Marbella is a coastal resort in the massive tourist trap of the Costa del Sol in the south of Spain.
Beaches, hotels, bars, drunk Brits, drunk Germans - and not a whole lot else. It's not type of place that I generally visit as I believe there are far more fun, interesting and culturally rich places on earth but I travelled to Marbella primarily to play the UK and Ireland Poker tour event.
Yes, that well known part of the UK in the south of Spain. Actually, Marbella is only 50 miles up the road from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, so I guess that's close enough.
I flew in from Helsinki, where it had just started to piss down with rain. It's a good feeling sitting on a aeroplane before take-off, staring out the window at the crappy weather you're leaving behind.
I had my 15 minutes at the beach in Marbella and that was enough to last me for the trip. Many of my fellow countrymen travel to the Costa del Sol and spend a whole week or two sunbathing on the beach or by the pool. Personally I can't think of anything worse. Lying around doing nothing may seem like the perfect holiday for a lot of people but I find it to be so incredibly boring.
I've also never understood people's obsession with the pursuit of a sun tan.
In Asia everyone is using skin whitening products and walking around with black umbrellas on a sunny afternoon. In Europe everyone is slapping orange gunk on their skin and lying face-up to the sun to absorb as much UV radiation as they can. Half the world are white and want to be dark, the other half are dark and want to be white. Madness.
I chose not to stay at the official UKIPT hotel, the H10 Marbella. Personally, I can't justify paying to stay somewhere so expensive (and quite frankly - overpriced) in order to play a €1000 buyin poker tournament. I've actually never booked into an official hotel for a UKIPT event for this reason. I can always find much better options myself that offer greater comfort, internet service, safety and value.
I received an email today offering hotel options for UKIPT London. For a week-long stay in the cheapest room of the cheapest hotel (£190 per night) you'd be paying around 1.73x the price (£1,330) of the main event buyin (£770) just for a bed to sleep in each night. If the only reason that you went to London was to play that event then your long term expected ROI in the tournament would have to be 173% in order break even from the expense of the hotel. That's without even considering the cost of flights, trains, taxis and eating out.
My opinion is that it only makes financial sense to stay in these hotels if you win a full package online. Even then, it's not like the hotel is free as you and the other players are paying for it in the cost of your satellite entries. The best value move is to play seat-only satellites and arrange your own accommodation with a discount hotel site such as Agoda, stay with a host or rent an apartment using Airbnb or stay with a friend who lives in the area. Sharing a room with a friend who won a package is also something to consider.
As a professional poker player I believe that it's important to treat poker like a business. Successful businesses are always looking for ways to streamline their running costs. Poker sites and the media try to sell us this image of pro poker players being "ballers", throwing money around like crazy, but the reality is that you need to be smart and look for value away from the poker table in order to maintain a long-term sustainable career as a poker professional.
I'm not forgetting that most of the participants of a UKIPT aren't professional poker players (thankfully). For most people poker is about fun and enjoyment more than it is about trying to earn money. For casual players or even professionals who travel to the UKIPT events mainly for a bit of fun and to meet up with their poker friends, if you can easily afford to stay in expensive hotels then fair enough, splash out.
Considering other factors than money, there are certain benefits to staying in the official hotel. If the poker tournament is being held at the same venue then being able to roll out of bed and straight into the poker room is handy for all the degens who find it tough to get out of bed before noon. Also, staying in the same hotel as most of the other poker players makes it easier to be social. For me though, the negatives far outweigh the benefits.
Have you ever tried to use the internet at a hotel that's booked out with poker players? Yeah, don't bother. Safety, at a hotel full of online poker players, is also a concern. You and your laptop could be an easy target for criminals.
By now most people are aware of what is alleged to have happened at EPT Barcelona last year. It was alleged that criminals, aided by people working in the hotel, entered the rooms of guests to install malicious Remote Access Trojans on their laptops. The motivation for doing so being to view the victim's screen remotely and defraud them at online poker and in other ways.
I'd rather just be a random person in a random hotel or apartment than worry about being a massive target for criminals.
So back to UKIPT Marbella. I found a great value hotel using Agoda that was 20 minutes walk away from the casino. It also included breakfast and dinner buffet which was great as eating out in Marbella isn't cheap. #ThriftyScotsman
After checking in to my hotel I walked over to Casino Marbella to register. It would save me queuing up the next day when I go to play Day 1b of the UKIPT main event.
I entered the casino and was immediately confronted by a woman in a suit dress. She looked down her nose at me and told me that I was not allowed inside the casino because I wearing shorts.
That was a bit of a "WTF?" moment for me. There has never been a dress code at any venue I've played poker at in the past, and there I was, at a casino in the middle of a beach resort, in the middle of summer, being told that I had to wear trousers to get inside. Absolutely ludicrous.
It wasn't as if it was even a fancy casino and practically the whole venue was taken over by poker players anyway. Why couldn't the poker players who've taken over the casino for a week just dress casually? Did they really expect everyone to turn up dressed up like James Bond to play a bowl poker tournament in a bowl casino in the bloody Costa del Sol? It's hardly Monte Carlo.
I told the woman that my hotel was far away and that I couldn't go back to change easily. She asked me if I was going to play at the gaming tables so I just lied to, ahem - bluffed, her and told her I was going to play roulette - as if I'm enough of a mug to play house games. She then gave me a pair of smart trousers to borrow and showed me to the toilets.
Trying to get those trousers up over my big massive Scottish thighs was a challenge but I did manage to get them on. They were far too small for me. The shorts that I arrived in were wearing basically 3/4 length trousers and fairly smart looking. The new skinny ass trousers that I was wearing were so small that they were barely a couple of inches longer than my shorts.
I was finally deemed to be dressed acceptably enough to enter the casino. I walked in slowly and awkwardly, trying not to rip the arse out of the trousers, while holding my long shorts in one hand. Yes, much more acceptable.
I walked through the casino looking for the reception desk for the UKIPT event but couldn't find it. I asked members of casino staff but none of them spoke a word of English and one tried to send me back to speak to the snotty woman at reception.
I found the media desk where the bloggers do their blogging, so a bunch of familiar faces were there. Danny Maxwell, who's the photographer who does all the photos, broke the bad news to me that the registration desk wasn't in the casino, but in the hotel next to the casino. Doh. Quite annoying as the welcome email mentioned that we'd have to register with the casino, but not that it would be done in the hotel.
So as I stood there looking like my cat died, with my shorts in my hand, everyone had a good laugh at my misfortune. Oh well, I have a good sense of humour so I found it more funny than anyone.
Over at the hotel the registration for the UKIPT Main Event was quick, friendly and the Spanish bloke spoke perfect English. However he did spell my name wrong, which is a massive pet hate of mine. Hyachachachacha.
It happens to me at least 80% of the time that I sign up for anything. It's gotten so bad that whenever I'm asked for my name I make a point of handing them my drivers license AND spelling it out for them letter by letter. And they still manage to screw it up.
It's just reading and writing. You look at 6 letter word and type it into a computer. Don't change anything. Don't type in what you think my name should be spelled like. Just type in the 6 letters that you see infront of you. It's not rocket science.
UKIPT Main Event Day 1
After a slap-up breakfast buffet at my hotel I wrapped up a bunch of pastries in napkins, filled my pockets, and walked over to Casino Marbella to play Day 1b of the UKIPT Main Event.
I didn't recognise anyone at my starting table. They mostly looked the same to me anyway - that is 20 year kids wearing hoodies, shades and massive headphones.
One Spanish kid two to my right was sitting with a tablet on his lap, watching full length movies throughout the whole day. If poker is so boring and uninteresting to you that you need to do that, then why do you even play at all?
On the flip site another Spaniard across the table from me was jumping up and down every time he won a pot. He got all-in for his last 5k in chips versus the guy sitting next to him, won the flip, slammed the table and cheered at the top of his voice as if he'd just won the tournament. Calm down son, it's day 1 and you still only have half the starting stack, there's a long way to go yet.
I was lucky enough to have friendly players on my direct left and right who were fun to chat with throughout the day. A Swedish guy called Kjell and an English guy called Tony Phillips (yes, that's the correct spelling of his name) who's a retired poker pro.
However, I was unlucky enough to have the worst dealers I've ever had in any poker tournament I've played. They weren't just bad - they were atrocious.
The dealers switched several times through the day but it didn't matter. Each and every dealer made misdeals or other screw-ups multiple times per orbit. It was very frustrating to deal with but I didn't show that frustration to the dealers as I knew it wasn't their fault. It seemed obvious as to what was going on.
The dealers at UKIPT events in the past have been the best, more professional dealers I've experienced at any poker tournament. Those dealers weren't present at UKIPT Marbella though. At UKIPT Marbella there were local dealers, who I assume were employed by the casino with little to no previous experience and were given a crash course in dealing poker the day before the tournament.
Perhaps the casino said something like "If you hire our venue then you need to use and pay for our staff.", or something along those lines to the UKIPT. I can't think of any other explanation for replacing the best poker dealers in the world with complete novices for one of their events.
To add insult to injury, the 3% of the prizepool that's taken out for dealer costs at UKIPT events was increased to 4% for UKIPT Marbella. Pay more, get less.
All of the bets and actions were announced by the dealers in Spanish. That was a surprise because I've played PokerStars events in other European countries and actions were announced in English, because they are international events and English is the universal language. Considering that this particular event carried the "UKIPT" name it was extra strange.
I certainly don't to travel to foreign countries and expect everyone to speak English. If they want to announce bets in Spanish in a poker tournament in Spain that's fair enough, but I wish I knew about it in advance so I could learn the numbers and the words for common actions.
Towards the end of the day there was an incident where Kjell, Tony and I were chatting away and the Spanish fella who was watching the movies on his tablet complained to the dealer. He couldn't understand what we were saying so was worried about collusion, so the dealer told us that we're not allowed to speak English.
Tony made that chirping noise that dealers use to get the attention of the floormen and got that decision overruled pretty quickly.
As for hands that I played, I can't remember. Usually I will tweet throughout the day but as usual the WiFi was completely unusable. That's not usually a problem as I will just use 3G on my phone, but none of us were getting a phone signal either.
I think that making sure there's a usable internet connection should be more of a priority for the UKIPT in this age of social media. To have hundreds of people posting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about your event in real time is the kind of advertising that you can't buy.
I ended the day with 21,900 in chips - a 10% ROI on my starting stack. Grinders gonna grind.
UKIPT Main Event Day 2
With 22K in chips at BB1,200 I wasn't messing around. In the first hand of the day I shoved over a raise then stole the blinds a couple of times to chip up to 30K.
It was folded to me on the Hijack with KJo so I minraised to 2,400. There was a blonde-haired, Scandi-looking lad on my direct left and 3-bet me to 6,000. It seemed a perfect spot for him to 3-bet light and having a Scandi on my left I wanted to make a stand the first time he 3-bet me so I shipped it in for 30K.
He sighed and flicked it in pretty quickly and I didn't beat his pocket 9's so that was the end of my tournament, sent back to my hotel to take a siesta.
Spain vs Holland
An event was organised beside the hotel pool. Unlimited free drinks and the Spain vs Holland world cup match shown on a big screen.
I guess I don't need to go over this again but..... A few of the Spanish lads got a little pissed off at the manor in which I celebrated Robin Van Persie sticking the ball in the Spanish goal with incredible class. I mean the goal was class. My celebration - not so much, haha.
Link to the full story in an earlier blog post.
Despite all the threats and intimidation I did manage to sneak out of there without getting hurt, although I was constantly looking over my shoulder on the way back to my hotel - and for the rest of the week as it happens.
England vs Italy
The next evening another football screening was held. This one acted as the official players party and was held on the beach with unlimited free BBQ food. I was right into that, yum!
Gerald Cochlan had got there early and saved us the best seats, front and centre, right beside the big screen. What a hero.
It was a great night and lots of banter. Thankfully the English, unlike the Spanish, can take a bit of banter whether they're winning.........
..... or they're losing.
Credit to René Velli for the excellent photos.
Like all players parties at poker events this was an absolute sausage fest, and I'm not just talking about the BBQ. Do you see any females at all in the above photos?
Well I did manage to find one - that troublemaker Kellyann Heffernan.
And ended up spending the next half hour explaining the offside rule to her.................. Sigh.
I don't usually play side events when I travel for a poker tournament as I think that my time is better spent having fun and exploring the place that I'm visiting. There's not much to do or see that interests me in Marbella and like I say, I'm not into sunbathing, so I decided to play the EPT Structure Super Turbo.
I turned up at the cash desk and they wouldn't take my money. I had no idea what was going on and out of the three members of staff working there not one of them spoke a word of English.
Considering how the casino is the middle of a massive tourist resort that is quite ridiculous. Anyone working in any job where they have to interact with a many foreigners should be fluent in English. I could go to a casino in less developed countries like Egypt or Cambodia and every member of staff would speak English, and likely French and Russian too.
I figured out what was up as one of the staff showed me a piece of paper with the number 85 written on it. There were 85 alternates. To hell with that.
Having had a wasted journey to the casino I wandered all over the hotel trying to pick up a 3G signal so I could start messaging people to see who wanted to hang out. It's really absurd when you're struggling to get a decent internet connection in a developed European country. I've been in the middle of Cambodia streaming YouTube videos on my phone and I have a blazingly fast 4G service where I live in Thailand, but in the so called "glamorous" resort of Marbella in Spain it's like the bloody stone age.
I eventually got in touch with Paul Febers and Andrew Hedley who invited me up to their room - which looked like it was hit by a ballistic missile. It was early evening but they were still nursing hangovers from the night before.
Andrew was eating what looked like a bowl of urine. "The hell is that?" I asked. They both burst out laughing. Andrew explained that they called room service - who spoke very little English, and ordered chicken skewers, steak, chips and soup. They waited forever, starving, then all that arrived was two bowls of clear yellowish liquid that they had no idea what it was. "I didn't even have the energy to argue with him, I just signed for it and told him to get lost".
There was a pile of €20 and €50 notes and change lying amongst the trash that was scattered all over the room. The lads started to debate who owned it and neither of them really knew. "No idea, ahh just you take it Paul.", "Nah you take it mate, it's probably yours.". I found that hilarious.
I feel like the most value I get out of attending UKIPT events is the friends that I've made. Poker players often get a bad rap but all the UK and Irish lads I've spent time with at these events have been top lads. Sure, some of them are complete and absolute degenerates when it comes to drinking and gambling, but they've all been completely and absolutely honest and friendly in my experience with them.
Willie Elliot stopped on his way to the bar, where he was going to buy everyone a drink, to take this photo of a bunch of us hanging out at the pool. What a top man that Willie is.
and another with funny faces.....
Later that evening we had an awesome night out in the town, hopping from bar to bar and eventually gatecrashing a hen party. I went out with Neil Raine and Gerald Cochlan who I've been good friends with for a while, and also Trix Fraser and Ashley Locker who I met for the first time at UKIPT Marbella. Fantastic lads to have a night out with.
I bailed "early" at 2 am because I'd arranged a Karting with a bunch of the lads the next morning and wanted to make sure I'd wake up in time for it.
Willie Elliot and I had an idea to get all the lads out to a Karting track the day after UKIPT Marbella ended. Most of us were either staying longer or had a late flight so it seemed like the perfect way to get everyone together for one last get-together.
Between us we must have gotten about 30 people to say "yes" or "maybe" to attending, so we booked the track for 20 people. The actual number of people who turned up...... 7, that's including me and Willie. That's what happens when you organise something for the morning after a bunch of poker degens have a night out.
I tried my very hardest to win a race for the first time in the week.......
.... but no joy. We ended up racing against a group of Finnish lads who were excellent drivers. Fortunately we had an even better driver of our own, Dode, who showed them up.
The Karting was a fun way to end my trip to Marbella, and I did finally make a couple of Spanish friends after all.