevens, and I was back in action.

Fifteen minutes later I'm flirting with an average chip stack. Miraculous.

Returning to the perks theme - Mrs Div was incredulous when I told her Full Tilt actually give me a few dollars each month for advertising - though it's probably more to do with page ranking than site visibility.

Nice to know her opinion of my blog is so high.

Another perk I recently discovered is free review copies.

Any poker books I've previously reviewed have been bought with my own money, so in the interests of balance I figure it's worth declaring my upcoming review of Swimming With The Devilfish will be courtesy of the publisher's PR machine.

Back to the tourney now. Unlike last year I've found a table where people actually chat. Having fun...

(Edit: Just busted out. How 65s can't beat KK I do not know!)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bollard Tilt

I was planning some NLHE fun last night, until I took a call from Mrs Div.

"You're going to hate me", she blurted through the tears.

She needn't have said any more. I already knew the rest.

Well, that's what car insurance is for I suppose. In truth the damage isn't too bad, and, as the old cliche goes, nobody got hurt.

A hefty dent in the passenger door courtesy of an unnoticed bollard shouldn't pose too many challenges for the body shop.

There was no way I was fit to play NLHE after that news. The insurance premium rise would have paled into insignificance alongside what I could easily have donked off given the chance.

Instead I did the sensible thing, and launched another invasion of Brazil.

After several failed strategies involving cunning pincer movements, air bombardments and naval blockades, I stumbled upon the best strategy for winning a jungle campaign.

Build loads of infantry and artillery and march straight in, blasting the hell out of everything that gets in your way.

Relentless, brutal, merciless. It felt good. Strangely therapeutic.

Net result for the evening, our nice shiny new car has acquired a dent, but I'm benign dictator of all South America. Not a bad result I suppose.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lucky Man

Tonight I'm babysitting/World Cup watching, whilst Mrs Div aka 'The Keeper' has a night out at Hamilton Park race course with her workmates.

Just who is the degenerate gambler in this household?

The first race was won at 10/1 by Outrageous Flirt. Given the propensity for the girls to bet on horses based on name, colours, attractiveness of stable lads, etc. I'm expecting some of them paid for their night out pretty quickly.

Last night the mundanity of the Brazil v Croatia game inspired me to fire up PokerStars for the first time in a while. I broke myself back in gently with a mighty $5 Hold Em SNG.

Which didn't last long, when my dominating Ace couldn't stand up to the chip leaders call of my re-raise and his A6 paired the six on the flop and sent me packing.

Such is life. It was just a bit of fun anyway.

It did however remind me of a conversation I recently had with Teacake, which touched on some of the luck v skill debates which have been ongoing within the blogosphere over the past few weeks.

He has been particularly unlucky in a few big situations recently - dominating Aces losing to kickers that pair, overpairs losing to baby pairs that make their sets, etc.

Which happens, and which isn't particularly unlucky when seen in the context of all the instances where they do hold up over time.

What IS unlucky is that it keeps happening in big situations - deep in online tourneys, or at live final tables, where losing a 3/1 shot can mean a difference of many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars.

The cards are blind to the situation, but the players aren't. As I said to him, it would be better to get killed in a $10 SNG and have the big hands hold up when it REALLY mattered.

For someone who plays only a single type of game, this isn't a consideration, but I'd guess almost everyone varies their games over time.

In my own case, I can generally be found playing anything from $5 SNG through $100 cash games online.

Seeing it from that perspective, I should probably class my minor accident last night as a 'good beat', since I'd rather it happened early in a $5 SNG than all-in pre-flop in one of my bigger buy-in cash games a la Greenstein v Farha. (Of course while Barry got done for over $350,000 losing a $300 pot would have more impact on me)

In keeping with my plan for the month of playing whatever the hell takes my fancy, I went from NLHE last night to PLO8 tonight.

I love watching people play PLO8 who have obviously transitioned from Hold Em without giving it a great deal of consideration.

The concept of a scoop, or drawing to the nuts, is entirely alien to most of them. Which makes for wild action in what should really be a pretty conservative game.

I always like to sit back for the first few orbits to spy the lie of the land, and pick out the guy who thinks reraising with 2s5h5s8c pre-flop out of position is a genius move.

Taking it seriously is a big no-no, but it is fun to play, and watch.

Which is at least part of the point of playing poker, is it not?

So tonight I'm enjoying myself. Embracing the good beats as long lost cousins, and revelling in the fact they don't actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

My Name Is Div...

...and I'm a gameaholic.

No poker all week. I physically didn't feel capable of playing on Monday or Tuesday due to lack of sleep and residual hangover pains. Showing my age with that statement for sure!

Instead I delved into a game I'd bought last year but never got into - Hearts of Iron II. By Wednesday I was hooked.

I've always been a sucker for strategy wargames. Which is probably reflected in my poker style. Fairly tight/aggressive, with the occasional creative move thrown in.

The patience which these games demands is certainly an attribute at the table.

On the downside, they are so damn time consuming, and I get so obsessive that time just flies by.

This week I've been playing as Argentina, and found myself in the situation where at a fairly late hour I say to myself 'I'll wrap up the conquest of Bolivia then head off to bed', only to have my lead troops storming across the Columbian border to the soundtrack of the dawn chorus outside my window.

Huh, where did the night go?

I can't motivate myself to get back to the tables until all of South America is mine. Which should be tomorrow night hopefully.

What a saddo!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Post Hangover

So Joe Speaker has been and gone. At least I'm hoping he's gone. I certainly haven't heard that he missed his flight!

This is his holiday, so I'll leave the full report to him, but I'm presuming his weekend notes go something along the lines:

Friday - travel, booze
Saturday - booze, poker, booze, girls
Sunday - football, booze, clubs, booze

I certainly had a blast, though my liver is feeling the pain.

Saturday night in particular was a real hoot. Other attendees including The Tank, and several of my other poker playing friends.

I didn't take many pictures, but here's a snapshot from my camera phone of two online MTT specialists battling it out in a £20 SNG.

Centre is Joe Speaker, and to his left, one of my oldest friends, and recent online winner, Teacake.

Special mention has to go to Mrs Div, who not only looked after the baby and gave me free rein for the entire weekend, but also sanctioned my attendance at some establishments of dubious moral provenance. Three cheers for my better half!

On the poker side, we dropped into The Cincinnati Club for a couple of hours, and got involved in a few satellites to the evening £10k guaranteed event.

In fact I only played one, which lasted an absolute eternity, through a combination of one very talkative drunk guy, and the short-stacks who wouldn't die.

So rare have been my live appearances this year that I felt like a total rookie again. The buzz of a semi-bluff check-raise on a very scary flop reminded me what I've been missing.

It felt even better when the semi-bluff got there on the turn and I raked a big pot when the villain's two-pair went down to my straight.

My chips then fell victim to the resilient short stacks. The rot starting when AK wasn't good enough to take down talkative drunk guy's AQ - all-in pre-flop.

Eventually I busted 5th. Which wasn't too upsetting, since the weekend was about socialising not poker - though the cash would have come in handy later.

Another member of the group, Rod Paradise, did somewhat better and scooped the £200 in the second satellite.

We won't be letting him forget his new nickname, coined by a visiting Californian - River Rod. Say no more!

I hope Joe Speaker enjoyed his trip to Scotland as much as I did. I'm hoping to catch up with him, and others, in Vegas later this year.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Speaker Has Landed

Interim trip report from Mr Speaker: "No cavity search"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

May Summary

Back in black. BACK IN BLACK.

Yes, I'm officially unstuck for the year, which means the online bankroll is now at a record high.

Given that I had hoped to win $6000 this year, that probably shouldn't be cause for great celebration, as I'm effectively almost back where I started with 5/12 of the year already gone, but it does feel good.

May saw me make a small but significant step forwards, as I finally faced up to the evidence of my bankroll, and recognised that I really should be playing $3/6 Limit Hold Em.

In fact, I'm actually bankrolled for $5/10 at a push, and I could certainly justify $4/8 - if there were more games available.

Yet for months, I've been stalling on making the move.

Two things gave me the spur I needed.

Firstly, my results started to turn around and my confidence returned. I found myself making more positional moves against the *right* opponents, and making good folds on the flop/turn based on my feel for the game.

Secondly, Iggy posted a link to a great article on the cost of the rake.

This made me realise the longer I scratched around at $2/4 and $1/2, the more I was punishing myself whilst lining the pockets of mysterious billionaires.

So from now on $3/6 is my preferred game. If I can't find a good game at that level, I'll still make use of the $2/4 tables as a fallback, but only when necessary.

So far I haven't seen any real difference in the standard of play. There's a warm fuzzy feeling - familiar only to poker players - which comes from sitting at a nine handed table and seeing five fish icons spread around the virtual felt.

The bets do feel more meaningful, but the beats haven't felt any worse.

Conversely the wins DO feel better. I was beginning to get quite blase about raking in pots at $1/2 and $2/4. They just didn't feel significant in the grand scheme of things.

I've pulled in a couple of $3/6 pots that have felt VERY nice indeed.

Moving up limits was one of my goals for 2006. Another of my goals was to meet more bloggers, which I'll be doing this weekend. Not only is Joe Speaker coming to town, but I think Matt Milne might be around too.

Those faithful few readers who follow me will know that another goal this year was to play more poker variants, which I've done by focusing on one variant on a month-by-month basis.

I'm taking a break from that in June, which I'm officially designating as 'poker is fun' month.

This month I'm going to play whatever the hell I feel like. Whether it be a NLH cash, PLO8 SNG, Stud MTT, whatever.

I might even take a few shots at satelliting into bigger events, where time constraints allow.

I'm back, and it feels good!