Sunday, April 29, 2007
Weekend over, brother successfully married off, and chugging away at average chips in the Mansion $100k guaranteed, so time to do a quick catch up on that Liverpool weekend.
To catch up on the full weekend in detail would probably be more worthy of a Truckin episode than a blog post.
Friday was unmitigated drunkenness, both on the trip down, and once arrived in the city. I stayed sober for the first part, since my job was to do the organising and planning.
Once in Liverpool and ensconced in the first pub, I rapidly caught up, courtesy of double JD and coke chasers.
The whole night became a blur, though I can vaguely recall noting that my suitcase had been disturbed, before collapsing into bed at around 4am. It was only next morning, in a severely befuddled and hungover state, that it dawned on us that our apartment had been visited by a sneak thief.
We were now minus a couple of iPods, mobile phones, some cash, clothes, and other sundries.
Extremely pissed off as we were, it didn't stop us heading off to the Tranmere v Scunthorpe game. English football is very branding/marketing driven, which means that the English League One is really their League Three - the more senior two being labelled The Premiership and The Championship.
Consequently I wasn't expecting great football, even though Scunthorpe were league leaders and champions elect.
Sure enough the ball must have been black and blue by the end of 90 minutes, as Scunthorpe ran out deserved 2-0 winners.
What amazed the Scottish contingent among our party was the amazingly lax policing of the game. Despite the party atmosphere, there was an element in the Scunthorpe support who were clearly bent on trouble.
The hardcore probably amounted to no more than about 15 'casuals', with their numbers swelled by hangers on, or less organised neds.
In Scotland any trouble in grounds is swiftly dealt with. Indeed disorder within the grounds is now almost non-existent.
Conversely at Tranmere there were numerous incidents in the first half that saw punches traded between stewards and fans, with the police response ineffective and generally confined to dragging a few miscreants to the nearest exit and chucking them out.
Still I wasn't too fussed as I waited outside the ground after the game, chatting to Joe, whilst we awaited the arrival of the rest of the group. Directly to my right was a police CCTV unit, a couple of mounties were nearby, as well as about a dozen uniformed police on foot spread over about 80 metres of the street.
My relaxed attitude changed, as totally out-of-the-blue I was knocked sideways by a blow square on the jaw.
wtf!? reeling from the shock I tried to get my guard up, expecting more punches to follow, but after a few seconds I realised the action was already over though I had no idea who had punched me.
Joe was staring in amazement. One of the guys we'd seen being chucked out of the game had smacked me on the jaw as he walked past. I hadn't seen him coming, and I had no idea where he'd gone.
With so many cops around I was expecting an immediate reaction, but they all seemed to have been struck blind, and the attacker and his mates had already disappeared into the small crowd around the supporter buses.
Still, I was fuming, and stomped over to one of the uniforms on foot patrol. The conversation went something along the lines:
'One of those idiots just walked up to me and smacked me in the face. What you gonna do about it?'
'Would you like to make a complaint sir?'
'Get him fuckin arrested!'
Which is how Joe and I found ourselves accompanying a couple of cops to the entrance of a Scunthorpe supporters bus, to pick out the guy who attacked me.
A few of the guys on the bus were giving us verbals, making crybaby gestures etc. and one guy was leaning off the bus and calling me a 'grass'. I wasn't for holding back and was giving plenty in return along the lines 'Does he think he's a hard man, sneaking up on someone and hitting them when they aren't even looking? Is that all he's got. He not even a good hooligan, he couldn't even knock me down. He's got nothing.'
About now it started to get comical. Everyone we spoke to was obviously a bit bamboozled by my Glaswegian accent, and from the look on his face Mr Grass clearly hadn't expected to get back more than he was giving on the verbals front, and certainly not from a Billy Connolly soundalike.
The local police obviously weren't expecting it either, and quickly ushered us away from the bus, but not before we'd pointed out the guy to the cops.
At this point there was quite a delay while a fairly young copper took a statement from me. It soon became apparent that the local police were not willing to make a stand.
The young cop - who had the decency to at least seem embarrassed by the ineptitude of the operation - explained the inspector in charge of policing wasn't willing to commit enough bodies to ferret the guy off the bus.
The other guys on board wouldn't co-operate and they didn't have the manpower to do it by force. So, we've got a crime, a witness, a suspect, but no will to arrest and prosecute.
I was mightily pissed off, and went off on one about how useless their tactics were. What's the point of being there if they can't maintain order, and can't arrest those who cause disorder, etc..
The cop seemed genuinely apologetic, and even mentioned they were short of cell space so even if they arrested him, they'd have nowhere to put him.
'Well, I suppose sending him back to Scunthorpe is punishment in itself', I responded.
Once I'd calmed down a bit, I was ready to head off alongside my brother and a few of the other guys from our group who'd appeared by now.
At which point I noticed the guys on the bus were watching, and there was some jeering and sarcastic waving going on.
Ding! I stomped over to the bus, and could see the assailant about 2/3 of the way back. The rest of his crew had opened the emergency door and were shouting abuse through the half opened exit.
If only there'd been a tape running at this point! I pointed at the attacker then pointed at my jaw. 'Is that all you've got? Get down here and try again!'
He went, as we say in Scotland, mental. Eyes bulging, nostrils flaring, trying to hurl himself at me as I stood beneath the door of the bus. His mates holding him back, whilst themselves frenziedly hurling abuse back at me. My brother mentioned later that they looked coked up to him.
I couldn't make out a word they were saying but the general sentiment was clear. From the corner of my eye I noticed a copper closing in on me. 'Get your CS gas ready', I told him, before returning to the serious business of giving the guys on the bus, and the one in particular, pelters. 'wankers, fucking morons, scum, etc...'
They were incandescent, like a baying pack of hounds, but none of them was willing to get off the bus. Which was maybe just as well for my general welfare, but in the heat of the moment I'd totally flipped and was ready for anything.
The local coppers were aghast, and eventually under threat of arrest I was ushered away by my brother and shoved into a taxi back to town.
The whole confrontation at the bus door probably lasted about 50 to 60 seconds maximum, but I was laughing about it for the rest of the weekend, and still am now.
These guys like to act the part, but in reality they are nothing. Hitting people without warning is hardly iron man stuff - to me, it's on a par with mugging old ladies - and when someone flips and squares up to them they are all piss-and-wind.
Not much else to add about the weekend, except to mention a bizarre occurrence on the way home.
The train had a 50 minute stop scheduled at Preston, which fortuitously coincided with the kick off time for the Kilmarnock v Celtic game. Someone suggested we might be able to find a pub with Setanta Sports, so we could watch part of the game.
Rather surreally, the first pub we found in Preston turned out to be a Celtic bar. Complete with hooped drinkers, Henrik Larsson and Pat Bonner posters on the wall, and a Wolfe Tones concert advertised for the next week.
So it was that we got to see the first half of the game where Celtic formally - and belatedly - clinched the SPL, albeit the league has effectively been over for months.
Then it back to the train, where we were soon joined by a grungy student girl and her vile dog, which stank out the carriage for the remainder of the journey home.
If we weren't in such a good mood - having drained the onboard beer supplies as news of the late winner at Kilmarnock arrived - I might have been tempted to have a word, but decided to let it pass.
Partly because of my mood, and partly because I was at a loss for what to say. Somehow 'gonnae stop your dog farting' just didn't sound like a realistic request.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
I wish I had more time to fully write up the trip report from the weekend, but festivities, speech writing, and work are all getting in the way.
It was like one long pilot for a very dark comedy. Think Very Bad Things meets The Football Factory.
For now, the executive summary:
Friday:- drunkest train journey ever
- night on the town
- burgled by Scousers (iPods, phones, cash, etc. stolen)
Saturday:- crap football
- attacked by a Scunthorpe casual (slightly puffy jaw sustained)
- night on the town
- the Scousers try again
Sunday:- slow train to Glasgow
- worlds most flatulent dog
- more football casuals
On the plus side, I've won four entries to the Mansion $100k guaranteed courtesy of BlondePoker. Currently trying to edge my way towards that juicy $24k first prize, though just had an accident with AQ on a Q high flop.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Not much pokering time this week.
Just enough to run into a succession of flush chasing monkeys, and 3/1 semi-beats on Everest which have got me down a few buy-ins for the month to date.
I'd been staging a pretty good recovery too, but it's a fact of life that one disappointing outdraw, with all the chips in the middle, can make the difference between a pleasing win and a hurtful loss when each session only lasts an hour or two.
Reasons for the poker go slow are two-fold. On the one hand I've been doing some redecorating at home, after which I hope there will be a long wait before any more work is desirable or necessary.
On the other hand, my brother gets married next week and has just returned from living abroad, so there's been some catching up to do.
We are off to Liverpool for the 'stag do' tomorrow. One of the bars on the itinerary is, I'm informed, a regular hang out for the Hollyoaks girls. Should be fun.
'I'm a married spud, I'm a married spud...'
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The May election campaign in Scotland is well underway, and the polls are pointing to an uncomfortable time for the ruling Labour Party.
The suggestion is the Scottish National Party – proponents of independence for Scotland and the break-up of the United Kingdom - are on course for victory.
Not the outcome Labour had in mind when they introduced devolution after Tony Blair's first election victory.
With the campaign in full swing, the papers are full of predictions of what an SNP win would mean - ranging from the optimistic to the alarmist, as might be expected in a partisan campaign.
The truth is, I suspect, it doesn't much matter who wins the election. Nor does it matter who wins the impending Labour leadership campaign, nor the next UK election.
I've come to the conclusion that no politician, or political party, has the capacity to impose any meaningful good or harm on the electorate or the economy any more.
Such are the timescales for change, and so great the mechanisms in place to restrict the rate of change, that any political movement is a spent force long before any significant impact of their policies can be felt.
An excellent example of this comes from the world of transport. I am writing whilst travelling northwards on an ageing GNER 125 train, a model first introduced in 1976 – during the last Labour administration - and still in full service.
On arriving at Glasgow Central, the train will terminate – unable to travel further due to a missing link in the Scottish transport network – Glasgow Crossrail – which has been mooted for over ten years, still awaits approval, and probably won't be completed for another five years at least.
Similarly, should I wish to drive around the outskirts of Glasgow, I'd be unable to complete the circuit on motorway alone, since the 'missing link' – the final phase of the M74 – is once again mired in bureaucratic delays caused by endless legal challenges.
The projects are not flights of fancy, but core elements of the Scottish transport infrastructure.
The lifespan of these projects eclipses the lifecycle of any political movement – whether it be the Thatcher or Blair years.
Compare and contrast the fortunes of UK (or Scotland) plc with that of recent UK commercial success stories such as Tesco, Royal Bank Of Scotland, or the recovering Marks & Spencers, and it's clear that big organisations benefit from clear and decisive leadership where freedom of action is paramount for the success of the executive team.
Governments no longer have that freedom of action. Much as Tony Blair may be condemned for his Presidential style, he doesn't have the clout to force through change – whether good or bad – at a rate rapid enough to induce transformative changes on the course of the nation.
There are back benchers, pressure groups, unions, and lobbyists, all with sufficient clout to wield legal challenges and other tactics with enough vigour to bring the most radical ideas to a grinding halt within a morass of legal, financial, and administrative restrictions.
The planning system in particular slows progress to a grinding crawl.
Even if the SNP do win the Scottish election, and the inevitable independence referendum that would follow, the likelihood is Independent Scotland would simply inherit many of the legal and administrative mechanisms of the UK.
British civil servants would become Scottish civil servants, the judges would remain the same, the laws may change over time but would be founded on the same framework upon which UK law was built.
All of which lends the entire exercise an air of fruitlessness and wishful thinking.
For any change to be a success would require the sort of extreme surgery that veers so far from the accepted democratic norm it simply would be unthinkable for any mainstream politician.
What is needed is a root-and-branch reform of the entire political, legal, and administrative systems,
A wiping of the slate and rebuilding from the very foundations of the nation. The introduction of a political system where those chosen to govern were empowered to govern with the same powers of decision making and speed of implementation that a modern Chief Executive wields over their organisation.
Furthermore they should be given a mandate to govern not for four or five years, but for a minimum of ten. Enough time to make a genuine difference.
All of which may be music to the ears of Jack McConnell or Alex Salmond, but they are not the sort of people I have in mind for the post of First Minister, Prime Minister, President, or whichever other term would be chosen for the political head of an independent Scotland.
Instead, I'd want to see someone with the proven acumen to run a huge organisation successfully and innovatively. A Fred Goodwin, Terry Leahy, or Tom Farmer – given a framework to operate within and incentivised by clearly defined economic targets.
Take for example national Gross Domestic Product. The trend rate is about 2.0%. Why not a £1m bonus for each tenth of one percent the GDP exceeds trend by during each of their years in office?
Sure they would earn enormous amounts over their term should they beat the target by any meaningful margin, but the rewards for the nation would be dramatically in excess of their bonus, and spread throughout the land.
A good chief executive knows when to make decisions, and when to delegate them. The running of the major departments such as health, education, and policing would be delegated to professionals with the appropriate expertise, bought in from wherever necessary.
All of which sounds, I'm sure, more than a little fanciful, perhaps even delusional.
'So what?', I say. Years of mundane leadership, and mediocre thinking have dug us into a pit from which there appears little hope of escape at present. I find myself agreeing with David Blunkett when he says the world we live in is sinking under the weight of its own vomit.
Is what we have now the best we can genuinely aspire to? Is there not a better path to be followed?
What I'm proposing would be seen by some as dangerously close to an elected dictatorship, but in some ways that's just what is needed.
Politicians have an overwhelming imperative to get re-elected. When the initial medicine tastes bad, and the public patient baulks at the treatment, they lose the will to persevere with the full course.
Tough love isn't on their agenda; winning votes is.
A longer term, more empowered leadership would be able to force through initially unpopular policies with longer term beneficial effects. It could be bolder, more decisive, and unafraid of short term electoral demands.
Alas, I don't expect any of this to come to pass. Which means for now all I can do it continue to make the most of my own lot.
For now that means persevering with my own life plans to enable my family and I to set our own course outwith the traditional career and financial milestones.
At the moment I'm happy that I'm doing a pretty decent job of that, but it doesn't stop me wishing the country as a whole could step up a gear and improve the quality of the society we live in.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
I'm not sure there has ever been a more appropriately named site than Everest Poker.
On the face of it, the standard of play is so laughably bad that it should be a joy to play on. Unfortunately for me, finding a successful style is proving a real mountain to climb.
Adaptability is an important weapon in the armoury of a serious player. The cry of 'I can't play against these donkeys' holds no water with me.
When trying out a new site, I think it is important to recognise there is a learning curve to be negotiated, no matter how competent a player you may be considered to be.
That said, there are definitely certain styles that are more simple to combat than others.
I had a great deal of success playing against Tribeca players. On the whole they were pretty loose and many were prone to some fundamental, and predictable, errors.
Overvaluing TPTK, inability to fold a flush draw no matter how bad the odds, unable to fold overpairs, getting too attached to Ace-rag on an Ace high flop.
Basic stuff, which made them fairly easy to put on a hand range and exploit their weaknesses.
Everest Poker brings a new challenge, as the players are much less predictable, and prone to making moves that are so off-the-wall they might be interpreted as world class if they were coming from a good player and selectively deployed, instead of machine gunned throughout the session by a 48%/28% lunatic.
Aside from re-reraising all-in for 100BB with QTs, I've seen limp-minimum reraising with ATo in a multi-way pot, reraising all-in pre-flop with KJo, and an unbelievable amount of check-raising on the flop with hands like middle pair or bottom pair with an Ace kicker versus pre-flop raisers.
Already I've been forced to modify my style by tightening right up and making sure I'm ready to go to war with any hand I play in a big pot.
I've also recognised that position is often not for stealing pots, but is solely for taking free cards, due to the insane amount of check-raising.
The problem this week is I've been running my big hands into monsters, and losing most of the more marginal ones.
Setting an opponent all-in for a big chunk of chips pre-flop with 99 isn't something you'll often find me doing, so it's good to be proved right when my opponent calls with KJo, and bad to see that J hit the flop.
When a series of these confrontations go the wrong way, it's easy to allow ones vision to be coloured by the red numbers on the spreadsheet, and revert to that familiar wail of 'I can't beat these idiots', but longer term this has to be a profitable game to be in.
It shouldn't take great poker to beat this game, but it will take discipline and good bankroll management. It will also take commitment to play a lot of hands and fight through the swings and troughs which are inevitable in such a wild game.
So far I've had several troughs and only a few mild upswings, but I know that some night soon I'm going to sit down and nail a four or five buy-in win by playing exactly the same way I've played recently.
When not participating in the game, I've been pondering the reasons behind the distribution of playing styles being so fundamentally different to other sites.
My suspicion is that the multi-lingual software has to have a large bearing on it.
The US focused English-only sites certainly attracted large numbers of foreign players, but many of them were Scandinavians or Western Europeans who often speak English to a standard that would shame a native.
Thus they would be perfectly capable of consuming the 2+2 back catalogue with little difficulty.
As we move further east, English proficiency tends to be not quite so widespread, so I'd imagine people would tend to get their poker education from other sources. I'm sure there will be some Polish or Russian language poker sites, but I suspect You Tube snippets and WPT episodes on satellite TV are more of an influence.
Which is good TV, but not conducive to a winning long term cash game strategy. A lot of the moves I've seen might be good poker when it's six-handed and the average stack is 15BB, but ten-handed with 100BB in front they are just plain crazy.
If my analysis is correct, let's hope they don't start showing High Stakes Poker in Kazakhstan anytime soon!
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Not a fun weekend on the poker front.
I got massacred on PokerStars on Friday, and rolled over and used as a lady by the motley crew that populate Everest Poker tonight.
The clearest sign I've ever seen that I am running bad has to be when the highlight of the poker weekend is (correctly) folding Kings in multiway pre-flop action.
That was on Stars on Friday night. The third guy in the pot was an optimist with 99 who missed.
Folding Kings on Stars is difficult. On Everest, I'd say it was impossible.
Tonight I managed to get an entire buy-in committed pre-flop with Aces versus a maniac who re-reraised all in with QTs.
He made a straight, but fortunately five spades on the board, and not a single one between us, meant a split pot.
Running bad sign number two - being relieved to split a pot with Aces.
Other than that, I ran Queens into Kings, Queens into Aces, missed a whole load of draws, and generally couldn't buy a winning hand.
I could go on-and-on about the play on Everest, but with time limited tonight, the best description I can come up with is that it's like being a participant in a docu-drama entitled 'Party Poker, the Early Years'.
For those non-US readers, I'd definitely recommend getting over there and checking it out.
Just be aware that you really need to catch cards to win pots, and I promise some of the beats will push your tilt tolerance to new levels.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
It's not often losing to a 2-outer on the river - after getting your chips in as a 4/1 pre-flop favourite - comes as a relief.
Yet in a way that's exactly how I felt last Saturday as my pocket queens went down in flames to a pair of eights.
Another night at The Stanley on Sauchiehall Street, another well organised event, with a decent turnout of over forty meaning first paid just over £1000, and enough chips to allow a good bit of play.
Which was just as well for me, since I was completely off form and card dead. A distinctly unhealthy combination.
Events were conspiring against me before we had even made it to the venue. A lengthy Friday night online session, and a crowded Saturday schedule which eliminated any chance of a catch up nap, meant I was in far from peak physical condition.
Throw in some confusion about the start time of the competition - eight o'clock for anyone interested - which led to some disarray in our travel plans, and it wasn't looking good.
I always seem to take a while to settle in these live games, probably due to the fact it's still a deviation from the norm for me, rather than a five nights a week event, as it seems to be for some of my fellow players.
Throw in some fatigue and my early nerves were worse than usual, which contributed to me making a series of schoolboy errors. Fumbling chips, getting confused about blind levels, acting out of turn, and most criminally, giving off a monumental tell at one point.
Compound this with the fact that the only playable hands I had were a couple of medium pocket pairs in early position - which both ran into bigger hands - and it's easy to see why my starting 8,000 chips had dwindled to about 6,500 as we approached the final hand of the first session with the blinds 150/300.
Helping myself to a few orphan pots had mitigated the chip losses from the bigger pots, and I felt I was just settling into my stride.
The hand of doom was the last of the level, with the break looming. An open raise to 1000 from the button saw me in the SB looking down at those alluring queens.
It's amazing how quickly decisions are made in these circumstances, and the level of thought that is compressed into just a few seconds.
I did consider a smooth call, but didn't want to price in the BB and find myself three handed and out of position.
The most compelling driver was that I knew both button and BB were decent enough to recognise the button raise looked like a possible steal, and I could easily be restealing thin.
This meant I'd get action if either of them did have a half-decent hand.
Which, as it happens, was precisely what transpired, so I can hardly complain when the cards go against me.
As I hinted earlier, I was beginning to think I was doomed to crash out making some sort of donkey play. At least I got to walk away with indignation, rather than indignity, as the theme for the hand.
At the time I thought the call was a little loose, but running my probable range through PokerStove, eights were just about dead even, and the last hand before the break is as good a time as any to try to turn a slightly short stack into a decent contender. So, no complaints there either.
Despite the fact I made it out in time for the last train home, I'm sure I'll be back. The Stanley are making a real effort at putting on a good night for the poker players, and deserve some support.
Low juice, a free buffet, and the Friday night drinks promos, all contribute to a good customer experience.
The plan is for Saturdays to become a regular £50 Freezeout, which probably makes for a tougher game than the Friday rebuy, but an enjoyable night out, with the possibility of a juicy payday.
It's also what I'd class as 'proper poker' which hopefully makes it a good learning experience in preparation for bigger games ahead.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Another month, another rushed summary.
One of the paradoxes of writing a blog is the most interesting times leave the least time for actually writing them up, and of course when I have ample time for the blog, I have bugger all to write about.
March was another month of swings. I kicked off with a couple of big wins - by my standards - then meandered through a series of peaks and troughs, which ultimately left me another $300 to the good.
In a strange sort of way, the most satisfying session was one where I ran into a series of evil beats, yet only ended up $20 down.
Until I totted up the numbers post-session, I was convinced I'd taken a severe kicking, as the big numbers in my head related only to monster pots I'd lost.
So to find myself pretty close to break-even felt like a genuine victory. I'd obviously snaffled a lot of compensatory small pots along the way.
I also managed to sneak in another live game - but that's for another post, if I have the time!
There are three Dell boxes in my hallway, and despite the fact I've been home for four hours they remain unopened, which in itself tells a story.