PokerStars recently hosted their first official home game on the small Island in the Irish Sea that they call home - the Isle of Man. The week long festival was the newest addition to the UK and Ireland Poker Tour.
There was a lot of excitement in the run up to UKIPT IOM. I'd heard from the people I know at PokerStars that they were pulling out all the stops to make it a very special event. For the first time ever PokerStars staff had been given permission to play in a PokerStars tour main event and Team PokerStars players from all over the world were flying in to attend.
I believe that I had the longest journey out of everyone. I wanted to be there so much that in one day I travelled for 22 hours over 3 flights all the way from Thailand.
When my plane touched down on the Isle late at night the only thing on my mind was sleep. I was completely exhausted. Thankfully on the Isle of Man, population 84,000, things run extremely smoothly. My suitcase was on the baggage carousel a few minutes after I disembarked the plane and less than a minute later I was in a car being driven to my hotel, the Sefton, by a friendly local Manx bloke.
I had one of the longest sleeps of my life and woke up to a beautiful view of the Douglas beach-front and promenade from the large bay windows in my room.
VIP Club Live
It was the first day of the UKIPT Isle of Man festival but I decided not to play the opening tournament, instead choosing to attend the VIP Club Live party that evening. VIP Club Live are events held all over the world exclusively for PokerStars VIPs who can purchase a ticket with FPPs. Supernova and Supernova Elite players attend for free.
PokerStars hired out the very upmarket Salt Bar & Kitchen for the evening, with all the food and drink completely free until midnight. I quit drinking alcohol a few months ago so it pained me to pass up on the value of free drinks. However, if I'm honest, I probably ate enough food to make up for it. :)
I attended the event with my Team Online colleagues Andre 'acoimbra' Coimbra, Mickey 'mement_mori' Petersen, Alex 'Kanu7' Millar and Felix 'xflixx' Schneiders.
|Team PokerStars Online - © René Velli|
There I am with my glass of Diet Coke while the rest of the guys hold their champagne glasses. I'm still the coolest though.
The party had a fun and friendly atmosphere and was a great opportunity to meet dozens of people who are behind the screen names that I compete against online, as well as senior PokerStars staff and one really cool magician.
The magician walked around the bar performing some neat tricks in front of groups of people. I was amazed at how good his slight-of-hand was. Pretty scary actually. I made sure to take a good mental photograph of his face, just in case he ever sits down in a poker game with me, then I will know that it's time to leave.
The next day I had a spare afternoon so took a ride on the old electric train with my Team Online friend acoimbra's girlfriend Karterina while acoimbra himself was busy donking off all his chips on Day 1a of the UKIPT main event. ;)
I enjoyed the 1 hour and 15 minute ride up to Ramsey in the rickety old wooden train carriage and it was a nice way to see some more of the Isle of Man while sitting on my arse. The train line runs all the way up the coast so there was some great scenery.
|The Laxey Wheel|
I can't say I enjoyed the trip back as much as I did the trip there. It was much colder and darker by then and I'd already seen all the scenery. As I sat shivering I could see cars pass us at about 3x the speed we were trundling along at. Really should have taken a taxi back, but you live and learn.
Back in Douglas, there was just enough daylight left to enjoy some time at the beach.
That evening I attended a special event that PokerStars were hosting for their business partners on the island. They invited staff from many of the companies that they work with to come to the UKIPT venue to learn about poker and have a friendly game with myself, Barry Greenstein, Felix Schneiders, Fatima De Melo and Lee Jones coaching them.
Yet again there was free drink at this event, so yet more value that I missed out on due to being on the wagon. You all know how much a Scotsman loves his drink and never passes up on value.
I asked for an orange juice and the barlady looked at me and sternly asked "Are you part of this event?". I told her that I was and she looked me up and down and asked me if I was sure. LOL. This was most probably due to the fact that all the attendees of the event were dressed in smart suits and I was dressed in jeans and a Buggs Bunny t-shirt, so she thought I was just some random poker player trying to blag a free drink.
After she handed me the juice I trolled her by saying "only kidding, I just wanted some free juice", which earned me a look of death and made it really difficult for my Team Online buddy Felix, who was next in line, to get a bottle of water, which were free in the tournament area anyway. He got the same grilling "are you sure you're part of this event?" "THIS event, are you sure?". Funny stuff.
15 minutes later after clearly standing mingling with the businessmen and women I had finished my orange juice and went back to the bar to ask for a bottle of water. The same barlady said to the barman next to her "A bottle of water for the lad, and it's on the event tab", to which he asked "what, for HIM?". I guess some people might get offended at something like that but I just burst out laughing.
Kind of ridiculous to get judged on how you look. I could be some Mark Zuckerberg type multi billionaire business man for all they know. Thankfully it seemed to be just me and Felix that got that treatment, the other attendees all looked the part so they were safe.
After the drinks reception there was a poker introduction seminar from Lee Jones then we alI sat down to play poker for a couple of hours, with a pro at each table. I sat at a table with 8 staff from a bank that work with PokerStars. Only one of them had ever played poker before but within half an hour everyone knew what they were doing and were having fun.
|Barry Greenstein giving lessons. © René Velli|
After the event Felix and I spent the rest of the evening at Team Online manager Chris's apartment for a little Team Online get-together. That's where we met Ike Haxton, his wife Zoe and VIP Events manager Dylan for the first time. All fantastic people and we had some great chats and delicious pizza.
It was the first time I was around a large bunch of poker players who didn't spend the whole time talking about poker. Everyone there had very strong personalities and many interests outside of poker so they were great people to spend an evening with.
Main Event Day 1b
On my third day on the island I finally got the chance to play some real poker, in the £1,100 main event. The event was held at the Villa Marina in the massive theatre, with the stalls replaced with poker tables and the main stage set up for the feature table. It was a really nice set up.
There were free bottles of water at this event which is a big plus for me. I drink close to a bottle per hour when I'm at the table. It may seem like a small thing but the difference between paying £1.50 per bottle of water and getting it free at a poker event is the difference for me between feeling "looked after" or not.
Talking about being looked after, the extra £121,000 overlay on the main event was pretty sweet. They needed 500 players to meet the £500,000 guarantee but only got 379 runners. I asked the people who were running the event whether they really expected 500 players to show up, or if it was an ambitious target. I was told that the event wasn't about meeting guarantees or making money, it was all about showing off their product to the Isle of Man and giving the players a well run and great value tournament to participate in. Judging it by that criteria it was a huge success.
As I sat down at my starting table I recognised a few familiar faces. Never a good thing. On my direct right was fellow Scotsman Alan Gold, who I'd played with at the feature table at UKIPT Galway, which he went on to win, as well as tourney regs Simon Deadman and Charles Chattha. It was a friendly table with some good chat, which is what you need when you're sat there for 8 hours.
I got off to a solid start, grinding my stack up to 30K from the 20K starting stack. My first big pot came in the fifth level when I turned a set with 99 on a K86-9 board. It looked like a great card for me, but not so much when all the chips went in the middle and a gentleman turned over T7o. I had him covered though so I was still left with 15K. With the blinds at BB400 it was nothing to panic about.
My next big pot came an hour later when I got AK all in against Charles Chattha's A4s preflop for a 25K pot. King on the flop, but he went runner-runner flush and I was crippled, down to 7K. To make things worse we soon went into the next level with the blinds up to BB800.
I managed to spin it back up to 25K only to get it in with AQs against Simon Deadman's 88. He flips better than me so I was crippled yet again. Down to only 5K this time. I tried to make another comeback but they just wouldn't double me up and I ended the day with a bowl stack of 7,700 chips to go into Day 2, starting at BB1,000.
Straight after the last level of the day the players party began at nearby Tahiko nightclub. Again it was an open-bar with free drinks, including cocktails. So much value lost as I sipped on water and soft drinks all night, but hey, I felt great the next morning.
The party had a Halloween theme with a full UKIPT Nottingham package to be won for whoever Jake Cody decided was best dressed. Jake himself came as Batman, but since the mask was too tight for his big noggin he didn't wear it. Therefore he just looked like he was a really ripped dude wearing a tight t-shirt.
Most people, my self included, didn't dress up. Poker players can be really lazy and useless when it comes to making an effort for anything that isn't playing poker. That just meant that there was more value in the competition for those who did make the effort. Acoimbra came dressed in a suit though so either he did make the effort and came in a businessman costume or he may have confused "fancy dress" with "dress fancy". :)
The winner of the Notts package was Calum Morrissey, a footballer in the Isle of Man national team. His latex zip-face and playing card stab wounds were very impressive.
It was a fun party and another great chance to hang out with my Team Online buddies, Team Pro, PokerStars staff and all the players from the UKIPT.
After the party, I was back in the hotel and fast asleep for 4 hours when the absolute loudest fire alarm in the world went off. Since the whole of the Sefton hotel had been booked out for PokerStars pros and media it was hilarious seeing all these familiar faces walking outside at "stupid o'clock" in the morning to stand in the freezing cold street.
PokerStars Blog writer Brad Willis blogged about it, saying how surprising it was that everyone was fully dressed and smiling. What Brad may not have considered is that everyone was still up and drunk from the night before. :)
Main Event Day 2
I entered Day 2 with a 7,700 chip stack at the BB1,000 level, looking for a spin up. I was sat at a tough table that consisted almost entirely of pro players including Max Silver and Simon Deadman (again). I wasn't worried about getting outplayed though at that point because having played a gazillion SNGs I'm pretty good at knowing when to shove my short stack in. Lots!
Things started very well. I shoved 22 from middle position and Simon Deadman made an effortless call in the small blind. I sighed and said "turn over Ace Jack" to which he looked shocked, laughed and then turned over Ace Jack. If I'm lucky enough to guess his hand then I'm lucky enough to win the flip, and that I did.
I shoved my stack around a bit, accumulating some more chips, then picked up KK, shoved over an open, and was called by 55. I held and I was up to 36.5K in less than an hour. What a great start to the day.
Unfortunately I didn't win another pot after that. I raise-folded a couple of times, then with 30K at the BB1,200 level (25 big blinds) I made the mistake of trying to make a move on Max Silver. It was folded to me on the cutoff with KTo and I minraised Max's big blind. He asked me how much I had then 3-bet me.
I'd played with Max for a full day in Galway. He 3-bet the life out of me that day and I didn't play back at him as much as I should have. I thought he was raising me in that spot with a range weighted to hands that he was 3-bet-folding as a bluff, so I shoved the KTo only to be snap-called by his AKo and it was game over for me.
I asked some tourney regulars who I respect what they thought of the hand and the general conscientious was that it's fine / OK. But when I asked Max himself later he thought it was atrocious. "I'm just never light 3-betting from the big blind as most people are, I call the minraise there with a lot of the hands that people are 3-betting.". He does call a lot from the big blind, but I'm not sure that I believe that he's never 3-bet bluffing in that spot, but regardless, he's probably not 3-bet folding there enough for my shove to be profitable so I accept that I made a bad play.
I spent the rest of the day in my hotel room playing video games and eating cookies. That's what I like to do after a bustout. In the evening I met up with Team Online buddies for a wee night out at a bar for some food and cocktails. Some people would find it weird being the only sober person in a situation like that but to be honest my "normal" is like most people's drunk so it works out quite fine.
I woke up the next morning feeling great and started the day off with a 5K run that Lee Jones had organised. This is the kind of thing I would miss out on if I was out drinking the night before. Heck, if I'd been drunk the night before I'd likely have spent the whole of the following day in bed, never mind get outdoors and run.
The weather we had was fantastic (by November in Isle of Man standards) and many of my favourite PokerStars staff and Team Pros had turned out to get their share of fresh air and exercise. It was good to see so many poker players do something positive for their health and all support each other while doing it.
Lee Jones wrote an excellent blog about the 5K run where he mentioned how much better poker players are at looking after their health now compared to back when he first started in poker.
I ran the course beside Aeden Jenkins, who works for Full Tilt, and Liv Boeree. I thought thought that I was going to slow those guys down as Aeden had told me that he'd just run a double marathon a couple of weeks ago and Liv looks very much in shape. However the three of us stuck together for the duration of the run, all the way along the Douglas Promenade, up a steep hill to PokerStars HQ, and all the way back again.
Standing on the promenade, cheering us on was PokerStars CEO Mark Scheinberg and many of the locals gave us smiles and waves as we ran by.
After we'd completed the 5K I'd barely gotten my breath back when I looked up and noticed that Aeden had sprinted off with Leo Margets to run the course all over again. I knew he was holding back the whole time.
There was a wide variation in the fitness levels of all who attended but nobody treated it like a race and everyone supported each other. It was nice to see and another reminder that PokerStars chooses truly awesome people as staff and sponsored pros. It feels just like a family and one that I'm extremely proud to consider myself a part of.
Pot Limit Omaha
After the run I felt fantastic. I had a quick shower then late-registered for the PLO side event. Omaha is so much more fun to play than Hold'em and this was a really enjoyable tournament with loose action.
With less than half of the players remaining I was moved to a new table with my nemesis Max Silver sitting directly to my left. He had me well out-chipped, so had an opportunity to bust me from 2 tournaments in 2 days. And that's what nearly happened.
I was in the small blind with KQJTss and practically the whole table limped. I potted it for a third of my stack and then Max re-potted it from the big blind. Looking back, in that spot it would have been better if I had raised to 1/4 of my stack preflop instead of potting it for 1/3 of my stack.
Max has told me several times about how much of a live fish I am when it comes to things like stacking chips, protecting my hand, acting out of turn etc. but this was his turn to make a noob mistake. After he jammed, everyone folded to me and before I even did anything he turned over his hand, showing AAA4ss. What a noob.
I'm pretty good with Omaha preflop equities so I knew I had about 40% against his hand and it was an easy call. Even if I didn't see his hand, I'd have called because I imagine that I have about 35% equity against his range there. Although I guess if you factor in ICM it would be close. The tournament had 22 players left with 8 paid. I don't think you can make calculations based purely on chipEV at that stage, you need a little bit more equity to call it off than you do in a cash game, and the closer you get to the bubble the more extra equity you need.
The only way I would have folded is if I'd seen his cards and they were something like AAQJds that had me suit dominated, then I'd be around 25% against that hand and could make a correct laydown.
So I called it off and made a straight. Easy game.
From there I coasted into the money and with 7 players remaining Max and I got all in again. We got all the money in on a turn card that gave me the nut broadway straight and him the nut flush draw. It was another chance for him to bust me from two tourneys in two days, but this time, with the stacks being equal it was also a chance for me to get revenge on him and even the scores. Thankfully my hand held. He seemed pretty pleased overall though because that 7th place finish took him to the top of this season's UKIPT Leaderboard.
I ended up coming 4th when I bluffed my chips off to a man. With a 15BB stack I raised from the CO with QTT9ss and was called by the BB. The flop came QQ5 with two clubs and I checked it back feeling that I was unlikely to get worse hands to call and it also disguises the strength of my hand so I can get value from it on later streets. The turn was a 6 of clubs, making a flush possible, and again, either I'm way ahead or way behind with my trip queens with ten kicker. I checked back.
The river was a J, making the board QQ5-6-J with three clubs. My opponent lead out for 3/4 pot. The way I've played my hand it looks like something with showdown value that isn't that strong. If I had no hand on the flop I'd likely have c-bet. I felt it was more likely that this player was value betting something like a flush rather than trying to bluff me off an overpair, and I have a Q blocker so I chose to raise it and represent a full house rather than call or fold. I moved all in. I think it's tough for him to call without the nuts there, especially as I had a very tight image up until then, always showing down very strong hands.
Anyway he snap called and showed QJ65. He flopped the nuts, turned bigger nuts and rivered even bigger nuts. Must be nice. It felt pretty bad to play for 9 hours only to give someone my chips so easily but I don't have any regrets. I think you need to be making strong plays like that to be a good Omaha player.
After the PLO tourney I took my laptop to the media room where PokerStars pros were given exclusive access. The internet in our hotel was a bit sketchy and it was the Red Spade open that night so it was important that we all turned out to play.
While I was playing my tourneys I was rubbing my shoulder as it felt a bit strained, having sat at a poker table for 9 hours straight. Lee Jones walked in and asked me what was wrong then stood behind me massaging my neck and shoulders for 10 minutes while I played on PokerStars. What a good guy. I remember years ago reading a cool story about Lee sending pizzas to player's houses but never could I have imagined that one day I'd have Lee himself massage me while I played on PokerStars on a Sunday night.
On the final day I was given a private tour of the PokerStars HQ by Christin who runs PokerSchoolOnline. I'd been there before a few years ago but it was another good chance to talk to all the staff and ask them about their role at PokerStars and what they were working on.
It's quite a laid back atmosphere there with a smart-casual dress code. The finance types are more towards the "smart" end of that spectrum whereas the techies are more casual. Especially the product development team who even have a massive Grand Theft Auto V poster on the wall of their room. That's the team who have been working for the last couple of years on PokerStars 7, the new version of the PokerStars client that's due for release next year.
There was a huge buzz in the office as the final table of the UKIPT main event had just started and was being streamed live on big screens and people's monitors. Team Online manager Chris had made the final table so everyone was rooting for their colleague.
I got to walk around the office asking people about their roles at PokerStars. The most fun sounding jobs were the security guys as it sounds like exciting detective work. There are even resources dedicated to stopping people from multi-accounting play money accounts to dump chips and sell them. They are on top of it all. Basically if you're ever thinking of doing something shady related to an online poker site I would say that PokerStars would be the absolute nut worst site that you could possibly try to do it on.
Some of the cool perks that staff get are unlimited free cans of juice and chocolate bars, so I couldn't help but indulge in that.
Steve Day, who those of you who listen to the TwoPlusTwo PokerCast will be familiar with, was off sick so I made myself comfortable at his desk with some Sprite and Twixes.
There's also cafeteria in the office that's open all day and serves healthy hot food. It looked like a full large meal was around £4 and Christin said that staff are given a £3 per day allowance towards anything they buy there.
After meeting the staff at the HQ I felt even better about PokerStars than I did before I walked through the door. There's a lot of very smart people working there who are focused on making it an even more fun and safe site to play on than it already is.
After the tour I went back to the Villa Marina to rail the final table which had Team Online manager Chris and Team PokerStars SportStar Fatima de Melo competing for glory.
As we railed it was announced that there was free pizza and beer for everyone. There must have been no fewer than 30 boxes with delicious pizzas of various toppings stacked on a table. What a result. Again, the people running the event going out of their way to look after everyone.
Chris and Fatima both played excellent poker and it was a great atmosphere in the room with all the PokerStars staff and pros cheering them on. It's a shame neither of them took it down. Chris finishing 4th and Fatima was the runner-up after losing a coinflip. I'm sure both of them will happy about the big payday nonetheless.
My week on the Isle of Man is one I'll never forget. I had a blast, met so many great people and was made to feel so incredibly welcome by everyone there. Everyone I spoke to is wishing that this becomes a regularly yearly fixture on the UKIPT and I give my "+1" to that.
The next tournament for me is UKIPT Nottingham 6-Max in a few weeks. Hope to see you there.